"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Federal Duck Stamp

Why do they make you sign your name across the Federal Duck Stamp? I mean, each year dozens of artists compete for the honor to display their handiwork to millions of hunters, and we are law bound to splash ink across their sweat and labor. It’s like kicking over a child’s sand castle or lighting an effigy of Smokey the Bear – just fundamentally wrong.

This year’s stamp features the wigeon – which sounds like the love-chick of a wren and a pigeon!

Ha! No? OK, whatever, it would have slain in Ornithology 101.

The wigeon is a demure dabbling duck. In the waterfowl world, they’d be the cute math girl who blossoms into a hottie when she’s pulled away from the cheerleaders, let’s her hair out of a bun, and drops the nerd glasses. Without the designer make-up of the wood duck or promiscuity of the mallard, the wigeon is attractive in its own right - unlike that ogre the gadwall.

Wigeon aren’t as common in FL as other ducks, preferring the Western Flyways, probably because they lack the size of the mallard and the maneuverability of teal to defend themselves from the Greater South Floridian Elephant Mosquito. Remember the black globs at the end of Ghost that pulled the bad guy down to Hell for murdering Patrick Swayze? (You just remember the clay molding scene, don’t ya, Sally?) That’s what our skeeters could do to a wigeon.

Of course, wigeon are downright plentiful compared to the winner of last year’s stamp, the long-tailed duck. I’m dreaming of the day when the stamp is dedicated to a waterfowl species that calls Florida home year-round such as the mottled duck, anhinga, or flying fish.

Fifteen dollars for this stamp. I could dream up some financial figure for how much of that actually goes to wetland conservation, but there’s a website out there already that cranks out “facts” like this.

Wikipedia states:

For every $15 stamp sold, the federal government retains $14.70 for wetlands acquisition and conservation, so very little gets lost in the system for overhead.

If they say so, I’m good with it.

In addition to graffiting across the face of the wigeon, I must also affix it to the back of my Florida hunting license which is essentially a receipt. General hunting, WMA permit, muzzleloader, archery, alligator trapping license, migratory bird, deer management, and state waterfowl. I won’t total this all up for you, but it leaves me precious few pennies to actually hunt or upgrade my gear. My camo resembles the rags Nazis used to make torches to set fire to their book piles, and I assume I am getting Punk’d every time I hear of low funds for game departments.

The sad part about this back-of-a-receipt arrangement is by June 30th, the stamp is mashed and destroyed, like a butterfly kept in a sandwich bag and slipped into a jean pocket. I feel far worse for the artist’s effort than any wigeon that splashes this season.

And as I understand it, a certain demographic of folks pays the 15 bones to, what, just collect the stamps? Have I left out any aspect of this exciting process? Needlessly collecting things for the sole sake of having them? My wife may argue I do the same thing with firearms, but she clearly doesn’t understand what she’s saying.

I shouldn’t pick on others’ hobbies. After all, I pay for this stamp for the sole privilege of slipping into leaky waders and humping through swamp bottoms and across tidal flats while battling the aforementioned mosquitoes and the occasional reptilian. Duck hunting is not so much a recreation as it is a severe mental affliction for which there is no cure - waterfowlaphilia.

Still, I am happy to fork over the cash. I admire the work of the winning painter. This year’s winner was Robert Bealle from Waldorf, Maryland. Sorry, Mr. Bealle, for defiling your talents.

But thanks for contributing your labor towards the opportunity to set out again this fall to lay a few decoys and study the horizon in the hopes of a successful shoot.

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