Tag Archives: waterfowl

Get a look inside the mind of a new hunter

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Students from the University of Delaware pose for a group photo during their waterfowl hunting education course at Blackwater NWR, Credit: Chris Williams

Recently, a group of University of Delaware students visited Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland to learn about waterfowl hunting and wildlife conservation. Although they’re each pursuing studies in natural resources, all of them were first-time hunters.

The program, offered through a new partnership among Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, offered hunter education, shotgun safety training, and background on managing waterfowl populations.

Aside from the practical training and experience in the field, the program prompted the students to explore their feelings about hunting in general. Here are some of their individual thoughts about the experience.

How I dealt with feelings of  guilt:

“My fears spawned from the action of the hunt itself; if I do succeed, how will taking that life affect me, either on site or after I come home? Can I personally consider taking a life, “success”? Will I let my leaders down if I cannot bring myself to squeeze the trigger after all the effort in training me?”

– Dawn Davin

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Credit: Chris Williams

How I made it through my first hunting trip:

“In fact, I was calm up until it was time to shoot. Everything happened so quickly. I am not used to shooting a gun, I am used to shooting clay birds, and I have no idea how a bird even lands in the water. I shortly found out, very quickly. I am up first. I see birds coming in as Jerry tells me to get ready. I respond as if I have never shot a gun before. I forget how to even hold the stock into my shoulder. As I am struggling to think straight, the birds see us and fly away.”

– Morgan Cochran

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Students pose with a collection of duck decoys, Credit: Chris Williams

How my opinion on hunting has changed:

“I find that my opinion of hunting has changed considerably through the course. I always knew intellectually that hunting was an integral part of managing many species across the globe, but really honing in on the specifics and taking a part in that management connected me to the topic more. I learned so much about how setting goals for certain waterfowl species can aim to stabilize their population, and I got to participate in making those goals a reality.”

–Josh Zalewski

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Two students prepare for their hunt, Credit: Chris Williams

My final reflections on the day:

“The one time I began to feel guilty and question exactly why I went hunting was when I talked to my boss about it. She knows there are population control benefits to hunting, but wasn’t sure why I personally wanted to be a part of it. Like many of my friends and family members, she was surprised to hear that I, animal lover extraordinaire, truly enjoyed killing an animal. It was difficult to explain why I wanted to and enjoyed the hunt when put that way, but I was able to “change her mind a bit” after I told her about the economic benefits, the reasoning behind certain policies, impact of invasive species, and so on. I will certainly have to do some more self-examination to determine my true stance, but that is a challenge I welcome.”

– Samantha McGonigle

 

 

 

A Conservation and Family Tradition

Judy Sefchick Edwards, Wildlife Biologist, shares the conservation and family traditions at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. 

Ducks in the air and leaves on the ground mark both the end of summer, and the beginning of a long-held tradition.  The refuge boat launch is bustling with young, smiling faces, animated chatter, and enthusiastic adults taking photos, to preserve great future memories.  It’s the start of Vermont’s duck hunting season, with the Youth Waterfowl Hunting Weekend at Missisquoi NWR!

Surrounded by the genuine fervor and excitement, I can’t help but smile.  Not only did this crew have a successful refuge hunt, but they also had a memorable family day outdoors.  Again, I’m reminded that the conservation tradition of waterfowl hunting, and the purchase of Federal Duck Stamps, has made it possible for us all to experience and enjoy our National Wildlife Refuge System.

“Missisquoi NWR has one of the northeast’s largest, natural, freshwater wetland complexes, and is one of the last truly wild places in Vermont,” says native Vermonter, Chris Smith, an avid first-generation duck hunter, and father as well as mentor, to junior duck hunters, Zach and Caleb.  Not only are the Missisquoi Delta and Bay Wetlands important stopover sites for migratory waterfowl in the Atlantic Flyway, but they’re RAMSAR designated “Wetlands of International Importance” too.

What’s more, this refuge is living proof that duck stamps do more than provide a license to hunt.  With ninety-eight cents of every dollar going towards National Wildlife Refuge System lands, it’s no surprise that 87.5% of Missisquoi NWR was bought with duck stamp dollars.  Chris is proud to buy them and says, “Without duck stamps, the number of waterfowl, water birds, and other wetland-dependent species would decline, as would the opportunities to recreate in these special places.”

Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. Click image for more information about Duck Stamps.

This weekend, the Smiths arrived at the refuge with great anticipation and preparation.  Chris says, “I enjoy seeing all the ‘firsts’ for young hunters:  wearing waders, getting stuck in mud, or shooting certain ducks.”  A month earlier, the family attended the refuge’s annual Junior Waterfowl Hunter Training, to improve skills and discuss safe, ethical hunting, and wildlife conservation.  Completion of the training, and a subsequent lottery draw, gave these juniors a chance to hunt in sought-after refuge blinds.

As a mentor, Chris won’t hunt, but says, “It’s rewarding to pass along knowledge and experience, and have an opportunity for real quality time with my sons.”  He’s proud to have passed this tradition down to them.  Chris remembers when both boys shot their first banded ducks at the refuge.  “I’ll never forget their excitement and pride,” he said, then added, “Without the refuge, my hunting experiences would be greatly diminished, but the loss of wildlife would be even more devastating.”

Caleb and Zach Smith at the end of a hunt on Missisquoi NWR

Missisquoi NWR means different things to different people, but the age-old tradition of waterfowl hunting is the reason this refuge exists.  For some, like Caleb, the refuge represents a chance to observe and hunt near the greatest concentration of waterfowl in Vermont. “Seeing lots of ducks and having many opportunities to shoot, sets the refuge apart,” he said.  To others, like Zach, “It’s a place where I can get out of the house and do stuff I love—whether it’s hunting, fishing, or banding ducks with Judy.  It’s a great place.”

 

The Art of the Duck Decoy

Whether you prefer watching birds wiz through the air or waking up to the crisp, colorful mornings of fall, we can all agree that beauty can be found in nature every day. For accomplished artist Michael Braun, he recreates the beauty he finds in nature through his talent of carving. Though he is an award-winning and talented painter, duck decoys are Mike’s specialty, and a gift that’s been shared with him from his father since he was nine years old.  The pair bonded over the beauty of waterfowl, the art of carving, and the family tradition of hunting. With over 25 years experiences in the art of carving, Mike is still finds joy in creating a custom, one of a kind pieces of art for others to use and enjoy.

Historically, duck decoys were made out of any material and feathers one could find to resemble a duck. Using decoys to draw ducks to an area where they feel comfortable and secure gives a hunter an advantage when attempting to harvest a meal. Today, decoys are still made by hand, but usually out of wood or foam materials. Creating a decoy can take 12 to 15 hours, a process that spans two days, and sometimes even longer for art competition pieces.

Mike begins the process by cutting and roughing out the shape of the decoy. Once carved, he hollows out the duck shape and glues the pieces together. After the glue dries, the seams are cleaned up and sanded to produce a fine finish. When the wood is properly sealed, the vibrant colors of the duck are produced with oil paints. The finishing touches include adding proper weights to provide balance for proper flotation.

In a world full of new technology and less time spent outdoors, Mike hopes to keep the art of decoy carving alive for future generations. You don’t have to be a hunter to appreciate the beauty and intricacy of duck decoys. These beautiful works of art are often elevated to showpieces, never touching the water. And if you love ducks and duck art, the Federal Duck Stamp is a great way to show your love of ducks and contribute to conservation.  Michael and his father are avid hunters and conservationists, and hope that the craft they share continues to inspire and connect the next generation of birders and hunters to conserve and protect waterfowl and the habitats they call home.

Click here to see more great works of art by Michael Braun.