Gone Huntin’

Dummies’ Guide to ‘Duck Dynasty’

A&E’s breakout hit Duck Dynasty shattered the network’s records and beat out or tied all other broadcasts last night. Melissa Leon on what you should know about the duck hunting reality hit.

A&E’s sleeper reality hit, Duck Dynasty, delivered a whopping 6.5 million viewers with its season finale last night, setting a record for the network and topping even broadcast shows like Survivor, Nashville, and The X Factor. But we wouldn’t be shocked if you’d never heard of it before. Just how did a show about duck hunting beat out Britney Spears, you ask? Here we present a guide to the redneck reality show that dominated the tube.

What is Duck Dynasty?

Duck Dynasty is a reality series on A&E about the Robertsons, a regular ol’ “redneck” Louisiana family who became millionaires after creating a new, more efficient kind of duck call. According to legend, the family patriarch, Phil, turned down a career in the NFL in order to spend 25 years in a dilapidated shed making duck calls out of cedar trees. His “eureka!” moment came in 1972 with the creation of the “Duck Commander,” the duck call that eventually made him rich.

Hold on, a duck what?

A duck call! Duck calls are short, whistle-like tools used to emit “quack” sounds in order to lure ducks for hunting. Different duck calls can sound like different species of duck, or even like ducks doing different things, like eating. They’re not as easy to use as they look, though. Just ask Conan O’Brien.

Um, so they’re rich? Why do they look like they live in caves?

With their out-of-control beards, camouflage and black face paint, the duckmen look like the stuff of TSA officers’ nightmares. But their grizzly trappings make for deadly efficient duck hunting—and they also make duck hunting look ridiculously cool.

More than anything however, the Robertson men just aren’t interested in stepping up their fashion game (or in grooming equipment). Willie, Phil’s son and the CEO of Duck Commander, once attempted to get his brothers and uncles to wear company uniforms and was met with outcries of, “You’re losing your redneck roots!” Instead, their decidedly non-millionaire dress code is a sort of visual cue for the humble, conservative values they embody: The Robertsons are portrayed as a tight-knit, devout family who put loyalty, love, and their church above all else. And it’s getting enormous response from red state audiences that relate. As one viewer fondly wrote on the show’s website, “This is how me and my kin are around each other as well. We joke, we fish, we hunt, we work and we poke fun all in the name of love.”

Why do so many people watch this?

You could say that Duck Dynasty has become a viewer favorite because of its heartwarming message about family, the American Dream and the rewards of hard work. It may also be because, unlike other reality shows about Southern families thrust into contrived situations (a certain absurdly nicknamed mini-pageant queen comes to mind), Duck Dynasty doesn’t point and laugh at its subjects. In fact, the Robertson family, who call themselves “rednecks” as proudly as the Jersey Shore stars reclaimed “guido,” have even admitted that the series is a sort of “guided reality.” Though that means that some of their antics are scripted, it also means that the Robertsons are in on the joke—and relishing it with wry, deadpan humor.

But who are we kidding? People watch this show for Silas. Si is Phil’s younger brother, a Vietnam war veteran, and the dictionary definition of “crazy old coot.” On last night’s season finale, Si and Phil’s son Willie dressed up as Santa and an elf (Si was the elf) to talk to kids at a local church. When asked by a little girl how long it took for them to get from the North Pole to the church, Si blurted, “It was OK, ‘til we lost the reindeer. One of ‘em had a heart attack from pulling that heavy sled, but it’s OK. We ate him for three days.”

“Guided reality?” So they’re not really as rednecky as they seem?

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Whether the Robertsons are playing a giant joke on the audience or not is a question that naturally comes to mind while watching the show. But, if you believe one New York Times writer, the duckmen really are as genuine and funny as they are on TV—they’re simply being themselves in situations that producers put them in. Neil Genzlinger, who spent an afternoon with the family, wrote, “Phil really does sprinkle his conversation with the catchphrase ‘happy, happy, happy.’ Si, Phil’s brother, really does have a penchant for saying the unexpected and outlandish. Willie and Jase really do trade barbs almost nonstop. The wives really do look considerably better and often sound considerably savvier than their husbands.”