Teddy Roosevelt had done very little hunting when he lived in the eastern United States, but he made up for it when he finally left the public life and politics. This was in 1910 when he was 52 years old.
Always hale and hearty, the wild game of the western states did not fall to his rifle sights until he had made three African safaris. His wide acclaim for the Winchester Model 1873 carbine endeared him to the manufacturer. His favorite calibers were the 45/70 Government, the 38-55 and the 30-30, but there were others.
Teddy Roosevelt's favorite big game, hunted mostly at his ranch near Medora, ND, was the whitetail deer. Roosevelt also liked the elk and depended upon it for winter's meat, but also taking moose, and black bears.
Roosevelt saw the decline of the prairie chicken. Once very abundant, these birds could not live in the grasslands that were disturbed by the western settlers plow. The sharptail grouse took the place of the "chickens," and in the wooded area there were ruffed grouse. Bagging birds was often incidental to other hunting, and they were not always taken with a shotgun.
Theodore also saw the extermination of the buffalo, once incredibly abundant on the upper plains. It was a program of the U.S. Government to get the Plains Indians under control by having professional hunters methodically kill the bison. This worked hand in glove with the railroad barons, such as James J. Hill of the Great Northern Railway. Hill's track laying crews were in need of fresh meat and the bison were a convenient large supply and very near at hand.
Teddy Roosevelt quickly adapted to the life of a cowboy when he organized his ranch at Medora, ND. He worked as a cowboy, right with his employees, enduring many nights on the trail, rounding up stray steers, or organizing large numbers of range cattle, which he was constantly buying, with an ever-expanding ranch area. This was hard work, but Roosevelt was up to it! He wrote a number of journals over the years, which described in detail, the hunting of a wide number of wild game, and birds that he commonly encountered while on the western range. He lived amongst the Indian tribes and earned their trust and respect. He was obviously very skilled with all of the hunting guns available in the 12 or so years when he was active on the hunting scene. Roosevelt liked moose and elk for winter meat, but he regarded the elk as a regal animal, the most graceful and beautiful beast. Such incidental tasks as dressing out and quartering after the kill of any game saw the enthusiastic participation of Roosevelt, like any other hunter.
Wild game on the dinner table
Roosevelt's journals on hunting trips told of taking a wide variety of birds and game. The deer included whitetail, blacktail, and mule deer. The bison, elk, moose, and antelope stories were mixed with such common species as jackrabbits, cottontails, many wild turkeys, Canada geese and mallards. Pheasants had been introduced into Oregon, Idaho and Pennsylvania, but Teddy makes no mention of ringnecks in western North Dakota, where today they're incredibly abundant. Roosevelt reported taking wild turkey, as a concerted effort with the ranch hands, a large number of dogs, and taking a dozen to 15 torn turkeys in an afternoon, with both rifles, shotguns, and snares.
Large numbers of range cattle in North Dakota
It happened in Theodore Roosevelt's time as a rancher in North Dakota. He and other large cattle herd owners began importing Texas cattle. Ranching became an important, profitable venture as Philip Armour and James Swift set up meat processing plants in Chicago, and St. Paul. But Roosevelt perceived, from early on, that these operations would have a lasting, somewhat debilitating effect on the ranch lands he loved, with the wild game co-existing if things were managed sensibly. This led to an even more awareness that he had for conservation, and preservation of unspoiled lands.
Although Teddy went into great detail, describing his Winchester rifles and the calibers he proffered, he did little to reveal what his shotgun choice was. We do know that it was a side-by-side ten bore of American male. In Roosevelt's time, this could have been an Ansley H. Fox, LC Smith, Baker, or Lefever. Any of these were readily available for about $28 new, from Sears Roebuck, Montgomery-Ward or from Kennedy Bros. Arms Company at Fifth & Minnesota Streets in St. Paul. Kennedy's had been Roosevelt's outfitters for his African safaris. Hunting alone, on foot or on horseback, Roosevelt told of being attacked by range cattle when he was afoot. Cattle were accustomed to seeing men on mounts, but rarely were they afoot on open range.
The wolf is an enemy
Like all other ranchers, a hundred years ago, Roosevelt saw to it that any wolf should be killed, by rifle or poison. Rarely seen in daylight hours, wolves were hunted at night, and it was in darkness that snares and sets were put out. Poison in the form of rabbit carcasses, or haunches of game or cattle were laced with strychnine, and the wolf populations were reduced to manageable numbers in just a few years. Roosevelt found this satisfying and necessary. He respected the wolf's cunning and sagacity, and never gave the wolf a quarter. He moaned about losses of sheep, cattle, chickens and other fowl, and reasoned that the wolf must go.
In one of his hunting journals, Teddy Roosevelt described Christmas dinner at the ranch. This was always at midnight, not during the daytime hours of Christmas Day. Home-distilled whiskeys were consumed. Dinner was "succulently browned steaks from wild turkeys and venison, elk, moose and bison." On Christmas day, rodeos were held, with cowboys and cattlemen competing in the skills of horsemanship and riflery. These lasted until evening and were probably the only time that serious outdoor work of ranching wasn't pursued.