By A. M. BROWER
FROM time to time I have read articles in newspapers and sporting magazines that the ducks were slowly but surely disappearing, predicting in a few years that the grand old sport of duck shooting would be a lost art.
I have lived in the North Star state around half a century and have hunted since I was able to tote a gun and shoot by resting the gun against a tree, in case a forked stick or bush was not convenient. I can recall the days when the passenger pigeons used to swoop down by the thousands on our newly sown wheat fields and it was impossible to drive them away by firing a gun and Dad made us boys a number of slap sticks and when their migration was on it kept us busy pounding the out-buildings to frighten them away. In the spring they came from the south in flocks, returning in the fall; they flew for days in an endless chain, and in those fall days a string of pigeons or blackbirds was most always in sight. In those days we lived at Kingston, Meeker County, located in the central part of the state, in what was then called the big woods country. The flowage of the old mill pond, fed by Crow River, extended back some two or three miles from the village, and forests of .white oak covered the surrounding country, and when the acorn crop was ripe the banks of the pond were literally alive with those most beautiful of waterfowl, :he wood duck. I have seen but two or three specimens of this waterfowl in :he past twenty-five years and they must lave gone the way of the passenger Pigeons.
Through months of working, saving and scheming, my brother Claude and I managed to finance the purchase of my first piece of artillery, an old army musket, and believe me, it was some shooter.
The barrel must have been at least three feet long and when the old linger (as we used to call it) spoke the echoes traveled up and down the old mill pond, calling all waterfowl therein to- attention. Those were the days of real sport. Usually starting with a heated discussion as to which would be the gun carrier and have the first shot, the other carrying the powder horn, shot pouch, big box of percussion caps and a newspaper for wadding, and when thus equipped no gun carrier for Teddy Roosevelt was ever prouder than we. I recall one Saturday afternoon in late September, when at the beginning of the week Dad had promised us a half holiday if we hopped to it and finished cutting the corn' and helped with the sorghum making, and one thing sure, no grass grew under our bare feet that week.
On this particular afternoon Claude was delegated first official gun carrier and I ammunition carrier and game finder. We immediately proceeded to our neighbor, a Mr. Morehouse, who lived on the bank of the mill pond, and borrowed his boat and crossed to the other side, as there is always more game on the other side. We landed the boat and followed an old Indian trail toward a high jutting bank, some quarter of a mile away where we most always found a flock of ducks and what we had named our "duck patch." As we approached the bank we proceeded to crawl, I in the lead, and just as we were ready to look over the bank a noise startled me that would put Germany's Big Bertha to shame. Claude, unbeknown to me, had cocked the old linger and was ready for action and a twig catching the trigger had set it in action, the charge passing within a few inches of me. When the smoke, sand, gravel and the latest edition of the Litchfield News Ledger had cleared away, two white-faced and scared youngsters sat there and looked each other over for damages while a flock of fifty or more nice fat wood dudes that had been waiting for us were beating it out of the country. But our scare was soon over and we were industriously ramming another charge home with the old iron ramrod, when the same flock of ducks sailed over our heads and settled down beyond the bank. Immediately there was a heated discussion as to whose turn it was to shoot next, but fearing the ducks would hear us we compromised, called it an unavoidable accident and Claude shoved the old linger over the bank and shutting both eyes pulled the trigger. When the cloud of smoke from the black powder had lifted we counted six ducks out about seventy-five yards from shore.
I told Claude to load the gun and watch them while I went after the boat, but before I could get this out of me, off came his hickory shirt and overalls and he made a high dive into the pond. Five of the ducks appeared dead but the other one lay on its back, kicking one foot, going around in a circle and just as Claude went to grab him, he turned over and dove. Claude treaded water for several minutes, looking around for the wounded duck to come up when out shot his hand and he held the duck by the neck, it having swam around in a circle to where it had dove.
When my memory carries me back to those good old days of real sport and to that chilly September afternoon, 1 smile and think what a lovely September morn this corpulate brother of mine would make now as he sits in his bank, pulling at a long Havana cigar, wishing that he could return if only for a day to those good old times. Game was plentiful in those days. In the back woods deer and bear could be found, while coon, skunks, gray and black squirrels and rabbits were in abundance and of bird life, there were partridges, quails, prairie chicken, wood ducks, mallards, teal and a few bluebills, and muskrat, coon and mink in the streams, ponds and lakes.
When I was eleven or twelve years old, on account of our large family of men folks I was delegated to help my mother in the house and after hustling around and getting the work done up, I would take my baby brother on one shoulder and the old musket on the other, and calling our old dog Bruno we would
hunt the woods around the fields and would come home with three and four to a half dozen fine partridges and it was but little trouble in those days to keep the larder filled.
From the time my brother Claude and I were ten or twelve years old we earned the larger part of our clothing by trapping and what we didn't know about muskrat, coon or mink lore was never writ or practiced. We did most of our trapping going to and from school with an extra spurt at the week end, and as muskrats were only worth eight or ten cents and mink fifty to seventy-five it was necessary to catch a right smart of furs to purchase a boy's suit or overcoat. While skunk were plentiful they were only worth about fifty cents and we usually passed them up as their odor would ostracize us from the society of our fellows at school and home. The old mill, mill dam and mill pond are things of the past. The old Crow River flows along in its natural course and the many hundreds of acres of what used to be mill pond is now the richest meadows in the Crow valley and are inhabited by many herds of Holsteins and Guernseys. The splendid forests of white oak have gone before the axe and it would be difficult to make a stranger believe that this was once one of the finest game paradises 'in the states, much less than a half century ago.
I started to write about ducks at the present time, but reminiscences have carried me away from the subject. In the latter part of October, 1921, a friend, Frank Matysheck, whose railroad duties calls him over the northern part of the state, suggested that we go on a week end duck hunt at Bena, near Lake Winnibigoshish and as the weather man predicted rain or snow with colder weather and strong northwest winds, we thought this an opportune time to try our luck.
The Mississippi River flows through Lake Winnibigoshish and the big government dam has raised the lake until in places it is fifteen to eighteen miles across and when the southern flight if on ducks make this open water their headquarters by day and feed in the near by rice lakes at night. Mud Lake, i big rice bed ten miles southeast and from four or five miles in extent, being heir favorite feeding grounds. We had loped it out that the wind would make he waters on Lake Winnibigoshish so rough that the ducks would take to the mailer and better sheltered lakes and kre decided to go to Lake Nushka, a mall open water lake between Winibigoshish and Mud Lake. We at Bena a little after midday Friday and found a good northwester piling up the white on Lake Winnibigoshish and warned from several hunters we met that the ducks had been coming in the night before by the thousands and flying nv and several has shot their limit in few minutes. We hung around the station until about five A. M. getting more anxious every minute to get out nd try our hand as we had to go back own the railroad track about five miles 3 Lake Nushka. We finally rolled out ur motor car loaded up our outfit and beat it and believe me that was some nippy ride with the northwester howling around and about us.
It was about a mile hike from the track to Lake Nushka through about the most impassable trail I ever tackled, encumbered with hip boots, gun, and packsack full of decoys and ammunition and many a hot damn we uttered while floundering along through that tamarack bog. But we finally arrived at the lake and started to skirt the shore around to where a hunting party kept a boat, when Frank, who was in the lead, made a headlong dive and came up with something fluttering in his hand, a big green head mallard. This was something new to me, wild ducks tame enough to catch them by hand. This reminded me of several years ago when Lu McCullough and Jim Wilson of Cloquet were on their annual hunt at Bow String lake; Lu had a young Chesapeake retriever that he wanted to learn to retrieve and coming in one evening off the lake henoticed a mallard in a bunch of grass near their boat landing, and thinking it was one they had winged the day before he picked it up, called the dog, threw it out over the lake and shot in the air, intending to make the dog think he had shot it. When he looked up Mr. Mallard was some ten or fifteen rods away gaining speed every minute and all Lu could say was: I'll be damned." Now what this duck was doing out in that tamarack bog some thirty feet from the lake is something I have not been able to decipher. It was now beginning to faintly break day and going along a short distance farther, Frank who was in the lead, suddenly dropped his packsack, threw a couple of shells in his gun and blazed away twice. By this time I had arrived on the scene and Frank was reloading his gun and cautioned me to keep quiet as there was a flock of ducks just ahead right near shore and it was so dark they could not see to fly. Taking a couple of steps farther he pulled up and shot again and this time I saw a duck keel over. I dropped my packsack and loading my gun we sneaked over to the shore and picked up three decoys with their heads shot off.
With the coming of daylight the wind calmed down and we, anything but blessed the weather prophet who had predicted a strong northwester. Ducks by the hundreds and thousands were now sailing over head on their way from Mud Lake to Winnibigoshish, flying high out of gun shot, the whirr and click of their wings drowning all other sounds. The flight continued for thirty or forty minutes and when it became light enough to see, thousands of ducks were in sight at all times which leads me to state that duck shooting is not yet a lost sport in Northern Minnesota. We had just set out our decoys when young Chick Bailey of Kelly Lake, owner of the decoys that Frank had mutilated, came along, and he complimented Frank upon his marksmanship but suggested that if he had the law in mind he wouldn't shoot ducks until after sun up and he would thus are shooting other people's decoys.
Frank decided he would hike around the lake and see if he couldn't pick i a few by jump shooting. In the mean time Chick took a shot at a flock passing high overhead and brought down a big greenhead the exact one he shot a Chick and I had hardly got into 01 blind when a lone widgeon came along hesitated over our decoys and went in a tail spin, his last, as my L. C. Smith barked.
In a few minutes two pair of mallard came in to our decoys and as they within range we both raised up and ducks started straight up making an excellent target. I took the two on tlj left and Chick nearly pulled the triggers off only to learn his repeater was on half cock.
Shortly we saw a small flock heading toward our decoys but they lit sever; rods beyond, only to raise in a couple of minutes and came straight in over our decoys and at ready we rose up an I took the two on the left while Chic snapped a couple of times on an empty shell he had forgotten to eject when he shot the greenhead, and believe re there was some hot damns around them.
A few singles and doubles sailed around the lake but fought shy of our decoys.
Frank returned at this time with three mallards and a bluebill he had shot i his trip around the lake. As the wind had entirely died down and the sun came out hot we decided to call it a day an return to Bena.
The next morning we went out to pot hole with Louis Sather a friend 0 Frank's and picked up a couple of big greenheads and got back to town i time to catch our train home. We ha< ten mallards, one widgeon and one blue bill; not the limit to be sure but enough; for a good feed. We each bought Chesapeake retriever pup from E. Cruthers at Bena, and between train in; the pup and planning on what we will do to the ducks next fall, "Time flies by like a shadow o'er the sky."
Hunter-Trader-Trapper. October: 1921,
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