By Terry Jones
By the turn of the 20th century, Louisiana’s waterfowl and game animals were in trouble. Non-stop hunting by people trying to put meat on the table and market hunters supplying venison, ducks, as well as geese to restaurants and deer hides to leather clothiers was pushing some animals to the brink of extinction.
For example, biologists estimate that Louisiana’s deer population dropped from several hundred thousand in 1,700 to an estimated 70,000 animals by the early 1900’s. In some areas, deer disappeared completely.
In 1912, the Louisiana Legislature created the Conservation Commission and tasked it with managing all of the state’s natural resources, including minerals, forestry, fish and game. The Commission adopted its first game laws that year, and it is interesting to compare them with today’s regulations.
For the first time, Louisiana’s fish and game were declared to be the property of the State and were not subject to private ownership unless certain laws were followed. The Commission also had to approve the release of any game birds (such as pheasants), and the sale of game fish and most game birds and quadrupeds (including deer) was prohibited.
In most places, waterfowl hunting ran from one hour before sunrise to noon, but the Commission had the authority to approve “passe shooting” in specific areas from one-half hour before sunset to one-half hour after sunset. If any parish police jury objected to the latter, the Commission could withdraw the passe shooting permission for that parish.
All other game birds could be hunted from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset but “only from a gun fired from the shoulder without rest.” This provision was aimed at market hunters, who often used heavy, large bore guns to wipe out entire flocks of ducks and geese.
The dove and wood duck season was set for September 2 to the end of February; geese and other species of ducks from October 2 to February 29; turkeys (gobblers only) and quail from November 16 to March 31; teal, snipe, and sandpipers from September 16 to March 31; Florida ducks, commonly known as black mallards, from August 2 to February 29; papaboote (Mexican sand plover) from July 2 to March 31; and woodcocks from November 16 to January 31.
The Commission announced that beginning in 1915 there would even be a season for prairie chickens, kildee, pheasants, and turkey hens that would run from November 1 to December 31.
Like today, night hunting was prohibited, but bag limits were more liberal. The daily limit was one turkey gobbler; twenty-five ducks, poules d’eau, Mexican sand plovers, or doves; fifty snipe; and fifteen of any other game bird. Licensed professional hunters could shoot fifty ducks or poules d’eau per day.
It was also legal to sell ducks, poules d’eau, snipe, geese, brant, and rail from the opening day of hunting season until the end of February. The sell of quail, however, was prohibited, which prompted one newspaper to inform its readers, “The man who likes his quail hereafter must get his dog and gun and go out and get them himself, as they can no longer be had at the restaurants and stands.”
Hunters enjoyed an exceptionally long five-month deer season with a five deer bag limit. The season had to include the months of November and December, but the Commission had the authority to adjust the season to meet the needs of the individual parishes.
Squirrel season ran from July 2 to the end of February with a daily limit of ten. Mink, otters, muskrats, and raccoons could be hunted, bought, and sold from November 1 to February 1, and muskrats could be killed any time they were found within two miles of a levee. All of these animals could also be taken any time they were found to be depredating private land.
Hunting licenses were not a financial burden. Louisiana residents who hunted on their own property or land within the ward in which they lived paid no fee. Hunting elsewhere within one’s home parish required a fifty cents license. A state-wide hunting license cost $3.00, and nonresidents paid $15. A professional market hunting license ran $10.
Violation of individual hunting laws was not broken down,but penalties were to be no less than $25 nor more than $100 or imprisonment for 30 days or both, at the descretion of the court.