California Duck Stamp Art Program

drawing of male and female pintail ducks flying out of tule reeds
Pintail Ducks. Paul B. Johnson, 1971.

A California Duck Validation is required for hunting waterfowl in California. Any person who purchases a California Duck Validation and/or Upland Game Bird Validation is entitled by law to receive a collectible California Duck Stamp and/or Upland Game Bird Stamp upon request. The money generated from validation and stamp sales can only be spent on waterfowl-related conservation projects. Since it began in 1971, the California duck stamp program has raised more than $22 million. It is also the first, and oldest, state duck stamp program in the country.

History of the California Duck Stamp

California was the first U.S. state to produce a state duck stamp. The state program was patterned after the federal Duck Stamp law, enacted in 1934 after a campaign sparked by nationally known political cartoonist J.N. “Ding” Darling to help restore once-bountiful waterfowl populations.

The department commissioned the late Paul B. Johnson, much-admired freelance artist, who for many years had provided wildlife illustrations for department publications, to do the state's first seven duck stamps. He designed the 1971 through 1977 stamps depicting pintails, canvasbacks, mallards, white-fronted geese, green-winged teal, American wigeon and cinnamon teal. Stamps were printed in sepia and green and cost $1 each, except the cinnamon teal issue, which was changed halfway through the 1977-1978 waterfowl season to reflect an increase to $5 mandated by the Legislature.

The 1978 duck stamp design was opened to all, and 48 artists entered the competition. For the next 17 years, the art featured on the California Duck Stamp was selected through an art contest. Winners ranged from well-known professionals to artists with little or no formal art schooling.

In 1995, following a change in the duck stamp statutes, The department switched to a contractual arrangement that allowed California to share the proceeds from the sale of limited edition prints of the stamp. Professional artist Robert Steiner was the successful bidder on the state duck stamp contract from 1995 through 2004. In 2005 the contractual artist was Rich Radigonda. Sherrie Russell Meline won the honor in 2006.

The 2007 stamp featured a reissue of the first duck stamp image to commemorate the first 35 years of the country's oldest state duck stamp program.

It was at this point that the department decided to return to an art competition to select future duck stamp art. To help promote the program and encourage artists to participate in a competition, the department sought the assistance of master waterfowl artist Harry C. Adamson who, at the age of 92, has enjoyed a successful career as a wildlife artist spanning 65 years. Adamson agreed to create an original oil painting of mallards in flight, and then donated the use of the image to the state for the 2008 California Duck Stamp.

In 2009, The department re-instituted its art contest for selecting stamp images.


California Duck Stamp Art Program
715 P Street, Sacramento, CA 95814
Email | (916) 322-8907

Office of Communications, Education and Outreach
P.O. Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244-2090
(916) 322-8911