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Encyclopedia Dubuque

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"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.




PROFESSIONAL HUNTERS

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Usually associated with the Great Plains where they destroyed the herds of buffalo, professional hunters also operated in Iowa.
PROFESSIONAL HUNTERS. In the late 1800s, hard winters led to deer threatening to eat farmers' valuable supplies of hay. Chicago buyers found Iowa game valuable. Such conditions as these led to a thriving business for professional hunters around Dubuque. One of the largest preparers of game in Dubuque was the company owned by Herman Brinkman. Chest-high piles frozen carcasses of deer were commonly seen ready for shipment to Chicago.

Professional hunters were also brought to the region for the timber WOLVES, fox, and coyotes which provided bounties. Bringing the wild animals so close to a settled area were such businesses as that of William A. RYAN. Packing hogs on the levee resulted in sleigh loads of unusable parts which were hauled out on the frozen MISSISSIPPI RIVER and dumped. These acres of entrails lay exposed to the air until the ICE broke up in the spring and the rotting material was carried away by the floods. The smell of the rotting meat spread by the winds attracted animals for miles. It was even considered dangerous for humans to attempt to cross the ice after dark. Many wolves were poisoned.

Cub-hunting of wolves and foxes provided a living for many professional hunters. The female animal was tracked to her den. When attacked, she would usually flee leaving her young to be smoked out, dug out, or dynamited out of the ground. Knowing that the females returned to the same area to have young, hunters usually allowed her to escape providing future income for them.

One of the well-known local hunters was a Native-American named Long John. He lived and operated his business from an open woodshed in the rear of a store on the northeast corner of 1st and Main STREETS. He was always known for wearing a "swallowtail" coat and stovepipe hat and smoking a clay pipe. Long John trapped the sloughs in early fall and winter that lined both sides of Main Street south of 1st street to the levee. Dragging his canoe from one slough to another, he could harvest as many as 128 muskrats and occasionally a mink.

Following the CIVIL WAR, professional hunters practicing marketing gunning benefited from the development of railroads. Railroads insured that birds did not spoil before reaching fine hotels and restaurants. John Green was a former slave in Georgia who traveled north after the CIVIL WAR. Living on the southwest corner of 13th and Jackson, he continued to hunt professionally. In the area of UNION PARK, Green netted pigeons using captive birds to attract the flock to grain scattered on the ground. Once caught the pigeons were expertly handled by boys who quickly killed crippled birds and tossed them into barrels. Unhurt birds were kept in crates. When the last bird's "future" was settled, the nets were reset. In an afternoon, Green and his crew could catch 1,500 live birds to be shipped east at ten cents cent. Two barrels of dead birds could be shipped to Chicago earning the hunter one dollar per barrel over the costs of freight and commission. Green usually kept from 2,000 to 5,000 birds on hand for gun-club shooting contests until the practice was outlawed.

A third local hunter was John Chaloupka, a tailor by trade, who hunted for three months. He specialized in grouse, quail, ducks and woodcocks. If the flocks of ducks were strong, he would return from an afternoon of hunting with between 60 and 100. Mallards were sold in Chicago for twenty-five cents a pair. Canvasbacks earned slightly more.

Professional hunters were held in high regard by local farmers. Before the invention of seeders which sow grain and cover it in one operation, farmers had to sow fields by hand leaving the seed on the surface. Flock of pigeons attracted to the fields ate such quantities of seed that it was often necessary to sow grain 4-5 times to obtain a good yield from the crop. Pigeons were as much a threat to eastern Iowa farmers as grasshoppers were to farmers in western Iowa.

Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont
While professional hunters in Iowa were similar to their counterparts in other parts of the country, there were differences. Punt guns, mounted in small narrow boats called "punts" or "sneaks" were used in the Chesapeake Bay area. These large bore guns were loaded with as much as two pounds of powder and an equal amount of lead pellets. A single shot could bring down 100 birds. Noisy, unpredictable, and dangerous, these guns could misfire and injure a gunner who could be capsized into icy waters far from shore.

Battery guns were homemade, multi-barreled, muzzle-loaders, rigged to fire in sequence. Old musket barrels, fixed to a wooden or concrete block, were ignited in series by a rain of powder leading to each barrel. Like punt guns, battery guns were made and used by "outlaws" who continued to hunt wildfowl illegally for market even after federal legislation was passed in 1918 prohibiting their trade and methods.

Usually associated with the Great Plains where they destroyed the herds of buffalo, professional hunters also operated in Iowa.
Duck decoys. Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont
Goose decoy. Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont
These "slat geese," enormous decoys used to attract high flying geese, were sometimes used with live geese trained to act as decoys. Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont