20 August 2012

Duck Shooting on Lake Horicon - 1866

Caw-Caw Island, Lake Horicon, Wis., Oct. 25, '66.

With the compliments of my esteemed friend, Wm. Young, esq., of Milwaukee, president of the "Caw-Caw Island Sporting Club," I presented myself at the club house on Monday last, and after a week of the rarest duck shooting it has ever been my good fortune to enjoy — and amid the society of some of the most accomplished gentlemen and sportsmen to be met in any land; I propose to give my eastern friends a brief sketch of this glorious shot gun expedition among the water fowl of Horicon.

Leaving Milwaukee by the morning train, we reached Minnesota Junction (50 miles northwest) in time for dinner. Here as good fortune would have it, the met the indispensable "Micechky," an original Teuten living four miles distant upon the shores of Lake Horicon, opposite to "Caw-Caw Island." After an improvised run away of Micechky dutch ponies, and a "stern chase" of a mile by your correspondent and the dutchman — we overhauled the "nags" and reached the lake. The wind was blowing a gale — but I trussed myself in the dutchman's "dug-out," who after an hour of cautious paddling and pretty constant "bailing out" of the craft, landed me in a very damp condition at Caw-Caw Island. The first object of animated life which met my vision on the island, was a grim and ancient raven, which sat perched upon a stump by the landing in most ominous silence. The portal once passed, I found midway of the island, a well-constructed pine board cabin, with abundance of some paraphernalia scattered about. Within, the scene was different. A cordial greeting by the sportsmen assembled for their evening meal, a blazing light, warm fires, the savory odor of roast duck and fragrant coffee, to a wet, half-famished sportsman this was truly a God-send, and that supper fare of "Delmonico" honors.

I was soon installed with the humors of a guest, and arose the next morning refreshed and ready at sunrise to pull a trigger on the swift-winged teal, and magnificent mallard, which everywhere filled the air in their flight.

Caw-Caw Island is about midway in the lake — which is some four by eighteen miles in dimensions — and this lake being one of artificial origin, is a vast bog upon alive shores, and so shallow that every species of diver can feed upon the wild celery which grows in great abundance beneath its waters.

The club is well supplied with boats, and every sportsmen at liberty to shoot singly, or in company. I found that when the gunners scattered to the west and east bogs, that the ducks were kept in motion, and flying shots were more frequent at all points; but in rough weather the ducks invariably get under the lea of the shores and islands, and lie very close unless put up by the guns.

This was the case on the afternoon I first towed to the island; and here I want to record a fact: As we pulled our dugout along the western bog the duck commenced rising and settling before us and at a distance of some two miles they had massed into a solid flock, and upon our turning a point all took wing at once filling and blackening the air with their number. Far as the eye could reach their long graceful curved lines of flight extended, and I do believe that in numbers they amounted to millions.

I have seen since the — at a morning flight, flocks extending the whole width of the lake — four miles — sweeping cautiously in one direction for hours. And a noticeable fact is that surely all of these fowls are hatched in the waters of this lake. The northern and migratory ducks had just began to arrive. Of this species, for teal and widgeon, were most numerous, and some highly prized en passent, let me remark, highly prized of is the mallard, the principal fowl of these waters — for teal and widgeon, are vastly as superior in flavor and delicacy. And in this connection, must not omit to mention the great variety of duck which here abound. In the bags of a single day's shooting, it is not infrequent that mallard, red-heads, dusky duck, pin tails, widgeon, blue and green-winged teal, wood duck and butter balls, are all secured. I am informed that a solitary "canvas back" was killed last week by Mr. Bosworth. I need not inform sportsmen what such variety gives to shooting; I have knocked down a dusky duck or a widgeon, in a certain line of flight landing them dead — when a strong winged mallard flying on the same path, has winged away in defiance of my best aim, and five drachma to a ounce of number 4. The difference of speed in the flight of these varieties demand the best judgement in calculation. To shoot a teal, "down the wind" is almost like "shooting at a streak of lightning," as my friend expresses it. They certainly do fly "quicker than thought."

About midway of this lake is the regular flight of wild geese from the northward. Among the seven to eight hundred duck shot thus far by the club only four geese had been captured. I therefore determined to "chance it" for geese. The recent rough weather at the north had set these strong winged monarchs of the skies in motion southward. I took a position on the bogs about two miles south of "Goose Island," and for two hours watched an almost constant flight of the mystic "wa-wa." Sometimes wheeling and screaming as if their leader was lost, in doubt which way to proceed, but always at an immense elevation. Later in the day several flocks of Brandt made their appearance low on the water, but no shots, and I began to despair of getting my goose. Suddenly I heard the cry — that land-piercing scream so unspeakable and so immutable in letters — and my companion of an adjacent bog called out "Mark! Geese!" I had barely time to bring my old avenger to my shoulder when the flapping of wings directly overhead sent my blood like electricity through my veins. I let go my first barrel, and saw my object (a fine goose) waver; quicker than spirits I gave it the other, and deader than Julius Caesar landed a royal geese, at about sixty paces. That was glory enough for one day, so with a fair bag, including a mallard weighing three pounds and a half, with the satisfaction of having shot the first goose, and the only one of that day's shooting.

On reaching camp we found that other guests had arrived, and all hands were assembled to witness the "lay out" of the different bags of game, as the sportsmen came in.

My worthy host, Wm. Young and F.J. Bosworth had shot a match against J.C. Spencer and A.J. Aikens, bringing in the aggregate 54 ducks and one goose, the former gentlemen winning by 9 in the count. The other members of the club, who had shot outside, had done finely, and the spirit of emulation seems to give great zest in their contests. What an institution at each place is a good cook. In the genial face of "John" I recognized one of my former attendees at the Sherman House, Chicago, and when I sat down to his well dished supper I fancied that the Sherman had come to "Caw-Caw."

So frequent and important mention of "Caw-Caw" demands some allusion to the why this name was adopted by this club of ten sportsmen, to designate their association. When they took possession of the Island, it was inhabited by this noisy, caterwauling thing of feathers and claws called "Caw Caw." It was their nesting grounds — their "roost" and I suppose that pandemonium let loose could not have outscreamed these vile bipeds. They actually drove Messrs. Young and Aiken off the island the first night of their arrival, and they were compelled to sleep upon the deck of the scow which brought materials for their club house. A fusillade from stab-and-twist has since exterminated them, and I regretted not being able to see even the taxidermist's ghost of one. I am inclined to believe, however, that they were a species of "shite-poke" — the highly flavored bird which we served at our Iowa camp last September to a braces of Kanucks, who declared them "blasted fine old grub you know."

The shooting at "Caw-Caw" is just at the height of the season. The northern duck are only beginning their flight, and for the month of November the club will have sport which any man might envy. I never wing a thought to that coveted spot, where I enjoyed so much of good shooting and sumptuous living, that I do not wish again to be with the 'Caw-Caw' Islanders — revving my boat from bog to bog, returning to camp larder with feathery denizens of the food; sitting down to those game supper, taking a friendly hand at euchre, and going is alone on the "turn up" — in a horn. But the "onward" motion of life — my life — separates us, for only a season, I hope.

That island of hospitable entertainment I saw dim in distance as I pulled away in a snow storm, on a kind wind and a rough wave to-day at day break; but memory will hang the picture in the gallery of friendship; and it will, with its panorama of whole-souled members enliven many an otherwise wintry hour of bachelor life.

As a matter of general news I can state upon reliable authority that the general species of larger game, such as deer and bear, are very abundant in northern Wisconsin and Michigan. Anywhere from Green Bay westward, of from Grand Haven in Michigan northeast, bear and deer are being killed almost daily. Ruffed grouse in Wisconsin were never before as abundant and some wild turkey have been shot quite near Milwaukee. I do most earnestly recommend to my eastern friends that they visit Milwaukee and try the lakes and timber for duck and deer.

There should be more fraternity among gentlemen who call themselves sportsmen. Some of the best friends I have I have found in camp, and when you again meet them in town the talismanic band of mutual affinity brings you together as children of a common father, brothers of a fraternity which like [words not legible] had [word not legible] and exalted such all of its members are or should be exalted types of manhood. The true sportsmen is a naturalist, an ornithologist and a gentleman. May health and long life protect the knights of the ramrod.

October 31, 1866. Daily Milwaukee News 19(65): 4-5. Poor copies of the source document were used for this transcription, and there may be errors in determining words accurately when letters were light or covered with smudges. A few obvious misspellings have been corrected.