A wildlife expert in Washington theorized recently that hunting pressure grew too fast after World War II, and that making things tough for duck hunters is one sure way to prevent future growth. Some sportsmen feel the strict federal regulations reflect pressure by antihunting factions such as the National Audubon Society, whose president, Carl W. Buchheister, last week urged that all duck hunting be banned this year.
Some Fish and Wildlife people privately suggest DU deliberately inflates the status of the duck population in the hope that bag limits and seasons will be increased and the group's backers will be able to kill more ducks. DU's brood count prognostication is attacked as "too hasty," and the point is made that many immature ducks may not survive predatory animals and other natural hazards.
This year most state game department officials seem to be siding strongly with DU. Some have bluntly condemned the Government's method of establishing seasons and bag limits. They contend that regulations should be more sensitively tailored to each flyway. Last week the states, through their flyway council delegates, presented their recommendations to the Government.
The Atlantic and Pacific flyway councils were particularly unhappy at the possibility of further shooting restrictions. The Atlantic Waterfowl Council claims that in states north of Delaware Bay many migratory birds, including black ducks, scaup and goldeneyes, are drawn from breeding grounds not affected by drought and not carefully surveyed by federal crews. The Pacific Flyway Council offers the same argument, claiming that most ducks using the West Coast migration route breed in Alaska, western Alberta and other areas not generally affected by drought. Consequently John Biggs, director of the Washington Department of Game and chairman of the Pacific Flyway Council, has asked the Government for a 90-day season, 15 days more than last year.
"More ducks have wintered in this flyway in the last five years than at any time in the past," he says. "The Fish and Wildlife Service knows this; they conduct the winter waterfowl inventories here every year." Biggs added that hunters on the West Coast are losing interest in ducks. "You can hardly blame them when the federal regulations are biologically unsound."
The flyway councils concur on another point: that the Government is too concerned with mallards, pintails and teal. They want the Government to try to divert at least some of the hunting pressure to less popular species by easing bag limits on them.
Thus, in a shot-and-shell atmosphere of conflicting claims and shortening tempers, the hunter's future for at least one more season is being settled. Those who can still smile about the ever-stricter regulations may enjoy the suggestion of Theo Cromer, a Fort Worth sporting goods dealer who is considering marketing a black-and-white-striped suit for hunters. "If a man is going to prison for shooting the wrong duck," says harassed hunter Cromer, "he may as well be dressed for the occasion."