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The Wild Duck Chase: Inside the Strange and Wonderful World of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest

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The Wild Duck Chase takes readers into the peculiar world of competitive duck painting as it played out during one year's 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 to help purchase or lease 5.3 m The Wild Duck Chase takes readers into the peculiar world of competitive duck painting as it played out during one year's 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 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 clashes between the hunters who buy the stamps and the birders and conservationists who decry the hunting of waterfowl. 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.


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The Wild Duck Chase takes readers into the peculiar world of competitive duck painting as it played out during one year's 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 to help purchase or lease 5.3 m The Wild Duck Chase takes readers into the peculiar world of competitive duck painting as it played out during one year's 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 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 clashes between the hunters who buy the stamps and the birders and conservationists who decry the hunting of waterfowl. 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.

30 review for The Wild Duck Chase: Inside the Strange and Wonderful World of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest

  1. 5 out of 5

    Caleb Anderson

    Informative and entertaining! A look inside the truly unique and niche world of Duck Stamps.

  2. 5 out of 5

    John Frazier

    One of the most redeeming things about Martin J. Smith's chronicle of the federal Duck Stamp Program is that for one small, almost infinitesimal, moment he makes you believe in the efficiency and agency of a government bureaucracy. Founded 60-plus years ago as a way to license wild bird hunters, the Duck Stamp Program has evolved into this fascinating intersection of hunting, conservation and art--and it actually works. That 98 percent of the revenues generated from the purchase of the duck stamp One of the most redeeming things about Martin J. Smith's chronicle of the federal Duck Stamp Program is that for one small, almost infinitesimal, moment he makes you believe in the efficiency and agency of a government bureaucracy. Founded 60-plus years ago as a way to license wild bird hunters, the Duck Stamp Program has evolved into this fascinating intersection of hunting, conservation and art--and it actually works. That 98 percent of the revenues generated from the purchase of the duck stamps goes toward the purchase and conservation of wetlands suggests that this should be anything but a government program. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the program is that the stamp itself is created anew each year, the winning painting of a contest where entrants and judges alike are anonymous until the final judging. Smith's masterfully weaves the history of the program and the competition into the painstaking preparation and judging for the 2010 contest, giving us a great look at many of the contestants as they choose which of the five available species they'll choose to render and in which position--on land, in water or in flight--they'll choose to capture them. Open as the competition is to anyone who submits the entry fee and a painting, it's a surprisingly small world dominated not by one person, but by one family of three brothers who, between them, have won the contest nine of the previous 25 years, a domination that, as Smith points out, the New York Yankees never even enjoyed. (You may be surprised to learn how much money the winning artists can make from both stamp and art collectors.) That winners are precluded from entering for three years after winning makes their story all the more remarkable. I've never been a hunter, but Smith goes a long way toward debunking many of the common stereotypes held about them. That their passion for hunting could actually lend itself to the conservation of the same birds they hunt and the habitats in which they're found makes for an ironic and fascinating dichotomy, one that may change the way many readers view the sport and its participants. Of course, it's always the most esoteric and off-the-wall subjects that lend themselves to the best stories, and this is no exception. That Smith has also turned this one into great reading makes it all the more pleasurable. Whether you're a hunter or not, you'll enjoy this "Wild Duck Chase."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tom Lewoc

    This is a phenomenally written book. Smith's amazing ability with the written word, created a great read that anyone can pick up an enjoy. Collectors, conservationist(s), hunters, birders, and even the common person would enjoy the historical nature of the stamp program along with the actual craziness of the stamp competition (and us collectors) based on how Smith put this book together. I enjoyed the fact he never lost the major point of conservation of our future throughout the entire book. H This is a phenomenally written book. Smith's amazing ability with the written word, created a great read that anyone can pick up an enjoy. Collectors, conservationist(s), hunters, birders, and even the common person would enjoy the historical nature of the stamp program along with the actual craziness of the stamp competition (and us collectors) based on how Smith put this book together. I enjoyed the fact he never lost the major point of conservation of our future throughout the entire book. Having read many of the historical reference books or past writings on the duck stamp program, this was a welcomed culmination of the story, the history, and process of the program. He skillfully included every facet of the migratory bird stamp world into an enjoyable read while highlighting all the major players.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Pamela Kelley

    The book was excellent especially when there was a documentary on PBS to go along with it so you could see the beautiful wildlife. The ducks were given justice in the film. The book describes them perfectly. I recommend the book first and then the film. Excellent information for environmental minded folks who enjoy our wetlands.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    A great look at a micro-culture, or even a few, wildlife artists, duck stamp enthusiasts, hunters and birdwatchers. Terrific conservation program that deserves more publicity, hope this book helped

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rob Slaven

    It is worth noting, as always, that I received this book in a GoodReads drawing in exchange for an honest review. Before I laid eyes on this little book I'd never even heard of the Federal Duck Stamp Program. In fact when I started it my fiancee looked at me with that expression that says politely and succinctly, "you're reading a book about what now...?" I will admit that I had my doubts as well but I pride myself on always trying to keep an open mind on whatever gems find their way to my door It is worth noting, as always, that I received this book in a GoodReads drawing in exchange for an honest review. Before I laid eyes on this little book I'd never even heard of the Federal Duck Stamp Program. In fact when I started it my fiancee looked at me with that expression that says politely and succinctly, "you're reading a book about what now...?" I will admit that I had my doubts as well but I pride myself on always trying to keep an open mind on whatever gems find their way to my door and this one did not disappoint. From a writing standpoint Smith is consummately professional. He gives us a depth of detail that is admirable and evocative. I'm ready to buy a Duck Stamp, or a dozen, at next opportunity. His portrayal of a government program that works and works well has me sold. Chapters 3, 11 and 12 resonate especially as they withdraw from the details of the contest and the competitors and focus on the background and the origin of the program and conservation in the United States. The grandness of those three chapters, however, does lead us to the shortcomings of this book. While the program itself a wonder to behold, many of the personal specifics of the competitors I found rather tangled and dull. Yes, the Hautman family is the stuff of legend in this pass-time, but I'm not sure we needed to hear about them and others like them at such length. Other readers will probably find the depth of coverage here endearing but I suffered a bit from Hautman fatigue. In summary, an amusing little romp through a model government program and one that we should all look to support.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Leah K

    The Wild Duck Chase: Inside the Strange and Wonderful World of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest by Michael J. Smith 261 pages ★★★ In 1934 the Duck Stamp Act was put into place, requiring anyone over 16 who wanted to hunt to purchase the stamp. It was put into place to begin conserving wetlands and waterfowls. A few years later they began a contest for people to design the yearly stamp. For a program that had the government spend $850,000 on it and brought back $24 million in revenue (98% of that goin The Wild Duck Chase: Inside the Strange and Wonderful World of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest by Michael J. Smith 261 pages ★★★ In 1934 the Duck Stamp Act was put into place, requiring anyone over 16 who wanted to hunt to purchase the stamp. It was put into place to begin conserving wetlands and waterfowls. A few years later they began a contest for people to design the yearly stamp. For a program that had the government spend $850,000 on it and brought back $24 million in revenue (98% of that going to conservation) in one year and in its time had now conserved enough land the size of Vermont, it’s deemed itself to be the “little program that could”. Yet how many people know about this valuable program? Not as many as should. I’m not going to lie, this book sounds as exciting as it really is. The author even mentions that it’s not the most exciting, fast paced contest but it is one that should be known. It’s a program that is slowly fading but has done great things throughout the years. If you’re into conservation of land, painting, stamp collecting, or waterfowl – this book is a quick read and worth a look. I picked this book up on a whim from the library, one of my roulette games. Not something I would have read under normal circumstances but glad I did. Educational and interesting – at least to me.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Odile

    My questions to the author: Why did he write this book? (may be I still don't get it) What's the secret of the Hautman brothers? It sounds like the Federal Duck Stamp is a dying institution: what will it take to revive it? Can it be saved? My take away from the book: Yes, I have a prejudice against hunters and apparently, I am not alone (I hope I don't offend any of you). Interesting to hear that a mere 1% of ducks are killed by hunters if I understand the statistics presented in the book: refreshing My questions to the author: Why did he write this book? (may be I still don't get it) What's the secret of the Hautman brothers? It sounds like the Federal Duck Stamp is a dying institution: what will it take to revive it? Can it be saved? My take away from the book: Yes, I have a prejudice against hunters and apparently, I am not alone (I hope I don't offend any of you). Interesting to hear that a mere 1% of ducks are killed by hunters if I understand the statistics presented in the book: refreshing. May be I need to soften my judgement. I haven't bought my duck stamp yet but I am considering it. I envy these federal duck stamp artists: they must have a good time doing it. Painting ducks is apparently more fun than designing rockets to send man or manned made robots into space. There is beauty in all mankind pursuits. I may become a bird watcher.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gregg

    A very interesting story of the history of the Federal Duck Stamp, the nerve wracking contest to choose the winning art, the important benefits the sale of the stamp provides and a look at some of the "Rock Stars" and quirky characters of this unique contest. There is a lot of information about the legendary Hautman brothers and a bit less on some of the other participants. Being from Minneapolis, I am familiar with the Hautman family. My father-in-law and late mother-in-law were/is friends of t A very interesting story of the history of the Federal Duck Stamp, the nerve wracking contest to choose the winning art, the important benefits the sale of the stamp provides and a look at some of the "Rock Stars" and quirky characters of this unique contest. There is a lot of information about the legendary Hautman brothers and a bit less on some of the other participants. Being from Minneapolis, I am familiar with the Hautman family. My father-in-law and late mother-in-law were/is friends of the brothers' mother Elaine, and late father "Tuck". I am honored to have an Elaine Hautman painting in my home. What an amazingly talented family!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

    As a person who grew up in an agricultural area and had family members who hunted for sustenance, I grew up respecting nature and the ecology of hunting. I was not aware, however, of the Federal Duck Stamp. Our present day lives are so 'sophisticated' and complex that we have lost understanding the importance of our ecological footprint. This book pleads the case for more awareness of our natural resources and in itself is a way to get the word out. I, for one, am going to make more of an effort As a person who grew up in an agricultural area and had family members who hunted for sustenance, I grew up respecting nature and the ecology of hunting. I was not aware, however, of the Federal Duck Stamp. Our present day lives are so 'sophisticated' and complex that we have lost understanding the importance of our ecological footprint. This book pleads the case for more awareness of our natural resources and in itself is a way to get the word out. I, for one, am going to make more of an effort to educate people about how interconnected our refuges are to our survival.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Christi McBride

    This was a really interesting and enlightening read. Learned a lot about how hunters and fisherman became involved in paying for the majority of wildlife land conservation in the US. Enjoyed the historical perspective and the story of the duck stamp art contest which I knew nothing about. Different from what I normally read, but I liked it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Seth

    I like examinations of random subcultures/facets of contemporary culture but -- absent great writing or a compelling narrative -- often think they do better as fifty-page articles in Harper's than as freestanding books. This book was perfectly adequate but was not one of the exceptions to that general rule. I like examinations of random subcultures/facets of contemporary culture but -- absent great writing or a compelling narrative -- often think they do better as fifty-page articles in Harper's than as freestanding books. This book was perfectly adequate but was not one of the exceptions to that general rule.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ty Keith

    A page turner in the vein of "The Big Year." This is a book that every "serious" birder needs to read simply to absorb the importance of the Federal Duck Stamp in the continued health of our environment. The birding community, to which I proudly belong, needs to put our money steadfastly behind this program by buying stamp annually and encouraging our brethren to do the same. A page turner in the vein of "The Big Year." This is a book that every "serious" birder needs to read simply to absorb the importance of the Federal Duck Stamp in the continued health of our environment. The birding community, to which I proudly belong, needs to put our money steadfastly behind this program by buying stamp annually and encouraging our brethren to do the same.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Linnae

    Since its inception, the duck stamp has provided millions of dollars for habitat conservation. The only federally juried art competition is run by the Fish and Wildlife Department, for the art that appears on the duck stamp each year. Smith delves into the history of the stamp, the art competition, and some of the artists that make their living attempting to paint "the million-dollar duck." Since its inception, the duck stamp has provided millions of dollars for habitat conservation. The only federally juried art competition is run by the Fish and Wildlife Department, for the art that appears on the duck stamp each year. Smith delves into the history of the stamp, the art competition, and some of the artists that make their living attempting to paint "the million-dollar duck."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Greg Overall

    I really enjoyed this book. I found it well written and interesting. Not only did it chronicle 2010 the Federal Duck Stamp program, but it really delved into the personalities of some of the major contestants and also gave a great overview on the history of conservation as it relates to the Duck Stamp Program and more. I highly recommend it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    some of this book i really liked, some was just too much info and i was bored. i'm not not recommending this book, just saying buyer beware. some of you might really like this. i would give it a higher rating if i weren't so bored with too much detail. some of this book i really liked, some was just too much info and i was bored. i'm not not recommending this book, just saying buyer beware. some of you might really like this. i would give it a higher rating if i weren't so bored with too much detail.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    The author weaves the history of the Duck Stamp, the conservation it enriches, and the 2010 Duck Stamp judging - with the various artists - into a cohesive and fascinating story. Whether you are a hunter, stamp collector, bird watcher, and/or nature nut this book is a must-read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn

    Not too many people may find this book interesting but I loved the inside look at the Duck Stamp Competition. I have been aware of this contest on the junior level for many years. The adult personalities are great and driven as are the people who run the competition and the duck stamp program.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Macke

    well written, random, quirky, obscure ... don't be a dork, always looking for some hidden meaning, accept it for what it is, learn something new ... if you can accept that drawings of ducks are art, then you can accept that this is a five-star book well written, random, quirky, obscure ... don't be a dork, always looking for some hidden meaning, accept it for what it is, learn something new ... if you can accept that drawings of ducks are art, then you can accept that this is a five-star book

  20. 5 out of 5

    Anna Kitchens

    To be honest, I skimmed parts to finish it in time for my book club. But it was surprisingly interesting! I have found myself interjecting what I learned into conversation occasionally.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    Interesting story around what is probably one of the most cost efficient government programs in existence. I think I need to go out and buy myself a Federal Duck Stamp.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Eccentric, special and wonderful.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jen

  24. 5 out of 5

    Walter

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kate Peskett

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn Cusumano

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jan Allen

  28. 5 out of 5

    bj combs

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Arkebauer

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anne Buchanan

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