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Market hunting died near the turn of the century

In 1918, the market hunter was legislated out of business. He was finished anyway. His period ran for 40 years, generally along the Illinois River, in Arkansas and Kentucky. The market hunter killed a vast quantity of the then abundant ducks, geese, prairie chicken and sharptail grouse. But it was the waterfowl that saw his greatest success.

The densely populated areas of America's east coast demanded the big canvasbacks, mallards, and Canada geese. Market hunters provided the game.

The market hunter was a man of considerable skill. He generally used a ten gauge side-by-side shotgun, fired from the shoulder, often hundreds of times a day. He laid low in a sculling craft, which had little exposure above the water line. Before dawn he had put out hundreds of decoys, all homemade. The hunter let his boat drift into the massed clocks of ducks resting on the water and shot volley after volley into the sitting or rising birds. Some better-equipped market gunners had eight gauge punt guns that were mounted on the gunwales of the sculling craft. These fired two pounds of lead shot, and a severe charge of black powder was used. Preparations began long before dawn, and usually resulted in taking several hundred birds, dead or dying on the slough. Not many of the market men could read or write, but they knew waterfowl and had devised methods of taking millions of them, over the 40 years.

By 1880, rail transportation had improved. It was possible for the market gunner to obtain barrels; ice had been put up the previous winter. Birds were eviscerated, but not defeathered. They were packed in the barrels, with alternating layers of game and ice. Hunters had agents, who handled the shipping and transport, collecting from the best restaurants in the east.

Some of the shipments spoiled. This was the gunner's loss, not the shipping agent.

The prairie chicken was soon gone, hunted out, and the sharptail grouse as a target, presented too much time expended and too much travel. So waterfowl remained, as they continued to be concentrated in certain areas where corn was a main crop.

Chesapeake Bay canvasbacks sold in a New York market for $7 a pair. Mallards for $5 a pair. Small ducks, like teal sold for a dollar.

Illinois River hunting waned about 1900 and Chesapeake Bay, Maryland and Currituck Sound, North Carolina began market hunting. There were some pinnated grouse, some ruffed grouse that market hunters without boats hunted. There was no sportsmanship in all of this. Hunters killed whatever they could, to feed their families.

Americans were moving west in the 1880s, and it soon became apparent that quantities of wild game were rapidly diminishing. Settlers, however, on their way west, shot the prairie birds, but only for their own family use, not in the scale of market hunting.

In about 1900, the newly formed Audubon society made itself heard. Many of its influential members belonged to exclusive hunting clubs, and they shot waterfowl with reckless abandon. Pennsylvania finally closed the duck season from May until September. New laws were rapidly being passed by states that still had game. Few states placed a daily limit, however.

The days of market hunting were over by 1905. John Browning introduced his A5 semi-automatic shotgun, and sport hunting, with new laws and obligations, ended market hunting. Wild game ceased to be available in the markets of east coast cities. In 1916, the U.S. entered into a treaty with Canada, and controlled hunting was introduced. In 1918, the sale of waterfowl passed. Some market hunting continued, but now on a greatly reduced scale.

Market hunters turned to guiding wealthy sportsmen on the waters where they had gunned down ducks and fowl. The "sport" hunters listened to their guides who spoke knowingly of "the good old days."

Lac qui Parle goose hunting

The Minnesota DNR is accepting applications for blinds at the goose gathering area in the southwestern part of our state. You must submit your request on the standard 3½ x 5½ postal card. These cost $.31 now at the post office. Include your name and address and it must list first and second choices of hunting dates. One postal card per hunter.

The DNR will assign goose hunting stations during a drawing on the morning of your hunt. Hunter success at Lac qui Parle has always been reliably good. At least it always has been for my party and I whenever I've participated. Should be very good again this season. Give it a try. Its always lots of fun, and you could come home with a nice big one!


Thursday, Sept. 10 is next Thursday, and it is the last day to apply for an antlerless deer hunting permit. Hunters in the southwest and in scattered areas of the state are accustomed to having to apply, but this fall, half of the permit areas in the state are lottery.

Despite a harsh winter that killed some deer and perhaps led to a less productive success this spring, some hunters report seeing plenty of deer.

So, get with it! Gov. Pawlenty has said that he's going to be out in the woods in quest of a whitetail. An antlerless or a buck? Who knows?

Minnesota Waterfowlers

This habitat group, working for local ducks and geese, will hold its fall gathering on Saturday, Sept. 19. The location for this 10th annual event will be at the Callaway Community Center, with social hour at 5:30 p.m. and dinner following. You can always count on the dinner to be absolutely the best around. This food test has got to be labeled as outstanding. It is always plentiful as well. You do not want to miss this one.

The Minnesota Waterfowlers have paid off all of its obligations, encountered a few years ago when they overspent a grant received from the Minnesota DNR. They have a local chapter, and it works with others statewide, and does an immense lot of good for local ducks and hunting. The cost of an annual membership is $40, and it can be sent to coordinator Harlan Hendrickson at 24129 250th St., Detroit Lakes. Early payment places you in an early bird category. Grand prize drawing will be for an Alumacraft duck boat and a trailer. DU members should support this local organization, as both clubs are zeroed in on the same strategies, helping our waterfowl.

Trophy walleyes at Little McDonald?

Yes, says our Minnesota DNR. The agency's fisheries unit working out of Fergus Falls has had an on-going improvement program working for several years. The program will be reviewed from 7 to 9 p.m., next Wednesday, Sept. 9. The experimental slot limit requires anglers to return all walleyes between 18 and 26 inches. It appears that the strategy is working. Little McDonald, southwest of Perham near Dent, has been one of the few lakes in which the DNR has conducted the "trophy walleye" experiment. Slot limits are aimed at preserving breeding populations that have characteristics that foster good reproduction. In Ottertail County both Big and Little Pine are also prime examples. The September 9 open meeting is being held because it is now ten years of the experimental slot limit. It is time to review it. If you're an Ottertail County walleye angler, you should be there. The meeting is at the Perham Area Community Center.