The Fourth of July is our celebration of Independence. My family always loved this holiday and what it stands for.
I’m sure that somehow it offends somebody, most of history seems to do exactly that these days. You can find evidence of this by the removal of memorials across the country, partly because of terrible injustices that should never have happened.
I will never agree with eliminating any kind of history, no matter how painful it may be, including Holocaust memorials. We grow stronger by remembering where we came from and the price paid for our survival and freedom, “Lest we forget.”
I sincerely hope that outdoor enthusiasts never forget lessons learned from conservation. Many painful lessons were learned and wildlife suffered heavy losses. Market hunting is an excellent example and waterfowl was their main target.
The market hunting era that started in the early 1800s and ended in the early 1900s was big business. Hunting waterfowl became the answer for many trying to make a living. They did not consider taking large numbers of ducks poaching, but a way to feed their families during America’s toughest times.
Market hunters were tough men who braved icy cold waters and cramped conditions to kill the most ducks or geese possible. They packed their fowl in salted, iced down barrels, feathers and all, to be shipped by rail to major cities.
The first market hunters used big bore shotguns from “0” to 10-gauges and later graduated to punt guns to kill more ducks with one shot. The four-, six- and eight-gauge shotguns were big, heavy and awkward to swing and shoot.
Punt guns weighing 90 to 140 pounds were mounted off the front of skiffs. These guns made an enormous explosion when set off and stroked a lot of power, often pushing the skiff backward in the water 20 or 30 feet.
Batteries were several blackpowder barrels welded together forming a battery. A trough of blackpowder was lit to set off all barrels at once. The average battery gun would shoot a 10-foot wide pattern at 30 yards. The powder was lit when the percussion lock caused a spark and each gun would shoot almost simultaneously, no doubt sounding like a small machine gun burst.
Legislators finally ended market hunting for fear of decreasing duck, goose and swan numbers.
Fishing too, has been hurt by poachers in recent years. I wrote about a sting several years ago of men in southern Missouri netting or snagging paddlefish out of season, then sending the eggs to foreign countries, where it is considered a delicacy.
Since many others have been arrested for this wasteful, sad crime of cutting each paddlefish belly open for eggs or no eggs and then dropping each carcass back in the river.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, “Female paddlefish reach sexual maturity at 8-10 years and spawn every 2-3 years. Male paddlefish reach sexual maturity at 4-5 years and spawn annually. The egg masses of female paddlefish can be up to 25 percent of their body weight, with a large female paddlefish carrying about 20 pounds of eggs, or roe.”
These stats make it obvious that killing large numbers of paddlefish likely sets breeding programs back many years. Legally harvesting a paddlefish is fun and these unusual fish are good to eat. Wasting these fish that can be traced back to dinosaur times is a sad violation of ethics and common sense.
Poachers are not great hunters or fishermen, but thieves robbing honest sportsmen of fish or game and upsetting the balance of nature.
Market hunting participants were trying to feed their families in hard times. Was it right? No, but there is no denying they had few ways to make a living during these terrible days. Today’s poachers are just finding ways to make easy money.
Poachers could help make paddlefish extinct, much like bison, which were almost shot out of existence – another painful lesson to remember.
Finally, we must protect hunting. I helped guide a duck hunting trip with several waterfowlers from Brazil a few years ago. They woke up one morning to find that hunting had been eliminated by a bill passed in their legislature. The hunters claimed no one knew about this “legal” bill until it was too late. Hunting in Brazil is now illegal.
There are many who would love to make your hunting an illegal act. Eliminating your guns, too, is a pursuit for many in our country.
The silent majority sits back and waits while those brazen enough to make noise get results. Most changes in America such as removing the morning Pledge of Allegiance at schools are the result of various groups pushing their cause. Many Americans didn’t realize what was happening until they read the morning newspaper or some piece on the internet.
Eliminating our past is a sad effort to erase history and that is wrong because history never goes away and, if anything, history tends to repeat itself. We must learn from our mistakes in America and in the conservation world to avoid the same mistakes again.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.