Arkansas Sportsman

Waterfowl conservation clouded

Brent Birch addressed the most controversial aspect of duck hunting at the Duck-Onomics presentation Tuesday at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock.

The event, hosted the Little Rock Rotary Club, highlighted the tremendous impact of duck hunting has on the Arkansas economy. Birch, executive director of the Little Rock Technology Park, is one of the state's premier authorities on duck hunting. He is editor and co-creator of Greenhead: The Arkansas Duck Hunting Magazine, and author of "The Grand Prairie, A History of Duck Hunting's Hallowed Ground." He is also co-host of the Standard Sportsman podcast.

Birch is a middle-aged duck hunter whose genteel perspective of the sport is largely in decline. Unprompted, he commented on a pejorative image that the contemporary duck hunting community enthusiastically self promotes. His brief comments, thankfully, did not lament the passing of old ways, nor suggest ethical or moral superiority of one generation versus another. Neither did they bluntly criticize the modern state of the sport. Instead, they soberly distinguished the chasm between modern hunting behavior and conservation ethic.

Sadly, the two do not overlap much.

Birch, 53, contrasted the difference between hunting in 2023 and when he did in 1983. The biggest difference, he said, is that the gear is a lot better now. Shotguns are better. Ammunition is better. Boats and motors are better in terms of being able to get hunters to places they couldn't reach in the past.

That puts a lot of pressure on ducks, and it conspicuously influences their behavior.

Ducks used to rest and loaf in the woolly, inaccessible areas of public green tree reservoirs. Now there is no rest in those areas. Hunters use their heavy-gauge aluminum boats with pointed bows and surface drive motors to scout places where ducks were once safe.

Ducks respond by finding and staying in places where hunters can't go. Not surprising, those locations are on private property that don't allow duck hunting after an early hour. Those places also have designated rest areas. This intensely annoys public land hunters who loudly complain that private landowners hold "all" the ducks.

Social media is the bullhorn that the contemporary duck hunting community uses to glorify its behavior and its ignorance and, by extension, its utter disregard for the resource that supports it.

"Social media has made a mess of waterfowling a little bit," Birch said. "A lot of the bad stuff gets brought to the forefront, and none of the good stuff. It has created a lot of factions in the sport."

There are a few givers in the duck hunting world that spend a lot of money, time and resources creating and enhancing duck habitat. We have waterfowl because of them.

There are a lot more takers that not only give nothing back, but they project an attitude that their mission is to maximally deplete the resource.

Among this crowd, everything is a competition. There is a race to be first to the boat ramp. There is a race down the boat lanes to be first in the woods. There is a race not to reach a hole, but to beat somebody else to a hole. Conflict, harsh words and even fistfights are endemic to this culture. Danger is good. It attracts Instagram and TikTok followers. It makes for good video on podcasts.

Hunting itself is a competition. It's not just hunters competing against each other, but hunters competing against the ducks as if a title or money were at stake.

It projects an awful lot of taking and a lot of disrespect for the resource. The givers, the people that revere the resource, do so quietly. They don't seek attention but when they accept it, they do so for the sake of the resource.

For every envelope-pusher publicly debasing our sport, there are 20 others in the same woods who are doing it right. They are unseen and unheard among the waves that the others roil.

The conservation mission and duck hunting's role in that mission suffer because of them.

Birch did not say all of that outright, but that is what I heard.

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