Im a duck hunter. I have been since I was a girl growing up in Canada. I cant think of any other place Id rather be on a crisp November morning than watching the waterfowl flight over the marshes at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge with my wet dog at my side.
The area around Montezuma Refuge in central New York state annually supports more than 500,000 mallards, 100,000 Canada geese, 25,000 American black ducks. It regularly hosts more than 1,000 individuals of more than 25 species.
So, what is it that enables the Montezuma Refuge area to attract so many waterfowl, and why do I value hunting so much?
Lets take those questions one at a time.
Montezuma Refuge is at a crossroads along the Atlantic Flyway for waterfowl and other migratory birds from as far northwest as Alaska and as far northeast as Newfoundland, migrating through wetlandrich Upstate New York.
The region supports a diversity of habitats, and thus an abundance of wildlife species. What I love is that you never know what you might see on a given day. That is why the Montezuma Refuge area is so popular for wildlife viewing. The refuge staff works tirelessly to ensure that the area is managed to maximize wildlife benefits. You are assured to see an abundance of birds, whether they are flying overhead or landing in your decoys.
In addition, cooperation among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and private landowners ensures the mosaic of habitats. The corridor of wellmanaged wetland habitat from the Cayuga Lake (south of Montezuma Refuge) through the refuge north to Lake Ontario makes central New York a waterfowler haven.
As to why I enjoy hunting: I was fortunate to grow up in a home in rural North Bay, Ontario, where outdoor adventures were encouraged, even in the depth of winter, when temperatures reached minus40 degrees Fahrenheit.
One of my earliest memories of waterfowl hunting is hiking through the neighbors wetland, where only days before my dad had dragged a picnic table so I could stay high and dry during the hunt. I remember Dad asking whether I really wanted to wear my bright purple coat to go hunting. In hindsight, that probably was not the best choice for sporting apparel (birds flared, and we never took a single shot), but I got to use Dads duck call for the first time. It was more about spending time in the marsh than about going home with a limit of ducks.
Today my quality time in the marsh is spent with my husband and my sixyearold lab, Ruddy (named after my favorite duck). Our annual hunting trips help to supplement our food resources, and they are very much a part of who we are.
I think it is because of my supportive family, and positive experiences playing in and around wetlands, that I choose my career path. My work with Ducks Unlimited helps to conserve wetland habitat today, tomorrow and forever for the benefit of birds, wildlife and people.
Trust me, there is no better feeling than watching a marsh awake, centerstage in a duck blind, and experiencing the morning flight of mallards, black ducks and wood ducks. To know that what you just experienced was made possible by the wetland restoration efforts of yourself, the organization you work for, your conservationminded partners and friends makes it all the more rewarding.
Sarah Fleming is a Ducks Unlimited regional biologist based in Jordan, NY.