Marketing Hunting Methods
Market hunters used many methods and tools to kill ducks. A hunter would get up before dawn and work until dusk. The tools and methods he developed allowed him to kill the largest quantity of ducks possible. As years went by and more regulations came into place to protect future populations of ducks, more of these methods became illegal or were restricted.
Market hunters wanted to kill the most ducks possible in the shortest amount of time, so they devised several ways of accomplishing this. The least sporting method was the use of the punt gun to kill diving ducks. The punt gun was a huge single- or multi-barreled shotgun about ten feet long that could carry up to two pounds of shot or scrap iron and five ounces of powder.(Ted Jamison audio on punt gun) It was too heavy to carry, so after loading it, the hunter positioned it on a sneak boat,
its stock cradled with a cushion of pine needles against the back of the boat, the barrel lying down pointed slightly above the bow. Often the boat and gun were both painted white as a camouflage against casting a silhouette in the moonlight. The hunter pushed the boat silently and slowly through the water until it reached a raft of ducks sleeping on the water. He fired, killing 30 to 100 ducks at once, then paddled around picking up the catch, which was packed in ice and shipped in boxes via train to Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, Philadelphia, or New York.
Another method along the Illinois, described by Joseph Long in 1874, was "bushwhacking." A hunter sneaked up on an unsuspecting flock of resting birds and fired both barrels, killing a dozen or more ducks. In 1887 Illinois had only three game wardens. There were no limits on birds until 1909.
The punt gun was not the only method of duck hunting that was outlawed as the duck population decreased. From about 1900 to 1920, hunters had success in using grains such as wheat, corn, and barley in fields as a substitute for the natural food sources lost along the Illinois River when the Lake Michigan diversion caused high water levels. Before being outlawed in 1935, baiting of ducks was a successful technique to attract ducks. Baiting was temporarily restricted in 1909, when the bag limit was further lowered to fifteen. After baiting was outlawed, some decoy carvers made decoy ears of corn as an experiment to attract ducks.
Another ploy used since before 1800 was to set live decoys, English Callers or Mallards, on tethers in front of a blind. Passing ducks would be attracted to the hunter's flock and land nearby. Some hunters kept a trained 'flier' to lure birds within range.
The tether usually had a six-foot cord attached to a lead weight that was anchored in shallow water. At the other end were two leads that fit around the duck's feet or neck. Each lead swiveled so the duck could swim or fly in any direction without getting tangled. An advertisement in a hunting magazine advised hunters to attach live decoys by the neck so as not to injure their feet.
Live decoys were usually raised from ducklings or purchased for the purpose. The loudest specimens were chosen for the job. Two or three females were set out on the pond or lake out of sight of one another and would begin to call to each other and any ducks flying overhead. A 1932 federal law limited the number of live decoys a hunter could put out to 25, and three years later live decoys and baiting were made illegal.
After the outlawing of the punt gun, baiting, and live decoys, hunters had to resort to the legal methods remaining. The making of man-made decoys and duck calls increased.
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