Hunting guide: Capt. Jake Huddleston: “It’s just the birds that work and are out there, the people, the water – everything” | Get out
Hunting Guide: Capt Jake Huddleston: “It’s just the birds that work and are out there, the people, the water – everything”
Captain Jake Huddleston’s late mother told him that if someone opened his head, it would be filled with feathers.
She was right. The life of the 45-year-old hunting guide has revolved around waterfowl since childhood.
“That’s about all that has ever interested me,” he said. “All through school it was just hunting and fishing. They tried to make me play soccer, and I didn’t care because I didn’t want to watch the movies on Saturday mornings and not being able to hunt. “
Huddleston grew up in Olivia and did his first duck hunt with his father when he was only 2-3 years old. At the age of 6, he asked his parents for duck decoys for Christmas and birthdays.
Since 1995, he has guided duck, dove and goose hunts in Calhoun and Jackson counties. He has grown his business, Hunt H2O Extreme, over the decades, and has built a reputation for consistency in an industry riddled with uncontrollable factors.
“He is very knowledgeable about bird hunts and we always have successful hunts with him,” said Sam Bass, a Huddleston client who lives in Sweeny and who hunts an average of about 10 hunts with him each season. “That’s why we keep coming back.”
Bass first met Huddleston about 15 years ago, when Huddleston was running for Bay Flats Lodge in Seadrift.
“I hunted with a lot of other guide services that are hit and miss,” Bass said. “I would say he’s actually the best guide I’ve ever hunted when it comes to consistency.”
Huddleston started out guiding on public land, but said he quickly saw the benefit of renting private property, where he could build habitat for migratory birds and not have to worry about land politics that may result from hunting on public lands.
Building a habitat, in some ways, has become necessary. Huddleston is at the forefront of a long-term warming trend and habitat decline that has made the Texas coast less desirable than it once was for geese and ducks.
“It upsets me, but it’s one of those things where no matter what you talk about, whether it’s fishing or hunting, you talk to a senior or your grandpa and they’ll say, ‘Dude, you should have seen them back then, ‘”he said.” It’s inevitable. Things are changing, and they have changed. “
For example, the Midwinter Waterfowl Survey released by Texas Parks and Wildlife in 2018 shows the lowest estimate of ducks in the past 25 years. The goose decline is even more surprising for Texas, which was previously known as the # 1 wintering ground for snow geese throughout North America.
Like many, Huddleston attributes much of the declines to changes in farming practices. Farmers have improved their crops by minimizing waste and improving irrigation over the years and rice production in the area has declined, meaning there are fewer fields of milo, rice and corn. flooded where waterfowl once flocked to feed.
“Everyone’s got things in place now where the water flows so much better, and you can’t blame them because they have to make a living by farming,” Huddleston said. “But with farming practices changing, you can’t just let a piece of land sit there and expect the birds to come.”
Outside of the hunting season, he is busy preparing his leases for ducks, geese and turtledoves. He also guides fishing trips and hog hunts, although his primary focus has always been on waterfowl.
“He takes a lot of pride in it and works really, really hard,” said Marvin “Marty” Strakos Jr., who grew up with Huddleston and hunted with him since they were kids.
While in high school and college, Strakos guided with Huddleston before starting his own boat trailer manufacturing business in Seadrift.
“Jake is one of my oldest friends, and making a living as a guide? It’s tough, for sure,” Strakos said. “And Jake is nothing but a workaholic when it comes to bird hunting… there is no one better.”
Lots of discs, mulching and weed spraying are needed to prepare the property for the season, Huddleston said.
“It’s a manipulation of the soil to prepare it to put water in it, then the water has to continue at a certain time to grow the right food for the ducks and the crops have to be planted at the right time for the geese.” , “he said.” Everything has its own schedule, and it’s not easy to do. “
Everything comes at a price, which is a gamble that a lot of people don’t think about, he said.
“It’s a state of mind,” Huddleston said. “You have to let things get out of hand and be prepared to take a risk. Like last year, I invested a lot of money in geese stuff that didn’t work, so I had to take a blow and get some that money by researching other stuff. “
Waterfowl migration is driven by multiple factors, including weather conditions, reproductive productivity, habitat, food resources, and hunting pressure. The conditions that lead to migration also vary from species to species.
Huddleston watches the weather like clockwork and pays close attention to habitat conditions on breeding grounds in North America, which provide insight into the numbers of young birds that will move south through Texas during the migratory season.
There is no way to control the weather. Some years, strong cold fronts only push birds shoreward on the last weekend of the season, and hunting is difficult, Huddleston said.
But going through tough years always helped him find a way to make things work, he said.
“We put in every effort, and if it got to the point where we ran out of ducks, then I promise you no one has ducks,” Huddleston said.
‘You must be someone human’
The season for doves, teals and Canada geese opens each year in September, followed by the opening of the regular season for ducks and pale and brown geese in November.
With the exception of Christmas morning at his wife’s request, Huddleston guides and discovers birds every day of the regular duck season. He also hires three to four guides to lead additional trips on his leases.
Most of his clients during the regular migratory bird season come from out of state and have hunted with him for 10 to 20 years, he said. In November and September, he says he mainly guides Texans who come from big cities.
With the exception of one year during the Great Recession, Al Henry has traveled to Texas with friends every year to hunt with Huddleston for the past 20 years.
The 60-year-old man from Virginia said his group killed up to 11 different species of ducks and four to five different types of geese in a single trip.
“Jake has a great ability to call (birds) and can identify different species a mile away,” Henry said. “If your gun breaks down while you’re hunting, he can also take most of them apart in a blind and fix them, so it’s not a wasted day. I’ve seen him do it a bunch of times.”
Although very important, guiding is not just about a person’s ability to put their clients on the birds or their in-depth knowledge of the sport. The key to being a good guide is to create ease, said Huddleston.
“Everyone wants it to be easy,” he said. “They come here to relax. They don’t want to walk in the mud, and they don’t want to sit in the mud. The other thing # 1 is you have to be a social person.”
With the guides he hires, Huddleston emphasizes the importance of having an outgoing and lively personality when speaking to clients and spending time with them.
“I’m seeing kids now who are great duck hunters, and I’m starting to think, ‘Well, maybe he looks a lot like me. “But I haven’t found anyone so crazy about it yet,” he said. “I’m still watching these kids because I’m always looking for more guides. They have to have people who can talk to people and make people laugh. “
Later, Huddleston knows he will eventually have to find someone to take over the business he created. But until then, he said he was constantly trying to gain weight without getting so big that it got out of his control.
Thinking back on his career as a guide, he said he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I still love him,” Huddleston said. “It’s just the birds that work and are there, the people, the water – everything.”
JB Custom Calls and Riceland Custom Calls are solid options for high quality calls, said Huddleston.
Joe Briscoe started JB Custom Calls in 2006 after about a decade guiding waterfowl hunts.
His company is based in the Mont Belvieu region and focused on ease of use.
Briscoe said his calls were made to last a lifetime. It offers bespoke fittings and personalized engravings such as company logos.
“The main part of personalizing what I do is tailoring the appeal to the person,” he said. “When you buy a call here it’s for life… if you need help, if you need it returned or reworked, you can come and bring it here.”
Briscoe uses a variety of materials including acrylic, bowwood, mahogany, maple, khaki, and cocobolo.
The teal calls are $ 45, the wood duck calls are $ 85, the speck and crane calls are $ 175, and the acrylic duck call, known as “TCA”, is of $ 150.
For more information, call Briscoe at 832-262-0271 or check out his business page on Instagram, @jbcustomcalls.
Riceland is based in Hayes, Louisiana, and sells goose and duck calls. James Meyers and Bill Daniels started the company in 2010 and have resellers in the United States, as well as Russia, France, Ukraine and Bulgaria.
The nearest dealer is Johnny’s Sports Shop in Eagle Lake, although all Riceland calls can be purchased online at Ricelandcustomcalls.com.
Duck calls range from $ 40 to $ 125 and goose calls range from $ 80 to $ 195.
The DR-85 Double Reed Mallard Call made by Haydel’s Game Calls is the best “bang for your buck,” Huddleston said. It has excellent “duck bran” and is easy to find.
Most major sports and outdoor stores and several online retailers sell the Appeal at prices ranging from $ 16.99 to $ 22.99.
He’s dubbed Haydel’s “deceiver” and No. 1 salesperson, according to the company.
Based in Bossier City, Louisiana, Haydel’s sells a wide variety of calls for duck, goose, turkey, small game, deer, big game and predators. For more information visit haydels.com.