Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Early Chicago Hunters
Nature Bulletin No. 654   November 4, 1961
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
John J. Duffy, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor
David H. Thompson, Senior Naturalist

Just as our fertile Illinois soils now produce high yields of farm crops and livestock, this area formerly supported a wealth of wild game. At first, the early settlers depended mostly on hunting to feed their families. Later, after the pressing need of wild game for the table had passed, these pioneers continued to hunt as a sport more than for the meat. Ever since their day, the human male of a certain type seems to grow restless and irritable in autumn unless he can satisfy an urge to get into the out-of-doors with a gun in his hands. Now, more hunters take to the field than at any time in the past -- about a half million in Illinois alone.

The white-tailed deer was the most numerous big game animal found near Chicago, as the land was settled their numbers doubled and redoubled, then began to taper off. Beginning in 1853, Cook and several neighboring counties had a closed season on deer hunting from January to July. In this region they held out in the Kankakee marsh until the 1870's but, by that time, Chicagoans by the hundreds were going by train to the hunting camps of Wisconsin and Michigan.

The modern Nimrod is not the first to complain that "Hunting around Chicago ain't what it used to be" an official report written in 1823 said. Although the quantity of game in this part of the country is diminishing very rapidly, and although it is barely sufficient for the support of the Indians, still there is enough, and particularly of the smaller kind, to offer occupation to the amateur sportsman .

Illinois was long known as a bird-hunter's paradise for both waterfowl and prairie chickens The following is an account of a trip made in 1834 by two Chicago fellows, with their muzzle-loaders, travelling the prairie roads by team and buckboard. "Our first stopping place was at Brush Hill (now Hinsdale). On arriving at the log tavern, we had chickens enough dressed for breakfast, and the residue that we had shot in the 18 miles journey were left for the use of newcomers. On arriving at Naperville for dinner (eight miles) we had another supply, and upon landing at Oswego (12 miles) in the evening we had enough for the settlement of five or six families. We were both good shots, We got a sand hill crane on the route Geese and ducks were quite plenty on Fox river and we brought home a number .

Many well-known sportsmen came here from distant parts of this country and Europe. Among the best remembered was l9-year-old Albert Edward, eldest son of Queen Victoria and, later, King Edward VII of England. On a visit to Canada and the United States in 1860, the boy pleaded for a little shooting on a western prairie as a relief from tiresome receptions and parades After secret arrangements, he and a few of his retinue quietly stepped off a Chicago and Alton train at Dwight, Illinois, There, at the hunting lodge of James Spencer of Chicago, they put in a few days of wing-shooting over dogs.

The serving of wild game became fashionable and stimulated an enormous increase in market hunting and trapping There were huge guns that killed hundreds of ducks with one shot. In 1873, for example, the trade in wild game at Chicago amounted to several million pounds. Carloads of it arrived almost daily during the fall and winter months -- buffalo, antelope, deer, elk and bear meat -- passenger pigeons, prairie chickens, grouse, quail, wild ducks, geese and turkeys numbering over a million birds.

Here is an 1879 society item, at the twenty-fourth annual game dinner given by Mr. John B. Drake, of the Grand Pacific Hotel of Chicago, five hundred and twenty ladies and gentlemen sat down to fifty-five tables decorated in hunters' taste. There were seventy different kinds of game. "

Now, in 1961, it is illegal to buy or sell any game reared in the wild.

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