By Brent Birch, contributing editor
Experienced duck hunters should serve as recruiters and mentors for new waterfowlers. None of us came out of the womb an expert at hunting ducks. Somebody took us into the woods, showed us the ropes, and stoked the fire that keeps us trudging out there in cold, wet weather hoping that today is one of those magical days.
For long term sustainability, ducks need hunters. That may sound counterintuitive given the end goal of hunting, but without the contribution of time and money towards conservation initiatives, the duck population would undoubtedly suffer. And no other group contributes more to waterfowl conservation than hunters.
Waterfowler numbers peaked in 1970 with over two million hunters. Then came tough seasons in the late 1980s and early 1990s, reducing participation. Thirty and forty day seasons with low limits made the experience hard to justify for a lot of people. Last year there were 852,400 waterfowl hunters according to the United States Fish & Wildlife Service’s 2021-22 Migratory Bird Hunting Activity and Harvest Report.
Those numbers might appear alarming, but that cadre of committed hunters are the best conservationists ducks could hope for. Conservation dollars raised through leading organizations like Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl fund projects across North America. Not to mention the money raised through the sales of federal and state duck stamps, license sales, and taxes from the Pittman Robertson Act. All of those dollars are for ducks and their vital habitat.
Hunter recruitment is top of mind for conservation organizations and should be a priority of active waterfowlers as well. A fraction of a percent of the US population hunts waterfowl, meaning that duck hunters have less influence in decision making and are producing less of the very revenue that waterfowl conservation depends on. Loss of clout and fewer license sales will lead to governmental budget cuts, and those cuts affect the maintenance of state and federally managed hunting grounds. That would be especially hard on public land hunters. As crowded as some public hunting areas are during the peak of the season, just imagine if those grounds deteriorated to the point that ducks no longer used them due to insufficient conservation support.
About the Author
A lifelong waterfowler who cut his teeth duck hunting in the White River Bottoms at Crocketts Bluff as well as rice fields and reservoirs across Lonoke, Prairie, and Arkansas counties, Brent Birch is the publisher of The Grand Prairie: A History of Duck Hunting’s Hallowed Ground, which details the legacy of Arkansas’s rich waterfowling history. He is also co-creator and editor of Greenhead: The Arkansas Duck Hunting Magazine and co-founder of the Arkansas Waterfowler Hall of Fame located in Stuttgart, Arkansas.