Sometimes a duck hunter is lucky enough to spot a bird with a leg band while it still is flying. Most of the time the discovery happens when the dog hands off the duck after the retrieve.
Either way, the leg bands on waterfowl taken while hunting provide a special connection to the tradition and scope of the sport.
Numbered metal leg bands commonly are placed on ducks across North America by wildlife officials for research purposes and to track migration routes. Hunters turn in the identification numbers on the bands and get information about where and when the duck was banded.
Duck hunters in Utah commonly find bands from other states, Canada and even Russia. The bands often end up becoming a collection on the lanyards hunters wear around their necks to hold duck calls.
Some diehard hunters spend years in the marshes before taking a duck with a band, but the new Utah Waterfowl Slam program makes it possible to get a band without killing a banded bird.
"People are incredibly interested in bands; it's kind of like big antlers on deer and elk," said Blair Stringham, migratory game bird coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "This is a way to build on that interest and allow waterfowl hunters to contribute to projects that will help the species they hunt."
The Utah Waterfowl Slam includes four categories Puddler, Diver, Mallard and Coot and awards hunters completing each with a different colored and sized leg band.
Stringham said there were "a couple of hundred" hunters signed up since the waterfowl opener Oct. 5, and some who already have completed a slam.
One of them is Shawn McLachlan. As founder of the new local waterfowl conservation group, Fowl Minded, McLachlan was quick to throw support at the program when Stringham presented the idea.
"It is an incentive to get kids out from in front of the video games and spend time with the family," said McLachlan, who has completed his Puddler Slam. "It also helps kids and new hunters to learn to identify ducks. We are all for supporting ways to get money into the state's waterfowl management areas. It is desperately needed."
Different slams will be created annually to keep hunters interested in the program. Another goal of the Utah Waterfowl Slam is to raise interest in "underutilized" species like coots.
Stringham said the idea is based loosely on the Cutt Slam fishing program run by Wyoming Game & Fish Department.
"We were tossing the idea around this spring, and we developed a basic framework and then went out to find some possible partners," Stringham said. "It was a bit of a scramble to get things done by the opener, but we haven't had any major hurdles so far. We hope to have enough money to start working on projects next year."
In addition to Fowl Minded, the state wildlife agency found partners in Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, Utah Waterfowl Association, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, Sportsman's Warehouse, Kent's Market, Camp Chef and Lake Bonneville Layout Boats.
Waterfowl Slam memberships can be purchased on the DWR's website or at any hunting license agent across the state. Once a hunter has completed the requirements, he or she can take the ducks or a picture showing the species, the hunter and the Slam Card to a "qualifying location" ranging from a checkpoint at the marsh to Kent's Market in Tremonton to Jorgensen Ford in Richfield. Slam Cards also can be punched at all DWR offices before July 1, 2014.
"We really need programs like this," McLachlan said. "We are losing our heritage to video games. If this helps just one or two dads and their kids enjoy the marsh, then it is worth it."
Utah's Waterfowl Slam Challenge
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has launched a new program to raise money for conservation efforts and reward waterfowl hunters for focusing on specific species. Participants pay a $35 fee $15 for ages 17 and younger and once a "Slam" is achieved, the hunter is awarded a watefowl leg band. Here are the categories; all ducks submitted must be drakes (male):
One of each species throughout season
• Northern pintail
• American wigeon
• Cinnamon teal
• Green-winged teal
• Northern shoveler
• American coot
One of each species throughout season
• Scaup (lesser or greater)
• Goldeneye (common or Barrow's)
• Merganser (common, red-breasted or hooded)
• Seven mallards
• Twenty-five coots
Note • In addition to the four slams, everyone who signs up will earn a band for harvesting their first duck, goose or swan in Utah even if you have harvested one of these species in the past.