(Greenhead.net Pro Staffer Matthew Finley hunts private ground near Des Arc and the Grand Prairie from public waters of the Cache and White River. Look for more of Matthew’s contributions throughout the fall and on through duck season.)

In today’s high-tech world, many duck hunters know things have changed over the last 30 years in the ways of equipment we use to pursue waterfowl.)

The 1999-2000 season opened Pandora’s Box into the age we now know as the “Robo Duck,” or Spinning Wing Decoy (SWD). Hunters including myself used them, and success rates were very high. Hunters flocked in droves to their favorite hunting spot to hunt ducks, some for the very first time.

With SWDs, things were now on an equal playing field. For the most part, calls — or even little knowledge of how to call — weren’t needed, and decoys were for folks who just wanted to add something to the effect. Ducks literally flocked into every bit of water where one of the SWDs was set up.

Flash forward a decade and we now have several things to choose from to lure ducks into our spread. Most of the time batteries are required and in some cases are mandatory. The Class of ’99 is here to stay, which is not a bad thing. With the increase of hunters, this new generation spawned a lot of income for different kinds of people in the hunting industry, spurring sales of stamps and hunting videos and raising revenue for camo companies and hunting stores. Everyone benefited from this new group of waterfowlers.

Introducing people to the sport of waterfowling is the only way to keep the tradition alive long after we’re gone and something I support whole-heartedly.

But there are two sides to every coin. I know there are some people who won’t hunt without a SWD and some people who won’t hunt with them (and I fall in with the latter).

The sad thing is, things are forgotten when we try to achieve high levels of success the easy way. And the arguments happen all the time, everything from who has the fastest boat motors to who has the most effective SWD.

But the reality is, if we don’t have the habitat, the fastest boat and the best call won’t increase your chances of high bag limits.

The Ducks Come First

Lets back up to the 1999-2000 duck season. Most people will overlook the fact that we had 13 million mallards flying south that fall. As I stated, that was the year the “Robo Duck” was introduced here in Arkansas. But it was also the highest count of ducks we had coming our way ever.

Our harvest number reflected it. According to Flyways.us, our mallard harvest was a little more than 1.14 million, the highest in the U.S. as always. The main reason for this was not the SWDs but the number of birds thet came to Arkansas that fall.

The reason for this was simple: The habitat was there. As most every duck hunter knows, the very key to success lies in the Pothole Region of Canada and the North-Central U.S. Without proper breeding grounds, ducks of any species have little to no success of population increase. Yes, there are the arguments that ducks also face a number of new challenges coming down the Mississippi Flyway. Farming practices have changed, and, for the most part, food is available north of Arkansas that, 30 years ago, was not available.

Arkansas still leads the nation in mallard harvest. We still kill more ducks than anyone else, taking 605,000 in 2009-2010. Contrary to popular belief, we kill more mallards than Missouri (220,000), Louisiana (150,000), Iowa (40,000), and Mississippi (120,000) combined. In all fairness, I think it’s safe to say we have more hunters going afield than these states do, but the reality is we take the biggest piece of pie. Keep in mind that Mother Nature plays a large part in our success as well, but I think its our job to have the right elements in play when she cooperates.

Habitat is Key

Habitat is the key to success when it comes to duck harvest, both in the Pothole Region and here in Arkansas. Ducks don’t come to Arkansas for rice. They were coming to Arkansas long before the first rice stalk was grown in Carlisle. Ducks come here because of the great wintering habitats we have to offer.

But it is equally important for an Arkansas duck hunter to pay attention to the habitat a duck needs in order to reproduce, which ensures we have a high concentration of fall flights.

There is are more than 2 million acres that will come out of CRP this year alone. What that means to a duck hunter is no more duck habitat. That ground will soon be plowed under to make way for agricultural farming that won’t support a nesting hen.

Now, don’t hear me wrong. Farming is a great industry. I have several friends in the farming industry. Farmers deserve to make a living just like everyone else, and if they are not planting a crop to support their families they should be compensated for it. Government programs such as CRP are great for this but at some point the money runs out.

Everyone is A Conservationist

It is a never-ending battle, and if you think it’s beyond your control, I would just as soon you not purchase a stamp this season. Each hunter that goes afield this fall is a conservationist whether he or she admits it or not. It’s our job to protect the resource we pursue and ensure its ability to survive.

I know some think organizations such as Delta Waterfowl and Ducks Unlimited are nothing more than t-shirt factories, but these organizations are committed to habitat restoration and Pothole Regions. Sure, they have their flaws and yes there are some things they do that I don’t agree with, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to support their overall general efforts.

In today’s economy it’s hard to think about breeding grounds and habitat projects. There are certainly more important things to worry about these days, but at some point in the not-so-distant future we will start dusting off the decoys, breaking out the waders, and setting the alarm clocks a little bit earlier. When you are doing these things, think about ways you can help. Even if it’s just a small part. If the habitat goes away so do the ducks.