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Featured Guide: Dusty Brown

A duck guide's version of Nomadland.
Dec 2, 2022

Brown is self-taught in the art of hunting waterfowl and competitive calling.

Not everyone wakes up one morning and decides, “You know what? I think I’m going to be a waterfowl hunter—a goose hunter and duck hunter.” Fewer still say it out loud, to no one in particular, save for the tabby cat sleeping in the armchair. And there’s more. “Tomorrow, I’ll also become a competitive caller. Oh . . . and a guide. Let’s not forget that.” Yes, sir; those folks, I reckon, are few and far between.

But, lest one thinks otherwise, such people do exist. Oregon’s Dusty Brown, 50, is a fine example.

“My dad,” Brown began when I asked about his early years, “was a rodeo cowboy, and he traveled a lot. He made a living riding broncs and bulls. I really didn’t have a whole lot of chances to hunt. We had a little ranch here in Silverton, but I didn’t get into hunting until high school. College. . . Well, that’s when it started to get serious.”

Deer, mule deer specifically, were on the hunting menu back in the day, Brown explained, thanks to his dad. But ducks and geese? That was an entirely different story.

“I was self-taught when it came to ducks and geese. Back then, you just didn’t google ‘duck calling.’ You bought a cassette tape from an ad in the back of a hunting magazine in order to listen to someone blow a call. And I still didn’t know if I was doing it right. But once I started getting into contest calling and traveling here and there, I figured out what I needed to sound like.”

Yes, and to a large extent, Brown was self-taught, not only in the art of hunting waterfowl, but also in his presence and abilities on the competitive-calling stage. That’s not to say he didn’t have mentors who taught him the proverbial ins and outs of sounding just like the real thing—or better. And he draws a distinction between competition calling and calling in the field.

“Tim Grounds was the father of the short-reed call, and he was winning a lot of contests with them. Sean Mann. Those were the guys I wanted to sound like when I went to call geese in the field. I think I liked Tim because he was a good contest caller and he killed a lot of geese. These days, it seems you have guys who are absolute killers in the field, and then guys who are really good contest callers.”

It was tough at first for the young waterfowler, this competitive calling racket. “I didn’t do very well, especially when I travelled to the Midwest and East Coast. I didn’t win anything back there. Most of my success on stage was here on the West Coast.”

An understatement, I would call it, when you consider Brown’s titles include three first-place finishes in the Oregon State goose-calling contest, along with a number of two-man wins with his calling partner at that time, the legendary Bill Saunders of Kennewick, Washington.

“Bill has helped me out tremendously. The first contest I went to, I wasn’t blowing a Saunders call. I just had a goose call— maybe a Knight & Hale or something like that. Bill must have seen I had some natural ability and picked me up.”

As things worked out, Brown eventually used one of Saunders’s calls and is now an Elite Pro Staff member for Bill’s company.


Brown has blended two disciplines: he’s a champion contest caller and a talented guide in the field. His titles include three first-place finishes in the Oregon State goose-calling contest.
Photos courtesy Dusty Brown

From Stage To Field
And as a page in the book that is Brown’s life turned, his focus shifted to another facet of waterfowl hunting: guiding.

“I can’t recall which came first, the chicken or the egg. But when I started contest calling, there were people who said ‘Hey, this kid’s got talent. Maybe he would make a good guide.’ So I showed some interest.”

That interest had roots in Texas—Knox City to be precise.

“My very first guiding gig was in Texas. I worked for Webfoot Outfitters hunting little Canadas down there. I was green. I was the bird cleaner and helped set spreads. By the end of the season, though, I was running my own hunts.”

The year was 2000, and Brown was a fast-rising up-and-comer at the ripe old age of 29.

From Texas, Brown moved northeast to Missouri and points both north and south, where he worked for Tony Vandemore, a rising star at the time and who’s now well known among waterfowlers. Back then, Tony was in the early days of running his Habitat Flats enterprise, which had operations around the continent.

“I guided for Tony’s Habitat Flats lodge up in Saskatchewan, along with the original lodge in Missouri and, at the time, a lodge in Kansas. And we had a snow-goose operation in Arkansas. For a couple of years, I guided for Tony in four states and two provinces.”

His time in Canada, Brown said, was a literal smorgasbord of ducks, geese, and sandhill cranes. In Missouri, it was a steady diet of mallards, with a variety of other puddlers thrown in for good measure. Come spring, Brown traveled south to Arkansas, where Vandemore and his guides spent day after mud-covered day in search of that one big white grind.

“We’d do two weeks in Arkansas,” Brown recalls, “and then drive north to Missouri once the birds moved up.”

It was at this point in our conversation I told Brown he sounded like the very definition of a duck gypsy, referencing a story I’d written more than a decade ago of the same name.

“Duck gypsy is a great phrase for it. I’m pretty nomadic. Not so much right now because I’m not doing multiple lodges. I’m just doing Texas this year. Last year, I guided in western Nebraska for Prairie Rock Outfitters. It was a tough year out there. Right now, I’m only running about three months out of the year. With Canada shut down, that knocked off about half my season right there.”

Which brings us, I believe, to his plans for fall 2021.

“This year, I’ll be with Final Descent out of Lubbock, Texas, guiding crane hunts—a few goose hunts but mainly sandhill cranes. Texas is where I started guiding, and I wanted to finish my career down there. Another 10 years would be great, but, I’d also like to go back to my roots in the Pacific Northwest.”

It’s easy and perhaps understandable to listen to someone like Brown and wonder if there’s anything he hasn’t done—to wonder if he, who’s been a waterfowl guide for the past two decades and stood on many a contest stage and seen things few other ’fowlers have been privy to, has a bucket list. A web-footed dream?

“I’ve never hunted mallards in natural flooded timber. I’ve never stood against a tree and rapped at them with a cut-down call and watched them float down through the green timber. That being said, I just need to cash in a couple of chips and go.”

Perhaps, Mister Brown, it’s time to point that pickup to the south and east come January. For it is true—once a gypsy, always a gypsy, especially when it comes to something as nomadic as the North Winds, orange-legged mallard ducks, and the men and women whose entire lives revolve around them both.

M.D. JOHNSON is a full-time freelance outdoor writer and wildland firefighter living in southwestern Washington with his wife, Julie, who’s a talented photographer. With them are two black dogs, three cats, three ducks, and five chickens—all in a 98-year- old cedar shake-sided place affectionately known as the Little Red House.

From the Fall 2021 issue of Guidefitter Journal.

Guidefitter Staff
Bozeman, Montana
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