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The Wild Duck Chase takes readers into the peculiar world of competitive duck painting as it played out during the 2010 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, and 98 cents of each collected dollar has been used to help purchase or lease 5.3 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the U.S.—the core of...
The Wild Duck Chase takes readers into the peculiar world of competitive duck painting as it played out during the 2010 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, and 98 cents of each collected dollar has been used 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 and cultural clashes between the mostly rural hunters who buy the stamps and the mostly suburban and urban birders and conservationists who decry the hunting of waterfowl. At issue is preserving the habitat of ducks and other waterfowl for all to enjoy: If the number of hunters continues to decrease—and unless nature lovers support the duck stamp program—this landmark conservation effort faces possible extinction.
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.
"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
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
List of Illustrations 253