As I write this article, it is the first week of March, the
weather is sunny and 50 degrees. Since the
past weeks were cold with temperatures in the teens. The
Susquehanna River was frozen from shore to shore.
During this cold period hawks were seen and heard as they flew
over local farm fields and wood lands looking for food. In the past 10 days the
temperature has warned and the melting snow and rain has moved much of the
ice from the Washington Boro shoreline. As I work in my office the air is filled
with sounds of Canadian and Snow Geese as well as the Tundra Swans flying
from the river to farm fields. Later in the day they will return to
spend their night on an island in the Susquehanna River. The annual
migration of waterfowl has begun. Soon thousands of waterfowl will
temporarily rest at night on the islands. They can be heard through
the night into early morning, sounding much like a Native American
The First Hunters
This migration has taken place for thousands of
years. One can only guess the thoughts of Native Americans as they
marveled at millions of waterfowl migrating northward on the Susquehanna
River. Perhaps the Native Americans would have filled the air with sounds of ceremony as the
first hunters prepared to embark to a nearby island on the Susquehanna
River for The Hunt.
The Native Americans hunted waterfowl as they rested
on the river at night. They used
bow and arrow, clubs,
spears, and nets made of fiber made from wild plants. Undoubtedly the use
of snare traps were also included in their hunting methods.
European settlers found the same bountiful
supply of waterfowl and the food source readily available to feed their
families. The early settlers living near the banks of the
Susquehanna River found an abundance of fish including shad, sturgeon, and
bass, as well as waterfowl and other wildlife attracted to the river.
As the area population grew farther from the
Susquehanna River, the settlers realized that they could harvest fish and
wildlife, including waterfowl and sell them to this growing population.
The shad fishing industry exploded and harvests of more than 60,000 shad
six week period
in the Washington Boro and Columbia area had been recorded. The fertile islands of the
Susquehanna River, first farmed by the Native Americans later were
farmed by the
European settlers. The rich soil of the floodplains yielded an abundant
harvest of corn, squash, beans and tobacco.
Another industry soon developed along the shores
of the Washington Boro area, an industry known as MARKET HUNTING. There was
nothing sporting about this industry and with the absence of regulations
it can be termed in many ways "slaughter." Regardless of this fact, it
provided a means to earn money to feed a hungry family. The practice of
early market hunters was not pretty, then again neither is the slaughter of
livestock today, but, it is a necessary practice.
Top of page
Marketing Hunting Methods
The market hunter used
several methods and various tools for the harvest of ducks. The best time
of day to kill ducks was during the early morning hours before dawn.
often worked through the day, but just before dusk was another
progressed, more regulations were put in place to protect future
populations of ducks, and many methods became illegal or restricted.
The goal of a market
hunter was to kill as many ducks as possible in the shortest period of
time. Undoubtedly one the least sporting method was the use of a firearm
referred to as the
Punt Gun. The punt gun was a large firearm that used a
single barrel, but it was not uncommon to use a multi-barreled weapon. The Punt
Gun was up to 10 foot in length, usually loaded from the muzzle with
approximately 5 ounces of powder, in some cases 3-5 pounds of shot or
The gun was too heavy to
carry, and was secured to a sneak boat, also referred to as a Punt
Boat after the weapon was loaded. Different methods of cushioning to
absorb the recoil where utilized, including pine needles. The Punt Gun
was aimed slightly above the horizon and in some cases camouflaged by
painting both the boat
and gun white so it would not cast a silhouette in
The Punt Boat was
usually accompanied by a second boat. The hunter pushed the Punt
Boat slowly and quietly through the water until he reached a flock of
ducks sleeping on the water. He fired his weapon often killing dozens of ducks at a time. The hunter
then paddled around the area
picking up the harvest. In some areas ducks were then put on ice and taken
to market in large cities.
The baiting of fields and streams was another
practice used by market hunters. The practice of planting or seeding
an area with
grain such as corn, wheat or barley was used to attract ducks to an area. This method was very productive
ducks but, as with many methods, regulations were put in place so that baiting
Another method used by market hunters in the
late 18th century was the use of live decoys. These were live ducks tethered near a duck blind.
Passing ducks were attracted
to the hunter's live decoys. As the ducks came in for a landing the hunter
took his harvest being careful
not to shoot near the water for fear of
accidentally shooting his live decoys.
The practice of tethering a duck was accomplished by
attaching a lead weight which anchored the duck in shallow water. On
the other end were two leads which were attached to the duck's feet and a swivel on each lead
which kept the duck from getting tangled. This
allowed the duck freedom to swim in any direction.
Live decoys were usually raised from ducklings and
most desired were the “loudest” and most active ducks. Two or three females
set jn an area just out of sight each other, was common practice.
As the ducks began to call to each other, ducks
flying overhead were attracted
to the live decoys.
Federal regulations eventually outlawed use of the Punt Gun and
baiting. Federal regulations evolved to limit the number of live decoys a
hunter could use, but three years later the practice of using live decoys were made illegal.
From then on, the market hunter used carved decoys and