23 August 2012

Wild Fowl Massacres - 1880

The decoy — a fac-simile of the wild goose or duck — was the first device employed to allure wild fowl within reach of a gun. Formerly but six or eight were used. To-day a full set will number from sixty to two hundred, the larger number as auxiliary to the battery — a diabolical engine of destruction. The machine consists of a square box of dimensions sufficient to contain a man prostrate on his back. To this box is attached a platform made of cedar boards. The latter varies in dimensions. Some are eight feet square, others twelve or fourteen feet, while many have canvas fenders attached, the more completely to break the swash of the waves. These machines can only be used during moderate southerly weather. They are transported on large sailboats to the feeding grounds of the birds, where they are launched and anchored. About and on them are placed large numbers of decoys, which are so arranged as to lie head towards the machine. The largest body of decoys are usually placed so that the birds in passing shall swing off towards the left bank. We will now imagine the gunner snugly stowed in his narrow box. The tender lies off and on to the leeward in readiness to pick up the dead. Cripples are seldom retrieved. As the battery is placed wide off shore, sometimes in the very center of a sound or bay, the crowd of decoys surrounding it are very attractive to passing fowl. The gunner, prone upon his back on a level with the water, is entirely invisible. Flock after flock, unsuspicious of danger, and seeking a favorite feeding ground, will dash in among the decoys. The occupant of the battery at the proper moment rises to a sitting position and pours in among them a right and left hand gun. Possibly at every shot four or five may be killed outright, and as many more crippled. The dead are retrieved by the tender, while the cripples find their way to shore, where they either die a lingering death, or are destroyed by animals or birds of prey. When ducks are flying freely, and the man in the battery is armed with a breech-loader, and is moreover experienced in this style of shooting, the slaughter is immense. The proportion of wounded to dead is large. It requires no great effort to calculate the amount of mischief of which the battery is capable. The machine, however, is available only for certain varieties of fowl. Geese may be killed from it, also widgeon, canvas back duck, red-head, and all birds whose sight is close to the surface of water. Black ducks and sprig-tails, or birds which fly at a considerable altitude, are apt to look into a battery, and consequently avoid it. The use of these machines is not so harmful in large expanses of water as in small and narrow bays. Here they are positively fatal, and should not be tolerated. Laws area, indeed enacted forbidding their use, but no attention is paid to these statutes, and they are used indiscriminately.

The fire-lighting of geese is done, of course, on very dark nights. On the bow of a boat's lantern, similar to the headlight of a locomotive, is rigged. The boat is slowly propelled toward the birds on their feeding grounds. These, when the light approaches, sit with head and necks level, motionless, and paralyzed with fear. They may be approached within twelve feet. Moreover, the birds in their terror huddle together, so that when fire is opened on them the slaughter is great. After being shot at, they rise on the wing, and in their bewilderment often dash directly against the lantern. The effect of disturbing a wary bird like the goose after this fashion may be readily imagined. A single experience of the kind suffices to drive him panic stricken finally and forever from such localities. There is a law forbidding this practice; it is seldom or never enforced.

We now come to the dusking of ducks. This is likewise a fatal and reckless way of killing fowl. The black duck, spring-tail and teal feed usually close under the sedgy shores. During the day, so persistently have they been pursued, it is difficult to entice them to the decoys; consequently they are shot in the dusk of the evening, when the shades of night obscure objects, which experience has taught them to avoid. In the early evening the flash of a gun is visible at a great distance; the effect on birds using their feeding grounds is disastrous. Laws have been enacted against this method of killing ducks. They are likewise never enforced. On ever favorable occasion the shores are lined with gunners, who dusk birds far into the night. For days the particular locality is entirely deserted by these birds, which, when they do return, fly high in the air, and peer cautiously about them. To bring them within gunshot is impossible.

October 7, 1880. Wild fowl massacres. Indiana Democrat 19(24): 4. From Harper's Weekly. Obvious misspellings corrected.