Photographer Bill Allard drove around the U.S., with his dog Buster by his side, to document the relationship between hunting and conservation in the United States.
Had you ever been hunting before you got this assignment?
I do hunt. I usually hunt pheasant—but I’m such a poor shot with a shotgun that I’m not much danger to the pheasants—and some deer. But I didn’t get to hunt while I was on assignment.
How was it being out in the field as a photographer rather than a hunter?
I have to say it was a little frustrating at times to not be hunting myself, but I enjoyed the assignment. I especially enjoyed being with this family in South Dakota for the opening of pheasant season. When hunting is a family tradition, that’s what I think is the really good part of it. I also got to go on a lot of hunts that I had never been on before.
Like what type of hunts?
One I had never seen before was the flooded timber duck hunt down near Stuttgart, Arkansas. I was in the woods with water up to my thighs for three days. Once the area is flooded, hunters go in and call ducks—it’s really something to see. It’s said, jokingly, that you want really terrible weather for duck hunting because that’s when the ducks come, but for flooded timber hunting you want blue sky. Of course we got gray sky and rain.
Did the ducks come despite the weather?
Yes, but one thing that sticks out about this assignment is that I got dogged by bad weather in a lot of places. In early September I was on the Upper Missouri River in Montana trying to photograph bow hunters going after elk and everyday the temperature was in the 80s F (27°C)—the worst weather you can have to hunt elk. Then in October, I was going to photograph the annual national ruffed grouse and woodcock hunt in Minnesota—I thought how wonderful, there’ll be great colors. Well, the wind blew like hell and it snowed, the worst conditions for that kind of hunt. But what can you do?
Is there any animal you thought was particularly difficult to hunt?
The hardest animal to hunt that I witnessed was the desert bighorn sheep. I photographed three well-to-do hunters who had each bought at auction, for a very large amount of money, a permit to take a desert bighorn sheep on the Baja Peninsula. We went in on mules and pack burros. I was on that hunt for about a week and it was just really rough country to be in. But I was there when they got them.
They must have been really happy?
Yeah, the three hunters were each one short of what they call “The Grand Slam,” which consists of a certain set of sheep. One of the reasons I wanted to photograph this hunt is because it shows that by selling the right to hunt a certain number of this species, they were protecting the rest of them. A lot of the money people pay to hunt goes back into the community so rather than people poaching the bighorn desert sheep they benefit far more by protecting them.
Do you have a favorite shot from the assignment?
One of my favorites is the one of the ring-necked pheasant in the back of a pickup truck. It’s almost like a still life. It’s also a very complete picture. It’s very simple and very direct.