Each year, hundreds of people across the country hunt one coveted waterfowl trophy. It takes a keen eye and a steady hand to bag this prize, but those in pursuit won’t be sighting with the barrels of their guns. Their quarry: the single image that will appear on the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, known commonly as the Federal Duck Stamp. To bring this prize home, most will take aim with brushes loaded with paint or with colored pencils.
Required of waterfowl hunters 16 years of age or older, the stamps, with face values ranging from one dollar to fifteen dollars, have raised 700 million dollars since 1934. Sales of these stamps have funded land conservation, adding 5.2 million acres (2.1 million hectares) of waterfowl habitat to the National Wildlife Refuge System, where the stamps also serve as an annual admission pass. In addition, sales after the season among collectors have created a financial incentive to preserve the stamps themselves. A novice, starting from scratch, could expect to spend several thousand dollars to amass a full collection.
Since the first image, titled “Mallards Dropping In,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist J. N. “Ding” Darling, the stamps have featured scores of different waterfowl species. The raucous splash of a pair of gadwalls, the youthful paddling of ruddy duck ducklings, and the graceful downbeat of a snow goose’s wings are just a few of the behaviors preserved on these revenue-raising stamps. One of the most popular and controversial stamps, issued in 1959, was also the only one to prominently feature an animal other than a waterfowl. This stamp, known as the King Buck stamp, depicted a national champion Labrador retriever of the same name holding a mallard in his mouth. Maynard Reese, the stamp’s artist, has created more winning duck stamp images than any other artist.
In October, the Fish and Wildlife Service selected the artwork for the 75th anniversary stamp. The judging for the contest was held in Sanibel, Florida, at the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, named for the man who helped launch this prestigious wildlife art contest.—Brad Scriber