EXCERPTS FROM LOUISIANA CHAPTER . . . . . Westward were Lac des Allemands and the bayous beyond to Vermilion and Cameron Parishes in the southwestern section of the state. Here, due to the lavish manner in which Mother Nature had sown such succulent marsh vegetation as rushes, sedges, grasses, wild celery and duck potatoes, waterfowl flying from the rigors of northern winters found an ideal resort, rich with natural foods, mild and equable of temperature – a virgin lowland without equal any place in the world. Not only ducks but geese frequented these two parishes. Cameron Parish was also the favorite resort of the brant. In the lakes and along the outer coastline, they were seldom disturbed, and for this reason they rested in almost perfect security.
Both parishes were better known in London than New York, and they were visited every winter by English sportsmen. One hundred snipe per day was not a big bag to make for a good shot. One man, a “Britisher,” was reported to have bagged 1,960 snipe in one day on the marshes of the adjoining parish of St. Mary in the 1870s. [Forest and Stream, April 25, 1878.]
The New Orleans Picayune called it “the greatest shooting exploit ever preformed in this country.” The newspaper reported: “On the Teche, snipe are abundant. A gentleman owing an estate there, so our authority affirms, is in the habit of shooting on the wing 300 snipe a day. Lately this sportsman in six days killed 1,960 snipe. Allowing six hours per day to hunt, this would give about a snipe every minute.”
That “gentleman” was James J. Pringle; he was not a market hunter but a “sportsman,” who shot for the fun of it and gave the birds away to his friends. His reason for shooting so many and his apologies for not killing more are interesting; he wrote: “The birds being such great migrants, and only in the country for a short time, I had no mercy on them and killed all I could, for a snipe once missed might never be seen again. I shot with only one gun at a time; had no loader, but loaded my gun myself; had I shot with two guns and had a loader I would, of course, have killed a great many more birds, but in those days and in those parts it was impossible to get a man that could be trusted to load.”
During 20 years (1867-1887) he shot, on his favorite hunting grounds in Louisiana, 69,087 snipe with a total of 71,859 of all game birds. Nevertheless, his shooting fell off during the next ten years, for he increased his grand total of snipe to only 78,602 and of all game birds to 82,101. His best day, undoubtedly a world’s record, was December 11, 1877, when he shot in six hours 366 snipe and eight other birds. On his best seven consecutive shooting days, alternate days in December, 1877, he shot 1,943 snipe and 25 other birds. During the winter of 1874-1875, he gunned 6,615 snipe. Some of the bags made in good seasons were enormous.
The New Orleans Picayune stated: “Conceding the mere ability of the person who shot all these snipe, still we doubt as to his possessing true sportsmanlike proclivities. Such wholesale slaughter we cannot mention with pleasure.”
Famous as an expert shot throughout the Southern country, it was said during his record days that he used two guns, one being insufficient, as, in rapid shooting, it became too hot to hold. A Negro carried the spare gun, others carried the ammunition, and still others retrieved the birds. A little figuring will show that this was pretty rapid work, and to the sportsman whose experience had been limited to snipe shooting in the North, it seemed to be in the realm of fairy tales.
Meanwhile, Northern snipe shooting was no standing of measurement for the shooting in the South. In favorable seasons in the latter, the shooter simply walked along on the feeding grounds and flushed and shot, sometimes as fast as he could load and fire. A dog was no service then except to retrieve. Still, it was a most uncertain sport, owing to the erratic habits of the birds, for a ground which swarmed with snipe one day might have none the next day.
During the 1870s and 1880s, Joseph Hayes Acklen was in the House of Representatives from Louisiana. His plantation was on the Bayou Teche, opposite the mouth of the Red River. It was a wonderful country for game birds and waterfowl. Snipes, woodcock, quails, ducks, geese and big game were in abundance. It was often stated that there was no finer snipe shooting in the world than in west Feliciana Parish. In 1875, Acklen kept a record of his shootings. On March 17 of that year, he bagged 302 snipes, and on the day following, 241, making a total for two days of 543 snipes killed by a single gun. Regarding his marksmanship, he possessed two gold medals won in championship pigeon matches. One medal bore the inscription: “J.H. Acklen, Champion Pigeon Shot of the South.” The other medal read: “Champion Pigeon Shot of Louisiana.” Both medals were earned in New Orleans.
Acklen’s snipe gun was a 12-gauge Purdy, which weighed eight and one-half pounds and was christened his “snipe gun.” An invention of Acklen’s was attached to this, and to all of his guns. It consisted of two small steel projections from each side of the standing bridge, so that the barrels when snapped down ready for firing fit closely on each side between these projections. The design of the invention was to prevent lateral action; as from continuous firing of one barrel, the tendency of the shock was to force the barrels to one side. His duck and pigeon gun weighed eleven and one-half pounds. The breech was provided with four sets of barrels, and it really answered the purpose of four distinct guns. Two sets of barrels were 12-gauge, built to consume six drachms of powder. Two sets of barrels were 10-gauge, in which the customary charge was seven to eight drachms of powder. The barrels were choked to suit all distances at the trap. One set of barrels was full-choked; on another set the left barrel was full choked, and the right barrel was a modified choke; on another set the left barrel was modified and the right barrel “smooth”; and the fourth set was “smooth and bell-mouth muzzles.” He also owned a double-rifle built by Purdy for large game. In addition, he owned an 8-gauge ducking gun and two dueling pistols. Acklen’s six arms, bought from Purdy, cost him $3500. . . . .
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