Handling dogs. Hunting bobwhite quail. Making and selling art.
Durrell Smith's canvas comes in disparate forms at times, but he sees a single current charging all of his activities and pushing him in new directions.
One direction is Minnesota.
Smith, who grew up in the Atlanta area and still lives in Georgia, just raised money through the sale of his watercolors, drawings and other works for a nonprofit founded with his wife, Ashley. Minority Outdoor Alliance (MOA) is built on creating opportunities for people of different backgrounds to make connections to the natural world.
On Sept. 9, Smith will visit Minneapolis to further that mission with others. He'll appear at Backcountry in Your Backyard, an event bringing the trifecta of wild food, hunting and conservation associated with rural life to the metro. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, a conservation group, with support from MOA and Modern Carnivore, a metro business focused on wild foods and hunter education, is the lead organizer. It features a cooking demonstration by chef (and new hunter) Lachelle Cunningham at her CityFoodStudio near George Floyd Square.
Smith, too, and other hunters also will talk about roles in a related online video series produced by Modern Carnivore and Pheasants Forever (PF) called "How to Hunt Upland Birds" (HowToHuntUplandBirds.org). Last, Smith will hunt grouse Sept. 29-Oct. 1 up north at Camp Olson in Cass County. Grouse Camp 2023 is a mentored hunt organized by MOA, Modern Carnivore and PF. For Durrell, the hunt will add dimension to his trip last fall to hunt ruffed grouse in northern Minnesota.
Mark Norquist, Modern Carnivore's founder, said Smith's presence as a new leader in the outdoors is unmistakable, "creating his own style in how to do that in a modern context."
"He has been able in a shorter number of years to really figure out and master that understanding of an upland hunting lifestyle and welcoming people into it," Norquist said. "There is not a chip on his shoulder at all. He is purely about sharing his story and his love of the upland and getting more people out into it."
In a conversation this week, Smith talked about wins in trying to connect with people through his nonprofit, the pleasures of guiding hunts for others, and how his art and time afield overlap. His remarks were edited for length:
On the Minneapolis event
"I think it is going to be fantastic. There is a lot of energy going into it. From what I've read, I'm excited to finally meet [Lachelle Cunningham]. Her energy is going to be the whole vibe now. That is going to be a good time. In 2023, we win people through food. Like, when does that not work?"
On hunting grouse last October in Minnesota
"We had 26 ruffed grouse flushes in a day. I've never seen anything like that before. I was out with my good friend Dawson Ingram [also of Georgia]. He got me into a beautiful spot."
On art's connection to his hunting life
"I grew up as an artist. I've seen the world in that perspective, in that lens, as a thing of art and as a thing of beauty. As I've grown I've gotten into the weeds of Southern culture — what that means in a fine arts sense and a sense of hunting. I'm still from Atlanta, still very Southern, and my roots are still down here. When I was adopted into the Black [Dog] Handlers Club, of south Georgia, learning how to ride horses and work a dog off of them, learning about the culture, it was just as deeply rooted in art as my fine art pieces. All of it is process-oriented. From working a bird dog to watching that young dog grow and develop and reveal things is the same as making a painting."
On art to bridge hunters to nonhunters
"[The art] is giving hunting a new narrative. A new narrative of the relationship of people to hunting. You're not going to see guns in my work. You might see the odd shot shell. It's not that I have a problem with it, so much as I want people to understand [hunting] from a different viewpoint. I want them to understand it without the baggage that comes with firearms, right? Once I get you in the room with me, now we can talk about heritage, now we can talk about why I don't shoot that often when I go hunting, or I might shoot a .410 or a 28 gauge because it's an artful thing. There is a dance that you have with nature."
On guiding hunts for Orvis, an outdoors company
"That's been a platform that has really offered me a lot of access to people heavily into the outdoors who want a new experience. It offers me a chance to connect with people who want that investment. When I take people out, it's my goal to help people find something out about themselves in addition to the woods."
On learning about making his nonprofit effective
"I'm a former art teacher. The best part about teaching, whether it be in the classroom or in the woods, is when those students reveal themselves to you. Because that is not anything I can come into the room with. You walk with them. It's no longer them looking up to you, but becomes a thing where now we are both figuring out this thing together. You are trusting my expertise and knowledge, and that is great, but I am trying to get you to tell me what is preventing you from getting outside. So often we get people who frankly don't want to reveal that because they don't feel comfortable."
"The thing I really got into with Minority Outdoor Alliance is, now I can be a model for someone in the outdoors. What that looks like is being able to create a life for my family, being able to sustain a living and enjoy it. I can show folks in our socioeconomic groups that, yes, there is the generational baggage and yes, we don't ignore things that history has shown us, but what we can also do is create new opportunities and new models and new means of sustaining ourselves.
"It is not anyone else's responsibility to mitigate generational fear, but it is our responsibility to empathize and understand that that fear is there, it is real and comes from a founded place. There are a lot of things we have to open up and create a space for before we even get to the conversation of conservation."
• Backcountry in Your Backyard, Sept. 9. Information and registration details at backcountryhunters.org/backyardmn.
• Register for the free upland bird-hunting series at HowToHuntUplandBirds.org.
• Apply to attend the grouse camp at bit.ly/grousecamp.