Duck Dynasty

Photograph by Jon Lowenstein/Noor

Duck Dynasty

Of canvases and Canvasbacks: a look inside the high-stakes, duck-obsessed world of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest.

By Brian Kevin
Published: July-August 2014

This is a story about ducks, but just barely.

Mostly it's a story about representations of ducks, and about representations of representations of ducks. It's also about representations of the people who make the representations of the representations of ducks, and about how all of these representations twirl together in a sort of baffling postmodern spiral around one seemingly simple concept: Art can help save wildlife.

But let's back up.

It's 5 a.m. on a Thursday in mid-April, and I'm lying in a muddy ditch next to a wind-rippled slough in severely rural South Dakota. The sky to the east is frosted with pre-dawn. Canada Geese honk madly in the darkness. I'm covered in ghillie netting--a kind of shaggy camo blanket made from burlap and jute, used by hunters (and, apparently, snipers) to hide in thick foliage. In front of me is another raggedy, man-sized bundle, this one with a telescopic lens poking out, conspicuous even though it's covered with what looks like a Scarecrow wig from a grade-school production of The Wizard of Oz.


Inside that bundle is Adam Grimm, a two-time winner--first in 1999, then again last year--of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, an annual juried art competition sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ask at your local post office or sporting goods store for this year's duck stamp, and you'll be handed a handsome, 13/4-inch-by-11/2-inch, self-adhesive rendering of a pair of Canvasbacks in a marsh very much like this one, but bathed in the glow of an impossibly golden sunset. You'll be charged $15, a fee that by law is funneled into a Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to facili- tate the purchase and protection of habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge System. If you're a hunter, you'll affix this stamp to your hunting license in order to legally harvest migratory waterfowl. If you're a birder, you might use it to gain entry into any fee-collecting U.S. national wildlife refuge. And if you're a collector--say, one of the 350 dues-paying members of the National Duck Stamp Collectors Society--you'll likely store it in a polypropylene cover sleeve, taking it out to admire from time to time.

Grimm painted those Canvasbacks last summer, using as his model a digital collage of reference photos snapped nearby, here in the heart of the wetland-rich prairie potholes region that's sometimes referred to as North America's duck factory. In August he swallowed hard and mailed his matted oil painting to the Federal Duck Stamp Office in Washington, D.C. Then, in September, he traveled to Ohio for the annual contest judging, at which a panel of five jurors chose his painting from among 202 entries in three high-drama, spectator-friendly elimination rounds.

As last year's winner, Grimm is prohibited from reentering the next three contests, but you can't have too much "reference," as duck stamp artists call their field photos. Besides, Grimm is a certified duck maniac--not the kind of guy who sits home during spring migration. Which is why he's here on a weeklong photo expedition with his friend and fellow artist Tim Taylor, setting decoys before dawn, then hunkering down for several stationary hours among the reeds, shooting as many as 1,500 photos of alighting ducks.

A few feet from the bushy clump that is Adam Grimm, another mass of ghillie netting hides filmmaker Brian Golden Davis, who is rolling footage of Grimm and Taylor's reference trip for an upcoming documentary called The Million Dollar Duck. The 34-year-old's previous projects have aired on AMC and PBS, and his team includes an Oscar-winning producer and Oscar-nominated editor. Davis was drawn to what he calls the "completely passionate . . . secret little society" of the duck stamp world after reading journalist Martin Smith's excellent 2012 book, The Wild Duck Chase. Both the film (which is seeking additional funding and a distributor for release next year) and the book it's based on explore the insular and mildly eccentric subculture surrounding duck stamps, drawing on artist interviews and ground-level coverage of the drama that surrounds contest judging.

There's one other ghillie-covered human lurking nearby, and that's the photographer who's paired up with me for this story. Which means, if you're keeping track at home, that he and I are in northern South Dakota to report on a filmmaker who's shooting a movie inspired by a book about artists who make paintings based on photographs they took of ducks--which, in turn, they hope will become stamps.

With me so far?


Priced at $1 when they debuted in 1934, the earliest duck stamps were designed in-house by the Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1949 the agency turned the stamp's design into a come-one, come-all competition, and 17 years later made the judging process into a tournament-style public event. Eighty years of duck stamp sales have hauled in more than $800 million ($2 billion adjusted for inflation) and conserved more than 6 million acres of habitat. According to Laurie Shaffer, chief of the Federal Duck Stamp Office, proceeds were about $25 million last year--not bad for a government program with just two other staffers and a 2013 appropriation of less than $560,000.

But none of this is why Davis's documentary is called The Million Dollar Duck. Although the winning artist receives no prize money, winners do have the right to sell their original paintings, market limited-edition prints, and otherwise license their work. Among wildlife-art aficionados, the pedigree of the Duck Stamp Contest is such that a winner can up and quit his day job to pursue art full time. The contest acquired its "million dollar" nickname in the 1980s, when a booming collectibles market drove demand for wildlife-art prints to dizzying heights. Although things have cooled since the days when a winning duck might literally have raked in a million bucks, Grimm acknowledges having made "several hundred thousand" from prints, licensing, and the sale of his first winning painting back in 1999.

Still, the market for duck stamp prints and paraphernalia tends not to rise and fall on the same tides as the fine arts market, explains onetime contest judge David Wagner, author of American Wildlife Art. Serious stamp collectors notwithstanding, the sort of folks buying Grimm's prints tend to be motivated less by an appreciation of art for art's sake and more by a commemorative impulse.

"For the most part, we're talking about Joe Six-Pack," says Wagner. "These are not people holding an M.F.A. in art history. Some people who acquire duck stamp prints might be encouraged to buy because of the potential for profit; others just love to hunt, and this is something they can hang in the den next to their 12-gauge."

Which brings us, inevitably, to the messy intersection of art, imitation, and commerce.

I went to Barnes & Noble for a wildlife art magazine," remembers Tim Taylor. "I saw an article about this million-dollar contest, and I said, 'Hey, I'll paint a duck for a million bucks.' So that's what I started doing. That was in 1995."

Taylor and I are strolling the perimeter of a wide, tentacled slough known as the Job Waterfowl Production Area--"purchased with Duck Stamp Dollars," notes a small sign tucked discreetly among the cattails. Davis the filmmaker is limping along behind us, occasionally shooting B-roll. He spent a full day yesterday with a dead mouse in the bottom of his waders, and today he's making do with a pair of boots borrowed from Grimm. Taylor often scouts the surrounding area while Grimm settles in for a shoot, and if his footfalls cause the occasional flock to scare up and resettle near Grimm, then so much the better. The surrounding fields are spiky with corn stubble, and the countless seasonal ponds look all the more blue for the totalizing beigeness of the South Dakota landscape in April.

A New Jersey native and resident, and a graduate of New York City's School of Visual Arts, Taylor didn't know a Mallard from a merganser when he first picked up that magazine in 1995. Now 52, he's hardly missed a contest since, and he's basically taught himself avian biology five ducks at a time, with the release of each new eligible species list for the upcoming contest year. He knows a Canada Goose from a Cackling Goose by the latter's stubby bill, and he's learned how speculum coloring marks a purebred Mottled Duck as opposed to a Mallard hybrid. In his day job, Taylor paints window murals and does commercial glass etching, but putting ducks on canvas has become his passion--particularly since meeting Grimm.

In some ways, Taylor and Grimm make an odd couple. Stocky, bald, and brash, Taylor has a Jersey boy's penchant for calling it like he sees it. One collector I talked to fondly referred to him as "a tank with a fuse on it," and Taylor regaled me with stories of dressing down contest judges who he thought had made a bad call.

Grimm, on the other hand, exhibits the aw-shucks courtesy of a born Midwesterner. He grew up in suburban Ohio and moved to South Dakota with his wife seven years ago, specifically to live within the Central Flyway. At 35, he's baby-faced and a bit Opie-ish. Ducks have been his passion since he first paged through Golden's Birds of North America as a kid (he still carries the same copy). In art school in Columbus, his classmates called him "Duck." When he met Taylor at a duck stamp workshop in 1999, he was only 20, and when his painting came out on top that year, he became the contest's youngest-ever winner at 21, at which time he left school to launch his career as a full-time wildlife artist.

Today Taylor and Grimm have the kind of close male friendship that we've patronizingly taken to calling a "bromance." They talk on the phone nearly every day. Grimm calls Taylor his best friend outside his immediate family, and Taylor's online bio goes so far as to note when the two met, adding that they "have since become best friends." Grimm's three kids call Taylor "Uncle Tim," climbing all over him when he comes to South Dakota to shoot reference with his buddy or paint in Grimm's cluttered home studio.

Taylor and Grimm also share a somewhat rigid philosophy of art. Within any year's crop of duck stamp submissions, they both insist, there is one painting that is objectively better than the rest. The judges' only job is to ferret it out, and it is mind-boggling--particularly to Taylor--that they so often fail in this task. Both artists take a dim view of abstract and non-representational art. Grimm recalls his skepticism when an art professor lectured his college class about the significance of his installation art. ("It was literally a pile of rocks with a chair on top," he says.) Taylor, an admirer of Norman Rockwell, snorts derisively at modern art darlings like Rene Magritte, best known for his illustration of a pipe accompanied by the caption, "This is not a pipe."

Of course, the image on a duck stamp is not a duck. It is a detailed, two-dimensional representation. And Taylor and Grimm, realists to the core, feel that accuracy of representation--the technical proficiency of brushstrokes and coloring, the degree to which true-life detail is captured--is the standard by which artistic talent should be measured. Ironically, though, a duck stamp artist's craft involves a whole parade of not-a-ducks: The walls of Grimm's studio are lousy with stuffed and mounted ones. The back of his pickup is covered with wooden decoys. The collage models he creates in Photoshop are imagined, pixel-formed Frankenducks. All of these are tools to help impart the kind of photorealism that wins duck stamp contests. Needless to say, an artist working from a hasty field sketch faces very long odds.

Creating a winning painting is an almost mathematical proposition, Grimm says, "just like 2+2=4." Both he and Taylor spend at least 150 hours in front of the easel on any given work--not in the throes of creative passion but painstakingly re-creating the precise slope and rusty hue of a drake Canvasback's head, the light edging on the wing feathers of a Pintail hen, the round-tipped bill of a Gadwall, which is narrower than a Mallard's. Artists still shake their fists in outrage over 1983's winning painting, which showed a wigeon missing its primary flight feathers--a telltale sign of a captive bird.

To score with the judges, Grimm and Taylor insist, an artist must make a series of correct deductions. Taylor, for example, always paints what he determines will be the second-most-popular duck on the eligible list, reasoning that the judges will tire of seeing the most-popular species while the third-most will be deemed too obscure. Grimm, meanwhile, skews toward charismatic ducks that he knows will sell prints. If mercenary decision making like this doesn't seem to leave room for the romantic notion of the muse, then welcome to the duck stamp world.

Let's say I had a crystal ball, I tell Taylor one morning, and I could say with certainty that you're never going to win the Federal. Would you keep painting ducks and entering the contest, simply for the love of it?

Taylor doesn't hesitate. "I wouldn't believe your crystal ball," he says.


The duck stamp subculture has its share of feuds, controversies, and personality conflicts. In 1989 the Fish and Wildlife Service launched a Junior Duck Stamp Contest, a sort of Jedi training academy for future duck stamp artists. When Grimm's daughter Madison, now 7, won it in 2013, some people wondered whether her dad had held the brush (Grimm provided only coaching and a reference photo). Three brothers from Minnesota, the Hautmans, have collectively won the Federal Duck Stamp Contest 10 times, and their multi-decade dominance has for years incited whispered allegations of conspiracy.

Outbreaks of gossip aren't uncommon on the many Facebook pages and online forums devoted to duck stamp art. "It almost gets cliquey sometimes, like high school," laughs Rebekah Lowell, one of the surprisingly few female artists in the duck stamp orbit. Lowell's a two-time winner of the state-level contest in Maine (some 34 states currently release their own versions of wildlife conservation stamps). She says she tries to steer clear of online scuttlebutt about who uses a photo transfer process (not against the rules but frowned upon by some) and who may have painted from a reference photo cribbed from the web (a serious faux pas). Still, Lowell acknowledges, the online sphere has its perks. A late Facebook adopter, she painted in a social vacuum for years before reaching out to Grimm, Taylor, and other artists online. Today she talks to Taylor on the phone a few times a week, her kids are pen pals with the Grimms', and Grimm shares with her his reference photos--a common arrangement, since not all painters are photographers.

One real-world tension that's notably not reflected among duck stamp artists is the one between hunters and some non-consumptive wildlife lovers. Grimm and Taylor are an example of the duck stamp's unifying potential in this regard. Grimm, a passionate sportsman, has been hunting since he was a kid. Although these days he spends more time shooting his Canon than his shotgun, he still hunts every year with his dad, and one of the first things he showed me on his 6.5-acre property was a spot where he shot 34 Snow and Ross's Geese last year. Taylor, meanwhile, says he can't imagine shooting an animal, though he has no beef with those who hunt for meat.

"One time," says Taylor, "Adam was telling me about how he'd seen this perfect pheasant rising up. It was so gorgeous, the sun hitting its neck feathers. It was iridescent, almost sparkling. And then, he says, 'I shot it.' "

"I saw dinner," Grimm shrugs. "It was rather exciting."

The idea that a fondness for duck stamps might transcend the hunter/non-hunter divide is exciting to folks like Shaffer of the Federal Duck Stamp Office. On average, the government has sold about 1.5 million stamps per year for the past 10 years, but in the 1970s and 1980s that average was roughly 2 million. A decline in the number of hunters in recent decades--coupled with rising land prices--has duck stamp boosters worried about dwindling dollars for wetland conservation. Through public service announcements and outreach at events like birding festivals, the Duck Stamp Office and its Friends group--an affiliated nonprofit that supports the stamp program and promotes its conservation benefits--hope to bring more birders, hikers, and photographers into the duck stamp nest.

"We need to help educate people that this is not just the responsibility of hunters," says Shaffer. "A lot of people are happy to buy a duck stamp to support conservation, but there are those who are so offended by the consumptive use, I've had them tell me no, never."

A hunter he may be, but nobody who has spent serious time around Grimm could doubt his love for his quarry. More than once during our reference trip, I hear him quietly exclaim, savant-like and to no one in particular, such things as, "Oh, I hear a Common Goldeneye doing a courtship display!" He lights up while rocking on a squeaky chair at our hunting lodge, asking, "Hey, guys, doesn't that sound like a Canvasback call?" When I ask to see some of his photos, Grimm retrieves from his truck a full 24-inch iMac desktop computer, which he often takes with him when he goes out to shoot, because he can't see the level of detail he wants on a laptop.

"This is my passion," he says, clicking through a few photos. "I love nature. I don't paint wildlife because I thought I could make money at it. This is my favorite thing in the world."

But if that passion comes through somehow in your painting, I ask, then isn't there something more going on here than just 2+2=4? Grimm thinks it over as he opens a jpeg of his winning Canvasbacks on the giant monitor. Well, sure, he concedes. In fact, he says, there's a lot about a painting like this that isn't even particularly realistic. There's the Frankenducking, of course, and the fact that the point of view is an extreme close-up no human will ever get of a wild bird. Then there's that chorus-of-angels sunlight that's breaking through the clouds. Plus the depth of field, Taylor chimes in--everything in the painting is perfectly, fraudulently in focus. When you get right down to it, in fact, the image isn't so much photorealistic as photo-idealistic.

"To tell you the truth," Grimm says, "I don't want my painting to look like a photo. I want it to look like something that no photo could ever be." 


Man, I just love it here," Grimm sighs on our last day in the field. We're driving along a tangle of empty back roads, past stark prairies and fallow fields, searching for one last perfect pond to shoot. "My wife thinks I'm nuts most of the time, but I just feel free out here." In the truck cab, Davis quickly shoulders his camera and points it at the driver's seat. "Can you repeat that last line for the documentary?" he asks. Grimm does so dutifully.

That evening, around sunset, I'm walking once more with Taylor on the far edge of a marshy pond when he tells me he's reconsidered my earlier question.

"If your crystal ball said I was never going to win," he says, choosing his words carefully, "then I still think it would have been worth it, because I'd have gotten some really great friends out of this whole thing."

A small cluster of American Wigeons rises straight up at the sound of us. Good answer, I tell Taylor, and while you're still dodging the question about whether or not you'd keep painting ducks, I'm going to give you a pass because I'm a sucker for answers about friendship. We round a small peninsula to see Grimm's ghillie-suited profile across the water, and the two pals give each other a distant wave.

Like I said, the story is only barely about ducks. 

Magazine Category

Author Profile

Brian Kevin


Brian Kevin is the associate editor of Down East magazine and author of the just-published The Footloose American: Follow- ing the Hunter S. Thompson Trail Across South America. He lives in coastal Maine.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine


very interesting, long but

very interesting, long but interesting

So "does Audubon have any

So "does Audubon have any clue who their members are," or maybe the members of the National Audubon Society are in the dark on a few things? I find it interesting that Audubon's members are so distraught about a feature article on a conservationist and hunter like Grimm, yet they have no problem supporting an organization named for, and therefore glorifying, a man who was disappointed if he shot fewer than 100 birds in a day. Even though he gave his name to America’s leading wildlife preservation charity, he could hardly be called much of a wildlife campaigner. When he went in search of the Brown Pelicans of the Florida Keys in 1832, he killed 25 in order to draw a single male bird. He said of the trip, “I really believe I would have shot one hundred of these reverend sirs, had not a mistake taken place in the reloading of my gun.”
Later, on the same trip, bored of killing birds, he took to spraying the alligators with gunshot, noting how the brains of one leapt out of its head and exploded in midair.
To continue, Audubon tells an interesting story in his painting of a Golden Eagle rising into the sky above a rugged, mountainous landscape, crying out as it clutches a bloodied rabbit in its talons, the powerful predator with its now-deceased prey. And below, down on the log over the precipice, creeping along with a hatchet, a gun and a bird (probably a golden eagle) strapped to his back, we see the hunter-naturalist (probably a self-portrait of Audubon himself), vulnerable but brave, taking a risk in the wilderness, giving his all for ornithology. The true story, however, is that Audubon didn't capture the eagle in the wild, or didn't crawl over the precipice with his specimen. He bought it from a friend in Boston, a bird in a cage that cost fourteen dollars. Then he took it back to his hotel room, kept it in the cage for three days, and tried to kill it by covering the cage closely with a blanket, putting a pan of burning charcoal in the room, closing the door and windows tightly, and waiting for the eagle to die. It didn't work. After a few hours, Audubon writes, he "opened the door, raised the blankets, and peeped under them amidst a mass of suffocating fumes." There the eagle still stood, Audubon continues, "with his bright unflinching eye turned towards me, and as lively and vigorous as ever!" The next morning, to make the fumes even more toxic, Audubon added some sulfur to the smoldering charcoal, making the indoor environment a small-scale version of Hell itself, but again "the noble bird continued to stand erect, and to look defiance at us whenever we approached his post of martyrdom." Finally, to finish off the defiant bird and to make the martyrdom complete, Audubon "thrust a long pointed piece of steel through his heart, when my proud prisoner instantly fell dead, without even ruffling a feather." Considering these accounts (and many others), it's nice to see that the members of the National Audubon Society, who would be appalled at the actions of a man like Audubon, are able to see past the name on the magazine or the face of the organization and continue to support them to conserve wildlife and habitat. How ironic that because legal, carefully managed hunting practices are often associated with the Migratory Bird Hunting AND Conservation Stamp, which is not a hunting license (because hunters cannot hunt by purchasing a duck stamp alone, but must also buy an actual duck hunting license), many will not support a program that contributes so much to conserving and protecting the waterfowl and other wildlife that they supposedly care so much about!

ForTheDucks: Your argument is

ForTheDucks: Your argument is really dumb. The human race (at least most of them) have evolved since the 1800"s. By your logic humans should not see a Doctor today because they do not agree with the bloodletting as a cure for illness. something that was practiced in the 1800's.

But you are correct in pointing out that if most current Audubon supporters thought the National Audubon Society now stood for hunting or other cruelty to animals, they would drop out immediately. There might be a mass exodus to instead support organization that stands to protect wildlife. And this article certainly gives us pause to wonder what Audubon is thinking.

ForTheDucks: Your argument is

ForTheDucks: Your argument is really dumb. The human race (at least most of them) have evolved since the 1800"s. By your logic humans should not see a Doctor today because they do not agree with the bloodletting as a cure for illness. something that was practiced in the 1800's.

But you are correct in pointing out that if most current Audubon supporters thought the National Audubon Society now stood for hunting or other cruelty to animals, they would drop out immediately. There might be a mass exodus to instead support organization that stands to protect wildlife. And this article certainly gives us pause to wonder what Audubon is thinking.

Let's see, ForTheDucks ...

Let's see, ForTheDucks ... maybe we should take look at the time period you cite for Audubon's hunting and wildlife acts. He was a hunter, and in the 1800s, hunters and trappers: Nearly wiped out the American Bison; brought bird species like egrets and herons close to extinction; exterminated Passenger Pigeons entirely; regularly killed massive numbers of ducks with punt guns; used live decoys; destroyed deer populations; exterminated wolves; trapped sea otters out of their historic ranges, numbers which still have not recovered; destroyed seabird colonies with target shooting. Do I need to go on? Audubon was a hunter of his time, perhaps with an added cruel streak, but certainly not isolated in his disturbing treatment of wild animals. Hunters and hunting were devastating the wild animals of North American, often with the most cruel methods imaginable. That's true. So, is that your point?

You realize that birders and thoughtful conservationists of today do not look at these practices as remotely acceptable in the modern era. But -- interestingly enough -- hunters and trappers actually still engage many of the wildlife practices used back in Audubon's time such as barbaric traps, thoughtless extermination of predators like coyotes and wolves, and wing-shooting of millions upon millions of birds each year. And the conservationist Grimm you cite in your first paragraph appears to be among them, with his coyote kills, as linked to below. Yes, I care about birds and wildlife -- so much so that I don't care to embrace a tradition with a very grotesque history of wildlife abuse throughout U.S. settlement. "Carefully managed hunting" came about precisely because of hunters and their unfettered and ruthless practices. The laws which curbed those practices were stop gap measures, not heroism. Thank god they exist, but let's not sugar-coat the underpinnings of why this model of wildlife management even exists in the first place.

Larry you speak for most

Larry you speak for most Audubon members . I hope they are listening to you.

After reading these comments

After reading these comments I checked out a few of those links you shared, Larry Jordan. What was Audubon thinking? I feel sick. Does Audubon have any clue who their members are? Or have they become so out of touch they think we will appreciate the glorification of a person who proudly posts his Sandhill Crane kills? The photos this man has posted on Facebook show a string of NINE dead hanging Sandhill Cranes. Along with other photos of his pile of dead snow geese kills, and his six dead coyotes. He proudly stands for everything most Audubon members stand against. .
I understand Audubon's relationship with hunters in order to cooperate in the preservation of public lands. I understand Audubon was also a hunter himself. But times have changed drastically since then. This goes very much against the values of most of the people who support Audubon today. I have bought a duck stamp many times in order to support public lands. But I will never, ever, buy a duck stamp again. My eyes have been opened to the truth. As for Audubon, it's time you stood up to the unethical treatment of our wildlife for photos or kills. (Think about your photo contest and who you glorify there. ) We want you to stand up for wildlife and against unethical practices by photographers and hunters. Not glorify them! That is what your supporters want. And without your supporters, you will be out of business.

Thank you Larry Jordan.You have put our thoughts into writing very well! I hope Audubon is listening and considering apologies and not just thinking of excuses to justify their publication of this article.

Larry Jordan, I do not know

Larry Jordan, I do not know if you will ever see this or not. But just in case: I fear you may not understand the duck stamp program. Exactly zero percent of the sale of each duck stamp goes towards the artist. In fact, the artist gets no compensation from winning the contest at all; any money they make is up to them, through their own personal sale of prints, merchandise, the original painting, etc-- all of which they either do (or do not do) totally independent of duck stamp sales. You are not supporting the artist at all by purchasing a duck stamp. Not a single cent of that purchase goes to the artist.

Further, you are not supporting hunting by purchasing a duck stamp. The only benefit hunters receive from duck stamp sales is the fact that the money goes to purchase and maintain wildlife habitat. It is true that some of this is open to hunting, but the hard truth is that moreover, it is protecting habitats that are valuable not only to game species, but many times over for non-game species, from tiny invertebrates to songbirds to amphibians to bats.

I speak as a birder myself-- nothing about the federal duck stamp program or the money it raises and uses undermines the values and principles of conservationists, ecologists, naturalists, birders, or any lover of wildlife and natural places. It's fine if you prefer not to purchase a duck stamp-- that is your personal choice, and perhaps you would prefer to spend that $15 with a different habitat conservation group. But, I encourage you to look at where the money goes for any conservation group. Most do not contribute 98 cents of every dollar contributed to directly purchasing, leasing, or saving habitat, the way the duck stamp program does.

Again, the choice to buy a duck stamp, or not, is yours. But make sure you understand what the program is before scolding Audubon for running an article about it.

JM, I am well educated on the

JM, I am well educated on the Duck Stamp program. As an advocate for a separate non-consumptive stamp for birders (the Wildlife Conservation Stamp Project), I hear regularly from birders and other non-hunting users of the Refuge system who express the misgivings I articulated. As stated recently by the National Wildlife Refuge Association itself on Twitter, the Duck Stamp "isn't actually a stamp, but a hunting license.” Many non-hunters have ethical or personal issues with purchasing a hunting license. You realize, of course, that funds from deer hunting tags (as one example) also contribute toward state conservation efforts. But it would be unreasonable to expect non-hunters to purchase deer tags as a way to contribute to wildlife conservation.

Duck Stamp monies do support hunting both directly and indirectly. Directly, they provide hunting privileges on Refuges. Indirectly, the funds from Duck Stamp sales are often used to substantiate that hunters contribute more than birders to their Refuge system. One recent example is Loxahatchee NWR, where a proposed alligator hunt was opposed by an overwhelming majority of Refuge users. But the hunt proceeded, and one of the factors cited was financial contributions by hunters. There are Refuges in California where I live which are completely closed to birders, or closed during the hunting season, giving significant priority use to hunters and hunting activity. And yet the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund contributions (of which the Duck Stamp makes up only a portion) account for just about 3 percent of total Refuge land purchases.

Of course birders don’t have to buy the Duck Stamp, as you say. But there is a big push for them now to do so, often with the criticism that birders don’t contribute enough — which is patently untrue when you look at figures for how much non-consumptive users do contribute to conservation overall. The current advocacy for the Duck Stamp puts birders in a double bind: Contribute to the Refuge system because you don’t contribute enough. But, the funding tool we are offering you is a hunting stamp with a long and storied association with the hunting community.

As wildlife watchers, we are the majority of Refuge users. According to recent USFWS figures, about 72 percent of total expenditures are generated by non-consumptive activities on Refuges. Many of us don’t want to buy the Duck Stamp for the above-stated reasons. We’re advocating that the Refuge system offer a simple alternative in the form of a non-consumptive stamp or pass that could be purchased by all birders, without reservation, regardless of their views on hunting.

As far as the artist is concerned, of course, the Duck Stamp monies do not go to him. But you need only look at the history of Duck Stamp sales to understand that artists receive great benefit and publicity from their selection as Duck Stamp winner. As a birder with huge objections to the type of hunting that Adam Grimm represents — predator hunting, Sandhill Crane hunting — in no way will I buy a stamp that boosts his visibility as an artist. He is, in fact, the best argument for birders having their own stamp. The types of practices he engages are normal in the hunting world. But they are a far cry from how many of us non-consumptive users construe ethical interactions with the wild animals in our public trust. Putting him on the cover and stating that his ethical framework is a bridge between hunters and non-hunters is misguided at best.

If you’re interested in more of my perspective on this issue, I wrote a piece for 10,000 Birds stating this particular case:

I just want to say this is an

I just want to say this is an a great article! Adam has made history again !!! 1st being the youngest ever to win the stamp in 1999! And to win it again last year is continued honor! He is a great artist and LOVES his ducks! The money from the stamp goes toward Wild life conservation and it is narrow minded to quick to judge this read just because he is a hunter too.

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