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Game Hunting in Salem, 1911

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 of game.

From a 1972 supplement to the Capital Journal newspaper, written by Paul Nicholson


Deer weren't as plentiful in 1911
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Salem Hunting Club, 1911
Salem Hunt Club, 1910
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Mallard duck
Mallard duck
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