What was hunting like in Oregon almost 100 years ago? It
depended upon what you were hunting. Some species were more
plentiful than now, some probably less.
When we came to Oregon from Ohio in 1911, China pheasants
were very plentiful throughout the Willamette Valley. Pheasants
were introduced into Oregon from China by Judge Denny in about
1882. These were the first pheasants to be brought into the
U.S. There were few if any game laws when pheasants became
plentiful, and market hunting was a com-mon practice.
By 1911, hunters and some other interested people began to
promote protection for fish and game. Laws were passed, but
were flaunted by many--perhaps most--for years to come. Game
wardens were scarce as hen's teeth, so there was little enforcement.
Those that were arrested for infractions of game laws were
treated very gently by the courts--mostly Justice Courts.
My first hunting was done as an observer and to carry the
game for my father. We lived in North Salem, and a six-block
walk would put us in hunting country. Pheasants and mountain
quail were plentiful right up to the city limits. Blue grouse
were in every woodlot, and ruffed grouse haunted the brushy
pastures and river bottoms.
We would hunt east from home through where the Motor Vehicle
Department now stands, and out Silverton Road to Middle Grove.
There were some bobwhite quail and Hungarian partridge in
the Middle Grove area, but the season was only open for a
year or two.
Five cock pheasants was the limit, and it was no trouble
to get limits for four or five men. We always kept a couple
of bird dogs. A few were top performers, and we lost no crippled
birds. Hunters were few, and we knew most of the farmers where
we hunted. "No Hunting" and "No Trespassing"
signs were almost unknown.
Farming practices were much different then. Horses were the
motive power for farm machinery, and milk still came out of
a cow instead of a truck, so all farms had pastures and wood-lots.
Some had a rather large area of timber. The fences were made
of wood rails--with blackberry vines, weeds, and brush in
each diagonal corner. There was plenty of nesting areas for
game birds and plenty of feed, and the birds prospered.
Loss of habitat is the big factor in the decline of the pheasants.
Heavy hunting pressure started in 1922, with droves of hunters
swarming over the countryside. Many lacked a lot of being
good sportsmen, and that's when "No Hunting" signs
began to appear.
Ducks and geese were plentiful wherever the habitat was suitable.
When we first arrived in Oregon, we drank out of the Willamette
River on many occasions north of Salem--with no ill effects.
(It would be dangerous now.) Food for waterfowl grew in the
backwaters and sloughs, and diving ducks were common on the
river. Lesser scaup (bluebills) were very plentiful; an occasional
canvasback duck was seen, but only a few.
My first recollection of bag limits was 30 ducks per day.
If there was a limit on geese, I can't recall. I do remember
reading in the Portland papers, advertisements for hunters
to come to the Sacramento Valley in California to shoot geese
out of the rice fields. Bed, board, gun and ammunition, and
$5.00 per day was the pay.
We used to go to Spong's Landing (the disposal plant site)
and rent a boat from Cap Spong and hunt what was then known
as Lincoln Bar. Mallards, pintails, bluebills, and a few widgeon
were there. The season opened in August and ran to the first
of the year and later.
Deer are likely more plentiful now, particularly blacktails,
than when they were in the early years of this century. Hide
hunters and market hunting made serious inroads in the herds,
and many got their winter's meat by shooting dear. One fellow
bragged to me that he had sold 1,500 deer hides for 25 cents
each in Curry County while he was proving-up on his home-stead.
"A fellow has to have some money," he said in reply
to my fit. That sum amounted to $375.00; that was serious
mo-ney in those days. Most hunters living in the cities went
to Roseburg or other locations in Douglas County to hunt deer.
Not many from the Willamette Valley hunted mule deer in Central
and Eastern Oregon. My first trip to Silver Lake in the early
1920s almost ended in a coat of tar and feathers. The local
cowpokes and townspeople didn't want "town" dudes
from the Valley "comin' over here killin' all our deer."
I lived through it, but saw only three deer, none legal. Deer
were very scarce.
In 1919, I worked for an early-day cattleman in Gilliam County.
He started running cattle there in 1868. There were no deer,
as it was all grass country. Bunchgrass was belly deep on
a horse. (Deer are browsers and need shrubbery in their diet.)
Overgrazing by domestic stock made it deer country because,
as the grass died out, the brush came in as the dominant plants,
and it still holds sway today.
Antelope were legion, and there were mountain sheep on every
rim (Rim Rock or California bighorn). Domestic sheep diseases
and overhunting brought an end to the sheep in about 1912.
They have since been reestablished by the Game Commission
from Canadian stocks.
There was no open season on elk until in the 1930s. Elk were
trapped at Yellowstone Park and brought to Oregon, where they
were released at Billy Meadows in Wallowa County around 1913.
Those were the good old days. Lewis and Clark, Fremont, and
some of the other early travelers almost starved from lack
From a 1972 supplement to the Capital Journal newspaper,
written by Paul Nicholson