Poaching was a way of life in the U.P. Deer, rabbits, Partridge, fish, all were fair game to put food on the table or salt down, pickle or preserve in one way or the other. They used to take apart old ball bearings and use the balls in homemade slingshots ‘cause a shotgun shell was a nickel and way too much money to use on a partridge.
They had a hunting camp and on one occasion after a freezing rain a brother came back to camp. He stood his rifle in the corner and told everyone to be careful. He had tried to shoot at a deer but the rain had frozen inside the gun and when he squeezed the trigger nothing happened. Sure enough, about ten minutes later the gun thawed out and blew a nice hole in the roof of the cabin.
Every year when the salmon would run up the river to spawn they would go down to the spot where the road crossed the river-before bridges. At this ford several men would wait for a school of fish to come with potato forks. In case you city folk don’t know what a potato fork is, it’s a wide multi tined pitchfork designed to pick up potatoes after they are dug, leaving the dirt behind.
Well, when the guys downstream would spot a school heading upstream they would yell to another guy farther upstream, “Here they come”. Working in and around the mines, there was always a ready supply of dynamite. According to Dad, sixty five percent nitro glycerin dynamite would burn when lit with a carbide light but would not explode. When they figured the fish were in about the right place the guy upstream would light a half stick of dynamite and throw it in the water. As soon as it was enveloped by the water it would explode with a small “putch”. The stunned fish would turn belly up and float down to the waiting brigade of potato fork wielding men who pitched the fish on the bank. They would be filleted and either dried or put down in salt. It wasn’t until I was eight years old that Dad finally relented and tried fresh salmon. But that’s another story.
Years later, one of Dad’s customers, The Weatherhead Company, had a hunting camp in the U.P. They would fly customers and valued suppliers like Earl to hunt at a very large and quite nice camp. Dad never slept much and was always up early. He had breakfast, selected his rifle and plenty of ammunition before the rest arose. After breakfast the rest of the hunters selected their rifles and began stuffing their pockets with ammunition.
Dad made it a point to ask what the limit was on deer that year. He was told, “One”. Then he said, “Why are you taking so much ammunition when you’re only allowed one deer”? He then very ceremoniously selected one bullet, put it in his pocket and said, “This is all I need”. Well, he got a great deal of ribbing about being “One shot Brinkman”. The woods were divided into one mile squares by fire trails and everyone was dropped off at pre-selected spots. Dad was in the woods only a few minutes when a big buck ran right up to him. He shot it and looked to his left where stood another buck which he also shot. Hearing a noise over his shoulder he turned to see another buck which quickly became the third to drop. In a few minutes several of the other hunters came up and said, “One shot Brinkman, one shot Brinkman” where’s all the deer?”. Whereupon Dad said, “There’s one there, one there and one over there.” What luck! Of course he always said, “No luck involved!”
One time Dad and one of the brothers were hunting Geese on the shore of Lake Superior. It was what they called a “Blue Bird Day”, bright, warm and sunny. Lousy for hunting. Having hiked a long way in the middle of the night to get to where they were going to hunt, they were a little tired. The weather and lack of game resulted in a little nap. When they awoke, low and behold there was a small flock of geese floating right in front of them. There was also a strong smell of alcohol. This must have been in the days when they were running hooch over from Canada to avoid the whisky taxes, but long before prohibition.
Well the boys prepared to shoot their limit and then some, but when they jumped up, the geese, normally very wary birds, didn’t move. They were all asleep, drunk on the fumes from a broken barrel of booze that had washed up on the shore. Well, according to Dad, he and his brother waded out into the water and grabbed six of the drunken geese and tied them to their belts by their feet, expecting to take them home to Grandma so she could raise wild geese. They started the long walk home when all of a sudden the geese sobered up, started flapping their wings wildly and lifted Dad and his brother right off the ground. As luck would have it the wind was blowing in the right direction and these geese brought the boys to within half a mile of home before they got tired and landed. I only heard him tell this tall tale once, but I never forgot it.
More Hunting and fishing
Dad had many friends in Rochester most of whom were outdoorsmen who hunted or fished or shot skeet or most likely all of the above. Much like the story of dynamiting salmon in the U.P. this next one uses even simpler tools, no explosives and only a little ingenuity.
In the spring in western New York there is usually rain and snow melt runoff that swells the creeks above their banks and into the surrounding fields. Along East Lake road in Conesus there was an area where the field flooded and ran across the road. This was before the road was paved and the road in the spring was no more than two ruts. Big Northern Pike and Walleyed Pike would come up the stream and into the field to spawn. The boys would station someone at the road and the rest would walk the field working their way towards the crossing. When the fish took off to get back to the lake, they would see the men standing in the stream and turn up the flooded ruts in the road. The men only had to walk behind the fish until they ran out of water, pick them up and put them in a burlap bag. “Fish dinner tonight”.