Op-Ed: Buying Duck Stamps Online for Hunting Season

Waterfowl hunting traditions include buying federal and state duck stamps each season. The process is now easier with online purchase opportunities.

Op-Ed: Buying Duck Stamps Online for Hunting Season

The 2020-21 federal waterfowl stamp was painted by Eddie LeRoy of Alabama and features the black-bellied whistling duck. These ducks are more common along coastal marshes and areas along the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo: USFWS)

I can't remember the first "duck stamp" that I purchased but am sure it was at least 40 years ago, give or take a mallard and gadwall.

My father grew up hunting ducks and geese. It was his first love, I think, giving way in spring and summer to fishing for smallmouth bass. But as far back as my memory takes me, I know of duck feathers and muddy boots, an old A5 Humpback, Carhartt and Duxbax. My first dog was a Lab puppy he and a hunting partner found with their littermates, discarded at a management area boat ramp. They couldn't take them all. I always wondered about the other puppies.

The first time I went with my father, I almost dropped a shotgun into the water outside the duck blind after taking a shot. Cold hands and the unexpected whomp of the 12-gauge, of course. Waders were uncomfortable, cotton socks sucked and wool socks were itchy. This was back when we shot lead and killed ducks on the points system (100 for a black, 70 for a mallard hen ...).

My first duck, a mallard hen, I killed from the hip leaning against a tree because I had on so many clothes I couldn't shoulder my 12-gauge. It's still hanging on my wall. My father and I hunted one morning when the temperature/time sign on the highway showed 4 degrees when we were leaving and minus-2 on the way home. I  got pneumonia one year in high school after falling in and filling my waders, walking a half-mile (seemed like 10) to the truck and stripping down. In the last 25 years I've gone less than I wanted to but enough to create more great memories.

Through it all, the duck stamps have been there. They're a touchstone of sorts. Required by law, but also kind of a sportsman's code. If you didn't buy your duck stamps, I think to most hunters, it said a lot about a lack of character. It was just part of the deal. You went to the post office or courthouse, or other outlet that sold them, and purchased your stamps.

In the mid 2010s on the way to Mississippi for a weekend hunt, I stopped at an Alabama county courthouse on the way to get my state stamps. The lady behind  the counter said, "Oh, they quit making those. We don't sell them anymore." She was steadfast that "the government" had quit making duck stamps and hadn't made them for years. Not wanting to engage further with a verified idiot, I bid farewell and stopped at another outlet that did, of course, have stamps.

Federal Duck Stamps on Sale

The scramble could be real if you didn't get your stamps early and a courthouse, post office or other venue sold out. The things in life I never want to deal with include a game warden looking at me when I say I don't have a stamp. Before the electronic purchase possibility became available, more than one season I drove to multiple post offices seeking stamps.

It's easier now, though, as are so many things.

With a blip-bip-tap on the phone or a few laptop keystrokes, you can purchase the 2020-21 federal duck stamp (and some state stamps) from anywhere. The new 2020-21 federal stamp goes on sale June 26. They cost $25 and are good from July 1 to June 30, 2021. The U.S. Postal Service online store is another venue, as is this site

I'm a traditionalist so I like having the physical stamp in my wallet. But if you're in a pinch or enjoy the electronic version of licenses, bill-paying and other things of that nature, you can purchase an electronic waterfowl stamp here. According to the USFWS, this certificate is unique to the purchaser and is valid as a Federal Duck Stamp across the nation for up to 45 days from the date of purchase. Within that time, a physical Duck Stamp will be mailed to you. Your E-stamp certificate may be printed out or downloaded onto your mobile device and must be carried on your person while hunting waterfowl.

If you want to do it the old-fashioned way, head to your local courthouse or post office. I'd call first to double-check. Also, National Wildlife Refuges sell federal stamps

Federal Duck Stamp History

Waterfowl, songbirds and other wildlife have benefitted greatly from the money generated by sales of the federal duck stamp. That began in 1934 after market hunting had been tamped down and conservationists still struggled with the ongoing effort to help wildlife recovery efforts. The additional user fee with the required stamp has generated more than $1 billion that has been used for myriad land purchases and projects in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

“Since Ding Darling quickly sketched the first duck stamp in 1934, art and conservation have been connected and the world is better for it. Whether you’re an avid waterfowl hunter, a birder, conservation enthusiast, or a collector, every American has a good reason to buy a duck stamp, perhaps even two or three,” Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam said in a press release.

“Of every dollar spent on a duck stamp, 98 cents of the purchase goes directly to acquiring and protecting waterfowl habitat, and that’s a testament to the great administration of this long-running program by the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The First Day of Sale is our opportunity to celebrate another great season and say thank you to the adult and youth artists who lend their talents to this important cause, and all those supporting and delivering wildlife conservation through their purchase of a duck stamp each year.”

This year's federal stamp features a pair of black-bellied whistling ducks painted by Eddie LeRoy of Eufaula, Alabama. The 2020-21 junior duck stamp features a wood duck painted by Madison Grimm, a 13-year-old from South Dakota. Her artwork will grace the 2020-2021 Junior Duck Stamp, which will also go on sale June 26, and supports conservation education for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. More than 3,000 junior duck stamps are sold annually for $5 each to help promote conservation education through art.

The USFWS Small Wetlands Program is also funded by proceeds from federal duck stamp sales. The program helps protect wetland and grassland habitat through fee-title acquisition and voluntary conservation easements purchased from private landowners.

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