ABOVE: G.O. Shields, 1881, hunting antelope. [Credit: Montana Historical Society.] LEFT: 1887 Winchester shotgun; RIGHT: 1897 Winchester pump, 12 gauge.
The fear of a general wildlife scarcity by the end of the nineteenth century accompanied the concern for birdlife, which was in part caused by the improvement of firearms for wildfowling. By the mid-1870’s, choke-bored, breech-loading shotguns began to be sold commercially. The first repeating shotgun made its appearance in America in the Winchester lever-action 1887 model shotgun, designed by John “Jack” Moses Browning of Ogden, Utah, but it was too clumsy, heavy and not entirely reliable. In the early 1890s, Browning began to experiment with gas operating arms. Soon he had utilized the power of the gas in such a manner that a part of this wasted pressure was transferred to the breech mechanism and made to operate the gun. One pull of the trigger and the rebound of the force fired the weapon a second time and so on. The outcome of these experiments was the automatic firearm such as the development of the repeating, slide-action, Winchester 1893 model pump shotgun. However, it did not go over too well because it was made for black powder at a time when smokeless powder was coming in vogue, and it had a flaw in that it opened occasionally during firing. The company was worried over potential lawsuits that might arrive from these guns shooting the identical-looking smokeless powder shells, which might cause injuries. So Winchester essentially recalled the pumps and exchanged them for the new improved Winchester 1897 model pump shotgun, which shot smokeless powder and was priced at $25.00 at its introduction. It was also designed by Browning.
The Model 1897 was an immediate success, especially with market hunters, who threw away their muzzleloaders and reluctantly their double barrels and bought one of these new weapons. Alarmed by the dwindling number of waterfowl, it was looked upon with disdain in this country by many, because it was anticipated that it would lead to mass slaughtering of waterfowl since they knew that rapid-firing and rapid-reloading firearms had obvious advantages over a muzzle-loader or even the breechloading, double barrel shotgun.
In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt met with G.O. Shields, president of the League of American Sportsmen, about the need for federal regulations for the protection of game and game fishes. At that time, the President was also an executive member of the “L.A.S.,” which was organized for the purpose of creating in every state, territory and county a well-organized standing army of game protectors, which would secure the enactment of more stringent game and fish laws. At that time, three years after its inception, there were local League chapters in 24 states and in two provinces of Canada with 5,463 members.
In 1901, a careful inquiry made by the New York Zoological Society, revealed the startling fact that throughout 30 states and territories the decrease in the volume of bird life during the previous 15 years had reached an average of 46 per cent! The decrease in number of edible birds, upland game birds, waterfowl, shore birds and wild pigeons had been even greater than that, and a number of our finest species were then approaching practical extinction.
In 1902, with all this being reported, the United States was abuzz with the news of an “automatic” shotgun being produced in Leige, Belgium, invented by Mormon gunsmith John Browning, one of 19 children of Jonathan Browning.
Firearms icon Browning designed the first truly successful semi-automatic shotgun in 1898 with all the bugs having been worked out in 1899 when Browning showed T.G. Bennett his radical new design of his most daring innovation, an automatically self-loading shotgun, which Browning later called the gun his best achievement. Bennett was president of Winchester Repeating Arms Co. and son-in-law to founder of the Company, Oliver Winchester. It was patented October 9, 1900. However, it was apparent soon after the letters patent were issued, that the automatic shotgun was ahead of its time and would require several years to achieve even a small part of the popularity and sales volume which its creators felt it deserved. Winchester had paid Browning basically for every design and manufacturing rights Browning had previously devised ,with Winchester taking out the patents in Browning’s name and then they were free to make the guns and profit from the sales of his design.
Bennett, who became president of Winchester in 1890, paid Browning for his design, while they went back and forth on improvements that Bennett’s gunsmith Thomas C. Johnson recommended for the gun. However, this time Browning wanted royalties on sales of the gun, which Winchester had never done before. Finally, Browning got fed up with Bennett for not putting his shotgun into production and over whether he would get royalties for his “automatic,” his latest creation. He realized that Winchester was never going to agree to pay him royalties and put the gun into production, as it would hurt the sales of their Winchester Model 1897. Bennett also felt the public would not accept an auto-loading shotgun, so they severed their nineteen-year relationship. Bennett then asked Johnson to develop a semi-automatic shotgun to rival Browning’s, which he did with some difficulty as he had to work around Browning’s patent. It became the Winchester 1911, costing $38 at its inception and was discontinued in 1925.
Winchester had made a big mistake. Here is how Bennett explained their side of the story in a letter from Winchester released to the public August 21, 1903:
For a number of years, it seemed best to us to employ the Messrs. Browning Bros. We bought everything which they invented which had merit, whether we used it or not. It seemed to us at the end that they had become rather high-priced, and we let them go. They had got to feel that they were the only people who could invent guns, that our suggestions as to what was needed by the public were of no value, and that they were really the “whole thing.” Mr. John Browning was a very nice man, and we were sorry to part with him because he was in many respects a genius. His younger brother, Matthew Browning, was a more difficult proposition. We understood he was not the inventor, but that Mr. Browning was the inventor. None of the things invented by them were made by us exactly as presented. They were all worked over by the people in our employ to get these into such shape that they could be manufactured successfully. For instance, the Model 1886 gun [lever-action repeating rifle] is more largely the invention of our Mr. Mason than it is of the Browning Bros., the Brownings having supplied us with the locking features only. We shall be perfectly able to get along without the Brownings, and shall probably be better off without them than with them. On the other hand, we do not believe they will get along as well without us as they did with us. . . . .
So Browning left with his design patent and his prototype and went to Remington. In January 1902, however, the president, Marcellus Hartley, of Remington, died of a heart attack in his office during an executive committee meeting of the American Surety Company, while Browning and his brother Matthew waited in the lobby to offer them the gun. The company in a state of shock. There was no time for anyone to meet with them. This forced Browning to venture overseas to seek a manufacturer for the shotgun. On March 24, 1902, he signed a contract with Fabrique Nationale (FN), granting FN the exclusive world-wide rights to manufacture, distribute, and sell the autoloading shotgun, excepting the U.S. His recoil-operated gun was manufactured in the summer of 1903. The first 5-shot, 12-gauge Browning automatic shotgun was shipped by FN. on September 17, 1903.
Western Field magazine noted in its October 1903 issue that Remington had “announced an automatic shotgun,” which would soon arrive and that the automatic had many advantages over the double shotgun. In its November issue appeared this ad (right) along with a write up: “The wonderful new weapon seems to embody in itself all the virtues hitherto developed in sporting arms. It is hammerless, automatic ejector, single trigger, repeater, with greatly reduced recoil. It is entirely automatic in its action, excepting only that the trigger has to be pulled for each shot. It is, in effect, a single trigger, five-barrel gun with but one barrel to aim, carry and clean. . . . . Summing up briefly, the Browning automatic shotgun is the highest development in shotguns and we bespeak for it the friendship of sportsmen.”
Western Field magazine ad, December 1903. The autoloader model was given the designation Auto-5 and came initially only in 12 gauge.
In its December 1903 issue, an ad stated among other things, “To overcome restrictions occasionally placed on the use of ‘Pump Guns,’ we can furnish the above guns limited to 2 shots.”
Just when the automobile was three years in the making and the gasoline automobile was making its appearance in America in 1903, word circulated that Winchester would enter the semi-automatic shotgun manufacturing world. A subscriber to Recreation Magazine wrote the magazine in the summer of 1903 condemning Winchester for wanting to produce a semi-automatic shotgun and also condemning, at the same time, the 1897 Winchester pump shotgun.
The Associate Treasurer for Winchester wrote a letter September 1903 that the Company would probably put an automatic shotgun upon the market, but “we are not prepared at this time to give any information concerning it and we can say that it will not be done this year.” In addition, Winchester quit advertising in Recreation magazine, believing they favored Browning, after the magazine described its “extreme efficiency and excellencies.”
In a contract dated December 23, 1903, because of political actions that were pending regarding import tariffs that would have financial implications for both parties involved, FN released a portion of its worldwide exclusive rights to the “automatic” shotgun to Browning, which gave Browning the right to import, market, sell and distribute the autoloader for the U.S. market and could use the name Browning. At great expense and effort, the Browning Arms Company, a family corporation of Ogden, Utah, ordered and imported 10,000 of the autoloaders to sell to jobbers for the American market, with its distributing point being St. Louis. This was no small accomplishment in view of the fact that up to this time automatic shotguns were unknown here and were regarded unfavorably by domestic manufacturers. Nevertheless, they all sold within a year.
By 1904, on this side of the pond, it would become known as the Browning Auto 5. Its anticipated appearance created great consternation and, to others, admiration, for the latter such as that from the National Game Wardens and many sportsmen associations. Against its creation, sportsmen, state and U.S. congressmen, state game commissions, gun clubs, some game associations, outdoor sporting periodicals, and newspapers were up in arms, for the most part.
After more correspondents to the Recreation Magazine wrote in condemning the semi-automatic shotgun, the irascible George Oliver Shields, editor of the magazine, wrote his first editorial. Here are excerpts headlined “SHALL WE ALLOW AUTOMATIC GUNS? Several patents have recently been issued for automatic shot guns, and I am informed that the Winchester Arms Co., of New Haven, Conn., is building machinery to make such a gun. Another gun house [Remington] has already brought out one, and is now being advertised and sold. . . .”
Shield’s Recreation was at that time, and afterward, the only opposition sporting magazine to the “automatic.” Newspaper editors jumped on board throughout the country protesting against the anticipated manufacturing of a semi-automatic gun by Remington. Here are a few: The Lindonville, Vermont Journal reported: “Some of the leading gun manufacturers contemplate the making of an automatic gun for the use of those who have no interest in the preservation of the wild animals in our woods and forests. An automatic gun has a magazine which can be discharged as fast as a man can pull the trigger. The recoil of each shot throws out the empty shell, reloads the gun and cocks it ready for the next shot. The game which could be secured with one of these guns is enormous. Perhaps we cannot control the manufacturers, who wish to supply a demand, but it is incumbent on every lover of nature to make the demand as small as possible, so that the manufacture of such a gun will be found unprofitable. Even as it is, the game and the other denizens of the woods are rapidly decreasing, and the use of an automatic gun in the hands of expert so-called sportsmen, would be a national calamity.”
LEFT: 1906 advertisement for Remington autoloader, 12 gauge.
Indianapolis News: “Friends of the birds—and their number is increasing—hope that the new automatic gun will not find favor among sportsmen. One variety of this gun [Browning Auto 5 shotgun] is already on the market and other varieties are in process of manufacture. Bird lovers and the more humane class of hunters agree that the use of these guns is contrary to fair play, hence is opposed to the ethics of genuine sport. The new gun holds a number of cartridges that may be discharged as fast as a man can pull the trigger. The shooter jumps a bunch of quail, ducks or geese, and fires. The recoil of the first shot throws out the empty shell, drops a new one in for another shot. Only the pot hunter should be willing to use a weapon that leaves game practically without hope of escape. The excitement of sport vanishes in the presence of automatic murder. When a man can kill 10 birds in a covey before they are able to get out of his reach, as the new gun is said to enable him to do, he is simply engaged in cold, systematic slaughter. A bird ought to have a fair chance for its life. Recreation is vigorously denouncing the automatic shot gun.”
Here are three more editorials from three newspaper and one from the Audubon Society, which appeared in Recreation in 1904, its ten-year anniversary.
Detroit, Michigan paper: “An editorial in the November number of Recreation takes up the subject of automatic guns and handles it in a manner that will be especially pleasing to the true sportsmen of the country, and to the general public that is opposed to the ruthless slaughter of birds of song and plumage as well as to the wholesale killing of game birds. The article is drawn out by the invention of an automatic gun. The editor of Recreation declares that any reasonable man, no matter how eagerly he may seek the mighty dollar, should be satisfied with the weapons already on the market for destroying American birds and wild animals. He adds further that we have repeating rifles, repeating shot guns, double barrel and single barrel shot guns by the million, and with these the birds and wild animals have been reduced to pitiable remnants of their once great numbers, but now, as if not satisfied with the slaughter which has been and is now being carried on, the big gun houses are putting out still more murderous engines of destruction, for market hunters and pot hunters. The pump gun, so-called, has proven little short of a national calamity. An automatic shot gun would be a disgrace to the nation, and its introduction should be prohibited by law. This may not be, but the sale of any such weapon to decent sportsmen can be prevented by the creation of a proper sentiment.”
The Worcester, Massachusetts’ Evening Post wrote more about its destructiveness:
“The latest thing in shot guns is an automatic firearm that may be fired 6 times, as fast as the shooter can pull the trigger. The recoil of the first shot throws out the empty shell, sends a new one into the chamber, and cocks the gun ready for another shot. An agitation protesting against the sale and use of the gun was started by G.O. Shields, editor of Recreation. His contention is that the use of the automatic gun will hasten the extermination of all the game birds in America. One of the new guns was exhibited at Barre during the Brunswick club field trials, and sorrow was expressed by a number of sportsmen that such a gun should not have been invented, as the rapidity with which it may be fired is a sure indication of the speedy destruction of any game going in front of it, no matter how poor a shot the hunter may be, for at least 5 shots may be fired in the time that 2 could be fired from the ordinary double-barrel piece.”
The Erie (Pennsylvania) Dispatch editorialized:
The automatic shot gun that has just appeared on the market is an agency of destruction of so terrible a kind that if it were generally employed in the hunting of game birds their complete extermination would be a matter of a brief period. It is as shocking to the sensibilities of the genuine sportsman as to every other lover of Nature that the vandalism of the pot hunter and the game hog should be thus encouraged and made 10 fold potential through such diabolism of mechanical ingenuity. Therefore, it is imperative that all who delight in the wild life of fields and woods should stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against this weapon of the game vandal, which to the world of sports stands in the same relation as the Gatling and still more rapid firing guns to that of war.
President Shields, of the League of American Sportsmen, is especially wide awake to the importance of the laws in every State prohibiting the use of repeating shot guns in the hunting of birds and animals, and to this end has forwarded copies of a bill for introduction in their respective Legislatures to all the chief wardens of this large and powerful organization throughout the country.
There is special need of such legislation in Pennsylvania as that indicated above. In many sections of this State there is great inclination to game, and the rigors of the past winter have greatly depleted the stocks of game birds and fishes.
Frank M. Miller, President of the Audubon Society of Louisiana, New Orleans, wrote under the headlines “ANOTHER THREAT FROM THE WINCHESTER PEOPLE”
Now that our Legislature has passed our game bill I am at liberty to draw your attention to one feature of the fight for game preservation in this State that may interest you. Some months ago the sportsmen of the State prepared a bill which contained a provision that no gun should be used from which more than 2 shots could be fired without reloading. A draft of the bill was published in the local newspapers. Soon after this a young man called on me and introduced himself as the traveling representative of the Winchester Arms Co. in this section. He said he had read our proposed bill and called to voice a protest against the section relating to repeating and automatic shot guns. He asked whether I knew you [Shields] personally and I said no. He then said you had begun the crusade against his company and their new gun because they had withdrawn their advertisement from Recreation, and threatened to oppose our bill actively unless we cut out the objectionable section. He said it would be a fight to a finish and that his company would defeat the bill. As we already had a lot of opposition from the market hunters we concluded not to press that feature at the session of the Legislature, and eliminated it from our bill. It may also interest you to know that nearly 1,000 automatic shot guns have been recently sold in this city to market hunter and game hogs, and they are loud in praise of it. A prominent banker, a gentleman and a true sportsman, borrowed one of these guns from a dealer and tried it one day in the field. He told me he was so ashamed of the slaughtering machine that he tried to avoid meeting any of his friends on his way back to town. He returned the gun at once and says no man but a butcher would have such a weapon in his possession.
Another editor said: “The president [T.G. Bennet] of the Winchester Arms Co. has written a letter to a man in Massachusetts who protested against the proposed automatic gun, which it is understood the Winchester Co. still intends to make and put on the market. The letter contains some amusing statements, a few of which I quote”:
We have no automatic shot gun at present. Such a gun we should imagine would make execution in hunting more a matter of skill and give less opportunity for slaughter. For instance, if the boy cited had used 2 barrels of a double gun on the snow buntings, he would have killed more than he could possibly kill if using the one barrel of an automatic or repeating shot gun. If he had skill, he might shoot another bird on the wing, probably; but we should imagine no more. There is nothing that can be done with the automatic gun that might not be done with the ordinary double barrel shot gun.
Mr. Shields, editor of Recreation, responded: “As usual Mr. Bennett says his company has no automatic shot gun, but he persists in defending the automatic principle. He says if the boy had skill he ‘might’ have fired a second shot at the birds on the wing, ‘But we should imagine no more. There is nothing that can be done with the automatic gun that might not be done with the ordinary double barrel gun.’ If this is true, then why in the name of heaven make a gun to carry so many cartridges?”
Bennett replied back” “We have mentioned above the fact that we have no automatic shot gun. The present agitation by a New York magazine wag [Recreation and Shields] got up, we think to injure us.”
Shields responded: “Bennett’s assertion that my agitation against the automatic gun was got up to injure the Winchester Co. is more of his silly rot. This crusade was started in November 1903. Whenever Mr. Bennett makes such a statement, he lies and he knows it. Yet Mr. Bennett, President of the Winchester Arms Co., while insisting that his company has no intention of making automatic guns, claims that the automatic gun [Browning] already on the market is one of the most harmless, innocent and respectable weapons ever invented. He claims that a man cannot kill any more birds in a day with an automatic gun than he could with a double barreled gun, that game hogs will not use the automatic gun because they like their old pump guns better, and all that sort of rot. Some people are weak minded enough to be convinced by such arguments into advocating for the making and use of the automatic. Fortunately, there are a few thousand sportsmen in this country who think for themselves, and who are radically opposed to allowing game hogs to buy and use these infernal machines. The number of such discerning sportsmen is increasing every day. I have on file several thousand letters of this tenor. If I should print all I get each month they would fill every page of Recreation. I can give place to only a few, but enough to show the trend of sentiment among decent men. The time will come when the use of the automatic gun will be prohibited by law in every State in the Union.”
Clifford S. Atkinson, a correspondent to Recreation, wrote in support of the semi-automatic: “This fall I sold my $40 L.C. Smith and bought a Remington pump gun. I have killed 203 quail since Nov. 16 to Jan 1. I find on page 57 in June number of Recreation your crazy bill to prohibit the use of all magazine guns. If a man ever learns to shoot a Remington pump gun he can never be satisfied with anything else? It is more than foolish for a man to pay from $5o to $500 for a Parker, L.C. Smith or any other make of gun when for $20 or $25 he can buy a Winchester pump gun that will outlast and out shoot any or all of them. Now as I have said my subscription is paid up to Nov. 4; it would please me very much to have my money refunded taking out pay for what copies I have read. I will not help even ever so little to support a magazine that is or is going to take steps to prohibit the use of the best cheapest and handiest shooting gun on record, especially one that I prefer above all others. You are very strong in using your pet name of Gun Hog and I in this letter am saying just what I think. I am not a game hog, never sold a quail in my life. Please print this letter and do as you say you will do for every body and give the Winchester people what they so justly deserve. I am going to send them a copy of this letter. As you must know Mr. Shields I have nothing against you or Recreation; only you are against the best gun in the world. Please drop me from your list.”
Another correspondent to Recreation reported on the use of pump shotguns in Kansas: “The largest number of ducks were obtained on Cheyenne bottom, but the salt marsh South of Ellinwood and the Walnut and Cow creeks and the Arkansas river furnished a good percentage. One hunter on Cheyenne bottom one day got 133 in 6 shots with a pump gun, and with these guns several men have records of over 100 ducks in 6 shots lately. One man has made a record of over 500 ducks in a single day on the bottom with a pump.”
Shields responded: “Yet Bennett says the pump gun is a harmless little toy and that a man cannot kill any more birds with it than he can with a double barrel gun; and Bennett ought to know.”
In California, Justice L.P. Farnum of Willows passed a 225 days’ sentence on a market hunter for having killed 100 ducks at night with an extension automatic shotgun. Justice C.S. Johnson of Stockton fined three duck hunters each $150 for having 200 ducks in their possession, killed by automatic shotguns.
Shields sent a a copy of a bill to all chief wardens of the L.A.S., for introduction in their respective legislatures entitled “The League of American Sportsmen against the Use of Repeating Shot Guns in Hunting Birds.” The bill read:
Section I.—It shall be unlawful to use, in hunting birds or animals of any kind, any shot gun holding more than 2 cartridges at one time, or that may be fired more than twice without re-loading.
Section 2.—The intent and meaning of this bill is to prohibit the use of any so called repeating shot gun or pump gun.
Section 3.—Any person found guilty of a violation of this statute shall be fined not more than $50 nor less than $25 for each offence; and the carrying of any such gun in the woods or in the fields or in any of the waters of this State shall be considered prima facie evidence of an attempt to violate Section I of this statute, and shall be punished as provided in this section.
Shields said, “I knew when I attacked the automatic gun that I would antagonize many men, but I am glad to know that where one man disagrees with me on this subject, thousands of others agree with me. One man sent me a check for $25 for the L.A.S. game protection fund, and said that if I could head off the automatic gun, or even if I could materially check its sale, he would send me another check for an equal amount. I have assurances from prominent sportsmen in a number of States that they will be able to pass our bill to prohibit the use of both the automatic and the pump guns in their respective States during the present winter, and I have not the slightest doubt that we shall procure the passage of such laws in all the States during the next 2 years. Generally speaking, I am in favor of advancement in all the arts and sciences, but there is a limit to what should be allowed in various lines.”
Here are some sample correspondents to the Recreation magazine in 1904 from sportsmen that were against the automatic.
From F.A. Marshall, Prescott, Wisconsin: “The placing of an automatic shot gun on the market is unwarranted, uncalled for, and a violation of divine, if not human, laws. Such a gun will increase the hunter’s power to kill fourfold at least. He is now equipped with firearms which are as much of an improvement over the flintlock muskets of our forefathers as the modern ocean liner is better than the rude caravels of the 14th century. Game is already becoming scarce and the increased destruction these guns will produce means that there will soon be no game of any consequence left to hunt. The automatic gun will rob hunting of its most delightful attribute, strategy, and will reduce it to mere senseless and wholesale butchery. While we are increasing the killing power of guns we do not always stop to think that the game has not increased its power of propagation to a like extent. The game should be given at least a fighting chance for its life. No doubt the sales of such a gun will be such as to make it a paying investment for the makers, but there are other things in this world worth consideration beside the mighty dollar, and in the name of fairness and humanity I protest against the manufacture and sale of such a weapon. I know that in this I voice the sentiments of every fair minded sportsman in the United States.”
This is from a Washington State Congressman writing to one of his constituents: “I desire to call the attention of your Association to another question of great importance in our State. Ours is one of the few states in which any great number of game birds, particularly water fowl, are to be found. As you know there has been recently placed on the market a new engine of destruction and extermination in the shape of an automatic shot gun. Your association should commence immediately a fight to have our next Legislature enact a law prohibiting the sale and use of these guns in our State. As one whose greatest enjoyment is found in hunting, who has carried a gun almost from the time he left the cradle, and who has hunted from Florida to Alaska, you can count on my assistance in any fight to protect our game from extermination.”
Harry Nye, a subscriber to the magazine, wrote in 1904: “HARD KNOCKS FOR THE GAME HOG’S GUN: I am much pleased at the way you look at the automatic gun. Anyone knows that our game would be killed fast enough if only single barrel 16-gauge guns were used. I have used the Winchester pump gun in the past, but have bought my last one of that brand. Am now using a double barrel and find it plenty able to deliver my share of the goods.”
Nye sent a letter to Winchester: “Dear Sirs:—I am informed that you intend to put an automatic gun on the market in the near future. Such a gun is fit only for a pot hunter and no true sportsman will be seen with one. If this arm is extensively manufactured, game in this country will be exterminated in a few years. I sincerely hope that such a gun will never be placed on the market for the benefit of a few greedy persons who cannot get a large enough bag with an ordinary gun.”
Carl H. Thober, of Newark, New Jersey, wrote in 1904: “I have just examined one of the automatic shot guns and it is certainly a murderous tool which should be kept out of the hands of game hogs. No decent man would want it. I used a Winchester pump a season or two, but have gone back to a 16-bore double. Recreation is sound on the gun question.”
The Treasurer of Carteret County, North Carolina wrote to Winchester Arms Co: “I think it my duty to write regarding the new automatic gun that I understand you are putting on the market. From the standpoint of the true sportsman, there would be as much honor in a full bag of game taken with an automatic gun as if the bag were killed from a trap or from the market. The true sportsman will not use such a gun; it can be used only by the game slaughterer. The result must, therefore, be such extermination of our game that there will be little use and little demand for your legitimate firearms. Should some of your automatic guns be sold in our community, it must be expected that, of necessity, within a few years, the demand for your guns and ammunition would decline, with the continued extermination of our game. My words may not have great weight with you, but I trust our Legislature may, now that this extreme has been reached, pass a long needed law, effectually prohibiting the bringing into this state, for sale or use, any gun other than the respectable single or double shooting shot guns of reasonable bore. I write from one of the best game counties in Eastern North Carolina.”
R.M. Simmons, of Decatur, Texas, wrote to the magazine: “The use of this gun will certainly exterminate water fowl much quicker than would the ordinary double or the pump gun. I have a 3-year-old boy who takes a great notion to guns, but if automatics are much used he will never know the pleasure of wing shooting.”
F.W. Kachelries, of Shamokin, Pennsylvania, wrote: “I notice you are waging a war against the use of automatic and pump guns. I use a pump and am not a hog because I use one. I prefer the pump for several reasons. A double hammerless as effective and durable as a pump would cost double the price. I like the single barrel, and the pump places me on equal footing with the man who uses a double gun. The biggest hogs in our town use high grade double hammerless ejectors. They kill the limit every chance they get. They are also the ones who most emphatically denounce the pump gun. What will be gained by stopping the use of the pump while allowing the market hunters to slaughter game with the double gun? Looking through Recreation from 1898 to date I find its game hog pictures show more than 2 double guns to one pump. Why should the repeating shot gun be allowed and not the repeating rifle? The men who say a double gun is good enough for them, want nothing but the most deadly repeating rifle when they hunt big game. Prohibit the use of the automatic guns if it can be done before there are thousands of them made and sold; but let the owners of repeaters use their favorite weapon as long as hogs are allowed to use double ejectors.”
L.E. Peters, of Omaha, Nebraska, wrote Winchester Repeating Arms Co.: “Dear Sirs: I protest against your placing an automatic shot gun on the market. I have used 4 of your guns, but if you put out an automatic gun I shall never buy or use another Winchester gun of any description. I am a hunter of many years’ experience, but I am no game hog and consider an automatic gun a nuisance whose use should be prohibited by law. I have done considerable missionary work against such a weapon and shall continue to do so. The small remnant of game that still exists in the United States needs protection; not an automatic gun. If its use were confined strictly to trap shooting, well and good, but we Americans know better than to listen to such foolishness. The market hunters would use it altogether. Hoping the automatic gun will die in its infancy.”
Shields, of Recreation, said: “As I have repeatedly said in Recreation, I would have no objection to allowing decent men to use pump guns or even automatic guns. What I do object to, most rigidly, is allowing such weapons to be sold to market hunters and other game hogs; and if we allow the weapons to be sold at all, these men will be the principal buyers. This is the only reason why I am advocating the passage of laws in all the States to prohibit the sale of such guns.”
C.P. Ambler, of Biltmore, North Carolina, wrote the Winchester Arms Co.: “Dear Sirs: It has been my habit and pleasure to spend several weeks in the field annually for the past 20 years, and during this time I have constantly been the owner of one or more Winchester guns. I have hunted both large and small game in many of the provinces of Canada and the States of the Union, and on no matter what field, I have found respect for the Winchester Arms Company and their guns. I now learn you are contemplating the building of an automatic gun. If such is the case, I wish to put myself on record, as one of your old customers, as believing that this move on your part will be both disastrous to the game and will eventually cripple your company. Our present guns are everything a sportsman needs in this country, and an automatic gun in the hands of persons whose sole aim is to secure as large bags as possible will do more toward the extinction of game than almost any move which your company could make. Such a gun would be a boon to the pot hunter, but would be condemned by every ardent sportsman in the world.”
A writer from Hopkinsville, Kentucky wrote the Winchester Arms Co.: “Gentlemen:—We understand that you are preparing to make and place on the market an automatic shot gun. As a trap gun it is not needed, its only recommendation for that purpose being cheapness. We, as a [trap-shooting] club, will draw the line at an automatic, and the object of this letter is to say that we will not shoot it ourselves and will in every legitimate way discountenance its use. We trust, however, that it is not your purpose to put such a gun on the market.”
W.H.M., of Albion, Indiana, wrote: “While I recommend the efforts of RECREATION to suppress the game hog, I consider its attacks on the pump gun and on market hunters ill-advised. We find the sworn enemies of the pump using the latest and most deadly of double guns and clamoring for their further improvement; yet they denounce as hogs all who use the latest single barrel. If these tender hearted sportsmen are sincere, why do they not go back to the muzzle loader and thus set us a good example? I am today the owner of a Winchester pump shot gun, the best and cheapest weapon the world has ever seen! Let those who want to stop market hunting read the history of the Tolliston Club—a history of cold-blooded murders, endless litigation and bristles. It stopped the poor market hunter, and had a monopoly of the duck shooting for years in the Kankakee marshes. I have in mind another club, located at Bertig, Arkansas; membership 350 especially organized and armed to protect game by waging war on the market hunter. These game protectors employed a man who informed the club members by telegraph just when game was in abundance. Then down the club members came, bristling with guns and shooting everything the market shooter had overlooked. Thus things went on until the slow going native realized that his country was becoming as barren of game as Alaska is of oranges; he saw plainly that his fine shooting was being hopelessly ruined. There was but one thing to do; it was done, and the Bertig Club house went up in smoke. I do not wish to be understood as attacking the members of those clubs as individuals, for they were mostly gentlemen; it is on combinations of this class that the bristles protrude. In the end what difference does it make whether some poor market hunter ships a bunch of ducks to St. Louis or a club man takes them as baggage. In either case there are as many ducks destroyed.”
Your defense of the market shooter is decidedly lame, as any defense of that class of hunters must be. Game has become too scarce in this country to be longer an article of commerce. The time was when it was all right to sell it; but that time has long since passed. It should be regarded as affording a legitimate means of sport and recreation to the people who like outdoor sports, and even these should be limited to the smallest possible number of birds in a day and in a season, and the seasons should be shortened to a minimum in every State.
There are men who claim that they should have the right to buy and eat game even though they do not care to go out and kill it, but I deny this. In politics the offices belong to the men who can hustle for them and get them. The money belongs to the man who is willing to work for it and earn it. The land belongs to the men who are thrifty and careful enough of the money they earn to buy it, and the game belongs by right to the men who have the energy, snap and skill to go into the field and kill it. I would not object to allowing a poor man, who enjoys the sport of shooting, and who kills a dozen or 20 birds in a day, to dispose of them; but I do object, most emphatically, to allowing a lot of brutal butchers to follow the wild fowl and other game birds from the British line to the Gulf of Mexico, killing all they can of them every day and shipping them to the market. This is the kind of market hunter that should be stopped.
A Philadelphia paper recently published an interview with a St. Louis game dealer, who says he employs a large number of professional hunters to meet the ducks and geese when they cross the Canadian boundary and follow them clear into Old Mexico, shipping the birds to this dealer day after day. A great deal of this shooting is done in States that have laws prohibiting the export of game beyond their limits; but these laws are evaded by this army of exterminators. The birds are packed into barrels and boxes, marked poultry, mutton, or some other false name, and smuggled out of these States in open violation of law. There are over 300 men on Currituck Sound, N.C, who make their entire living by shooting ducks for the market. I was down there in November last, and the steamer on which I came up carried 35 barrels and boxes of ducks and geese, all consigned to New York game dealers. On a certain day last year 17 barrels of ducks were shipped from Norfolk, Va., on one train, to New York game dealers. The men who do this slaughtering should be stopped by law. Nearly every one of the market hunters referred to here, use pump guns. Why? Because they can kill more birds with them than they can with double-barrel guns. Many of these men did use swivel guns, mounted on the bow of a boat, loaded with a handful of powder and a handful of large shot. Most of this class of slaughter has been broken up by legal methods; but some of these same hunters still use these guns clandestinely. I was told by men who live on Currituck Sound that men frequently go out at night, with these big swivel guns, with jacklights on their boats; that they scull up within 30 or 40 yards of a flock of ducks, geese or swans that are quietly resting for the night, and turn their murderous cannons loose on them, sometimes killing as high as 30 or 40 birds at a single shot. These are a few of the reasons why the pump gun should be prohibited by law, just as the swivel gun is now prohibited.
I appeal to the sportsmen of America in the name of sportsmanship, in the name of common decency, to take a stand against that infamous bird exterminator, the automatic shot gun. This gun is being sold at a price that places it within the reach of every market hunter and farmer’s boy in the United States. Its introduction simply means the extermination of our quails and ducks in a few years. How many quails would there be today if the quail net and the quail trap had not been legislated out of existence? Do you not know, can you not see, that this deadly automatic gun, in the hands of market hunters and farmer boys all over the United States, will prove even more of an exterminator than the quail net? You will admit the quails are scarce enough now. Do you think this deadly gun, firing 6 shots before the covey can get out of range, will make the birds more plentiful? Market hunters and game hogs may tell you they will kill no more birds with an automatic gun than with a double barrel. One market hunter said he used a pump and always picked out a bird on the outskirts of the covey, and, if he missed, kept on firing at that same bird. Another said that the majority of market hunters use double barrel guns in preference to pumps because they do not want to kill too many birds. Any man who has brains enough to commit the alphabet to memory knows such talk is rot. All market hunters and game hogs are built on the same lines. With this automatic gun such a man will fire 2 shots on the ground. He will take aim, pull the trigger twice instantly, and 4 more times before the covey is out of range. Five birds on the ground with the first 2 shots and 3 out of the covey with the next 4, total 8 out of a covey of 15, before the birds can get out of range! Suppose he only gets 3 on the ground and 2 on the rise; what do you think he will do to the others when they begin flushing under his feet, one or 2 at a time? What do you think will be left for you the next day when you look for this covey and other coveys which have had the misfortune to come within his range?
Sportsmen all over the country are crying for better game protection. “Shorten the open season”; “Prohibit the removal of game from the State”; “Make a limit of 20 birds to the gun for a day’s shoot”; “Prohibit the sale of game altogether”; “Feed the birds during the winter”; “Tax the gun”; “Tax the shooter.” These are topics constantly being discussed. In the face of all this are you going to stand idly by and see a gun introduced that will exterminate the quails and ducks so fast you will not need any game laws? This is not cheerful reading for the lovers of quail shooting, but they can console themselves with the market hunters’ statement that when the birds are gone there will always be plenty of clay birds. Consoling, isn’t it?
Here is one way of heading off the automatic gun. Let 2 or 3 prominent sportsmen in every town request their friends and associates to sign a notice, then present it to the more prominent dealers. If any sportsman should refuse to sign, make it clear to him that his presence is not desired at future trap events.
W.J., of Philadelphia, wrote:
To Dealers in Sportsmen’s Supplies: We, the undersigned, respectfully inform you that if the automatic shot gun is offered for sale in your establishment we shall feel obliged to withdraw our patronage.
I trust there are in every town a few high minded sportsmen who will take up this matter and serve these notices on their gun dealers. If any dealer should decline to accede to this appeal for the protection and preservation of our game, then never buy another dollar’s worth from him till he sends those automatic guns back to the factory. I further suggest that in case the Winchester Arms Company puts out such a gun, every true sportsman should decline to use any shells, ammunition or firearms made by this company. Any company that has no more regard for the preservation of our birds, or for the future pleasure of sportsmen than to introduce such a bird exterminator does not deserve the patronage of any sportsman. Such people are on a par with those who wanted to manufacture quail nets, and should receive the same treatment.
A few days ago I took one of these automatic guns out and shot it, just to see if it is as deadly as Recreation has pronounced it. I was simply amazed at the execution, the awful destruction that could be wrought with this machine. The quail net or the quail trap is a gentleman’s implement compared with it.
Edward H. Goodnough, of Allston, Massachusetts, wrote:
I read your article on automatic guns with deep interest and feel that every man, woman and child in the country should raise their voices in protest against the manufacture of such murderous weapons. Neither should any sportsman use the so called pump gun in pursuit of game, as slaughter is condemned by all men of sound reasoning.
When I think of the vast army of shooters with modern weapons, and the rapid depletion of the game supply, owing to lax laws or the non-enforcement of existing ones, I really long for the old muzzle loader to reappear, and with it the covers teeming with game as in olden days.
Let sportsmen use the pump gun at the trap if they so desire, but let us make every endeavor to prevent its use, both by law and public sentiment, when game is to be pursued. All can foresee the inevitable result as regards our game supply, unless such action be taken.
There is absolutely no reason for the existence of pump guns, and the placing of automatic guns on the market is nothing short of crime. Let us work for laws that will allow any officer to arrest all persons found with an automatic gun in their possession, or better still, laws to prevent the manufacture of such weapons.
Even the former course would stop this nefarious business. After public sentiment became thoroughly aroused the repeating gun would meet the same fate. There should also be laws preventing spring shooting everywhere, and shortening the open seasons in fully half the States in the Union.
Down with the automatic gun; down with the repeating gun; down with everything everywhere that does not savor of gentlemanly sport.
E. C. Farrington, Secretary, Maine Sportsmen’s Fish and Game Association of Augusta, Maine wrote:
I heartily approve your protest against the manufacture and use of automatic shot guns, and earnestly hope that every American naturalist and every lover of wild life will do likewise. I intend doing everything in my power to help secure the passage of laws to prevent the manufacture, sale and use of such engines of destruction as you have described. Automatic shot guns belong in the same class as the punt gun for ducks and dynamite for fishing.
This is no time to mince matters. People who are not in favor of the protection of the few wild creatures now remaining are, necessarily, against it! I believe in decent sport; but not in wholesale slaughter. The American people are not so hard up for something to eat that every hunter should need to annihilate every covey of birds that rises before him. Surely, every true sportsman and every person, young or old, who is interested in American birds, will be in sympathy with your warfare against automatic guns, and I hope the most of them will rally to your support.
I am glad you have entered a crusade against the manufacture and use of automatic shot guns for killing game. It cannot ‘be possible that any real sportsman will look with favor on this attempt to gain so great an advantage over the birds, which now are put to their extremities to avoid death at every turn. It seems too bad that men will be so unmindful, not to say cruel, in their efforts to slay these fast disappearing beauties of creation. It is bad enough that men kill as they do, but to add weapons that are so destructive, just for slaughter, is barbarous.
Our Legislature does not meet until 1905, but this matter will be brought before our association in January, and we will work actively to keep such guns out of this State at least.
John Sharp, State Fish and Game Commissioner, Salt Lake, Utah said that “I have read your editorial in Recreation against the use of automatic and magazine guns; also the draft of bill to be enacted against their use. I find here a strong sentiment among the better class of sportsmen against the use of these 2 murderous inventions, considering the condition of the game at the present day. Some of the duck-shooting clubs are beginning to taboo the use of these slaughter machines in hunting game, and I do not think there will be much opposition to the enactment of a law prohibiting their use.”
J.E. Bates, of Aldan, Pennsylvania wrote to “The Winchester Repeating Arms Co., Spokane, Washington:
Dear Sirs—I noticed recently a news item in one of our foremost progressive sportsmen’s magazines to the effect that you are about to begin the manufacture of an automatic shot gun. While it is not my purpose to attempt to dictate the future business policy of your firm, yet I protest against your taking chances of ruining the good reputation the Winchester Company has enjoyed these many years by putting on the market such a destructive weapon as this new shot gun promises to be. The game in the country is being killed off rapidly. Many States have prohibited the sale of game entirely, and other States will follow their example. I predict that if this new gun is put on the market there will be a whirlwind of disapproval among all true sportsmen and a quick and determined move toward legislation to prohibit its use. I have now 2 of your guns, a rifle and a shot gun; but if this new engine of destruction which you contemplate making is ever marketed you may count me in as fighting in every way possible against its sale and use.
T.H. Seavey, of Franklin, Ohio, wrote that “I am informed that you are about to manufacture and place on the market an automatic shot gun. If you will listen to one who has used Winchester goods for years, you will confer a favor on multitudes of sportsmen, who feel regarding the manufacture of the proposed death engine as I do. Such a weapon would only be sold to boys and men who are in reality pot hunters, who shoot at anything and everything that wears fur or feathers, and as long as it remains in sight, and who are not sportsmen. A true sportsman would not seek to reduce the number of our game birds or game. The scarcity of game today is due chiefly to the use of the repeating shot gun in the hands of indiscriminate persons. The production of an arm more rapid in its manipulation for hunting purposes would bring forth condemnation from thousands of true sportsmen who have made the Winchester company what it is today.”
C.H. Morningstar, Morgantown, West Virginia, wrote to Winchester Repeating Arms Co.: “Dear Sirs: The automatic gun, devised through greed, will rob all alike, the sportsman, the lover of nature and the farmer, who is benefited directly through the birds. It seems the chief delight of many people to destroy the most essential, the most useful of our birds. The flintlock, the muzzle loader, the breech loader, the repeater, have been used to depopulate our fields; and now comes a gun that will make destruction complete. In the cause of God’s creatures, appealing as one who loves them all, I entreat you not to place this deadly arm on the market.”
Bennett S. White, of Enid, Oklahoma, wrote: “You probably figure that by catering to market hunters, pot hunters and game hogs you could make a good interest on the money put into the special equipment required to manufacture the gun. Possibly this is true, but your action would certainly meet with the stern disapproval of every true sportsman in this and every other country. I assure you I would never use an automatic shot gun or associate with any person who would use one. In thus stating my position in the matter I know I express the sentiment of at least 50 sportsmen in this little city and of thousands of other sportsmen throughout the country whose names and addresses I could furnish. Hoping you will not see fit to add to the already too great effectiveness of game exterminating weapons, especially the shot gun.”
Dr. Joseph Kalbfus, Secretary of the Pennsylvania State Game Commission, in his annual report to the Board said under the heading “OFFICIAL CONDEMNATION OF THE AUTOMATIC AND PUMP GUNS”:
A law should be passed prohibiting the use of the pump gun, and of the automatic gun, recently introduced. Our law forbids the use of the swivel gun, which, in my opinion, is not to be compared for destructiveness with the guns above named, especially on the water, where there is no limit to the kill. These guns are also destructive in the field, for experience teaches that the great majority of men who carry pump guns continue to shoot at flying game long after there is any probability of killing it, frequently after even the possibility is passed. Thus many a bird and animal is seriously wounded; yet, because of distance, is not knocked down and is lost to the hunter. This is entirely wrong, and should be prevented by law.
Here is another from Madison Grant, Secretary of the New York Zoological Society, who wrote in the society’s official bulletin:
A new engine of great destructive power has appeared in the field to aid the forces at work in the extermination of our game. This time it is the birds that are to suffer. A shot gun which fires, ejects the dead shell and reloads in response to one pull of the trigger has been placed on the market. With it the skillful market hunter can wipe out an entire covey in the same number of seconds that are now required for the discharge of the right and left. It may be difficult to prevent by law the use of these new automatic shot guns, although swivels and large bore shot guns have been interdicted in duck shooting, and pitfalls and snares barred in the chase of large game. A public sentiment can be aroused, and decent sportsmen can declare against the use of these new weapons; but only the law can reach the pot hunters.
There is a crumb of comfort, however, in the fact that all these deadly devices in firearms bring rapidly closer the day when this State and all the other States will prohibit the use of lethal weapons, exactly as carrying of pistols, common throughout the country 50 years ago, has been stopped, with the entire approval of the public.
In less than a generation the day will have passed when the American can wander at large over the landscape slaying all living things at will. Then, perhaps, some remnant of our game may be allowed to live in peace.
Mr. Bennett, of the Winchester company, is busy trying to convince the public that my opposition to the automatic and pump guns is due to the fact that Mr. Bennett withdrew his ad from Recreation. Has he also withdrawn his ad from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and from the New York Zoological Society? If not why should these great institutions oppose the use of the slaughter machines?
as is evident by some of the writers, they were not only recommending that semi-automatics not be allowed for hunting purposes, but also the pump. Something Shields was for. Shields, as editor, wrote under the heading “KILL THE POT HUNTERS’ GUNS”:
The war against the automatic and pump guns goes bravely on. The best sportsmen are almost a unit in condemning these weapons and in seeking the enactment of laws to prohibit their use. There are a few good, clean sportsmen who yet believe the old pump gun is all right, but this number is growing smaller every day. I have letters from a number of such men, saying they are trying to sell their pump guns, and thus get out from under the prohibitory law before it comes. Others say they have hung these guns up on the hooks, and that they will remain there as curios, never again to be used in the field.
One of the most gratifying features of this campaign is the fact that the Audubon women in all the States have taken up the crusade and are bringing all possible influence to bear on their law makers, to induce them to enact our prohibitory measure.
The makers of the pump guns are busy too; but their efforts are directed mainly to the market hunters and other thoughtless game destroyers. The Winchester Company is sending out thousands of copies of a decision rendered by a country judge in California some years ago, in favor of the pump gun and against the good people who are trying to preserve the birds. There is no question that this decision will be reversed whenever a similar case is taken to any of the higher courts.
But some saw the fight to prohibit semi-automatics as futile. Here is how Field and Stream in their March 1904 issue saw it: “Pity ’tis, ’tis true; but such is life today; hurried, fevered, labor-saving, mechanical, destructive. We cannot set back the wheels of progress. It is useless to theorize in such matters. Sometimes we even think it is well-nigh useless to talk theoretically of protecting our game birds and fishes. Sometimes it seems necessary to let the bald necessity of the years confront us, and so teach us a delayed wisdom. We cannot order the motor launches off our lakes, we cannot abolish the repeating shotgun or the automatic shotgun when that shall have become a certainty. The complexity of sport, its expensiveness, its unsatisfactoriness, its inability to quiet the great human impulse for the pursuit of out-door life—all these things will go on, will increase yet more.”
The Auto 5, as it would be called here in the U.S., came about when FN and Browning signed a contract, which freed Browning from some of his contract restrictions, which allowed him the right to contract with a U.S. firearms manufacturer to manufacture, distribute, and sell the Auto 5 in the United States.
After returning to America from Belgium, Browning was unsuccessful in establishing a manufacturing and marketing concern on his own, Remington having had time from which to recover from Hartley’s death in 1902, burned up the telegraph wire to Browning asking him not to sell the American rights to his new gun. They wanted the rights. This situation put Browning in the driver’s seat. He met with Marcellus Hartley Dodge, grandson and successor to Marcellus Hartley. Young Dodge willingly accepted Browning’s proposal, and Remington Arms signed a contract with Browning on December 23, 1903, giving the Remington’s Arms Company the rights to manufacturing, distribution and selling right for his 12-gauge, five-shot, John M. Browning designed, auto-loading gun, with an anticipated production date being sometime in 1905. For all of this, Browning extracted an extremely favorable contract for the American rights from Remington.
Remington and Browning felt greatly relieved when the California attorney general on February 7, 1905 gave his opinion on the proposed Senate Bill No. 67:
. . . being for the protection of game and fish, I have examined the bill to ascertain if the legislature has the power to prohibit the use of what is known as the automatic shotgun. It has been held by the circuit court of the United States for the Northern district of California, in the case of Marshall, decided May 16, 1900, and reported in Vol. 102 of the Federal Reporter at page 323, that a prohibition was in conflict with the fourteenth amendment of the constitution of the United States in that it deprived a person of property without due process of law; also held that such an enactment was not a reasonable exercise of the police power. The law considered by the California court provided that every person who, in a certain county, shall use any kind of repeating shotgun, or any kind of a magazine shotgun for the purpose of killing wild duck, etc., shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. That law also limited the killing of game birds to twenty-five in one day. The court said that the law deprived the owner of the use of his property; also, that if the law should be extended it would deprive the manufacturer of the right to sell his manufactured guns; the court further said the object of the law being to limit the killing to twenty-five in any one day, it was only necessary to make the killing of more than twenty-five a public offense and punish the offender for a violation of the law; that under the law as it was the killing of one such bird with the magazine gun was misdemeanor, and therefore the enactment of the law was not a reasonable exercise of the police power. In view of the decision in the above case I am of the opinion that the legislature cannot prohibit the use of the automatic shotgun as proposed in Senate Bill 67.
Once production of the first successful autoloading shotgun in America was fabricated in Ilion, New York by Remington in 1905, Browning and his Browning Arms Company, founded in 1878, stopped importing the autoloader from FN. It was Marcellus Hartley Dodge that the Hartley empire was to rely upon in the years to come.
From Shields’ crusade against pumps and semi-automatics, he and his magazine suffered from loss of subscribers. He received correspondence from subscribers that were against his position. Here is an example of one of them: “I am going to stop buying your magazine because I do not approve of your stand regarding the automatic shot gun and rifle. I like the latest improvements always, and I think you are trying to hold back inventive geniuses.”
To which Shields responded: “Dynamite is one of the most important inventions of the 19th century, and has proved of great value to commerce in many ways; yet when a man uses it to fish with, we say he should be punished by law, and nearly all the States have laws prohibiting the use of dynamite in that way. I regard the man who would hunt game with an automatic gun in the same light as I regard the man who fishes for trout or black bass with dynamite. Many thousands of the best sportsmen in this country agree with me in this.”
With the loss of subscribers and advertisers, Shields had hoped to build up the advertising end of Recreation to cover the discrepancy between cost and selling price, without advancing the price of the magazine, but he was not able to do so. The firearm and ammunition enterprises threatened to drop their advertisement in his magazine if he didn’t stop his campaign. He fully acknowledged the right of these advertisers to withdraw their business from Recreation. Nevertheless, he decided that he would rather lose every ad he had than discontinue his fight “against these murderous elements.” So he lost the advertisement of the Winchester Arms Co., the U.M.C. Co., the Remington Arms Co., the Bridgeport Gun & Implement Co., the DuPont Powder Co., the Laflin & Rand Powder Co., and others, by reason of his crusade against the automatic and pump guns and against the market hunters or game hogs as he called them. In order to meet existing conditions, it was certain that he would soon be compelled to advance the price of Recreation to $2 a year and 20 cents a copy. He knew if he did so that he would lose more subscribers.
In the year that the New York Zoological Society decided to join the crusade against automatic shotguns, Shields left Recreation in 1905, when he and his magazine went into bankruptcy. The news made headlines across the country: “Notice is hereby given to the creditors of the above-named bankrupt, and to all other persons interested, that under an order made by Hon. George C. Holt, a Judge of this court, dated January 27th, 1905, I will sell at private sale, on written competitive bid all the right, title, and interest of George O. Shields in and to ‘Recreation,’ and all the right, title, and interest of George O. Shields in and to the Recreation Magazine, (Inc.), and also ‘Recreation’ with all its subscription lists, contracts, copyrights, and all other materials that go to and form a part of the said magazine, subject, however, to all outstanding contracts, subscriptions, advertising, &c., and I will sell all the office furniture and fixtures and all other assets of this estate at the former place of business of the bankrupt, to wit: 23 West 24th Street. Borough of Manhattan. New York City.”
Shields wrote about his problems:
Judge Holt, of the United States District Court, appointed January 5, 1905 Walter C. Low to be the receiver in bankruptcy for my assets. This crisis is not due to any improper management of my business, nor to any lack of attention, nor to any extravagance in my private or business affairs. It is purely the result of my work in the interest of game protection. Ever since the League of American Sportsmen was organized, I have been going into my own pocket to meet the demands of that organization for money to carry on its work. I have repeatedly appealed to the sportsmen and nature lovers for financial aid in this work, and have received some help in that way, but not 10 per cent of the amount that was needed.
Some one had to supply the deficiency or the work must stop, and so I have constantly drawn on my own resources. I have believed the friends of game protection would eventually rally to the support of the cause, but comparatively few of them have done so.
True, the League has a large membership, but the fee is only $1 a year, and 60 per cent, of that must go back to the States whence the memberships originate. The other 40 per cent, is not sufficient to pay postage on the printed matter it is necessary to send out each month. Then there are heavy printing bills, stenographers’ salaries, rewards for the conviction of law breakers, traveling expenses, lawyers’ fees, etc., all of which I have been paying. I have records showing personal payments of more than $15,000 on these accounts. Yet in the face of all this, I am forced into bankruptcy and was locked out of my office. And this is only a part of what game protection has cost me.
As stated in December’s Recreation, the magazine has never paid expenses throughout a year. I have done everything possible to build up the advertising end of the business and to extend the circulation sufficiently to put the property on a paying basis. I have lived as economically as a man could live and retain his self respect. I have denied myself every luxury and many of the necessities of life. For instance: No man loves music more than I do; yet I have not heard an opera in all these years. Neither have I heard a high-class concert except when invited by some friend. I have made but 2 hunting trips since Recreation was established, and those only when the doctor told me I must choose between the woods and the hospital.
Within the past few years I have had 2 opportunities to sell Recreation for $100,000 cash; and 3 times I have been offered $50,000 for a controlling interest in it. In each instance my answer has been substantially that I am not ready to sell Recreation. I have not yet accomplished the work I set out to do. Before parting with Recreation, I mean to complete the work of securing good game laws in all the States.
I mean to educate the sportsmen of this country to quit when they get enough. I want to build the membership of the L.A.S. to 100,000. If I can accomplish these things then I shall be ready to sell Recreation to some good friend for a few thousand dollars, barely enough to enable me to live in a cabin in the woods the remainder of my days.
Certain schemers have been hovering about my printer for 3 years, trying to buy his claim against me, and thus to get control of Recreation and force me out of it. He finally assigned a part of his claim to the man who petitioned to have me adjudicated a bankrupt. I have paid this same printer $225,000 in the years he has been printing Recreation, but that counts for nothing, now that I owe him a small fraction of that amount.
Since I was turned out of my office a number of men have had access to it, for one purpose or another, and it is possible that, in the course of this coming and going, a copy of my mailing list may have been carried away. This may have fallen into the hands of some outside party, and it is possible an offer may be made to my subscribers to fill out their subscriptions with some other periodical in this line.
(Part II of this story will soon follow.)