Ask Phil Robertson about his days as a three-sport star in high school, and his recollections are a bit vague.
Also spotty are his college memories from Louisiana Tech--surprising when you consider he started at quarterback ahead of NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw.
If you want specific details about Robertson’s early life, you have to ask questions that don’t involve football stardom or his two college degrees.
You have to say the magic words: Duck hunting.
“I killed my first duck 40 years ago, and I can still take you right back to the spot where it happened,” said Robertson, who grew up in Vivian, La., near Shreveport. “Right now, today, I could lead you to the exact spot in the timber where I was standing and the exact spot where the duck fell.”
It should come as no surprise that ducks and duck hunting stay so fresh on Robertson’s mind.
Since dropping those first birds in that stand of Louisiana timber four decades ago, Robertson has used his passion for duck hunting and his immense knowledge of the sport to build a waterfowling empire with legions of faithful, quacking followers.
PHIL’S HUMBLE START
Known globally as the Duck Commander today--and recognized by millions for his long, rugged beard--Robertson began his career in the waterfowl business as a self-proclaimed “nobody.”
As one of seven children in a family where money was tight, hunting was as much a way to keep food on the table as it was a recreational pursuit.
As a high school athlete, Robertson was All-State in football and baseball, earning a football scholarship to Louisiana Tech. That’s where he competed against--and bested--Bradshaw.
Upon leaving Tech, the two took very different paths. “Terry went for the bucks, and I chased after the ducks,” Robertson said. “I think that’s why Terry looks like he’s 80 years old today--no hair, no teeth. The pressure of running from 350-pound violent men took its toll on him. You don’t have that kind of pressure out in the duck blind.”
It's evident by Phil's love of the outdoors--and his career path--that he feels he's in a much better place than his old QB pal Bradshaw.
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With a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a master’s in education, Robertson spent several years teaching. But the doldrums of the classroom ultimately convinced him his talents would be better spent in the woods.
BIRTH OF AN EMPIRE
As a duck hunting fanatic, Robertson began toying with the idea of building a duck call for duck hunters--not world-championship contest callers. He built his first call from a piece of walnut in 1972, offering a craftsman four dressed mallard ducks to bore a hole in the wood for him.
“When I first started toying with the idea of making a duck call, I spent some time listening to real hens in the field,” Robertson said. “I realized right quick that real ducks and competitive duck callers don’t sound anything alike. It’s always been my opinion that a duck couldn’t even place in a duck-calling contest.”
On the advice of a friend, Robertson began peddling his calls under the name Duck Commander to nearby outdoors stores--some of which literally laughed him out of their doors. Then one day, he caught the attention of an executive at Wal-Mart, and his life and career were forever changed.
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“That first year we sold $8,000 worth,” Robertson said. “The next year, we sold $14,000 worth. Since then, the whole thing has just kept growing and growing.”
With a major contract in place, Robertson ditched his classroom chores and went full time in the waterfowl business with some commercial fishing on the side. He moved his operation to a picturesque patch of land on Arkansas’ Ouachita River. He chose the land because it’s flood-prone--and draws plenty of ducks.
NEXT TIME WITH DUCK COMMANDER
Going Beyond Duck Calls: Phil Robertson’s venture into duck-hunting videos and his decision to grow that now-famous beard.
Editor's note: Please check back in a few weeks for the next installment of interviews with Phil Robertson. While you're at it, be sure to check out the Duck Commander website for the latest in new calls, dvds, video clips, history and more: www.duckcommander.com
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