From its earliest days of human habitation, the Texas coast was home to seemingly endless clouds of ducks, geese, swans, and shorebirds.
By the 1880s Texas huntsmen, or market hunters, as they came to be called, began providing meat and plumage for the restaurant tables and millinery salons of a rapidly growing nation. A network of suppliers, packers, distribution centers, and shipping hubs efficiently handled their immense harvest.
At the peak of Texas market hunting in the late 1890s, Rockport merchants shipped an average of 600 ducks a day in a five-month shooting season, and in the last year of legal market hunting, an estimated 60,000 ducks and geese were shipped from Corpus Christi alone.
Market men employed efficient methods to harvest nature’s bounty. They commonly hunted at night, often using bait to concentrate large numbers of waterfowl. The effectiveness of the hunt was improved when side-by-side double barrel shotguns and large-gauge swivel guns gave way to repeating firearms, with some capable of discharging as many as eleven shells in a single volley.
Their methods were so efficient that, by the late 1800s, Texas sportsmen and others blamed the alarming decline of coastal waterfowl populations on the market hunter’s occupation. In 1903, after a long fight and many failures, the first migratory bird game law passed the Texas legislature. Though the fight would continue, it was the beginning of the end of the year-round slaughter. Most market hunters quit, and those who didn’t became outlaws.
In this book, R. K. Sawyer chronicles the days of market hunting along the Texas coast and the showdown between the early game wardens and those who persisted in commercial waterfowl hunting. Containing an abundance of rare historical photographs and oral history, Texas Market Hunting: Stories of Waterfowl, Game Laws, and Outlaws provides a comprehensive and colorful account of this bygone period.
About the Author
R. K. SAWYER is a petroleum geologist based in Houston and a manager at the Thunderbird Hunting Club in Matagorda County, Texas. He is also the author of A Hundred Years of Texas Waterfowl Hunting: The Decoys, Guides, Clubs, and Places, 1870s to 1970s.
“Even though market hunting has been illegal for quite some time, and appropriately so, it remains nostalgic and perhaps somewhat romantic for many waterfowl hunters. Sawyer’s work takes us back to that time and provides us a glimpse of an era of abundant waterfowl and vast marshes and estuaries. Market hunting has been covered for some other areas but not for Texas; this treatise fills that void. Learning of this history may cause us to wish to hunt these areas today as a connection to our past, and that would be a great adventure.”—Michael E. Berger, retired wildlife division director, Texas Parks and Wildlife
— Michael E. Berger
“This book does a thorough job of capturing an era in Texas that no one wants to talk about. This book will make a significant contribution to the understanding of when and why wildlife conservation became important in the hearts and minds of Texas sportsmen.”—Fred C. Bryant, director, Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University in Kingsville
— Fred C. Bryant
“The stories in this book have been told for years over breakfast buffets in small Texas towns, but never so vividly or accurately. They document without prejudice a fascinating subculture that operated legally and otherwise for so long as the resources allowed and until enforcement gained the upper hand. As an avid Texas waterfowl hunter and former guide, turning these pages comes as naturally as tossing decoys or whistling to incoming pintails.”--Doug Pike, host, The Doug Pike Show
— Doug Pike
"Author Rob Sawyer deftly, deeply, and with an understanding borne of a lifelong love of waterfowling, wildlife, wetlands and history, chronicles what arguable was one of the most economically important, alternately fascinating and disturbing, and least recounted industries in the state's history. The... book... is a in-depth look at the history of commercial harvest and sale of wildlife, particularly waterfowl, in Texas, [and] takes the reader on a journey... Sawyer balances the potentially dry recounting of how the market hunting business worked the influences of railroads and the development of ice-making machinery and other technology with insightful, witty, and well-rounded accounts of the people involved in the business. And he wonderfully describes the abundance and variety of the wild fowl on which the industry preyed. He also ably paints the dark picture the incredible toll market hunting took on Texas' wild fowl... Sawyer gives readers an excellent trip through the years. He did that. And more." --Shannon Tompkins — Shannon Tompkins