To duck hunters
across the nation, the birds above, silhouetted by the fading moon, are a
symbol of the opening of the 1960 waterfowl season. This year, in a few fine
marshlands, such as those at Stuttgart, Ark., shown on the following pages, a
handful of gunners will enjoy duck hunting at its best. Elsewhere in the U.S.,
despite a slight increase in the numbers of ducks and geese heading south from
the breeding grounds, the quality of hunting has deteriorated alarmingly. On
the pages following these photographs Duck Biologist Albert Hochbaum discloses
some shocking examples of state-supervised waterfowling, and offers a radical
program for protecting the future of the sport.
BIG BROTHER, GO
When the wildfowl
come swinging down their ancient flyways this month, a few will be met by
isolated gunners—on a New England beaver pond, an Arkansas bayou, a western
ranch. But mostly the birds will be greeted by platoons of hunters who flock to
public shooting grounds, some waiting in line for as long as 24 hours to get a
blind. On these crowded marshes gunning has become less than a sport. The
wildfowl no longer hold their place of dignity, nor is one man able to honor
the prior rights of another and still hope to get a bird himself. Cars park
close to the blinds, and among the reeds 30 or 40 men may be stationed where
there is room for only three or four.
shooting reserves, with their mobs of trigger-happy hunters, are becoming more
and more heavily used. Marshes on private land, which used to support a great
many hunters, are being drained at a rapid pace, often at public expense. In
many wetland regions once lush with game—for example, Jackson and Nobles
counties in Minnesota—the only shore lines left are on state land.
Crowding on the
public marshes is made more acute by conservation departments and other
agencies which build all-weather roads to the shooting areas and carve out huge
gravel parking places. Indeed, in an Indiana state reserve the modern
wildfowler can be escorted to his blind in a state vehicle, while in Missouri
he finds his way in the predawn with the help of reflecting signs.
Some states lend
decoys, others rent them out. Retrieving dogs are encouraged in Indiana, banned
in Missouri. Often there is a long printed list of dos and don'ts handed to
each man as he heads out into the marsh: "Hunters must remain in their
blinds; if they depart, they cannot return.... Other types of hunting shall not
be permitted," etc., etc.
Swan Lake Refuge the grounds manager gives a predawn speech, which has been
preceded, on occasion, by a recording of The Star-Spangled Banner. The hunters
come stiffly to attention until the last note.
Once dawn has
brought the morning flight, there is often a Big Brother overlooking the
blinds. One such official uses a public-address system.
"Blind No. 6,
Blind No. 6," the voice blares across the marsh, "you are shooting too
high. Correct for distance or depart." But Big Brother is not such a bad
chap, despite his threats. Now and again he gives such helpful advice as,
"Blind No. G 62, get down! Birds coming in on your left."
grounds are often surrounded by private farmlands where shooting is on a rental
basis. On good days there may be several teams awaiting their turn; as one
group takes a limit, another steps in. Thus the geese, besides being shot at
over state land, must also run a gantlet of privately sponsored gunfire.