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A Game HoggTM Interview With:
Kevin Popo ..Interviewed by Mike Bard
Kevin Popo resides in
Kevin, I always like to start off in the beginning, so letís talk about when you first got into waterfowling. What about waterfowling caught your interest? And who was there to get you started?
Kevin: Iíd say it all kind of started, when I was a kid in high school, a friend of mineís dad was big in a hunting club called the Tall Pine Club, which is still around. We used to go with his dad, mostly just duck hunting and that is how I started out. There werenít a lot of geese around to shoot, however youíd see them, we just never got any.
Do you remember your first hunt or your first bird? Tell me about the hunt and what your first bird was.
Kevin: My first duck was a black duck, but to be honest with you, Iíve had so many hunts that I canít remember the specifics of the day. Typically back then it would have been a salt marsh situation where we hunted from a walk to blind that my friend and I had built. It was off the beaten path, but also where the ducks were coming to. Mostly it was teal, woodies, blacks and mallards. The year would have been probably 1981 and this was also the time I began dabbling in calling.
What drove you to pursue goose calling competitively? And how many years have you been calling competitively?
What drove you to pursue goose calling competitively? And how many years have you been calling competitively?
Kevin: What got me into competition goose calling is a funny thing, I actually was buying some decoys off a guy down here who owns Del Bay Guide Service and like anything we started talking shop/hunting and we got talking about blowing calls and stuff. Now this was back in 1986 and he started blowing a Knight and Hale ĎDouble Cluckerí. I thought he blew the call very well and he told me that I needed to go check out John Massey who owned Shooterís Supply, a big gun store down here in Delaware because he was really good. I ended up going down the next week and introduced myself to John and asked him to blow his goose call. He did and I was really impressed, so I bought a call from him and quickly discovered it wasnít the call. I couldnít blow it and figured there must be a trick to it, so I called John back and he introduced me to Keith McGowan who had just won the World Championship and his brother Bobby who was just as good. Keith was real busy with college at the time, so I hooked up with Bobby and we were able to get together about once a week in 1987. Bobby was also a really good duck caller and had won some regional stuff, so he was able to give me a lot of tips and help. I picked up on what he could do and then just went to a couple calling contests and watched. Knowing I wasnít at the highest level, I thought that I could probably compete with most of the guys. That is pretty much how it all started.
Do you recall your first calling contest? How about your first calling contest victory?
Kevin: I started competing in 1991 and like anything new, I did terrible, not winning, not placing, and not anything, just competing. At this time, I competed in just a couple contests a year at the novice or beginner level. How it really kind of ratcheted up for me was in 1994, I met Sean Mann at the
Having won the World Goose Championship back to back in 2001 and 2002, then the 2004 Avery International Goose Calling Championship, plus multiple state and regional calling contests, which is your most memorable contest?
Kevin: Well I donít always remember the great hunts, but I remember the hunts that went bad. I tend to remember those more. The most memorable one to me was 2000 when I placed 4th in the Worldís. I got 4th place and it broke my heart because I thought I was really on my game and I had done the best that I could ever do. I felt I blew above what I had ever done before and it was going to by my day, but obviously it wasnít. This contest really stuck with me because in so many contests you come off the stage thinking you werenít strong in a particular of your routine or you struggle somewhere, but not that day. I thought everything went perfect and it only got me 4th place. It ended up being a good thing because it made me really ratchet up my calling over the next year with the mindset that I was going to win it in 2001 or die trying.
At this time Iím not actively competing and Iím focusing on my guide service. I competed for about 15 years and there is just a point where you have enough. It takes up a lot of time practicing, as there was just never a magic wand that I waved to be good, I really had to work hard and practice my routines 2-3 hours a day. That time becomes a real hard commitment to make after the 10 year point.
What advice can you give to aspiring contest callers?
Kevin: My best advice is not to worry about following other callers. Follow the geese. Listen to goose patterns and the sounds they are making in the fields. A lot of times someone wins with a routine and theyíll continue to do well, then their routine is on the Internet and people are trying to create cookie cutter routines off that. You really have to go listen to geese and itís most important to sing your own song. In your mind you know the sounds geese like to make and what you can do best, so put your own signature on your routine. It would be like main street duck calling, if everyone got up there and did the same thing. Personality in your routine is important.
What is your role with Sean Mann Calls? The Sean Mann ĒEastern ShortyĒ goose call is offered in two Kevin Popo signature series editions. Did you help in designing this call or how did there become a Kevin Popo series of the call?
Kevin: Iíve been with Sean for years and we started out friends and then later became pro-staff. Seanís staff is much different than any other pro-staff Iíve been a part of in that itís all family and friends. My roll is going to dealers to do seminars or instructional classes when Sean asks. I have a very small role.
My hand in the design of the Eastern Shorty goose call was Sean loaned me the second one he made for competitions (Keith McGowan had the first) and through our comments and Seanís changes the call was refined to what it is today. The only difference in what is sold and the call that I used in competition was the thickness of the reed, I personally like a heavier reed.
Letís talk about guiding and Kevin Popo Guide Service now. How long have you been guiding? How long have you been in business for yourself?
Kevin: I previously worked for Del Bay Guide Service and also
What kind of waterfowl hunts do you provide? Ducks, geese, dry field, water, flooded impoundments, layout blinds, pit blindsÖ
Kevin: All that... I do duck hunts from blinds, impoundment hunts, marsh hunts, I try to have a little bit of everything going on, so I can provide whatever the people are looking for. For geese I use pits and layout blinds. I have the equipment and the spots to do it all; it just depends where the birds are.
In September, mobility for resident geese is the key, so I bounce around from ponds to fields and use a variety of blinds styles to stay on the birds. I like to do duck hunts from layout (marsh) boats in fresh water marshes during October and I can run up to 6 layout boats. These are just a few means I use in the first couple months of the season.
What times of the year are you hunting snow geese and what kind of experience could a client expect from a
Kevin: Traditionally the hunt is going to be layout hunting in a field of winter wheat, soy beans or corn, as those are our three main crops here. I like to use either portable blinds or white chair and white suits, so we can be right in the rig. I hunt over about 800 shell and full body snow goose decoys. For us itís really all in the scouting and getting in there and hitting them first, which is different than the
Take me through a day of your life during the waterfowl/guiding season? What time does it start, end, and what are you doing all day?
Kevin: The night before I watch the weather channel and second guess if the weatherman is right and what I should do based on the predicted weather. I go through and double check my gear then go to bed. Morning of the hunt, I get up about 3:30, drive to the location Iím hunting and set up the rig because Iím a stickler for details and I want to get it right and on the same hand I donít want to stress my clients out in setting up, unless they ask to be part of it.
Once things are set, I drive over to the meeting place, meet my clients, give them a little safety speech, check licenses and then we all drive back to the farm. We go out and actually hunt. During the hunt, you are always keeping an eye on your clients to make sure they are being safe and not moving around too much. There is always some second guessing, if a group of birds doesnít do it right. We hunt until we have our limits or around noon-1 pm. After the hunt, we may go get something to eat or if we did really well and were done early, I may offer to take the group to a different area to try for ducks, if we hunted geese already.
Once I leave the clients, the real work begins again. I go scout some of my other farms and marshes, move some decoys or trailers around to different locations. I may need to stop in to see a farmer to keep up my relationship there. Through the afternoon, scouting continues, as I return calls from potential clients. At some point you decide on what your plan in for tomorrow. You may have some maintenance to do on gear or decoys, might have to re-grass some blinds or maybe do some book keeping. Finally I get something to eat and itís back to watching the weather channel while I make some phone reminder calls to clients who have booked for later in the week. About 9 pm itís off to bed.
Pre-season and early season you spend countless hours securing properties, building blinds, maintaining gear, grassing blinds. Then towards the end of the season I start packing things up and storing them for the off season. Itís a busy life, but I love it.
I know that a lot of guides have other ďseasonalĒ jobs besides guiding. Do you do anything besides guide?
Kevin: Oh yeah, I work in a maintenance department at a juvenile corrections school full time year round.
I understand that you are very active in building and monitoring wood duck nesting boxes. Can you speak to your efforts regarding wood ducks?
Kevin: I first got into this when some local kids built boxes for a DU project and had one left over and it was given to me. I figured I put it up and see what itís all about. Well, like with calling, my failures mean more than my success. So I put it out on a pole and I watch it and notice wood ducks are using it. I check it and notice there are some eggs in it. I didnít want to bother them and I knew theyíd hatch in about 28 days, so I decided to wait like 40 days and go back. When I went back to check, I opened the box to find all the ducklings had hatched, but they were all dead in the box. This made me feel like I had just crippled every bird I had ever shot at and initially couldnít figure out why they were all dead. Come to find out, the box never had wire mesh installed on the inside, so the ducklings couldnít climb out.
My initial experience motivated me to learn more about wood ducks and their nesting habits. I know run 100 boxes across different marshes. Itís a lot of fun and now Iím turning out up to 600 wood ducks on a good year.
Approximately how many wood duck boxes have you built?
Kevin: Well all I use know are the plastic boxes to be honest with you. I think it is more cost effective for me to spend my time putting boxes up than building them. I try to put up 10 new boxes each year.
From your experiences with wood duck nesting, can you tell me what locations, types of boxes, strategies work best for nest usage and success?
Kevin: I never put a box up on land, as that is just asking for problems. Mice love them on land and over water you cut down on the number of predators big time. I always slide a PVC pipe over the base, but I donít let it go all the way to the ground. Leave the PVC up about 6 inches from the ground and then take that expandable insulation and fill in the top of the PVC. This will prevent a lot of issues with snakes from climbing the pipe. I then also use a 30Ē predator guard to help protect the box from raccoons.
Another big thing is to make sure you clean the box out each winter and place fresh shavings back in the box. Always use shavings, not saw dust. Saw dust can stick to newly hatched birds and itís so dry that is can choke the ducklings. Additionally, you need to know where to place your boxes where wood ducks will use them. Donít worry about if the area looks ďmarshyĒ or not, what you want to do is look in the water and see if you can find aquatic bugs or invertebrate because at nesting time, they will need protein and eat a lot of aquatic bugs.
As the hen initially lays eggs, one at a time, sheíll bury them in the shavings, until she has laid her last egg, then sheíll uncover all of them and sit on them. If you watch your boxes carefully, you can count 28 days from the day the hen lays her last egg and come back to see the ducklings hatch. The ducklings only spend one day in the box, as the hen will call to them from outside and they will climb out and drop out of the box.
From where it all began to now, how has your waterfowling evolved for you?
Kevin: I think it has come full circle for me. On my fun hunts, itís probably very similar to back when I was a kid. I still enjoy a cold morning in the blind and I enjoy watching the birds. When Iím fun hunting, I donít pressure the birds much and just shoot what comes in, where as when Iím guiding, I have to be in attack mode and I try to get every flock to come in.
Does your schedule allow you to do much ďfunĒ hunting or to get out of the Delaware/New
Kevin: Well I still fit in some fun hunting. Currently Iím in two different local duck clubs that have nothing to do with my guiding and at both Iím just a member. I spend most of my ďoffĒ time duck hunting, not goose hunting.
You can also see Kevin in action on the Sean Mann video Family Tradition.
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