By Emily Robinson
BEST OVERALL WINNER
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Eighteen-year-old Nathan Bender has been a Ducks Unlimited supporter for as long as he can remember. His father introduced him to local DU dinners and his lifelong passion for waterfowling.
"I can remember to this day sitting on my dad's shoulders as he walked through the marsh just before daybreak," Bender says. "I wasn't tall enough to walk in the water yet, but I wanted to experience doing what my dad loved to do so much."
Bender is one of the youngest members of the Avery Outdoors pro staff. He is currently a marketing student at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, and photography is a big part of his free time. "It is one of the things that make me happiest in life," Bender explains. "Sitting on a frozen slough in January photographing mallards is more enjoyable to me than sitting inside watching television or playing video games."
Bender captured this winning photo of his black Lab, Jet, during a duck hunt in southeastern Wisconsin last November. Bender and his dad watched the weather and scouted the area extensively before choosing their spot. It turned out to be an amazing day. "Once shooting time arrived, we had hundreds of greenheads descending on us, and we took turns with each group, picking out one bird at a time," Bender recalls. "But what made the hunt even more memorable was Jet's work in the water. Many dogs begin to slow down as the hunt progresses, but that's when Jet's afterburners seem to kick in—I have never seen a retriever with quite as much drive."