The chill north winds are sweeping across the plains and prairies of Canada, the breeding and nesting grounds of North American ducks, and the great southward migrations have begun. As ice locks their familiar bogs and ponds, the ducks are driven into the U.S. (to the considerable relief of Canadian farmers?see page 47) in search of the water they must have for drinking and resting.
Though the ducks aren't aware of the boundaries, each fall they follow four main routes known to hunters as flyways. These are arbitrarily determined by states so that there can be uniform shooting regulations in the areas within each flyway.
Shooting began in northernmost states in early October and continues generally into December. Each flyway is considered a separate entity, and regulations vary from one to another. Briefly, here are the general 1954 flyway seasons:
Atlantic?60 days, 4 ducks daily.
Mississippi?55 days, 4 ducks daily.
Central?60 days, 5 ducks daily.
Pacific?80 days, 9 ducks daily.
From the hunters' viewpoint, the ducks have never had it so good. There were game laws in the East as far back as the 18th Century but they were mostly antinuisance laws that were ignored. In 1791, for instance, the fine for shooting woodcock in the streets of New York was #1. Probably the first really useful law, passed in New York around 1844, made the possession of game out of season a violation.
Spring shooting was banned by many states in subsequent years, but it wasn't until the Lacey Act of 1900 that the killing of game as a business began to slow down. The act made shipment of illegally killed game across state boundaries a federal offense.
In the next decade so many state laws were made (240 in a single year) that Outing magazine expressed sympathy for sportsmen "caught in this maelstrom of game legislation." In 1913 the Weeks-McLean Law put migratory wildfowl under federal protection and the ducks had a champion at last. Their future was further strengthened when the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, between the U.S. and Great Britain, took effect in 1918. Under it Canada regulates its duck and goose shooting with the same master plan that governs hunting in the U.S.
The biggest boost the ducks have had came with the great drought of the mid-1930s. In the prairie states the sloughs and potholes and swamps dried up, ruining the breeding grounds of millions of ducks. So great was public sentiment for action to help the ducks that in 1934 the Duck Stamp Law was enacted to provide a dependable income. Every wildfowl hunter was required to buy a "duck stamp" (then $1) each year.
Three years later a group of sportsmen founded the nonprofit Ducks Unlimited organization, which concerned itself mainly with restoring breeding grounds in Canada's prairie provinces. So far it has transformed to usefulness more than 700,000 acres of wasteland and is presently at work on 60,000 acres in the Hay Lake area of Alberta.
In 1937 the Pittman-Robertson Act was passed. It set up an 11% excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition (a similar levy is now made on sports fishing tackle). This money goes into a fund in the U.S. Treasury which will pay out to states $3 for every $1 spent on approved wildlife-restoration projects. The duck hunter helped further to perpetuate his sport in the past season with duck-stamp payments (now $2) of $4,542,860.