The Duck Stamp

The first Federal Waterfowl Stamp, issued August 14, 1934, artwork done by renowned artist Ding Darling.

Continuing on with my preseason blog posts about waterfowl hunting, and on the cusp of a hunting trip with my cousin and some friends to some of the public land areas in Wisconsin this weekend, I figured a good topic for this post would be the history and importance of the Federal Duck Stamp.

America’s early years saw a land teeming with millions of waterfowl, the skies filled with them during their fall migration, dubbed “The Grand Passage.” As with most wildlife during the first 100 or so years of America’s existence, waterfowl became a commodity that was seemingly endless. Market hunting for waterfowl became an industry, with market hunters killing hundreds of ducks in an outing, using such weapons as punt guns. Punt guns were very large bore guns affixed to the bow of sneak boats, where the hunters would creep to a raft of ducks and fire the large gun, killing hundreds in one shot.

Artist’s rendering of the tactic of using a punt gun during the market hunting days.

Market hunting waterfowl fed the demand from the restaurants in the east for wild game, and the feathers of various birds were used in the expanding millinery trade. But the market demands also led to the decline of waterfowl populations by the turn of the 20th century.

The effects of market hunting combined with the loss of wetland habitat due to drainage for farming, and an extended drought in the 1930’s created a dark time for America’s waterfowl. Millions of acres of wetlands had been drained, much of which in reality wasn’t suitable for farming anyway. Something had to be done or America’s waterfowl would be gone from the landscape forever.

In order to preserve and restore wetlands, money needed to be raised. In 1934, during the height of the dust bowl and Great Depression, President Franklin D Roosevelt signed into law the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, better known as the Duck Stamp Act. As I covered in a previous post, Hunting is Conservation Part 1: Follow the Money, 98 cents of every dollar spent on the stamp goes to restoration and protection of vital wetland habitats.

Under the law of the act, anyone 16 years old or over is required to purchase one and have it with them while hunting, and has to sign it across the face of the stamp. This certifies the person to hunt waterfowl in conjunction with other state requirements.

The first duck stamp cost $1 and as specified by the Act, 90 percent went to a special account called the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund for the aquisition, maintenance and rehabilitation of wetlands. The remaining 10 percent went to enforcement of the Act and the printing of the stamps. As the years went on the price of the stamp has raised to meet the rising demand of the cost of wetland protection and expansion, and it’s current price of $25 was recently done.

The stamps, as declared by the Act and it’s amendments through the years, are to be sold via the Postal Service and also at designated spots deemed by the Department of the Interior. Various sporting goods stores, retailers, and to include the gas station down the road from my house carry and sell the stamp until their quantities run out. The stamps not only are required for hunters to use, but those who don’t hunt can use them as a free pass to National Refuges.

Since it’s inception in 1934, funds from the Duck Stamp has raised over $800 million for wetland protection and restoration and also has protected 5.7 million acres of vital wetland habitat, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The 2018-2019 Federal Waterfowl Stamp, featuring mallard ducks in a wetland. The art contest held each year selects the artwork that will be featured on the stamp.

A unique aspect of the Duck Stamp is the art contest that is conducted for the art to be featured on the stamp. Five judges pick the artwork from all of the submissions, and the winner receives no compensation for winning, other than the fame and a pane of stamps featuring their artwork. Noted artist Ding Darling created the artwork featured on the first stamp, and well known artists have been featured since. The competition is open to any US citizen 18 years and older, and the goal of the Fish and Wildlife Service is to try and hold the contest at various locations around the nation each year, in an attempt to allow more people to attend and enter. There is also a junior art contest as well.

The stamps are considered by many waterfowlers as collector’s items, many buy two, one for hunting and one for collection. This benefits waterfowl, their habitat, and also other animals that share that habitat, because these people are contributing twice the amount. One thing I wish I had done was to keep my stamps from all my years of hunting, and put them in a frame. My uncle’s grandfather did this, and it currently resides at my aunt and uncle’s home with a picture of his grandfather in the frame, surrounded by rows of signed stamps from all his years of hunting. It is an amazing thing to look at, the progression of the stamps through the years. The stories and experiences those stamps have been a part of is immeasurable. It’s a true testament to the respect he had for the stamps and more importantly what they meant to him and our waterfowl.

My uncle’s grandfather’s waterfowl stamp collection. Amazing to look at the progression through the years, and it would be amazing to hear the stories attached to them.

If you value conservation and protecting wildlife and their habitat, take $25 and buy a stamp. It’s a great collection piece and helps fund conservation.

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