feature By: William B. Mershon | July, 20
There are several reasons why I have written this book. I have hesitated to undertake it for a long time. I am aware that I cannot paint in glowing colors commonplace events. I know I have very little literary talent, but I have had such a glorious time afield with rod and gun for half a century, I feel that others should enjoy some of these memories with me.
The better reason mayhap why I have undertaken to tell these stories is that in the years to come comparison can be made with the past and future, and even the contrast of today with those days I have written about is so great that the younger sportsman will marvel …
Some of the pictures and size of the bags will at once suggest “game hoggishness” and would be unpardonable, even if today they were possible, but in the old days they were not so regarded, and I very much doubt if the bag of the sportsman of old was any cause for the diminishing supply of wild life. Environment, and not the gun of the sportsman — I will not exempt the market hunter entirely — must be the explanation. The buffalo had to go. Had no wild pigeons been killed where could they feed in numbers now?
Wild fowl are today plentiful, yet there are few in the Saginaw marshes. The Kankakee — the greatest of all duck grounds of old — is now no longer a duck marsh. The plow has taken the place of the paddle and punt pole, as it has in countless places in the Dakotas where from ponds and marshes of fifty years ago ducks and geese darkened the sky where they arose. Our covers around Saginaw that homed thousands of ruffed grouse, and swampy woodlands and beech groves where the wild turkey dwelt are now fenced with wire and as clear and clean as a billiard table. The tangle of the rail fence corners where lurked the quail and rabbit in shelter and safety from the marauding hawk are no more, and the rail fence was the best game cover we ever had.
Another thing to be remembered before condemning the old-time sportsman for the size of his bag — do not overlook this: There was not one man hunting then where there are hundreds today. There were endless hunting and fishing grounds then inaccessible that are now easy of access. Reaching the hunting ground by horse and wagon was quite another thing than going by automobile. Today all of the game covers and fishing streams and rivulets are combed fine and close. In the old days I have written of, three-quarters of the marshes, woods, bogs and prairies never heard a gun, and the cedar swamps and far-away branches of our trout waters were inaccessible to the angler. These places maintained the supply. When the forests were lumbered, burned and cleared for the farm, when the lakes and marshes were diked and drained, when roads and Fords both came to the trout nursery in the cedar swamp, when the rail fence gave way to the barb wire, then there had to be a change in what inhabited these regions.
Future generations should have hunting and fishing. These incentives to the life out of doors should be perpetuated. It is late, very late — but not altogether too late to make the start. Game refuges, protected from fire and vermin, will do wonders. The State should own, or purchase now if it does not own, large areas and set them aside forever for the people to enjoy the grand, health-giving, mind-purifying sport with rod and gun.
Grouse and Quail
It is almost unbelievable how plentiful ruffed grouse were in this part of Michigan, and by “this part” I mean that territory in which we could get a good day’s hunting either by leaving Saginaw on foot or with horse and wagon, or as we did a little later on, going our ten or twenty miles on the early morning trains of the several railroads that reached towards the four points of the compass into partridge country. On the Michigan Central south as far as St. Charles and north to Kawkawlin, Saganing or Pinconning; west on the Pere Marquette to Freeland or Smith’s Crossing, or southeast to Blackmar or Birch Run; east on the S.T.& H. Railroad to Creens, Kitner and Fairgrove; and last, but not least, there was the Saginaw Valley & St. Louis to probably the best and greatest of all the partridge country — around Hemlock, Merrill and Wheeler. One could go farther and still get into splendid shooting territory, but I and my companions seldom went beyond the stations named.
It was quite a long while before I learned the habits of partridge. (We generally said pa’tridge.) I hunted too much in the thick woods. Later on I found that they come out to the edges to feed. Follow along the edge of a popple thicket, especially where there was clover, or into an old chopping full of stumps, brush heaps and logs among which was growing clover,
and there you were sure to find the birds especially after three o’clock in the afternoon. Sometimes you would get them quite a distance from cover and the shooting was comparatively easy, but often the easiest shots are the ones you miss.
One time when Eben N. Briggs and myself, for Eben and I hunted together many years, were up near Freeland, we came out at a place such as I have described without realizing at that time that the birds ever came into the open. We had been shooting in the densest of thickets when old Bob, my original Gordon setter, came to a point at a brush heap some distance from the woods. We both went to him, not expecting partridge, when first one bird then another got up. Bob made point after point and we made miss after miss. Whether it was the novelty of it and our surprise that rattled us we never could make out, but at any rate we put up twelve or fifteen birds in about as many minutes and succeeded in killing but two of them; just as open shooting as if we were shooting prairie chickens. We made the usual complimentary to each other and then followed the birds back into the thick popples. We succeeded in finding quite a number of them and my recollection is that we killed eight birds almost hand running in the thickest, hardest kind of cover to shoot in.
Briggs and I hunted the Freeland and Smith’s Crossing territory for many years. We could get a train that left Saginaw at eight o’clock; it was only a half hour’s run and we could begin hunting within less than a quarter of a mile of the little station and at four or four-thirty the return train to Saginaw got us home tired and happy in ample time for dinner. I think in those days, though, we called it “supper.” We hadn’t risen to the dignity of designating the evening meal as “dinner.”
Ten or eleven ruffed grouse was our usual bag. I know that we went up five times one fall and got fifty-five birds. Another time I was there alone and came home with my pockets well filled, for I had ten partridge and one quail. We always had a few quail to mix with the partridge.
I recall once I was at Smith’s Crossing with Jack Morley. I had a great deal of shooting and by one o’clock when we met for lunch I had used up all of my shells. I don’t know how many birds I had — my pockets were well filled — a dozen or fifteen anyhow of partridge alone and a plentiful trimming of quail. Jack had been shooting a good deal, but not as much as I, and he had not been shooting well, for he was quite blue, only having two or three birds. He was shooting a 12 and I a 16-gauge, so he could not give me any ammunition. I went along with him with my dog and when we would get a point, he would take a favorable location and I would go in from the other side and flush the bird. We were hunting back to the station, and the birds were just as plentiful as they were in the morning, and I know when we took the train we were both satisfied that we had all the birds white men should have.
I have had old Bob point quail when he was bringing another bird to me. He was a beautiful retriever, but it remained for Bob 2nd, a big, strong Gordon that I think was the best partridge dog I ever saw, to give me a staunch point on a partridge when he had one in his mouth that he was bringing to me. I was hunting with Archie McLeod near Merrill. We had but the one dog. The thicket was very dense and Bob had gone to fetch a bird that I had just killed. Archie, who was on the other side of the thicket, called to me and said Bob was on point and he had a partridge in his mouth. I told him to go in and kill the bird. I could see the dog pointing staunchly with the partridge hanging from his mouth, but I was in no position to shoot. Archie put it up and killed it and Bob after fetching the original bird to me went back and got the second one.
Another time McLeod and I were hunting south of Merrill. We got into a lot of birds. I killed more than Archie, because he allowed me more of the shots, but we had thirty-two quail and twenty-six grouse between us for the day. These were big bags of course, but not anywhere near what the professionals or market shooters considered a good day. McLeod shot for the market in the old days, and then after the law stopped the selling of game he went to breaking dogs and guiding people and taking out hunting parties, and he was a most excellent companion. He knew the country and where to have the wagon meet us at night — an invaluable aid to a sportsman shooting in a strange country where you had to get back to catch the evening train for home. More birds were shot in this same country for the market than any of the localities I have mentioned.