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  Market Hunting

a floating hunting camp
Three Hunters Bag 192 Ducks in Eight Days, circa 1903-1920
Photograph by Page Hatch
Zoom in on a floating hunting camp

"Back in the early days, the Sangamon Bottoms was the Home of the Mallard. More ducks used to come down that flyway that any other in the country. Before they changed the channel, the old river was open for public hunting. We called that part of the river "the firing line"....We would go into the swamp and scare up ducks by the thousands. We didn't have to have any decoys, just duck calls. We didn't need a blind, we just stood behind a tree." - Dale Hamm, The Last of the Market Hunters, 1996

Market hunters could make a good living before bag limits by shipping the game birds by rail to distant urban restaurants Go to image of wild game menu where they were prized fare. Market hunters sometimes earned $1.25 per mallard pair and 15 to 50 cents for smaller ducks (more if they were plucked). In 1865, the first Illinois waterfowl season was established. In 1881, game was made the property of the state. Stories abound of huge takes of ducks by market hunters around 1900, such as the report of three market hunters taking 3,008 ducks in eight days near Bath, Illinois in 1901.

Harvests of this magnitude, whether common or rare, may have led to legislation and regulation. Hunters could take unlimited numbers of ducks until 1903 when a bag limit of fifty ducks was established. That was quickly reduced to thirty-five in 1905 and to twenty in 1907. Go to audio of Oscar Warren describing bag limits Hunting licenses were issued for the first time in 1906. The year 1909 saw the passage of the Migratory Bird Act, which made market hunting illegal. In 1910, a law banned the use and possession of punt guns. In 1913, the season was shortened from 225 days to 105 days falling in the autumn season only. In 1915 a possession limit of sixty ducks was instituted.

All of these regulations lowered the legal income possibilities of market hunting. Local market hunters continued to hunt and sell ducks illegally, but on a much smaller scale, deceiving and outrunning the sheriffs, conservation wardens, and private landowners. After the backwater lakes disappeared to agriculture and the river became polluted from Chicago sewage, the migrations continued to diminish. Go to audio of Clyde Bell describing impact of sewage on fishing and hunting

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