A-hunting we will go, or playing fowl

Sandy Vasko

    Hunting season is here. Whether it is for goose, duck or pheasant, hunting for the many varieties of fowl has always been a tradition in our area. Of course, there is one species missing today, the prairie chicken. Grab your gun, a hunting we will go.
    In 1871 the game sought   after     by   nimrods (hunters) was the prairie chicken. We read on Aug. 12, 1871 in the Wilmington Advocate, “On Tuesday next, our hunters will inaugurate red-handed war on prairie chickens and grouse generally. Our sportsmen, however, should remember our new State law, concerning trespassing on the domains of the farmer without full permission having been previously obtained.    
    Obviously the uninvited hunter was a problem then as now. However, the citizens also had other types of problems with the hunters.
    We read in the letters to the editor in the April 6, 1872 Advocate; “Messrs. Editors: Although it is not my habit to complain of the general “law and order” of things in the community, still, I would make a few suggestions with reference to a growing evil - I may say sin - that of hunting on the Sabbath.
    “In town or city such practices are not allowed; it would be intolerable if it were; but in the country, during the hunting season, especially along streams of water and rivers, it is often flooded with hunters on the Sabbath. If a man goes to church, his mind is disturbed and attention taken from the ministration of the Word, by the thought that his premises at home are being ransacked by the extremely reckless hunters and those who are not quite so reckless.  
    “And if he remains at home desiring to enjoy the quiet of a Christian Sabbath, his ears are every few minutes greeted with the “bang” of the hunter's gun, and often the no less disagreeable sound of the human voice belching out oaths at failure, and shouts at success.  
    “And, if to get rid of the disquiet of home, he would take a stroll through his fields, he is met at every turn by a lot of men or boys, and dogs in hot pursuit of a covey of chickens or a flock of geese - with minds so intent upon their prey that one would think to see them or hear them talk that they were engaged in the only thing worth doing.  If “custom is law,” this practice is fast becoming a law.”
    Ed Conley agreed with the writer on that point as he wrote, “We doubt if any place   this   side   of  Tophet (hell) can rival Kankakee for Sunday hunting.  It's a shame on civilization.”
    However, like his present day successor at the Free Press, he was a sort of an outdoors man. But like the editor of today, he had little time to get out there and practice. In 1873 Conley gave us a summary of his hunting trip.
    “As a hunter, we are not a success. On two occasions this week we have put ourselves on a war footing, and approached the duck ponds and cornfields by horse power. The “birds of the air” seemed to consider our presence odious, and gave us a wide berth.  
    “To sum up, however, gaze upon the following recapitulation of slaughtered innocents; Ducks, 1 (by getting  wet);   prairie   hens,   1 (badly frightened); tame chickens, 1 (property of M. Tierny); tame pigeons, 2, ditto; hawks, 1; wide fence boards, 1; add colds in the head, 2.
    “We walked over 15 miles of field and heather, and consoled ourselves with the vast number of birds put to flight. Our conclusions are that it is well for hunters to keep caps on the gun nipples when in the field; that a buckskin mitten is not just the thing to have on the right hand when one would make a quick shot; that ramrods should be replaced after pile driving the shot; that one should keep at least one eye open in taking aim, whether at an unfortunate rabbit or sensitive mallard; that people generally had not better ask us any questions about sporting matters.”
    As time went on, laws came into place stating bag limits. And in response, there were the poachers.  We read in August of 1886, “The game law hereabouts is simply a mockery, from all accounts, owing to a lack of its provisions being enforced.
    “Only the other day a young man bragged of bagging 26 (prairie) chickens, and it is further asserted that the pot-hunters who kill for the Chicago market are by no means idle, notwithstanding the “law,” which is supposed to protect chickens and other wild game until August 15th. The latter class of men especially should be prosecuted without mercy.
    “Killing a few chickens for a family mess is not such a terrible offense, but killing them for the sake of pecuniary gain is a very different matter.”
    Another threat to game was the plow. We read about the Goose Lake area in November of 1886, “A number of flocks of geese flew over Morris on Sunday. They were headed for Goose Lake, Will County.  Of course they found not their old “Stamping” ground, as the bottom of what was once a large lake is now as dry as a powder mill.”  
    “Mr. N.N. Osburn, of Wilmington, who owned the lands surrounding the lake, has had an army of men engaged in draining the lake, which has been successfully accomplished. This lake was famous for many miles around as the rendezvous for sporting men from various sections of the state in the spring and fall months, being noted for the large number of water-fowl going there to feed.”
    Some thought it was the end of the goose hunting in this area. From what I can see, they were wrong.