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After U.S. waterfowl seasons have I closed, where does a hunter go to shoot all the ducks he can point a gun at, with no limit, no license and no likelihood of apprehension? The answer is simple: he goes south, to Mexico, where millions of ducks winter each year and where, for a price, most rules protecting them can be waived.
There is, of course, a legal waterfowl hunting season in Mexico. It is a long season running from Nov. 1 to the end of March. There are also liberal legal bag limits—10 ducks per weekday, 20 a day on weekends. As for licenses, they are hard to get, but they do exist, and a hunter armed with pesos, patience and passport pictures can eventually find one. He may never have to show it, but it makes a good souvenir.
One would think the long season and liberal limits would produce enough shooting to keep most hunters in Mexico honest. The majority in fact are, but invariably they are forced to share the blame with game hogs who work hard at spoiling the sport of hunting for everyone.
Commercial hunters used to be the culprits, but this has changed in the last few years, thanks to the protests of conservationists on both sides of the border, who finally succeeded in cutting back market hunting by cutting back the market for the birds. Persuading the owners of restaurants not to serve game birds, and therefore not to buy them from native hunters, took a lot of selling and a lot of shouting on the part of U.S. hunters who were outraged at the idea of their birds being slaughtered like so much poultry.
Technically, of course, the birds belong to the U.S. no more than to Mexico or Canada, since all three countries contribute substantially to their existence. But we have always had a tendency to nationalize the waterfowl that pass within our borders. As a result, the U.S. press has repeatedly criticized the Mexican government, Mexican game laws and, most severely, Mexican hunters, for killing birds it claims belong to the U.S. Such criticism has not tended to improve international relations or the tempers of already beleaguered Mexican authorities who struggle against overwhelming odds to make any kind of game-management program work. Nor does it help solve the underlying causes of excessive waterfowl killing in Mexico.
To begin with, one must understand the fundamental differences between American and Mexican attitudes toward game. To the average American the duck he shoots is a reward of his sport; to the average Mexican, who cannot afford the luxury of sport, it is meat on the table.
This is difficult for most Americans to appreciate. In our society there is no necessity to hunt in order to provide food. Hunting is sport. More than 15 million Americans, representing every social and economic level in the U.S., hunt each year for recreation. Starting at an early age, these hunters are educated to the multiple values of wildlife and to protecting and propagating it for future generations. All hunters contribute financially toward this goal through taxes on sporting arms and ammunition, which are then funneled directly into wildlife management. Many belong to clubs and organizations dedicated to conserving game.
The situation is quite different south of the border. Although a Mexican branch of Ducks Unlimited was formed two years ago, there are few clubs, no public conservation-education programs and neither funds nor personnel to implement game management. There are some Mexicans with sufficient money and leisure to hunt for sport, but they are few and they have little influence upon hunting habits.
The average Mexican is poor, and when winter comes and great concentrations of plump waterfowl flock into his area, no sportsman, club or treaty on earth will convince him that these birds were not put there for his pot. And there is no real reason why the hungry native should not shoot them for this purpose. But this rationale no longer applies when the kill exceeds the demands of the hunter's own table.
If the waterfowl watchdogs in our country were once outraged at Mexican market hunters, they are even more so today at Mexican guides who promote out-of-season, limitless, licenseless duck shoots for a fee. This further "abuse of American waterfowl" for commercial gain has launched new and vigorous criticism of Mexican hunting practices.