FOR MOST WATERFOWL HUNTERS, taking a bird with a leg band is a truly awesome experience, comparable only to taking a 200-inch mule deer or world record elk. Like all hunting, harvesting a bird with “jewelry” requires a fair amount of luck; however, the thing that makes bird bands so unique is that the bird could have been banded anywhere in the world!
What are bird bands?
Bands are tiny aluminum rings that are placed on the legs of birds. Biologists have been banding birds for hundreds of years. Some of the first bird bands were placed on falcons to determine ownership of captive-reared birds in Europe. John James Audubon was the first to band birds in North American using thin silver wires.
In 1909, Jack Miner began banding waterfowl in Ontario with bands containing short versus of scripture. Eventually bands began to contain a series of numbers to uniquely identify each bird. Today, tens of thousands of birds are banded each year across the globe to determine harvest rates, survival, dispersal, behavior and distribution.
The Utah Waterfowl Slam
This last spring I began discussing the needs of the waterfowl program with biologists around the state. We identified some of the challenges the program is facing and came up with a list of things we would most want to accomplish through the waterfowl program. From these discussions came the following needs:
- Excite people about waterfowl hunting
- Increase the number of waterfowl hunters
- Provide a way to fund waterfowl-related projects
The Waterfowl Slam Program was born from our initial list of needs for the waterfowl program. The Waterfowl Slam allows hunters to collect bands similar to the ones used on ducks, geese and swans. In addition, it helps people improve their waterfowl identification skills, raises money for waterfowl-specific projects and creates friendly competition among waterfowl hunters. Who doesn’t want to walk around showing off their red First Duck Band, purple Puddler Slam Band, or my favorite, the gold Diver Slam Band?
Hunters frequently ask me how they can contribute to waterfowl management in Utah. Many people would like to see Utah go back to a state-wide duck stamp, but we have been reluctant to do so because it becomes another fee people would have to pay to hunt. The beauty of the Waterfowl Slam is that it only requires hunters to give back if they want to; people who can and want to participate will, and those who cannot or don’t want to won’t.
To me, the most satisfying thing about the Waterfowl Slam is that every dollar raised from this program is going towards creating or enhancing waterfowl habitat in Utah. So far we have raised over $10,000 that will go directly back into habitat projects around the state! Here are a few of the projects that will be completed using Waterfowl Slam money:
- Restoring the J-Dike at Farmington Bay
- Cleaning ditches to improve water flows at Public Shooting Grounds
- Improving nesting habitat at Redmond
- Improving access at Bicknell Bottoms
- Improving ponds at Browns Park
Each slam requires a fair amount of effort because not all species can be found in a single area. I have found myself hunting areas I have never hunted before simply for the chance to get a specific species. I even passed up the chance to shoot a drake canvasback because I was holding out for a scaup! But that’s what you have to do if you want the Diver Band.
Once hunters complete their slams they can go to any of these qualifying locations to collect their band:
- Any Division office
- Sportsman’s Warehouse
- Kent’s Market (Tremonton and Brigham City locations)
- Jorgensen Ford in Richfield
My slam quest
I have been hunting ducks for about 20 years, and I can honestly say I was more excited about this season than most, in largely part due to the challenge of fulfilling these slams.
I have hunted with some great friends and harvested species that I don’t regularly get this season. It has made for some of the most memorable hunts of my life. On one hunt I was even able to harvest seven different species!
My favorite hunt this year was my first hunt of the season. I took my two boys and father to a river near our home where I had seen a few mallards flying around. We “hunted” (I use that term loosely because I had a two year old with me) for a little over an hour and didn’t see a single duck.
We did, however, throw lots of rocks at my decoys, played fetch with my dog Bear and made a lot of memories. And I was perfectly fine with that. Isn’t that what hunting is about anyways?
There’s still time to be among the first waterfowl hunters ever to complete one — or all — of Utah’s waterfowl slams. Learn more about it online.