‘There is something special about them. I love ducks.’ Meet a local artist whose work is in the back pocket of every duck hunter nationwide.

You could call Jim Hautman the duck whisperer.

“There’s just something special about them, I love ducks,” he said. “There are twenty or thirty species that cross the state. Each of them is unique. Each of them is magnificent.

Hautman uses paint, brush and canvas in his studio Chaska to pursue this beauty.

It’s a quest that started very early, influenced by his parents.

“I just remember growing up, looking at all the paintings my mom and dad had done,” Hautman recalls. “All the different species and different colors they had.”

You probably know at least some of his pieces if you’re a duck hunter.

That’s because this year — and five times before — Hautman’s waterfowl portraits have adorned duck stamps, federal duck hunting permits issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Attention to detail,” noted Chris Knutson, owner of the Art Barbarians Wildlife Gallery in Rogers. “He’s been an artist all his life, and it shows in his work.”

The stamp illustration is chosen through a national competition.

Hautman has won a record six times. The first time was in 1989, when he was 25 years old.

That victory came with a trip to the White House and a meeting with then-President George HW Bush.

” It was great. My dream was to win once when I started,” Hautman said. “My father had collected duck stamps before I was born. He started with the first stamp in 1934.”

There is no cash prize for the winners.

But Knutson, who has sold Hautman’s work for twenty-seven years, says an original painting can sell for $3,000 and more.

“When Jim wins federal duck stamps like this, every newspaper in the country writes about him,” says the gallerist.

Turns out this duck art is a family affair.

Hautman’s brothers, Joe and Bob, also won the stamp contest: Joe five times and Bob three.

“All three brothers are avid duck hunters,” Knutson said. “They push each other, but they also help each other.”

A sibling rivalry which is also an artistic friendship.

“There is certainly competition between us, but it’s a fun and constructive competition,” explained Hautman. “We always criticize each other. So you can go after the other guy’s paint and tell him what’s wrong, and that helps.

His winning entry this year is simply titled “Redheads.”

Since winning this year, Hautman cannot enter the contest for three years.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service says the duck stamp program has raised more than $800 million, protecting nearly $6 million in acres of wildlife habitat.

Meanwhile, every day you will find Hautman in his studio, content with work.

And at 58, he shows no signs of slowing down.

“I guess the idea was to try to become an artist and be able to paint for myself,” Hautman said quietly. “The fact that I’m still doing it 35 years later, I guess makes me feel pretty good, kinda lucky.”

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