Down East 2013 ©
“The year 1805 will long be remembered on account of the advent of the wolves from Canada to the State of Maine and other parts of New England. They came in droves, and their howling was a terror to everyone.”
This important event may not be remembered these days, but it won’t be forgotten either, thanks to a valuable new book, Early Maine Wildlife, by William Krohne and Christopher Hoving, published in 2010 by the University of Maine Press.
Drawing from old magazines, journals, and government reports, Krohne and Hoving compiled fascinating accounts about Canada lynx, moose, mountain lions, white-tailed deer, wolverines, wolves, and woodland caribou in the period from 1603 to 1930. Most of the references fall between 1830 and 1930, a period rich with sportsmen’s publications and journals.
As we debate the worthiness of the federal endangered species listing of Canadian lynx, perhaps it’s worth exploring the history of lynx in Maine. Manley Hardy offered this report in 1897.
“Lynx were so abundant that several hundred skins were sold in this market every year till about the last of the war, when in a short time all had left, so that not a single skin was offered for several years. Then they returned in such numbers that within a few years I was buying some 200 yearly.”
Working on a plan to rebuild Maine’s depleted deer herd in the north country, the following 1898 report about Jonathan Darling gave me pause: “In my lifetime I have killed over a thousand deer with the use of dogs, besides killing several hundred by stillhunting.”
While the suggestion that deer could be transported from Maine’s islands, where there are too many, to Washington County where they are needed, is quickly dismissed these days by deer biologists, this report might re-ignite this debate: “The Portland Railroad Company has received a caribou and three deer from eastern Maine, for the zoo at Riverton park (in Portland). The animals were crated and shipped express over the Bangor & Aroostook, and transferred at Bangor to the Maine Central express car and thence brought to Portland. The caribou and the two deer stood the journey well and are now at the park.” The third deer died shortly after arriving in Portland.
Maine once had caribou in abundance, as reported by W.T. Ashby in 1912. “Let me say that I was born in the woods of north Aroostook, and was fed Caribou meat in my youthful days… and once had a wild ride on the back of a wild caribou. Twenty years ago the woods were swarming with them but they vanished in a night and were seen no more… Some of those wise city hunters tell us they were hunted down and exterminated like the buffalo on the western plains and this story took so well with the Maine legislature that, after caribou had migrated, laws were passed for their protection.”
Alas, yet another example of legislative action too little too late.
Moose were most plentiful in the early days according to this account by J.G. Rich: “The settlers of the wild regions depended on moose meat to supply solid food for their families. In the Rangeley lake country especially was moose the prominent large game of the forest.”
Rich also offers a shocking account of the commercial harvest of deer at that time. “Deer were reported plentiful in the eastern part of the State, especially in Penobscot county, and hundreds of them were sent to the Boston market. I once saw a large storehouse in Boston packed solid full of deer carcasses.”
The book includes a gallery profiling the books, magazines, reports and authors utilized by the Krohne and Hoving, and another offering natural histories of the animals.
This book is worth the price just for the amazing caribou hunting story on page 259. And T.A. Crabtrees’ account of being attacked by wolves on page 296 is hair-raising.
Not everyone was enamored of the Maine hunting experience in the old days. F.H. Risteen expressed his disgust this way in Forest and Stream magazine in 1898: “The commercial spirit is everywhere, and it only needs to locate brass bands, Negro minstrel troupes and merry-go-rounds at all the principal camps in order to make the thing complete. When I want to go to the woods I want to go into the woods – not into a country where people with guns are crouched behind every stump, and where the presence of other hunting or fishing parties is continually in evidence.”
At that time, about 10,000 hunters took to the woods of Maine each year. I wonder how Mr. Risteen would feel today, sharing the woods with twenty times that many hunters?
This book is something to savor and reread every hunting season, as well as a valuable contribution to our understanding of wildlife in Maine.