21 February 2014

Gunning in the Potomac Marshes

The Opening of the Season - Peppering Reed Birds and Ortolan - The Fancy Sportsman and the "Pot Hunter," &c.

Last Saturday being the first day of the month with an "R," besides having the distinction of opening the oyster season, was hailed with delight by the gunner and sportsman as the opening of the gunning season, particularly on the marshes. Very early in the morning the ring of the shotgun could be heard. All the skiffs and every boat suitable for conveying gunners over the marshes were engaged. Some of them were secured weeks in advance, and not a few were built expressly for the occasion. The vast marshes on the Eastern Branch, extending from the navy yard to Bladensburg, Md., were numerously patronized by the eager gunners. All day a line of crafts of nearly every description, from the new skiff to the flat-boat, and bearing gunners of all ages, were seen making all possible speed for the field of operations. Every gunner who could raise a firearm and a water craft was on the marsh, and many a department clerk was absent from his post Saturday. There was as much variety and contrast in the weapons borne by the gunners as there was between the craft and the gunners themselves. There was every variety of firing piece from the modern breech-loading shotgun to the blunderbuss improvised from an old government musket bored out, and in some cases with the stock tied on with a string. The number of gunners was rather larger than usual, and the number of birds killed rather small. The ortolan were not so numerous, but the reed birds and black birds were more plentiful than usual. None of the birds were in good condition, but the quality was up to the average at this time of the season. The ortolan received the special attention of the professional gunners, who took little account of the other birds, and consequently more of these were killed by the gunners. Of course there were amateurs who killed whatever they could.

Successful Hunters.

Mr.Wm. Wagner, of Eash Washington, is supposed to have killed the most ortolan. He took home eighty-seven ortolan. Among the other successful hunters were Chas. Williams, Richard Jones, Drs. Muncaster and Ball, Geo. Eckloff, Geo, Zurhorst, Prof. Sousa, Chas. Morgan, Mr. Campbell Carrington, and Jno. Waggaman. The majority brought home less than a dozen ortolan, and a few reed birds.

The anticipation of the gunners, particularly the professional men and government employees, were, but in a few cases, realized. Some of these gentlemen made great preparations, providing themselves with good skiffs, breech-loading guns and hiring men at from $3 to $5 per day to shove them, and coming out of the marsh with as few as three ortolan. One of this class who keeps a pack of hunting dogs all the yer round, to make it hard for the birds, felt particularly sore when a river urchin shoved his little scow by, and, showing a dozen birds, laughed at the fancy gunner for having so few.

The Fancy Shot and the Pot Hunter.

A riverman who has been guiding on the marshes for a good many years told a Star reported that he would like to say a word in reply to a communication printed recently about "pot hunters." "What I want to say is this," said he: "It is all well enough for those fancy gunners with their breech-loading guns to talk about 'pot hunters' killing birds before the season opens, but if they don't do this they get left, and might as well stay home. They talk about the killing of woodcock on their nests and destroying the whole family. This is no worse than a couple of these fancy shots going through a strip of country with their modern guns and killing every bird that gets up before them. I know of two men who went up a ravine out here — one on each side — and they could load up and fire so quick that they killed every bird that got up. When they go through a place first a 'pot hunter,' as they call us, might as well stay at home, because he can't find anything to shoot at." There was the usual accidental peppering of clumsy or unfortunate gunners Saturday, but no serious accident occurred.

September 3, 1883. Gunning in the marshes. Washington D.C. Evening Star 62(9474): 4.