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Outdoor Trails & Tales: What defines the good old days?

The good old days! We often hear that phrase, but how do we know what it really means? When were the good old days?

I grew up in the 1950s and '60s, and I think today is better than those good old days in many respects. We have more deer, more turkey, and the list goes on and on.

But what about back in the 1800s? None of us were around then, but being a history buff I am always looking back, so to speak, and this is what I found out.

Back then there weren't game wardens and real laws like we have today. So sportsmen's clubs were started and many policed game, tried to protect some species and promote hunting. Some of the clubs from different communities would challenge each other to hunts, give out scores and then have a great wildlife feast when it was all over.

One hunt near St. Paul took place on a single day in October of 1871. The winning club took one goose, one raccoon, 89 ducks, four prairie chickens, on ruffed grouse, 15 snipe, one plover, 28 blackbirds, three hawks and two owls.

The losing team had 35 ducks, 10 ruffed grouse, six snipe and one crow. Don't ask me how they kept score but the final score was 5,793 to 2,425.

Some reports of other clubs and their scoring techniques were as followed: A single plover or snipe was one point, rabbit were worth five each, teal seven, ruffed grouse 10, duck other than teal 10, prairie chicken 15, woodcock 20, goose or brant 50, sandhill crane 60, white crane 100, fox, wolf and lynx 125, deer 400, and bear and elk 1,000.

The goal of many of the sportsmen's clubs was to "perfect sporting amateurs in the scientific use of a gun." Target practice and shooting matches were often held before contests. In some cases live pigeons were used while in other situations common blackbirds were the targets. But live birds were hard to come by and eventually targets replaced live birds and most people approved of the new trend.

Later, the advent of clay pigeons became recognized and approved by the highest standing clubs in most communities.

One of the grandest of hunts I read about took place on Dec. 24, 1856, and allowed the following scores: Bear 1,000 points, deer 200, timberwolf 200, prairie wolf 200, fox 100, otter 75, marten and fisher 50, mink and raccoon 25, skunk and goose 25, eagle 15, muskrat, badger, prairie chicken and duck 10, rabbit and ruffed grouse eight, owl, hawk and crow four, fish under five pounds one point per pound, five to 10 pounds 20 points per pounds, 10 to 20 pounds 40 points per pound and over 20 pounds 100 points a pound.

There were 30 men on a team and Indians were not allowed to take part.

It was around 1839 that hunting dogs came into the area. Setters were a popular breed and wolf hunting was quite popular, especially among men in the army stationed at Fort Snelling, Minn. In fact the commander of the fort at the time, Major Henry Sibley, had one setter named Moses who was known as one of the best grouse dogs in the area.

A woman in the area brought in two Irish wolf hounds, named Lion and Tiger, for the military to use to run down wild wolves, which at that time were being eradicated by locals. The dogs were placed on a lookout specially designed for them to ascend and then scan the horizon for wolves.

Wolf hunts aroused much excitement in some communities although the numbers of captured wolves were very small considering the number of men in the field.

On one occasion up to 700 men took part in a wolf hunt.

Another famous hunt around Lake Pepin scared up about 50 wolves. Many men rode horses and others came on foot with bells, horns, guns and other noise makers to roust wild wolves.

One famous picture appeared in a New York newspaper showing army officers chasing a wolf across an icy Lake Pepin.

The hunts were used to save farmers' sheep. Ladies often came along on the hunts, bringing picnic lunches for everyone.

You have to put all of this in perspective. Back then hunting was most often the way people living in the area procured their food. No grocery stores were around and everyone pretty much lived off the land.

But were they the good old days?

More on this in future columns when we walk wild trails into the past.


WILDLIFE QUIZ -- Aldo Leopold sketched the pattern for the evolution of "modern" game management. To do this he created five steps. What five do you think Leopold came up with?

Answer: 1) Hunting restrictions, 2) Predator control, 3) Establishment of refuges, 4) Artificial propagation, 5) Environmental control.