As hunters, we all share a common bond. It’s been said time and again: if you don’t hunt, you just don’t understand. The outdoor lifestyle, camaraderie and the obsessive pursuit far outweigh the kill or the trophy. Unfortunately, such core values are often difficult to convey to the non-hunting public, and are frequently lost through the screen of a television.
For compulsive waterfowlers across the continent, Chad Belding is out to change all of that. Belding is host of The Fowl Life television show, now in its sixth season, and broadcast this year on the Outdoor Channel. I worked a bit with Belding last winter, as we hunted Arkansas timber mallards on what became one of the greatest adventures of my life. Immediately, I was hooked into his welcoming persona and laid-back attitude. I would later learn how ducks filled his mind at all hours, like they have mine for nearly a decade.
Belding recently sent me two new episodes of the show to get my take. I insisted on sharing my thoughts with you, as well.
To sum it all up, The Fowl Life makes me smile, and that’s no easy feat in today’s outdoor programming. Between relentless sponsor plugs, swayed political bashing, or the overall push to make hunting seem incredibly dramatic or dangerous, I’ve usually had enough mid-way through a half-hour show. But, with the Fowl Life, I simply came away with a feeling that what I had viewed was totally different; almost revolutionary. It was humility, family, respect and brotherhood. For me, it was just like duck hunting.
The show begins with history of Belding, his Banded company, and an overall feel that what we are about to witness is understood by the hosts as much as it is by us recreational marsh beaters. In the words of the opening credits “we know we are blessed; we are not entitled." I couldn’t agree more.
The episodes I viewed were shot on epic hunts in South Dakota at a time when the migration was at its peak. Of course, when you're hunting in a situation like that, it’s easy to make it look easy. But having hunted with Belding, I can assure you that huge numbers of ducks aren't his only draw to the sport. Far from it. He would hunt a pair of gadwalls in a roadside ditch with the same vigor as a million mallards on a private ranch.
But some of those monster hunts are necessary for television. Lots of birds equal lots of close kills, required to give many viewers their fix. I can honestly say the videography on The Fowl Life is the best I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure how the film crew pulled it off -- perhaps these first few episodes were the best of all worlds, including lighting, birds in close and a perfect blue sky -- but the views of crumbling ducks were jaw-dropping.
The Fowl Life seems like a real-life, down-to-earth portrayal of what the majority of us get out of duck hunting. It’s the cool music we throw on in the truck to get pumped up at 4 a.m. It’s dabbing on a little facepaint, spending time with buddies, and hoping that, just once, things all go right. It’s hard work with the potential for an incredible reward. It’s family tradition and the introduction of new hunters to the lineage. It’s truly like no other sport, pursuit or obsession.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.