When he’s not leading his team to touchdowns, NFL quarterback Carson Wentz goes duck hunting
By Kyle Wintersteen
He’s arguably the best-known duck hunter in North America without a scraggly beard. Yet he still remembers the first bird he ever shot, and the countless misses that preceded it. He loves his retrievers, and constantly struggles to balance work with waterfowling. He quarterbacked North Dakota State to two national football titles, was selected second overall in the 2016 NFL Draft and was crucial to the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl LII victory. Carson Wentz is, despite his talent and celebrity, utterly relatable.
If you ever get the chance to chat with him, as Delta Waterfowl’s managing editor did on the eve of Eagles training camp, you’ll find it’s like talking to an old friend. He is unquestionably one of us — a waterfowl hunter and conservationist.
Delta: Are you a lifelong duck hunter? What got you hooked?
CW: I have a different story than most people would assume, growing up in North Dakota. Hunting was something that I did one or two weekends a year with my Dad and my brother for deer, and that was about it. I thought it was OK, but I was too consumed with sports and other things. Then I got to college, and all of a sudden football became more like a job. So I finally started becoming more intrigued with the outdoors. I went pheasant hunting with two of my best friends over Christmas break my freshman year. We saw hundreds of birds, and it was unbelievable. Then, I tried duck and goose hunting and just absolutely fell in love with it. With football becoming almost a full-time job, it became the perfect reset button for me. I regret falling in love with it as late as I did, because I didn’t realize how great I had it in my backyard in North Dakota.
Delta: Do you have a favorite duck or type of waterfowl hunting?
CW: I prefer ducks to geese. Mallards are about as fun as it gets, but there are ducks out there that I haven’t gotten the chance to hunt. I haven’t really hunted wood ducks, so it’s hard to compare to some different species.
Delta: It’s well known that you hunt with golden retrievers. What do you love about the breed?
CW: I did a ton of research on different dogs I liked. Everyone has Labs, and I always like to be different, some would say difficult. But I didn’t want to get a Lab. I think goldens look better. I actually really liked the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, but then I looked at the prices and I was in college, and I said, “no chance.” I found a local breeding of a golden retriever. It came from field lines, but neither parent was a hunting dog — just a pure-bred golden that I could afford. She (Henley) is definitely not a world-class hunter, but she does the job. She’s way more laid back compared to Labs that are just “go, go, go,” but I love her to death and fell in love with the breed. I bred her a couple years ago and kept one of the pups (Jersey). I went ahead and got another (Riggs) about six months ago. Basically, I want as many as my wife will let me have, and three was the number.
Delta: Does a memory of a favorite retrieve come to mind?
CW: I’ve got two of them. The first was back in college with Henley. She was super steady, and if I’d shoot (a bird) and she’d see it, she’d fetch it, but I didn’t teach her how to cast or any of that stuff. One day two birds fell and she swam and snagged a redhead, and swam another 10 yards and snagged the other redhead and brought back two at once. I was in awe. No idea where that came from and she’s never done it again, but it was amazing.
And last fall in North Dakota with Jersey, there was a lesser Canada goose that sailed way over a hill probably 200 yards away and he chased it over the hill. I couldn’t see him, so I walked out 50 or 60 yards, and he was searching around the cattails. Usually I’m overly paranoid trying to guide him, but I just said, “I don’t know where it is,” so I let him do his thing. Next thing you know he’s leaving the cattails and going over the next hill. And I’m like, “What in the heck is going on?” At this point he’s almost 200 yards from me. Sure enough 15 seconds later he comes sprinting over with the goose. I learned that day to trust him more.
Delta: Are there any skills you’ve acquired as a quarterback that translate into working with your dogs?
CW: Patience is the biggest, and being very structured. When it comes to football and taking things in a progression format — when the off-season rolls around you aren’t max lifting the first week off — it’s kind of the same approach with dogs. Don’t do too much. You do the same thing the next day, the next day, and maybe on day four you can increase. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve had to learn, because I’m always the guy that’s like, “Uh I want to see if he can do this 300-yard blind.” Patience with the progression has been difficult for me to learn and implement, but it’s pretty cool to see the basic drills come to life out in the field.
Delta: What’s your dog food of choice?
CW: Eukanuba. They’re taking over the world these days, I think.
Delta: It’s been widely reported that you gifted every member of your offensive line a Beretta over/under for Christmas during your rookie season. Have any teammates since gotten into shooting clays or even hunting ducks?
CW: A couple of the O-linemen already were hunters so it was pretty natural. I don’t know if any have fully gotten into it the way I am, but I did have the O-linemen over to my house the next spring and a lot of them got the chance to shoot their shotguns at clay pigeons and have some fun with that. A couple have since told me they’ve gone and shot a few other times, so it’s pretty cool.
Delta: Who’s the best wingshot in professional football?
CW: I would definitely not think it would be me, because I know I’m very average. That’s a good question. Maybe I’m in the running, maybe I’m better than I think. I don’t know.
Delta: You carve out time for waterfowl hunting despite the rigors of your football schedule. What is it that makes waterfowling and hunting in general such a priority?
CW: First of all, I love it. I love eating the game we shoot. I love the planning, the strategy, the scouting. Setting up with the sun coming up over water or the trees early in the morning, hunting with my brother and other friends and family, creating bonds and memories. I love everything about it. But along with that, with the rigors of the NFL and the so-called fame and pressure and everything I deal with on a normal basis, when I can just get away from that and hit reset and be myself with friends and family, it’s a good stress reliever on top of everything about it that I already love.
Delta: A real barrier to recruiting young duck hunters in 2019 is their involvement in other activities. Do you have any advice for a kid who loves duck hunting, but who also loves football or has other commitments in the fall?
CW: I think everyone’s going to always be searching for that balance, whether you’re a kid who plays football or a person who works an 8-to-5 job Monday through Friday. For me, balance is key. I hunt on my off days, not every week, but some days I’m hunting whitetails or doing different things. And the off-season comes around and maybe I’m fortunate enough to chase some snow geese or other things that replace some time I didn’t get in the fall. You’re always going to wish you could get out more, but it makes you cherish every time you do go that much more.
Delta: Is there a component of Delta’s work on behalf of ducks and duck hunters that you value most?
CW: Helping create (hunting) opportunities and more habitat, and also just being good representations of hunters. There are so many negative connotations of hunters that they’re the ones who just go and kill the animals. But no, we’re actually the ones trying to conserve the land and treat animals as they’re meant to be treated and how God created it to be. So I think Delta being a good representative for the sport, then also the conservation aspects and fighting on behalf of outdoorsmen, I think it’s all pretty cool what you guys do.
Delta: Let’s discuss the Eukanuba Sporting Dog Sweepstakes, in which two winners will spend a weekend with the Wentz Brothers Outdoors Team and top retriever trainers. What do you find most exciting about the sweepstakes?
CW: I’m looking forward to meeting other people who are just as passionate about dogs as me. Getting like-minded people together, and training dogs and learning about training, I think that will just be really cool and very unique.
Delta: One dollar from every entry in the sweepstakes will go to Delta’s efforts to recruit, retain and reactivate duck hunters. What are your thoughts on the importance of introducing first-time hunters to waterfowling?
CW: I think that’s awesome. For kids to get into it and get into it the right way, I think it can be a lifelong sport that changes their lives and provides an outlet from everything else in life. If kids can get into it with good role models who do things above board and with respect to the animals, I think kids — if it’s for them, they’ll fall in love with it and if it’s not, it’s something they can say they gave a shot and did it the right way.