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Thoughts on Waterfowl

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Photos by Joel Jones

Story by Dr. Mark Vrtiska

It’s just my humble opinion, but I believe those of us involved in fish and wildlife conservation on a professional level are “wired” a bit differently than the rest of society. There’s some innate draw or attraction to wild and natural things and places that is difficult to explain, let alone understand. That attraction has led us down a path of life that isn’t just a job or a career, but a vocation that is inexplicably intertwined with our lives, passions, and hobbies.

Those passions and hobbies manifest themselves in a variety of ways, whether it be simple hikes up secluded mountain trails, catching bluegill through the ice, or observing a rare bird species to add to the life list. Engaging in our favorite activities adds fuel to our commitment to doing our jobs, but also reminds us of that unspoken oath we took somewhere along the line to conserve our natural resources.

Photo by Joel Jones

The sight of ducks on cupped wings provides that source of fuel for me. I never – ever – get tired of seeing it, but when it happens on a gray November day over my decoys, it’s a really good sight. If also in response to my calling and they don’t flare when I raise my shotgun, a truly marvelous one. That sight doesn’t occur often, and I find it a bit evil in that it’ll set you on a trajectory (obsession?) to see it again despite those early mornings of slogging through soft-bottomed marshes only to watch empty skies.

It’s probably strange then to know it wasn’t that experience that engulfed me into the waterfowl conservation world, but the sight of looking into a duck nest on a Montana prairie that did it. However, two years later after some of my colleagues took me duck hunting, it seemed I was destined to be where I’m at today. I feel lucky to be in a position to know that both of those experiences are connected. I also carry a sense of responsibility that to participate in one, I must have the other.

Photo by Joel Jones

I’m now at the point in my life where I want my grandkids and others to experience what I’ve experienced in the marshes. Will ducks on cupped wings elicit the same feelings in them? Will they understand my work and my passion were connected as a means to provide their kids with the same opportunity? I can only hope and for now, simply relish their being in the duck blind with me.  

Joel Jones is a freelance photographer living and working out of Lincoln, Nebraska. A native of Halifax, England, Jones aspires to shed a positive light on the hunting community through his photos. He loves to travel, hunt and photograph the outdoors.

“Long before a gun is in hand, I want my daughters to first realize the value in exploring different landscapes and observing wildlife up close. If they grow up to respect hunting, understand conservation, and realize the critical connection between the two, then I have done my job.”

– Angelina Wright, Ducks Unlimited

Photo by Joel Jones

“Waterfowl have a way of connecting people across both space and time. Playing a role in the conservation of such a symbol is a great way of tipping one’s hat to everyone they ever have or ever will share a blind with.”

– Greg Wright, U.S. Forest Service

Photo by Joel Jones

There is a feeling of awe I get when thinking about how these birds fly thousands of miles to be at this very spot.”

– John Denton,
Ducks Unlimited

Photo by Joel Jones

I picture a wetland filled with mallards in the early morning darkness … the
unmistakable sound of wings overhead.”

– Kyle Smith,
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

Photo by Joel Jones

Dogs … I’ve hunted without them, but those hunts were not complete. ”

– Scott Wessel,
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

Photo by Joel Jones