Ducks!

December 24, 2017

 

 

Originally published in Cape Cod Chronicle December 2017

 

Surprisingly, the first tourist business to arrive in Orleans was not beach-goers or other people arriving in the summer looking for sun and ocean. It was this time of year that the town swelled with outsiders- for duck hunting season (completely unrelated to that other successful Orleans business of the time, Mayo’s Duck farm). From 1850-1900, local men had made a living as market gunners, hunting for the purpose of selling. They were annually shipping thousands of barrels of ducks to restaurants on East Coast. This ended in 1918 when the Federal migratory bird act ended wholesale gunning of game birds by outlawing their sale and the Orleans hunting industry had to shift its focus to sport hunting and the men of Orleans started businesses outfitting and guiding the wealthy Bostonians and others.

 

The duck camps of Orleans were in the marshes off  Nauset beach and around Pochet Islands. At the edge of Pochet Island was one called Stinking Hummock- perhaps not the most appealing name for a place to stay although it’s not known if the name came from the environs or the guests who had no showers. They were normally very small cabins, almost shacks. Some were operated as a business for tourists, some who came every year. At the Historical Society we have a series of logbooks from a group of men who chronicled their annual hunting trip with daily notes of the weather, catch, and punctuated by other notable events such as the shipwreck Montclair. These forty years of diaries reflect the unchanging yet meditative nature of sitting in duck blinds waiting.

 

An area in Nauset March was called Goose Hummock and in the 1930s Willis Gould and Alfred Nickerson spent $105 to build a hunting stand which they named “Goose Hummock Camp.” Alfred died young and eventually the camp was washed away during a storm, but its name was immortalized in 1946 when Willis, his son Bill, and friend Sarge Sargent named their new sporting store after the spot.

 

 

The most famous duck camp in town was Black Duck Camp, run by Fred Higgins. Fred was nicknamed “One-Armed Fred” after he accidentally shot his elbow at age 15 and had to have his arm amputated-- the surgery was performed in the doctor’s kitchen.

 

Undeterred, “One-arm Fred” made his living hunting game birds for market and later as a local guide for urban sport hunters. He was known as the best shot around. Gunners came to Orleans for shore birds such as Eskimo Curlew, Yellow Legs, ducks and geese. Fred ran two camps for gunners on the outer beach, reached by boat or horse and wagon. Famous for his abilities, Fred could imitate the calls of many birds and had dead eye accuracy shooting. Led by sure instinct and lifetime experience, he knew wildlife and loved it. Prominent names such as Babe Ruth and Ted Williams hired him for his legendary hunting skills.

 

Fred died in 1959 after he fell through the ice on Shoal Pond, out guiding a group of ice fishermen. To some his oneness with sea and marsh bird and gun symbolize the carefree days of hunting that have gone from the Cape forever.

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