April 12, 2019
To Save Duck Hunting,We May Need More Ducks
By Charles S. Potter, Jr./McGraw
Photo by Sergey Yeliseev/flickr
You hear it all the time: To save duck hunting, we need to recruit more duck hunters.

But let’s take a contrarian view for a moment. Perhaps we don’t need more hunters. Perhaps we actually need more ducks.

Millions of dollars are being spent on the recruitment, retention and reactivation of hunters – a process known within the outdoor and conservation world as “R3.” These are valuable programs, yet we almost never ask a question of central importance: What are these new hunters actually going to shoot? 

Chicago Skyline is Nation’s Deadliest for Birds
Chicago Tribune
Photo by Samer/flickr
On a brisk weekday morning, before the sunrise shimmers across Chicago’s downtown skyscrapers, Annette Prince walks a perimeter around the glass facades while carrying a duffel bag and net.

Every year, starting in mid-March, Prince, director of the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, and her team of volunteers scour the Loop for dead or wounded migratory birds — and spring typically marks the beginning of her busy season.

“We had one day (last month) when it was just bird after bird after bird,” Prince recalled. “We were getting calls on our  hotline  and it was a very busy pickup day. And it’s going to continue to build gradually until May.”

Every year, billions of birds embark on their annual spring migration across the continent, some soaring from as far away as South America to their nesting grounds in the northern United States and parts of Canada. Along the way, an estimated 5 million birds belonging to  250 species fly through Chicago alone .

For birders, the voyage is a marvel of perseverance, wonder and — sometimes — calamity.

Landmark Agreement for Colorado River Water
By Melinda Kassen/TRCP
Photo by John Weiss/flickr
The snow is deep this year along the Rocky Mountains, the spine of the American West. Today’s fresh powder will melt in the spring, feeding the headwaters and large desert rivers of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and California—the states that comprise the Colorado River Basin.

This region produces most of the nation’s winter vegetables, is home to ten national parks, and boasts millions of acres of wildlife habitat, where deer and antelope play, ducks fly, and fish rise. Healthy snowpack brings relief to the region after 19 years of drought, which drained Lakes Mead and Powell—the big reservoirs in the basin—to less than half full.

So, this wet year is welcome. But it’s not a long-term solution for a river system that is already way over-subscribed. Scientists predict the basin’s future will likely be hotter and, therefore, drier than its past.

The states just signed a drought contingency plan for the next seven years that will almost certainly require real reductions in water use, and this could be painful for those who will have to turn off their spigots.

But, first, here’s how we got to this momentous deal.

Smallest Falcon Shrinking in Size, Population
By Lauren Chambliss/Living Bird
Photo by RS2Photography/flickr
The colorful American Kestrel, the smallest—and some say the fierc­est—falcon on the continent, has lost half its population in the past 50 years. A recent study suggests the bird is shrinking in body size, too, giving scientists new clues as to the cause of the puzzling population decline.

Kestrels are a common sight in rural America, often seen on fence posts and telephone wires next to open fields. The compact hunter (just a little bigger than a robin) can be found in many habitats modified by humans, including pastures and parkland, and is easy to spot in open fields, hovering in the air right above an unsuspecting mouse or grasshopper before diving in for the kill.

But just because a bird is easy to see doesn’t mean the species is thriving. Data collected from migration counts, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Breeding Bird Survey, and nest-box monitoring programs indicate declines nearing 50 percent in American Kestrel populations in North America, with some northeastern states experiencing even larger losses. Kestrels are listed as endangered or threatened in four northeastern states, and 21 states list them as a species of concern.

Conservation efforts are complicated by the fact that scientists don’t know whether kestrel declines are related to factors on breeding or wintering grounds, or during migration.

At 105, He May Be America’s Oldest Hunter
By Bill Heavey/Field & Stream
Photo by Stefans102/flickr
At 105, Clyde Roberts no longer stacks them up like he did at 100, when he took three whitetail bucks and two does in a single season. He still lives in the same house he’s been in for 70 years, still drives himself to church on Sunday, still mows and rakes his front yard. But he no longer hunts alone or climbs a 24-foot extension ladder up to his tree­stand. His son, Mike, 68, built him a sturdier perch a few years ago, one with wooden stairs and a handrail, and either Mike or Mike’s daughter, Christin, 45, now accompanies Clyde afield. But the oldest hunter in America still feels the pull of November in his blood, still feels the old urgency.

“I asked the good Lord to let me live till 105 and get one more buck,” he tells me. “But if it’s over tomorrow, I’m satisfied.” At this, Mike rolls his eyes. “Dad carries on that way every year,” he says. “To be honest with you, I’ve lost track of how many ‘one more’ bucks he’s killed.”

When I meet Clyde at his house in tiny Evington, Virginia, I’m not sure what to expect. His gaze is direct, his handshake firm. You’re tempted to think that he doesn’t look his age. But then you realize that you have no idea what 105 looks like. There just aren’t many such men around. There are no other such hunters, as far as anyone knows. For years now, local newspapers have run short articles featuring a photo of Clyde and a caption calling him “North America’s oldest hunter.” So far no one has stepped forward to dispute that claim.

“The magic visitation of ducks from the sky to a set of bobbing blocks holds more of beauty and heart-pounding thrill than I have ever experienced afield with rod or gun. Not even the sure, hard pluck of a hard-to-fool brown trout, or the lurching smash of a river smallmouth has stirred me as has the circling caution of ducks coming to decoys.”  

- Gordon MacQuarrie
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