Apr

14

 The Duck Hunters Book: Classic Waterfowl Stories edited by Lamar Underwood is a collection of 48 stories by the greatest waterfowl writers of the first half of the 20th century. The book is divided into sections: celebrations, the myth of mysteries, hunting around, the hope and the tools, mallards and other divers, and fireside stories. Each is preceded by a one page summary of the writer's accomplishments and epitaph. The stories originally appeared in such magazines as Field and Stream, Audobon, Gray's Sporting Journal, Outdoorsman Magazine, and numerous books published by Winchester Press. Together the book gives a beautiful picture of the ecology of ducks. How they go about their living, who preys on them, what they eat, how they fly, where they migrate to and from, how their numbers have increased and decreased, and their interactions with humans, who along with raccoons, mosquitoes, crows, and eagles are their main predators.

The writing in the book is of a very high standard. There is humour, pathos, and education in each chapter. Almost all are written by experienced hunter writers who love nature, and have the wisdom of the old, and spirit of the young. The writer Ed Zern, for example, is described as a composite of Mark Twain, Ring Lardner, and Irwin Cobb. I would agree. Other great and famous writers include Nash Buckingham, Ted Trueblood, Gene Hill, and Gordon MacQuarrie, the author of The Stories of the Old Duck Hunters.

Macquarrie is the founder of the the Old Duck Hunters Club, which has two members the President and himself. We borrowed the idea and installed Tierney as the president of the Old Speculators Club with proper reverence. Regrettably, Macquarrie passed away at the age of 50 after spending three beautiful weeks in a duck hunting cabin with nothing to do but enjoy nature and ducks. As he says, "nothing to do you say? Where did I get those rough and callused hands? The windburned face, the slack in my pants. I looked out at the the lakeshore for a bit and watched the ducks, with enough variety to make tomorrow promise new interest. Surely I was among the most favored of all mankind. Where could there be a world as fine as this."

The theme of being one with nature, throwing away the mundane cares of the struggle that is life, watching the amazing ecology of the swamps and wetlands where ducks abound runs through the book. In "What Rarer Day" by Nash Buckinham, for example, he concludes, "we sack the shadows. I am thinking while we backtrack and board our mules, that another rare day has been vouchsafed me. Fire-log and impending grub call are vanguard dreams. To rig decoys, tune one's call, to mush fair going or foul, to gauge wind or lead, is to reach as fine a skirmish line as Gods' outdoors affords."

 The number of duck hunters apparently reached its zenith in the 1970s when 2.5 million duck hunters purchased migratory duck stamps a year. It's down to 700,000 now from a zenith in the last quarter of the 20th century that a much greater % of the population participated in. Commercial duck hunting has been prohibited for 90 years, and the clubs, blinds, guides, calls, decoys, ropes, tools, paints, duck boats are a thing of the past. It recalls an era when life was more in tune with nature, when men enjoyed nothing more than a good outing in freezing weather with their colleagues, when wives thrived on the spark of the little boy in their husbands, and when good food and drink at home and reading a good book, and teaching your kid to be one with nature (as opposed to video games) were the great joys of life.

The book has many erudite sections by experts in geology, aeronautics, biology, and ecology and teaches you many technical things indirectly through their stories. However, they leave out the well known ecology that the number of ducks is increased by a proper ratio of predation by humans as without the increase there would be destructive competition for food and reproduction. A proper ratio is a standard worked out empirically and theoretically in the Lotka Verrhust equations which are well covered in all books on ecology. Based on this work, duck hunting is allowed in only four months of the year, there are limits on each kind of duck based on their rate of population increase, and only old ducks are allowed to be hunted.

 I cried and laughed in almost each chapter and found myself by the end of the 48 chapters a much wiser and happier man. I was introduced to a new field, and it is beautiful and edifying. However, as I read about the ducks and the hunters, I realized that duck hunting was very much like market hunting. That the skill of the ducks was very similar to the skill of the market operators, that the calls of the duck hunters were similar to the calls in the pits, that the laws of misses, risks, and rewards of the hunters were similar to what we go through each day. That I could learn more about markets from the sagacity of Zurn, Roy Holland, Robert Ellman, and Buckinham than I could from Magee, Buffett, Gross, or Graham. In the next installment of this review I will go through some of the great insights of the duck hunters and what it teaches us about markets.

Ken Drees writes: 

In stark contrast, a chapter from Poachers Were My Prey steered itself into the undercover bust of a hubris minded clicque of Lake Erie Island duck poachers who bragged about how great they were as duck hunters. Their leader had a tricked out boat–a hat that said #1 gun or some such other super ego label. They would go on these junkets to the islands, cross into Canada, deal with customs and always come back with a haul of iced down duck breasts harvested from the birds shot willy nilly and illegally. The duck meat was secreted back via a hidden cooler compartment in the custom boat. These guys were so brazen and flashy that they were usually considered legal and upstanding. The insider undercover agent had befriended the leader was there on the hunt getting evidence, ultimately busting them.


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