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None but the most careless bird comes within fair range of these barrages, and wild, long-distance shooting is the rule. On one Missouri shooting grounds two hunters required 288 shells to take their eight ducks—36 shots a bird. At Wisconsin's Horicon Marsh during the years 1953-1957, 23 shots were fired for every goose brought to bag. The State of Michigan recently published a table of statistics on its Swan Creek Public Shooting Area giving a five-year average of 68 shells for every goose, with a high of 84 shots per goose in 1953.
Such carelessness inevitably means crippling. At Horicon in 1958 the number of crippled geese was counted at 1,100. These birds, mortally injured but still able to fly far enough to become lost to the hunters, represented the total offspring of about 250 breeding pairs, which had required perhaps 100 square miles of pristine nesting range. In terms of everyday economy, the waste was better than three tons of meat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has just published an estimate of the 1958 goose kill for the country as a whole, showing a cripple loss of 169,000 birds, more than 300 tons of meat and an immeasurable agony for the wounded birds.
Most public goose-shooting reserves have an inner boundary area, a "retrieve line," usually delineated by a wire fence. When a wounded goose falls behind this barrier, the hunter is not allowed to seek it out and put it to its merciful end. Refuge managers realize this is cruel and wasteful; but on these mass-production shooting ranges it could not be otherwise, or else some hunters, on the pretext of retrieving a cripple, would stir resting birds to flight.
As one means of cutting down on the terrible crippling, the manager of a state-supervised shooting ground in Indiana has suggested a limit of six shots per day per man. However, state restrictions on the number of shells in public blinds are not yet popular. One typical gunner said in rebuttal to the idea of a shell limit, "When I go shooting, I like to shoot."
In order to make doubly sure that he gets plenty of shooting, this new type of American sportsman sometimes brings Grandma along, and then shoots her limit as well as his own. One live wire brought his kids on repeated trips, each time under a different name, taking several limits in a season.
The plain fact is that while it may be easy to set up duck hunting facilities and to establish rules, it is next to impossible to control the behavior of people shooting under public auspices. Dan Saults, assistant director of Missouri's Conservation Commission, agrees that hunting standards decline on public ranges. "A lot of money being spent by wildlife agencies today," he says, "goes to provide easier opportunities for gunning—which must inevitably concede quality for quantity.... The money was provided by people who wanted ease of recreation and did not consider it of lesser value thereby."
A conservation officer for the State of Indiana suggested recently that it might be better for both birds and men if each predawn applicant at refuge headquarters simply was given a packaged duck or goose instead of a ticket and a free ride to the public blind.
Besides being slowly suffocated by the embrace of Big Brother in the duck blind, wildfowlers both on and off the public refuges are harassed by gunning laws that often are impossible to obey. For example, this year the canvasback and redhead are completely protected in the United States and only one "mistake bird" of either species is allowed in Canada. And yet in both countries gunners are permitted to shoot over areas where these birds, in their drab juvenile plumages, come and go with other ducks, flying against bright morning or evening light. In such situations even a trained biologist might err in identification. As for the average hunter, in a series of tests now being conducted at the Delta Waterfowl Research Station in Manitoba, the first 40 gunners encountered this season could not identify a canvas-back or a redhead when the live birds were within 10 yards.
These are not the only species which hunters do not recognize as protected. On the central prairies the shooting of whistling swans is not uncommon, while farther west there is evidence that the trumpeter swan is under considerable gun pressure. At almost every marsh after opening day grebes, gulls, pelicans and other nongame birds drift to the shore line in rumpled clumps of feathers.
The unenforceable laws that beget the killing of protected birds also lead to disrespect for game regulations in general. In many areas where ducks are plentiful, bag limits on legal birds are blatantly ignored. For example, on northern waters in the early season hunters will often shoot dozens of birds in one day but pick up only their legal limit.