The Wild Duck Chase: Inside the Strange and Wonderful World of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest

Overview

The Wild Duck Chase takes readers into the peculiar world of competitive duck painting as it played out during one year's Federal Duck Stamp Contest-the only juried art competition run by the U.S. government. Since 1934, the duck stamp, which is bought annually by hunters to certify their hunting license, has generated more than $750 million to help purchase or lease 5.3 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the U.S.-the core of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

As Martin J. ...

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The Wild Duck Chase: Inside the Strange and Wonderful World of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest

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Overview

The Wild Duck Chase takes readers into the peculiar world of competitive duck painting as it played out during one year's Federal Duck Stamp Contest-the only juried art competition run by the U.S. government. Since 1934, the duck stamp, which is bought annually by hunters to certify their hunting license, has generated more than $750 million to help purchase or lease 5.3 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the U.S.-the core of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

As Martin J. Smith chronicles in his revealing narrative, within the microcosm of the duck stamp contest are intense ideological clashes between the hunters who buy the stamps and the birders and conservationists who decry the hunting of waterfowl. The competition also fuels dynamic tensions between competitors and judges, and among the invariably ambitious, sometimes obsessive, and often eccentric artists-including Minnesota's three fabled Hautman brothers, the "New York Yankees" of competitive duck painting. Martin Smith takes readers down an arcane and uniquely American rabbit hole into a wonderland of talent, ego, art, controversy, scandal, big money, and migratory waterfowl.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Smith, editor-in-chief of Orange Coast magazine, serves as the “fly on the wall” during the highly competitive 2010 Federal Duck Stamp Contest in his new book, tracing its origins and its current popularity. The contest, originating with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1934 wildlife preservation law in the Great Depression, provides for “the sale of an obscure revenue stamp” bought by hunters and stamp collectors, generating more than million in funds, with 98 cents of each dollar going to buy millions of acres of U.S. waterfowl habitat since its inception. With a low-key writing style supported by fine research, Smith takes the readers behind the scenes as five judges weigh the artistic and commercial quality of the 235 submissions in the only juried contest administered by the U.S. government. The Hautman brothers, Jim, Joe, and Bob, are the most fascinating of the artistic competitors, but the author paints many of the participants in a lively, entertaining manner while the contest runs its hectic course. Smith’s compelling story of a largely forgotten federal program will cast some timely light on the ongoing clash between rural hunters and urban conservationists on preserving the habitat of waterfowl. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"Well-written, insightful, and just plain fun to read."—David Allen Sibley, author of the Sibley Guides to Birds and Trees

"Martin Smith investigates a little-known federal program and finds it brimming with fun characters, a quirky culture, and valuable lessons for anyone who wants government to actually work."—Mark Obmascik, author of The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession

"When it comes to fascinating, quirky characters and their alternate-universe stories, Martin Smith is the master. His tale of the noble and obscure federal duck stamp, and the men who love it just a bit too much, is a delight to read."—Edward Humes, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author

"The Wild Duck Chase explores an arcane art competition and discovers beauty, obsession, and a host of vibrant characters (and birds). Smith's chronicle of this year-long quest to depict nature is endearing, poignant, and lots of fun."—Melissa Milgrom, author of Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy

"An eye-opening and thought-provoking glimpse into the downright wonderful world of duck stamp competition."—Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods

 

“Martin Smith's The Wild Duck Chase is a smartly written, wonderful look at waterfowl conservation at its apex. Every page was a treat. Once you start, you won't be able to stop. Highly recommend!”—Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University and author of  Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

Kirkus Reviews
As Orange Coast editor in chief Smith (Straw Men, 2001, etc.) reports, the Federal Duck Stamp Program is one of the most successful government programs ever. In his side job as chief of what became the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, cartoonist Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling made bird hunters the stewards of their wetlands by selling them annual duck stamps for the license to hunt. Darling drew the first in 1934. Since then, those prized little stickers have generated more than $750 million. Of each of those dollars, just 2 cents went for overhead; the rest was for wetland management. Eventually, duck-stamp painting became the sole juried art competition run by the American government, and it has been copied by many states and foreign jurisdictions. Smith covered the 2010 contest and its strict rules and earnest artists. The winning hand-painted entry is reduced to stamp size and must depict one of five selected birds. The waterfowl portraitist must understand avian anatomy and know every feather--some birds flap more than others to keep aloft, some are better just paddling around--and it takes three rounds to judge the winner. The stakes are high. Collectors seek to buy a duck print signed by the winner, and other fees add to the purse, which in the past was said to approach $1 million (less now). Despite the stakes, however, the media is apathetic about this successful federal program, and the pro-am contest isn't well known outside of the hunting and collecting world. Smith aims to fix that. An interesting bit of Americana well reported.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781620403075
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 9/24/2013
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 630,851
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin J. Smith is editor in chief of the monthly Orange Coast magazine and the author of three crime novels and several nonfiction books, including Oops: 20 Life Lessons from the Fiascoes That Shaped America and Poplorica: A Popular History of the Fads, Mavericks, Inventions, and Lore That Shaped Modern America (both with coauthor Patrick J. Kiger). Smith lives in Southern California.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1

Chapter 1 The Hunters Gather 4

Chapter 2 The First Battle of Specklebelly 19

Chapter 3 Guns, Greed, and the Grand Idea 35

Chapter 4 Round One 58

Chapter 5 The Second Battle of Specklebelly 79

Chapter 6 The Annual Ordeal of Artistic Choices 99

Chapter 7 The Power of the Prize 116

Chapter 8 Round Two 129

Chapter 9 What Is Art, Anyway? 146

Chapter 10 Round Three 168

Chapter 11 The Looming Threats 177

Chapter 12 The Hunter-Hugger Schism 196

Chapter 13 Judgment Day: The Tiebreak Round 205

Chapter 14 Where the Wild Things Are 215

Appendix A How to Buy a Duck Stamp 229

Appendix B The Federal Duck Stamp Artists 231

Appendix C The Imitators 235

Acknowledgments 237

Notes 241

List of Illustrations 253

Index 255

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