The sport of waterfowling feels like it is at a crossroads. As hunting has gotten tougher the past few years, the divisiveness within the ranks of the waterfowling community seems to be growing. Today it’s public land hunters vs. private, young guns vs. old school, in-state vs. out-of-state, disgruntled hunters vs. the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and whatever other factions there are out there.
The vibe around duck and goose hunting just doesn’t feel right.
Maybe that feeling comes from the last few seasons being substandard based on anecdotal hunter success and extrapolated data tracked by the USFWS. The pandemic may be to blame as it squashed the spring Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey two years in a row, to where nobody really knows where the population stands while what we see with our own eyes begs the question, “Where are the ducks?” Or maybe it’s the volatile duck hunting-related content on social media. Most of the skirmishes between the groups listed above are carried out over the keyboard with no productive results.
My belief is that some see duck hunting as an equal opportunity endeavor. By purchasing a license, some people feel they are entitled to more good hunts than not, while anyone having a better season is either unethical or buys their ducks by throwing countless dollars toward food plots and more. Unfortunately, unpredictable, wild, migrating birds that use a finite type of habitat don’t lead to equal hunting opportunities.
Also, duck hunting has zero responsibility to always be like the 1 million mallard, 1999-2000 Arkansas seasons or other good seasons from the past. It will ebb and flow like it has for a century. When conditions are right, hunting is good and when it’s not, we struggle.
The mindset of the modern waterfowler would benefit from a shift, with more of us aiming to exist as hunter/investors versus hunter/consumers. Hunter/investors would be a waterfowler who understands and contributes meaningful, impactful efforts to benefit a resource — in our case, ducks and geese — for the obvious benefit of providing better hunting. For clarity’s sake, the investment is not all necessarily money.
A hunter/consumer is a lesser used term, but probably more people land in this category. And I’m not talking about a consumer in terms of having all the latest gear, fanciest boat, biggest truck or most decoys. This would be the hunter that is all take, with little to no give.
A hunter/consumer has no investment in resources, no investment in habitat and no investment in conservation organizations, all while expecting full straps more days than not. Also, there is very little investment in understanding the dynamics related to what drives good, decent or poor duck seasons. Too often, they are running wild with misinformation or finger pointing as to why a season is substandard.
Modern-day waterfowling simply doesn’t work that way. Maybe once upon a time it did. There was an era when hunters could just kind of show up and good hunts frequently happened. But not any longer. The times, the ducks, the geese, the farming, the habitat, the pressure and the weather have all changed.
I firmly believe the shifting of more hunter/consumers to hunter/investors would lead to more satisfactory days afield. And again, being a hunter/investor isn’t all about pouring money into a piece of property, as not everyone owns or has access to good duck ground. Make no mistake, every donated or invested dollar counts to benefit the resource, but volunteering or practicing good hunting principles — like not shooting hens for example — also tie to conservation. That is an investment for the longevity of the sport.
Education, even at a high level, would lead to more hunter/investors joining the ranks. Understanding more about the wild fowl we chase and understanding more about the impact habitat, or lack thereof, plays on a duck’s expectancy. Also, it is important to understand the impact of human and gun pressure, which are at an all-time high in Arkansas, on duck populations and habitats. Deep dives into science are not required; it is more a matter of separating fact from fiction. There is too much misinformation in the waterfowling world that is holding the sport back instead of allowing it to progress.
In these times, the duck hunting fraternity would benefit from caring less about the take and more about the give, or at least shortening the gap between the two. Time, money, energy to benefit the resource (waterfowl) and more cooperation are needed to perpetuate the sport of waterfowling. In the end, we are all duck hunters that need to be pulling on the same end of the rope. We aren’t at that point today, as there is too much take, not enough give.
Conservation leads to better consumption. Consumption without conservation will bring a sad ending to a sport we all love. That is a guarantee.
There is no time like the present to jump on board the hunter/investor train.
There’s plenty of room.