Heckled By ParrotsBlue Sky WritingRebecca K. O'Connor

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But They Shoot Ducks Don’t They…?

It’s hard to wrap my head around it, but I’ve been at Ducks Unlimited for almost a year now. The difficulty of the wrap around is less about the passage of time and more about the information I’m still trying to absorb. The amount of work that originates in the Western Regional Office is astounding. If you think there isn’t a whole lot of wetlands conservation going on on the West Coast states…you should give me a call sometime.

There is of course, more to learn than just what is happening on the ground. Working in fundraising means knowing the culture that surrounds you and understanding how to tell your story. And I’m always shocked at the complete misunderstanding of the DU story. Out in the interwebs and at dinner parties with friends what I hear the most is, “What’s the point of conserving ducks if you’re just going to shoot them later?”

I could go on for hours about the minimal impact of hunting, the value of natural resources, the importance of comprehending the value of food, the debilitating effects of nature deficit disorder and on an on but that isn’t really the question that gets asked. It’s “why save them if you’re going to shoot them?”

TealFlyingKays2It’s a valid question, or at least would be if “Ducks Unlimited” shot ducks, but we don’t.  Waterfowl hunters shoot ducks. Don’t get me wrong, we love waterfowl hunters at DU and it’s because these hunters also invest a tremendous amount of money in the conservation of waterfowl and wetlands. People who hunt waterfowl often support Ducks Unlimited. In fact, they are the backbone of our support. Still, Ducks Unlimited doesn’t shoot ducks.

So it would be more logical to direct the question to hunters and ask why they spend their money on conservation and supporting DU.  Every time I have, I’ve been stunned at the passion and articulation of their answer. It is a conversation I recommend every curious person ask. In fact if you don’t know any gun hunters, go ask NorCal Cazadora. She could write rings around my best explanation of why I personally hunt.

The bottom line though, is that Ducks Unlimited is a conservation organization. The people in the office with me are biologists, engineers, GIS specialists and support staff.  True, our restoration projects are open to hunters as often as possible, but they are also meant for bird watchers, bicyclists, kayakers etc. We prefer that wetlands be experienced and enjoyed. It’s the only way to convince people to put passion into doing the “right thing” and being conservation-minded. We believe that wetlands are of value to everyone and for multiple reasons. (Clean water, anyone?)

I hunt, but less than half the staff in this office do the same. For the most part, they aren’t here because they’re hunters. They are here because they have a passion for conservation. For some of us that desire to conserve was born from hunting and for others it came from camping, hiking or a childhood of collecting tadpoles and salmanders. We all believe in DU because DU does critcal work that has a tremendous impact on the quality of life for everyone and everything that requires water.

So dear friend from college, next time you have me over for dinner and we’re two glasses of wine into the night, please don’t ask me why I work somewhere that saves ducks so that we can kill them. Ask me about the $8.2 million worth of work we’re doing in the SF Bay Area and how we’re going to restore the salt evaporation ponds into tidal marsh. If your going for a heated discussion, ask me why I personally choose to hunt ducks with a falcon when my day job is to raise money to conserve them.  Even if I can’t convince you that it’s okay that I hunt ducks we should be able to agree that you should support conservation.  Please support Ducks Unlimited. DU doesn’t hunt ducks. I do.


  1. Man, no one ever asks you that at our parties. You just have to do the “how falconry works” dance 17 times a night…

    You brought this up in a conversation once recently and you’ve gotten me thinking about it a lot. (And I saw it again today in the NYT’s review of a book about Roosevelt – “And he delves into the philosophical contradictions inherent in a man whose Darwinian thinking led him both to revere and kill the same creatures” – as if Roosevelt’s somehow an odd duck).

    It’s one of those fundamental issues that non-hunters find hard to reconcile – loving and killing the same animals – and that hunters find hard to articulate to non-hunters’ satisfaction.

    I keep trying, mostly out there in little comment threads here and there on the internet. When I find an answer that really resonates, I’ll be sure to let you know… Mostly, though, I just get uneasy responses.

  2. Arthur says:

    I’ve tried to answer this very question on my blog as well, and it is a hard one to do. I do agree with you, though, that Ducks Unlimited is not about shooting ducks; that makes answering the question from a Ducks Unlimited point of view a pretty easy task.

    From a personal level, however, it isn’t so cut and dry, and we hunters could be trying to explain how we preserve one minute only to kill the next for years to come.

    I still liked the post, though, and thought it was very well put together. And Falconry really intrigues me, but I’ll keep my questions to myself for now:)

  3. Monica says:

    True, our restoration projects are open to hunters as often as possible, but they are also meant for bird watchers, bicyclists, kayakers etc. We prefer that wetlands be experienced and enjoyed.

    The inherent problem with this comment is that for someone like me who doesn’t particularly relish the violence of gunfire as perpetrated on animals and on public land — and witnessing the various killed and injured waterfowl on these lands (for me, that’s many, many incidents over many years) — I find the idea of hunting and peaceful wildlife activities to be incompatible.

    I’m a wildlife photographer and spend all of my free time in the wetlands and in wildlife habitat. I’m always shooting with a super-long lens so as to be unobtrusive as possible, to observe animals in their more natural behaviors. I’m immersed in their life cycles year round as a respectful observer.

    When hunting seasons roll around, I find it nearly impossible to reconcile the simultaneous destruction of the birds and animals I’ve come to appreciate and know quite well. It’s a personal thing, but I’m just illustrating how the goal of shared lands is often at cross purposes. I can’t even take a walk along many wetland trails around San Francisco Bay without being reminded of the carnage occurring nearby on those same birds, by virtue of the resonating shots.

    So, for the better part of fall and winter, I’m relegated to lands where the animals aren’t hunted. Or have to be careful about where I go and on what days. The most beautiful and pristine areas to view ducks, as one example, are damned near impossible to bear with some of the hunting activities I’ve had to witness. They’re not all as neat and tidy and respectable as many would like to believe. And areas like Gray Lodge and Cosumnes are so inundated with hunters, it’s almost impossible to be around the animals, they are so skittish from nearby gunfire.

    You mention kayakers as well. I was walking last winter up at Cosumnes Preserve. Although there is generally no hunting there, I didn’t realize how close the hunting areas were across the river. I passed a blind with some rambunctious young duck hunters, threatening kayakers who were legally sharing the waterways. And they were taking potshots in a way that did not constitute anything close to what I would deem ethical in terms of the waterfowl. (This was a legitimate incident and the kayakers did register a frantic complaint if you want to check the authenticity of my story.)

    A photographer friend I know along the Central Coast who photographs primarily from his kayak, has had incidents there with waterfowl hunters objecting to his presence on the water — even though he has perfect right to be where he is. A friend of mine who leads birding groups had to leave a public land area because of the aggressive stance of some hunters. And, need it be mentioned, that we’re not the ones carrying guns.

    So, I can see how you might view these pursuits as compatible, but in real world applications, they often are not. Regretfully so, for those of us who find ourselves closed out of areas like Grizzly Island, where only hunters can go.

  4. Monica says:

    btw: “reverence” for wildlife and genuine caring or “love” are two separate issues. I do believe people can revere and still have a quest to kill or dominate that which they revere. I’d be reticent to suggest that one can love and kill the object of their affection. When a person kills another person whom they profess to love, it’s certainly not considered an expression of love. So, if hunting is indeed a form of love that hunters are expressing toward animals, let me just say, it’s not a type of love I’d like for anyone to exhibit toward me.

  5. rebecca says:

    And again, to my point. Ducks Unlimited has done the restoration work (almost always with partner organizations) in some of those areas, not the shooting. Had you a plot of land that needed restored, required that it be a no-hunting preserve, there was funding to do the work and hired DU, they would indeed restore the habitat and do a fantastic job. Moving dirt is incredibly expensive, however, and it doesn’t get done without funding. There are more simply more hunters than wildlife photographers paying for work on the ground. Whether that’s reverence or love or neither, ducks cannot thrive, stage and breed without habitat.

  6. Monica says:


    Thanks, and I appreciate the clarification. I agree that most of us associate Ducks Unlimited with hunting. If there is a time when I have some property to restore, I would definitely employ DU on a non-hunting swath of land, knowing this particular fact.

    But let me ask you this: How can we get more non-hunting fees levied on non-hunters — for non-hunting habitat restoration? It’s difficult for a non-hunter to support DU, knowing that at least some of my contributions will go toward hunting pursuits. For those of us who don’t particularly relish this outcome, it’s a Catch-22.

    I know that I and other photographers, not to mention birders and wildlife observers, would be happy to pay for restorations on which hunting was not permitted. I feel the balance is tipped toward hunting by virtue of the funds Fish and Game, for instance, collects from hunters and must use in the context of hunting.

    If the same taxes/fees were put on camera equipment, scopes and so forth, I’d venture to say that public funding of lands would exceed those monies collected from hunters. And if those of us who don’t particularly care for hunting could ensure funding of habitat restoration on sanctuaries that were genuinely sanctuaries for these birds, there would be people who did contribute.

  7. Jacob L'Etoile says:

    I know I am late to the party, but I have two comments. One, there is a very simple and easy to articulate explination, hunters support habitat because without habitat we can’t hunt. We know it so we support it. The issue is far more complex of course, but anyone should be able to understand that. As far as habitat restoration on non hunting property, well it is kind of silly, especialy nesting habitat. We don’t hunt during nesting season, and durring the migration when we do hunt the birds we are shooting are rarley the birds local to the area. The birds that nested there have moved on and the birds that are there are moving through. I argue about this all the time when someone claims I am trapping ‘their’ hawk. No ‘your’ hawk, duck, goose, whatever is long gone and this bird is from the north and west.