The Wild Duck Chase

The Wild Duck Chase

by Martin J. Smith

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.

"As one of the most successful conservation programs ever devised, the Federal Duck Stamp program has deserved a book like this for a long time: well-written, insightful, and just plain fun to read.”--David Allen Sibley, author of the Sibley Guides to Birds and Trees

“Martin Smith’s The Wild Duck Chase is a smartly written, wonderful look at waterfowl conservation at its apex. Every page is a treat. Once you start, you won’t be able to stop. Highly recommend!”--Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University and author of "Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America"

“You don’t have to be a duck hunter to enjoy The Wild Duck Chase. This is an entertaining read and should be on the list of everyone who has an interest in conservation.”--Ducks Unlimited Magazine

“When it comes to fascinating, quirky characters and their alternate-universe stories, Martin Smith is the master. His tale of the noble and obscure federal duck stamp, and the men who love it just a bit too much, is a delight to read.”--Edward Humes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of eleven nonfiction books, including “Eco Barons,” “Monkey Girl,” and “Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart’s Green Revolution.”

“With a low-key writing style supported by fine research, Smith takes the readers behind the scenes as five judges weigh the artistic and commercial quality of the 235 submissions in the only juried contest administered by the U.S. government. The Hautman brothers, Jim, Joe, and Bob, are the most fascinating of the artistic competitors, but the author paints many of the participants in a lively, entertaining manner while the contest runs its hectic course. Smith’s compelling story of a largely forgotten federal program will cast some timely light on the ongoing clash between rural hunters and urban conservationists on preserving the habitat of waterfowl.”—Publishers Weekly


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