WING SHOTS VS BULL HUNTERS, MARKET HUNTING AT TULARE LAKE, CALIFORNIA, 1905
There were in 1905 then around Tulare a number of outfits hunting for the San Francisco market. They could be divided roughly into two classes: the “wing shots” and the “bull hunters.” The latter used a steer, in much the same manner as the British fowler used his stalking horse, using a steer as a moving blind and stepping in unison with him on his “off side” so as not to alarm the unsuspecting fowl. Armed with four-bore muzzleloaders, these bull hunters dumped half a pound of shot into a flock at one rise and often picked up more than the limit to both barrels. But limits did not much matter in Tulare to the bull hunters. One pair of bull hunters, hunting behind the same steer, boasted proudly of having picked up 204 sprigs as the result of four shots in 1905.
Big ducks were always plentiful around the lake, but in the year of 1905 they were exceptionally well represented. This was partly because the Buena Vista marsh southwest of Bakersfield was dry, due to the poor food conditions south of the Tehachepi, which caused the birds to return to the land of plenty after starving a week or so on the depleted fields in that end of the state. There was no attraction to keep ducks there, and they could not be blamed for betaking themselves to a place that offered all the comforts of home to waterfowl as Tulare Lake then did. The drowned wheat fields and plenty of freshwater created a heaven for webfeet.
The best way of making the trip was to take the train to Lemoore or Hanford, and engage a team for the long twenty-mile drive to Tulare Lake. If one knew the market hunters, accommodations could usually be arranged for, and the “wing shots” would be found good fellows, willing to treat a visitor “right,” and show him the modus operandi of the game, which differed somewhat from duck shooting in other parts of the state. The engaging of one of these keen-eyed chaps for a guide would prove a paying venture. Three days was the shortest practicable time, and a week was better for the journey.
The big wing shots were a different class. One of them was J. H. Carlisle, the veteran who always attended Los Angeles trap tournaments. Carlisle put in his winter’s shooting for the market and paid expenses by selling his birds. He hunted like a sportsman, and had his own camp established on dry ground near the lake.
Another wing shooter for the market was Guy Lovelace, a prominent Los Angeles sportsman and crack trap shooter who had a ranch at Hanford, stayed with Carlisle while shooting there. The wing shots around Tulare had blinds sunken in the shallow water at advantageous places—”cans” they called them.
For the wing shooters, the flight was a noon affair, caused by the much despised bull hunters, who began their operations about ten o’clock, starting the feeding sprigs off the drowned wheat fields where they resorted to gorge to their neck’s capacity. From eleven o’clock until two, the sport was as fast as any man could desire, and a good shot could easily kill a hundred birds an hour.
Sprigs, teal and spoonbills were the prevailing bird; the festive spoonie had a picnic at Tulare, and was generally passed up except by those who prowled along the ditches jumping ducks. The wing shots used big stands of decoys. Sentiment against the “bull hunters” ran high at times.
The wing shooters charged the “ground-sluicing element” with crippling hundreds of birds, and said that the lake was then literally dotted with wounded sprigs feebly crawling about through the weeds hunting a place to lay down their poor miserable little lives. The bull hunters were too busy hunting pot shots to pick up their cripples clean; that took more time than bombarding another flock. The “arm of the law” didn’t seem to be long enough to stop the indiscriminate violation of the limit. It would be several years before bull hunting came to an end in the San Joaquin Valley.