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Hundred Years of Texas Waterfowl Hunting

The Decoys, Guides, Clubs, and Places, 1870s to 1970s

R. K. Sawyer; Foreword by Matt Kaminski

Publication Year: 2012

The days are gone when seemingly limitless numbers of canvasbacks, mallards, and Canada geese filled the skies above the Texas coast. Gone too are the days when, in a single morning, hunters often harvested ducks, shorebirds, and other waterfowl by the hundreds. The hundred-year period from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries brought momentous changes in attitudes and game laws: changes initially prompted by sportsmen who witnessed the disappearance of both the birds and their spectacular habitat. These changes forever affected the state’s storied hunting culture. ?Yet, as R. K. Sawyer discovered, the rich lore and reminiscences of the era’s hunters and guides who plied the marshy haunts from Beaumont to Brownsville, though fading, remain a colorful and essential part of the Texas outdoor heritage.? Gleaned from interviews with sportsmen and guides of decades past as well as meticulous research in news archives, Sawyer’s vivid documentation of Texas’ deep-rooted waterfowl hunting tradition is accompanied by a superb collection of historical and modern photographs. He showcases the hunting clubs, the decoys, the duck and goose calls, the equipment, and the unique hunting practices of the period. By preserving this account of a way of life and a coastal environment that have both mostly vanished, A Hundred Years of Texas Waterfowl Hunting also pays tribute to the efforts of all those who fought to ensure that Texas’ waterfowl legacy would endure. This book will aid their efforts, along with those of coastal residents, birders, wildlife biologists, conservationists, and all who are interested in the state’s natural history and in championing the preservation of waterfowl and wetland resources for the benefit of future generations.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Foreword

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pp. vii-viii

The sport of waterfowl hunting began, for many of us, at an early age. As summer green turned to fall orange, we put on our boots and went afield with fathers, uncles, brothers, friends, and sometimes we went alone. I was introduced to waterfowl...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xi

The one author’s name on the book cover is misleading, as the effort results from contributions by a great many people. First and foremost are those who provided written material, both published and unpublished, oral histories, and family...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-3

Waterfowl hunting has been an integral part of nearly two hundred years of Anglo Texas settlement, first as sustenance, then market hunting, followed by recreation or sport hunting. A Hundred Years of Texas Waterfowl Hunting attempts...

Part One: Texas Waterfowl Hunting

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pp. 5-56

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1. Sport Hunting in Texas

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pp. 7-22

Early Texans found a vast, unbroken coastal marsh that extended from the Sabine River on the Louisiana border to the Lavaca River, punctuated by the rich estuaries of Sabine Lake and Galveston, Matagorda, and Lavaca Bays. To the south, where fewer...

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2. Decoys and Duck Calls

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pp. 23-50

While wagons, sailboats, shotguns, and other parapher-nalia were critical to early hunters, only wood decoys and game calls were entirely unique to the sport, their sole purpose to bring waterfowl within range of a hunter’s gun. Carved duck decoys and duck...

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3. Hunting Laws: Rules of the Game

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pp. 51-56

Declines in all game species, not just waterfowl, brought conservation to the national conscience in the late 1800s. The market hunter was widely blamed for the declines, although that is an oversimplification. The first laws, penned by an unlikely...

Part Two: Coastal Texas Hunting Clubs, Guides, and Places

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pp. 57-295

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4. Sabine Estuary

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pp. 59-86

In the early 1800s settlers found the Sabine and Neches Rivers a “dense solitude of unbroken timber” and Sabine Lake an untouched estuary. To the south, fresh and saline waters collided at Sabine Pass, blocked to deep-draft ships by a huge oyster reef...

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5. East Bay

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pp. 87-125

West of Sabine Lake, horse and oxcart trails led across fifty miles of unbroken prairie along the Atascosita Road to Liberty and Anahuac. With its northern edge an irregular boundary of longleaf pine forests, the prairie route was dissected by small streams...

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6. Trinity River Delta

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pp. 127-144

North of East Bay, past the narrow, tree-lined harbors of Lone Oak Bayou and Double Bayou and the wharves at Anahuac, hunters in the 1800s found the mouth of the Trinity River a pristine delta wilderness. From the river’s headlands...

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7. San Jacinto River

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pp. 145-160

West of the Trinity River delta, the San Jacinto River met Galveston Bay by way of Clopper’s Point, later Morgan’s Point. Wintering flocks of shorebirds, ducks, geese, and swans were an important resource for watermen, market hunters, and guides in the river and upper...

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8. West Galveston Bay

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pp. 161-171

Sportsmen who frequented the extensive wetlands and prairies between San Jacinto River and Galveston Bay in the early 1800s were mostly from Houston and Galveston. By the mid-1800s they were joined by hunters from a growing number of small coastal communities and...

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9. Brazos and San Bernard Rivers to the Gulf

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pp. 173-184

Split roughly down the middle by the Brazos River, Brazoria County covers a wide range of habitats: tidal marshes on West Galveston Bay, inland prairie, Brazos River bottoms, and, to the west of the river, wetlands that fringe the Gulf of Mexico...

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10. Matagorda Bay

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pp. 185-203

It was Spanish then French explorers who first flushed endless flocks of waterfowl from Matagorda Bay, once called San Bernardo Bay, between the mainland and Matagorda Peninsula. There was no East Matagorda Bay; the Colorado River drained directly into Matagorda...

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11. Espiritu Santo and San Antonio Bays

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pp. 205-220

Extending from Matagorda Bay to San Antonio Bay, and tucked between the mainland and Matagorda Island, narrow Espiritu Santo Bay is six miles across at its widest point. The estuary makes a bend at Welder Flats into San Antonio Bay where....

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12. Copano and Aransas Bays

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pp. 221-253

Inland prairie meets water at Copano Bay, its drainage system made up of Copano Creek, Mission River, and the Aransas River. Fresh water around Copano Bay was always magic to wintering waterfowl, and one of those special ecosystems was...

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13. South Bay to Corpus Christi Bay

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pp. 255-278

Aransas Bay forms a narrow neck as it approaches Corpus Christi Bay, the constriction between the mainland and St. Joseph and Mustang Islands marked by South Bay and Redfish Bay. Gulf waters ebb and flow by wind-driven tides through Aransas Pass...

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14. Laguna Madre

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pp. 279-295

Bordered by the mainland on one side and by over a hundred miles of Padre Island white sand on the other, the hypersaline lagoon of Laguna Madre was a continuous body of water until wind-blown Holocene sand deposits—the Coastal Sand Sheet—divided it into upper and lower water...

Part Three: North, West, and East Inland Sport Hunting

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pp. 297-360

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15. Big Prairie and Eagle Lake

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pp. 299-323

It was a blurred boundary, mostly just a change in the course of the Brazos River, that separated Colorado County’s Big Prairie from Houston Prairie. Big Prairie geographic names such as Lissie, Eagle Lake, Garwood, and Canebrake Prairie came...

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16. Katy Prairie

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pp. 325-341

When settlers first crossed “the Prairie,” they found high-standing grasses of bluestem, switchgrass, yellow Indian grass, and eastern grama in a gentle topography of knolls and natural ponds. Legend has it the ponds were wallowed by buffaloes...

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17. Short Stories from Farther Afield

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pp. 343-360

From the Panhandle to Caddo Lake in East Texas and from the upper coastal prairies north to the Red River, inland Texas waterfowlers share a heritage as deep as that from the coast. Compared to the coast, their hunting was in some ways very...

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Epilogue

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pp. 361-366

By the turn of the century the population of several species of waterfowl had dropped dramatically throughout the United States. The causes were many, but a major one was national demand for waterfowl in the marketplace that, by the early 1900s...

Notes

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pp. 367-390

Index

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pp. 391-402

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781603447737
E-ISBN-10: 1603447733
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603447638
Print-ISBN-10: 1603447636

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 26 color, 175 b&w photos. 13 maps. 32 figures. Index.
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Gulf Coast Books, sponsored by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi