Talk has persisted for years about the buying and selling of duck blinds on wildlife management areas. Each year the first Saturday in August signals the sacred day on the calendar of waterfowlers across Tennessee when the drawings are held.
Some areas, such as Big Sandy, have had quite an event building a small waterfowl festival around the drawings conducted by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Thousands of people gather for the special day and it has become quite a spectacle.
Small communities benefit from the event, as do various charitable organizations that sell chances on items as a result of the big crowd gathered in their small towns.
Most enter the drawings — after purchasing the required permits from the TWRA — in hopes of hearing their name drawn and getting to pick a spot, based on what’s left, in one of several units such as Camden and Big Sandy bottoms, Gin Creek and Harmon’s Creek, which comprise the Kentucky Lake area draw.
For the last several years the average number of people entering the drawing at Big Sandy alone numbers around 2,500, a number which at times has been even larger.
Other locations throughout the state have similar drawings such as Dover bottoms, West Sandy, Gooch, Tigrett, Old Hickory and Reelfoot just to name a few. While they’re all popular, Big Sandy has been the top spot in the state in terms of participation.
Seems the idea of buying and selling blinds once someone draws a spot has drawn the attention of the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission to the extent they addressed the topic in the most recent meeting in Cookeville.
Although illegal based on TWRA regulations, buying and selling a duck blind is nothing new around these parts. It has been done for decades.
In fact, through the years there have been several people who entered the drawing with the sole purpose of selling the spot or blind should their name get drawn. Call it a lottery as that’s the way some approach the annual event.
While regulations prohibit buying and selling, no one seems to recall anyone ever being arrested for the infraction around these parts. Enforcing the regulation has been difficult.
That’s because the sale and bartering are done discreetly, to some degree, beneath the shade trees or back parking lots once the winner and potential buyer link up.
Should someone draw a blind in a top 10 location, it’s not unusual for several thousand dollars to change hands.
A group of seven or eight hunters often pool their resources and attempt to buy one of the high picks every year so the top blinds command a hefty price.
Several groups make their desires known and each year they have standing offers. Not everyone is a willing seller, opting to keep the blind themselves with buddies who sign on and hunt it during the season ahead.
The overall objective of the public hunting areas is to provide places to go for waterfowlers, many of whom do not have a place to hunt.
Waterfowling is an expensive sport. Not everyone can afford to lease private acreage or travel to areas and hire commercial guides.
Most public hunting areas have a reputation for overcrowding so hunting pressure is a factor. Simply put; there aren’t enough public hunting areas and blinds to accommodate expanding populations. As a result blinds or spots in wildlife management areas are in high demand.
Adding more wildlife management areas for an expanding number of sportsmen across the state has proven to be a tall order for the TWRA. The agency hasn’t been able to purchase or acquire enough acreage to meet the demand for public hunting in most scenarios.
As a result, the relatively small number of wildlife management areas offering quality waterfowl hunting opportunities paves the way for crowded conditions at both the annual duck blind drawings on the first Saturday of August and during the forthcoming season.
The dilemma is not unique to Tennessee. Several states have gone to a daily draw where hunters show up in the early morning hours on hunt days and hope to draw a blind. Others have gone to a computerized draw where groups enter and pick a few different dates during the season, allowing recipients to plan ahead.
As with deer hunts and turkey hunts in some popular public hunt areas on state and federal lands, a few drawings allow recipients to receive priority status if they’ve entered for several years but haven’t been drawn.
All the different type drawings are attempts to address a lack of public hunting opportunities. Agencies attempt to give the average person a chance to participate, although often the odds aren’t too good for sportsmen in any given year.
As far as selling duck blinds here on wildlife management areas (WMAs) across the state. whoever offers the most money has often been the one who got some of the best blinds.
That hasn’t set well with some folks who say the buying and selling aspect has increased the crowd of folks at present day drawings. The average hunter hoping to get a blind for the season ahead is often left out in the cold. The odds of hearing his name drawn are about 2,500 to 1 at Big Sandy. Meanwhile, the tradition of big crowds gathered across the state on a hot day in early August hoping to hear their names drawn could be facing change.
Most say the TWRA will never be able to stop folks from buying and selling duck blinds on its wildlife management areas. Others say something needs to be done to change things and improve the chances for the average guy.
It will be interesting to see how the scenario plays out.
STEVE McCADAMS is The Post-Intelligencer’s outdoors writer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.