My memory isn’t as good as it used to be. But I remember March 29, 2017. It was a sad day for me and millions of outdoor-loving Americans. It’s the day that the final episode of “Duck Dynasty” aired on TV six years ago this month.
God. Family. Country. Guns. Amen. It made Patriotic folks cheer and liberal folks fear. It also made West Monroe and Louisiana famous.
I never missed an episode. It was awesome, especially for those who knew them before the fame — Phil Robertson, the Duck Commander, and the whole Duck Dynasty bunch.
What else is on your mind?
I walked into Mom and Pop’s Restaurant in downtown West Monroe in October of 1978 and spotted the man I was there to interview, an athletic looking long-bearded man dressed in camo pants and a white t-shirt.
“I’m Kinny Haddox,” I said, introducing myself to the man many actually shied away from in those days. I sat down. He leaned across the table.
“Haddox, do you know Jesus?”
He calls almost everybody by their last name. I was there to talk about duck hunting, specifically duck calls, but I smiled and answered, “Yes.”
“Good, that’s the most important thing we have to talk about. Now what else is on your mind?” Robertson asked. I share this for one reason. Some people questioned the depth of this man’s values. It wasn’t for show. He’s no quack.
The early years
There we sat. Eating burgers, talking duck hunting and discussing his effort to sell duck calls from a card table set up in the Sporting Goods section of the local Howard Brothers Discount Store in Monroe. His hair and beard were thick and black. His accent thick with a south Ouachita Parish Mouth of Cypress accent. I accepted the invite to come out to his house on the River to eat lunch with Miss Kay.
They lived in a house trailer sitting in front of an old wooden shop where the Duck Commander duck calls were hand made, hand tuned and hand packaged one at a time. He still lives there today at the end of Mouth of Cypress Road. Production has moved to town, but Phil never will.
She loaded me up on home cooking. He added a pile of great one-liners. Miss Kay kind of apologized for the yard and the grass. Phil responded, “Frost’ll get it.” That was in August. Then he added, “I’ve never owned a lawnmower. And I’ve never owned a suit, either. No need.”
A good duck call
Then he told me to make sure and share this advice with young men who aren’t married. “Find yourself a woman that carries a Bible and knows how to clean ducks. Everything else will work itself out,” he said. The list of wisdom went on and on. Then, profoundly, he let me in on the secret of a good duck call.
“It’s got to sound like a duck,” he said. “You can sound pretty and win duck calling contests, but if you want to kill ducks, you’ve got to sound like a duck. It’s pretty simple.”
Phil told about his first duck hunt as a youngster, where his dad gave him three shells and told him to come home with supper. He shot two widgeons and a wood duck. He had to swim out to get them, but he wasn’t going home empty handed.
There almost wasn’t a TV show. Phil insisted each show end with the family sitting around the dinner table praying, as they do in real life. The TV folks said no. Phil said, “No prayer, no show.” Fifty-four shows later, you know who won that one.
I had the privilege to trudge through the Ouachita River swamp on a duck hunt. We reached the base of a huge cypress tree and Phil said let’s get in the blind. I didn’t see a blind. I was looking in the wrong place. It was 40 feet up in a fork of the big cypress. We climbed wooden steps up to the blind. Daylight came, Phil called and mallards poured into the hole. In those days, the daily limit was north of a dozen ducks apiece. We hammered down and limited out. It’s the only time I ever shot down at ducks instead of up. I later wrote the first-ever national story about Phil for Outdoor Life magazine in 1980.
Not too long ago, I ran into Phil at a book signing, as out of place as a decoy on dry ground. He had one of his original 200 handmade duck calls on a lanyard around his neck, identifiable by the square green label that says “Patent Pending.”
“Haddox, didn’t I give you one of these back in the day?” he asked.
“Yes, you did. I still have it,” I said. “I even hunt with it.”
Then he told me this story.
“I was wearing this at an outdoor show out in Dallas a few years back and a man asked about it; I told him it was one of the originals. He offered me $10,000 cash on the spot for it.”
Give me his name!
“Phil!” I exclaimed. “Do you have that man’s name and phone number?”
We had a good laugh.
I rode by the Duck Commander Showroom on a Wednesday afternoon last fall. There weren’t as many cars as in past years, “only” about 20. But they were from 14 different states. Amazing.
Had it not been for ducks, Phil might be sitting on the NFL Today show instead of Terry Bradshaw. They both played for Louisiana Tech, Bradshaw in the role of backup. But Phil hung it up for ducks.
Four years ago on a trip up the East Coast I spotted the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum in Virginia Beach. They asked where we were from and when we said, “West Monroe, Louisiana,” you would have thought Elvis Presley had come in the building.
The Duck Dynasty questions started flowing. I kid you not. It was a real eye-opener of how deep their fame really spread.
There will never be another Duck Dynasty. There will never be another Phil Robertson. But I’m sure glad I got to know them both.
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