Black Duck Revival
Photography by: Marianne Nolley
I’m so excited to invite you to my conversation with modern-day Renaissance man, Jonathan Wilkins. Jonathan is a former firefighter and landscape designer, turned professional hunter, outdoor guide, chef, podcaster, historian, musician, and writer. He is incredibly thoughtful, open minded, and inquisitive about the world.
Jonathan founded Black Duck Revival, a hunting lodge in Brinkley, Arkansas, where he offers stays, excursions, and educational experiences. The business came out of a desire to bring together hunters of all backgrounds and experiences to support and learn from one another.
Jonathan grew up in the city and only began hunting, fishing and foraging as an adult. He immediately fell in love with learning different historic and modern processes to acquire wild food. Hunting has strengthened Jonathan’s connection with the natural world and he is passionate about encouraging others to reclaim their own self-sufficiency practices.
In 2017, Jonathan bought a run down old church in Brinkley, AK. At the time, he was looking for a small camp he could stay at while away from home on hunting expeditions. However, the church needed extensive repairs, and he was forced to gut and remodel the entire space. The financial toll of renovating the church was a lot more than he had expected, but in order to make his purchase worthwhile, Jonathan decided to go all in on restoring and modernizing this former place of worship.
The idea for Black Duck Revival came as a result of the transformation of the space. Jonathan began putting on events there he called "Revivals," a reference to the building's former life. He invited a group of friends and interesting folks he wanted to get to know better to come stay and hunt with him. He aimed to establish the community he always longed for, where he could learn from other hunters and share his own knowledge as well.
After years of passion, practice, and study, Jonathan began working as a guide in the hunting space. He first guided catfish trips, and eventually expanded his offerings, now working as a private guide for hunters and fishermen of all levels.
As Jonathan became more known in the wild foods and hunting space, he started freelancing as a writer and lecturer. He now writes for Backcountry Journal, Outdoor Life, and various other hunting and outdoor magazines. He is passionate about learning and sharing ancient processing and harvesting methods, as well as studying and writing about the history of hunting.
Jonathan has a unique perspective as someone who came into hunting as an adult. He believes hunting is a way for him to lead what he calls a participatory life. So much of modern culture is experienced through consuming things from a distance. Hunting is the complete opposite of that. There are no shortcuts. The food aspect is a benefit, but it is not the primary reason that most people hunt. There is constant variability in the experience. The option for failure is there, so it focuses your attention on how to innovate and improve your skills.
Although hunting ultimately involves the taking of a life, hunters also gain a deeper respect for the natural world and the creatures that reside in it. In the podcast, Jonathan shares his experience in March 2020, going out catfishing after the witnessing the madness and empty shelves at the grocery store. Knowing that he had the skills and wherewithal to provide for himself and his family through his landscape is what calmed him and made him confident they would stay fed, whatever came.
In our conversation we speak about embracing discomfort to expand your horizons, the meditative and healing benefits of hunting, advice for anyone wanting to hunt/catch/or forage wild food, and how to build mutual respect and community in a rural area. Jonathan shares his perspective on why we hunt, the profound experience of taking to the woods with a purpose in mind, and the wholesome nature of eating and sharing what you have worked so hard to procure.
This is a story about participating fully in life, turning your passion into your profession, growth through challenge, and the value of integrative self-reliance.