‘I never saw such clouds of ducks’

Past Times by Terry Jones

Although textbooks don’t mention it, about half of our 44 presidents have been avid outdoor enthusiasts.

George Washington enjoyed hunting and fishing on his Mount Vernon estate, and Chester A. Arthur once caught a record setting 50-pound salmon.

Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover loved trout fishing, Dwight Eisenhower enjoyed fishing and shooting in addition to golf, and Jimmy Carter and both Bushes like to fish.

At least two presidents were fortunate to hunt in Louisiana. Theodore Roosevelt’s 1907 outing in Madison Parish is well known, but 12 years earlier Grover Cleveland made national headlines when he duck hunted for two weeks at Orange Island (today Jefferson Island).

Cleveland was an avid duck hunter, wrote a book on fishing and shooting, and in 1895 accepted an invitation from Joseph Jefferson to hunt on his Orange Island estate. On Nov. 10, the New York Times reported on the President’s hunt in an article titled “Cleveland as Sportsman.”

President Cleveland is equally a devotee of the gun and the rod. Having unusual physical strength, he is able to handle with equal ease the 7-½ or 8-pound bird gun for snipe, partridge and quail, or the heavy 16-pound 8-bore, duck-gun affected by the Carroll Island Club, near Baltimore, where canvasbacks and redheads are thought to be the only birds worth the expense and trouble it costs to take them.

Being stronger, larger and younger than [former President Benjamin Harrison], he can endure far more fatigue and get wet oftener without danger to his health than can his immediate predecessor, though President Harrison is an excellent shot in the field at snipe and quail, and no mean performer with the heavy eight and ten bore duck gun.

President Cleveland first became known to the country generally, the lovers of the brown double-barrel and the brotherhood of crack shots, when he made a trip from Washington to Orange Island, in Southwest Louisiana, the estate of Joseph Jefferson, to enjoy a fortnight of as excellent waterfowl shooting as the United States affords.

“I never saw such clouds of ducks in my life as there were at Mr. Jefferson’s place in Louisiana,” the president said on his return from his visit there, “and the marshes adjoining were alive with snipe and small wading game birds of every kind.”

The president had as his boatmen and guides two of the native Creole duck shooters. These men know every bayou and stream along the coast, and in their light dugouts, called “pirogues,” they can go anywhere if there is six inches of water under them. They shoot 36- and 40-inch long 14 and 16-bore double guns, still using percussion caps and loading their guns with paper as wadding for powder and shot. . . .They are capital shots, and with their old-fashioned guns will kill more birds than any amateur will hope to get with the finest modern breech-loader. . . .

Mr. Cleveland is not fond of fine weapons in his hunting battery. He usually shoots American-built guns, his favorite being an $80 Colt’s, 12-bore; or, if ducks be the game he expects to find, he uses a 10-bore Parker of the hammer pattern. He sometimes uses a 12-bore Scott hammer gun of the $100 kind.

There are few better duck shots than the president. He usually loads with pretty heavy charges of powder; four and one-half drams of black in his cartridge for duck and an ounce and one-eighth of No. 1 shot on top of the powder he thinks is about the correct thing. He shoots with great deliberation, and usually lets a duck get well up and away before he puts up his gun.

At least this was what he did in Louisiana, for the birds being very abundant and not frightened with being much shot at, gave him plenty of time and all the leisure he wanted.

He stands fatigue well, too, coming up sturdily each evening with no sign of being tired, and notwithstanding the heavy charges he shoots, he has no sore shoulders next morning.

His sole preventive for this the bête noir [anathema] of persons who have not shot for some time, is a thorough bath, rubbing the “gun shoulder” – the right hard – and laving it completely in cold salted water. In this way, he escapes the usually “tender shoulder” that is the almost invariable concomitant of a 10-bore duck gun and its great charges of powder and shot. . . .

He never drinks spirits on these trips . . .“I sleep well, and come back to my work as hard as nails.”


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