By Chad Love
When I read news stories about the upcoming hunting season, it's no great stretch to make the assumption that one of my dogs is going to be getting a whole lot more mouthfuls of feathers than the other one. Duck populations (depending on species) are at record or near-record highs while many upland bird species continue to slide toward historic lows.
Just in my region, the lesser prairie chicken - once the most populous upland gamebird species on the southern plains, so numerous it was market-hunted by the millions - will most likely be listed under the ESA. Meanwhile, populations of the bobwhite quail, King Bob (in many hunters' minds the very epitome of the upland hunting experience) are at range-wide, all-time, never-seen-before, staring-into-the-abyss lows.
But it wasn't that long ago when duck hunters were the ones asking themselves if this was the beginning of the end. And if it was, they were at least going to go down swinging. So began the federal duck stamp program in 1934. Anyone wishing to hunt waterfowl would be required to buy a federal migratory bird hunting stamp. The result is, of course, our beautiful, priceless, world-famous, uniquely American and completely self-funded national wildlife refuge system. Where would modern American wildfowling be without the myriad benefits of the duck stamp program? I don't know, but I'm pretty sure it'd be nowhere near what it is today.