"Economic impact" creates unequal partners among duck hunters in managing state-owned wildlife management areas.
Modern duck hunters are different than other hunters in that they do not use their gear to hunt. They hunt to use their gear.
For many, duck hunting is an adrenaline-laced sport that emphasizes mud motors, souped up outboard motors with 25-horsepower decals, specialized boats and other tools that generate excitement that mere hunting no longer provides. This environment encourages crash-helmeted daredevils to shoot high-octane videos that attract international audiences on YouTube and Instagram. If you wrap a boat around a tree on camera, the video goes viral.
That crowd operates by different standards than hunters that pursue game for more introspective, spiritual purposes.
That universe also puts louder pipes on duck hunting's economic engine. Political candidates dutifully cite the economic importance of hunting in Arkansas in terms of jobs created, jobs supported and the value of hunting-related merchandise.
By extension, hunters who buy stuff are more important than hunters who don't. A hunter who upgrades his duck boat every other year, who buys a $1,700 shotgun every other year, who buys shells by the pallet, premium calls, the latest camo clothing, a new pair of premium waders every year, and all of the latest mechanical decoying gadgets is more valuable to the hunting economy than the traditionalist who putters in with a 30-year-old, 9.9-horsepower outboard, who hunts with a 25-year-old Remington 870, who shoots a case or less of shells per year, and who wears a 12-year-old parka and patched-up waders.
Our hunting licenses cost the same, but gearheads contribute far more to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission through the one-eighth percent conservation sales tax and through the Pittman-Robertson federal excise tax than the frugal traditionalist. That disparity amplifies the voices of gear-oriented hunters over those of traditionalists.
In April, for example, the members of the commission heard arguments for and against banning surface drive motors on commission-owned wildlife management areas. One person favored the ban, and while he made a compelling case, his voice was muted by manufacturers who talked about how many people they employ and what their businesses mean to otherwise depressed communities. In their minds, WMAs exist as playgrounds for their products.
In my 13 years as outdoors editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, I've covered 22 members of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission who were appointed by three governors, three nonappointed ex officio commissioners and five directors. As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, the surest way for a hunting interest to sway the commission is to plead that a proposed regulation will cause financial harm.
That's not a knock against members of the commission or against the body as a whole. They are successful business professionals, and the AGFC is as economically oriented as Walmart.
Almost all commissioners are hunters. Some are avid duck hunters and some are casual, but they all value traditional ways of hunting and traditional ethics. They also hunt on private ground because that's the only place they can guarantee the hunting environment they desire.
I once believed that WMAs served wildlife first and hunters second, and that they should favor traditional hunting styles and methods because those were most beneficial to wildlife. I believed that hunters who could afford the latest and most expensive gear should buy or lease their own duck hunting property where they could play without infringing on other people's hunting experiences.
My thinking on that has evolved. Gearheads are the majority, and they define the public hunting experience. The public domain is a competitive environment, and survival of the fittest governs.
Sadly, those who want a more exclusive, more relaxed style of hunting should strongly consider paying extra for it on private ground. Deer hunters reached that conclusion long ago.
The commission will soon launch a campaign to promote traditional ethics among sportsmen. It's a noble desire, but times have changed, and the hunters that pay the freight have changed.
Duck hunting on public land has changed with them.
It's a noisy, chaotic world, and I don't see it reverting.
Sports on 05/20/2018
Print Headline: Big spenders rule the duck hunting world