Beauty of Duck Hunting: Bird Watching with a Gun

I’ve said before that duck hunters are really bird watchers with guns. Nothing flies like a duck, and to witness them gliding like a hockey player on a breakaway then cupping their wings to immerse themselves into the decoys are visions that dance in a duck hunter’s head the night before a hunt.

But it is not just the ducks that provide us with unique visual delights. It is the types of places ducks like to land and the glorious things that sunrises and misty mornings do to them. I suppose there is a macho element to duck hunting, but it has nothing to do with shooting something. Duck hunting often takes place during conditions that test the fortitude of any creature that doesn’t come to it with its own natural covering of feathers and down. We wade in water that’s on the edge of freezing and break the ice with feet and knees and paddles when ice does form. And even dogs bred in Labrador stand there and shiver.

Duck hunting involves many things, but mostly we wait with great anticipation, scanning empty skies for the slightest hint of anything that flies or qualifies as a duck, giving us a chance to participate few other pastimes permit.

With wooden tubes pressed to our lips, we highball and quack and chuckle in a most gregarious manner. Truth is, it usually doesn’t work. But when it does and those ducks turn and circle and set, we feel like the duck-hunting equivalent of Louis Armstrong.

If you are a duck hunter, you know exactly what I’m talking about. But you also know it is very hard to capture the whole thing in words. The beauty of duck hunting can’t really be captured in a few pictures either, even though the ones taken and printed about the sport are among the finest, most dramatic in all of outdoor photography.

With this in mind, I was a bit skeptical when a fellow outdoor writer/photographer, Steve Bowman, offered to send me a copy of a book about duck hunting that he and fellow outdoor photographer Mark Stallings put together. Over the years, I’ve seen a bunch of these types of books, and although they are nice to look at and read, none of them have been what I would call “memorable.”

Both live in Arkansas and spend a lot of time in the rice fields and flooded timber around Stuttgart, which is a mecca to duck hunters around the world. That’s where they took most of their pictures for this coffee table-type book of fine, high-gloss paper and vivid colors.

I’ve been taking pictures in the outdoors for over 40 years, so I’m not easily impressed. But as I leafed through The Season by Steve Bowman and Mark Stallings, I was whisked away once again with those visions that dance in a hunter’s head—it really was the next best thing to being there.

Anyone can take pretty pictures of duck hunting scenes, but Steve and Mark took photography to another level in this beautiful book, capturing the unspeakable essence of the sport in the most admirable way I’ve seen. It’s a book that I’m sure every duck hunter will enjoy, or any nature lover as well because although it is about the duck hunting season, it transcends the sport.

What is hardest to explain is that duck hunting isn’t really about hunting; it’s about what you see and feel as you flip through these pages.

For more information…
To get a copy of The Season: A Photographic Look at the Sport of Duck Hunting, mail Bowman Outdoor Enterprises, Inc., 3115 N. Rodney, Parham Rd., Little Rock, AR 72212. Or, you can call them at 501-221-2282 or visit TheDuckSeason.com.