Hunters Flock to First Delta Waterfowl Expo

By author of The Duck Blog

MAX-7 unveiling, Million Duck Campaign highlight the event

Waterfowlers crowded around The Duck Hunters Stage to hear advice from Realtree pros.

Eager for the season and excited about new initiatives and introductions, waterfowlers jammed the aisles at Delta Waterfowl’s first-ever Duck Hunters Expo.

The event, held July 29 through 31 in Little Rock, Arkansas, featured waterfowling personalities, carving demonstrations, how-to seminars, a world-class calling contest, and loads of new duck hunting gear. Almost 25,000 duck hunters and conservationists attended the show.

“We were counting on the devotion of duck hunters from Arkansas and the Mid-South, and they came through for Delta, ducks and duck hunters — big time,” said Brad Heidel, Delta’s senior director of marketing. “The No. 1 question they kept asking me was, ‘When do we get to do this again?’”

Realtree sponsored The Duck Hunters Stage at the expo, and many of the company’s waterfowl pros presented hands-on seminars, including Justin Martin of Duck Commander, Rusty Creasey of The Coca Cola Woods, Chad Belding of The Fowl Life, Jared Mophett of Honey Brake Lodge, social media influencers Matt and Michael Harrison, and Billy Campbell and Dennis “Dr. Duck” Loosier of Black Cloud on Realtree 365. Phil Robertson, founder of Duck Commander, greeted fans and signed autographs during the event. In addition, many duck hunters got their first look at the newly released MAX-7, Realtree’s most effective open-country waterfowl camouflage pattern yet. Check out this Realtree video from the show.

Perhaps the most exciting moment of the event occurred at the Fill the Flyways Gala, when Delta announced its Million Duck Campaign, a $250 million initiative to add 1 million ducks to the fall flight every year.

“We work for duck hunters, and I’ve never met a duck hunter who didn’t want more ducks,” said Dr. Frank Rohwer, president and chief scientist of Delta Waterfowl. “All of my years as a waterfowl scientist have shown me that duck numbers are directly tied to what happens on the breeding grounds. We know that those few months in spring — the breeding season — are the most important to ducks. We need to have high nest success, because nest success drives duck production. Unfortunately, most nests fail to hatch because of predators.”

Rohwer said the prairies, where most ducks breed, have been changed by farming and development. Many prairie wetlands in the United States and even more in prairie Canada have been lost. Meanwhile, raccoons, skunks and other mammalian predators have become overly abundant on the prairies, which is bad news for nesting ducks. During the past 30 years, Delta has developed effective tools to increase duck production. Delta Hen Houses create safe places for mallards to nest out of the reach of most predators. Hatch rates for mallards using the structures are up to 12 times better than for mallards in nearby nesting grass. Further, predator management has resulted in impressive increases in nest success, often doubling or tripling the number of nests hatched.

“Delta’s duck production programs are the perfect complement to habitat conservation,” Rohwer said. “We want to produce the most ducks possible for our investment of duck dollars. It’s time to put predator management and hen houses to work on a much larger scale to dramatically increase the number of ducks in every fall flight.”

Other expo highlights included the World’s Cutdown Duck Calling Championship, won by 23-year-old Byron Womack of Scottsboro, Arkansas, who topped a field of 35 world-class callers to claim the title.

Also, the sold-out Duck Hunters Banquet attracted more than 500 attendees and raised more than $100,000 in support for Delta’s programs through raffles and auctions.

“Overall, it’s hard to imagine how an inaugural event could have been a bigger success,” Heidel said. “The attendees and vendors all had a great time. The hunters came stoked for the upcoming waterfowl seasons, and they came ready to gear up. A bunch of vendors sold all of the inventory they brought. Most of all, everyone who attended gained a deeper appreciation of what Delta Waterfowl does to put more ducks over their decoys, this season and every season.”

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