History is truly “the witness that testifies to time” and Migratory Waterfowl Hunters Inc., since its founding in 1970, definitely has become part of that claim.
It all began after the 1969 Illinois waterfowl season became another chapter in the hunter’s logbook when four dedicated and hardcore waterfowlers decided it was time to call together and organize their fellow camo-clad warriors in an effort to maintain the existing three-year regulation on duck blind sites in the Mississippi River Area.
Going back in time, the MRA had been established in 1939 after completion of Locks and Dam No. 25 at Winfield, Mo., and some 30 miles downstream on the Mississippi, Locks and Dam No. 26 at Alton. Vast areas of backwaters and wetlands were formed, providing excellent sites for waterfowlers to build “duck hides” to pursue their passion. Over the years, some 500 duck blinds would be built and hunted without any controls.
In the early 1950s, the Illinois Department of Conservation (later to become the Illinois Department of Natural Resources) decided to place numbered stakes at each blind and builders were required to register their blind each summer prior to the waterfowl season. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had established refuges at Batchtown and Brussels in Calhoun County in Illinois. Also, check stations for daily blind registration were put into place in the MRA. The state and federal agencies had taken control of hunter freedom in the MRA.
The next step in the agencies’ control was placing a two-year reallocation of each blind with a summer drawing for each numbered stake. Hunters had no choice but to accept the new regulation. Beginning in 1970, the IDNR decision was to begin a one-year reallocation, doing away with the two-year plan.
That ridiculous proposal would result in the beginning of Migratory Waterfowl Hunters. Thanks to the founders: Bob Becker, Miles Bruckner, Ed Hurley and Bill VanHoos.
The first gathering was held at Faith Lutheran Church in Alton in early spring of 1970 with 78 people in attendance. The focus was the department’s proposed one-year reallocation plan. Two more meetings were scheduled to further organize, elect officers, form bylaws and sign up charter members. Ed Hurley was elected the first president. He would serve for two years.
By the spring of 1974, MWH membership had grown to 510 and many accomplishments were in place, including the building and installation of 800 wood duck and mallard nests, release of 2,000 mallards, cash donations to Ducks Unlimited and funding $15,000 for a Canada wetlands project.
Despite Migratory’s hard work and dedication to maintain and improve the MRA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would declare a two-year duck blind reallocation in 1977. This would stay in effect until 1981 when, thanks to MWH’s continued influence, Director Glen Harper of IDNR declared a return to a three-year allocation. The three-year draw was held June 7, 1981.
In June 1982, the acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife sent a letter stating “a three-year reallocation of blind sites would be in the best interest of the MRA.” To date, this rule is still in effect; mission accomplished.
As the years flew by like a green-winged teal, Migratory continued to campaign for hunters, being the first organization in Illinois to donate more than $1,000,000 to Ducks Unlimited, working with the IDNR on wetland improvement and maintenance, as well as financially supporting many events for youth and veterans. In 2016, MWH turned 46 years old and continued to be the oldest and largest membership (with 650) organization of its kind in Illinois.
During its time, MWH has been honored to receive numerous awards. The list is long but these are a few: awards from the Illinois governor, state Senate, IDNR, North American Waterfowl Management, Winchester Corp., Arkansas Wildlife Federation, the Golden Mallard Award, National Wildlife Federation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Army Corps of Engineers and the President’s Award from the NRA. Scott Bryant would serve as president of Migratory for eight years (2004-2012) before turning the position over to present-day leader, John Gineris. The organization holds quarterly meetings each year that are open to the public at the Alton-Wood River Sportsmen’s Club plus a yearly fund-raising banquet in the spring helping spread the word. Members are updated monthly by receiving The Sentry publication, thanks to the work of editor Rosi Franke.
So much more could be said about the organization, but by now I’m sure you get the picture. 46 years and still going — like the birds of the flyway.
Larry Reid is host of “Outdoors with Larry Reid,” which airs at noon Sundays on WBGZ Radio, 1570 AM/94.3FM.