Written in 1965 - (Grandma Hazel added this: Dad wrote these pages in his last years after he had to move out of the haybarn office and into an office on 2nd St. across from the grocery. Did a little realty.)
I want to tell you some of my experiences with wild life. I am near 84 years old. Have had a world of experience in Ohio wild life. I was raised by my grandfather and grandmother (Alspach). They took me to raise when I was 18 months old. I was born December 18, 1881. I had a twin brother. He stayed with my folk.
When I was 9 or 10 years old, grandfather and I would shoot at a mark with a cap and ball rifle. We used a patch of paper with a tack in the middle. These old rifles weighed about 10 pounds. I would take a rest on a chair and soon was able to drive the tack.
Quite often we cast our own bullets. We shot into a plank and then I would dig out the spent bullets and mold them over. To load one of these old rifles, we used a patch of cloth about one inch square greased with tallow. Laid the patch on the muzzle of the rifle with the bullet on top and shoved it down the barrel of the rifle with a hickory ramrod. The powder was put down the rifle barrel. First, a charge of rifle powder, used about 1/2 teaspoon full measured out of the powder horn.
We had several cherry trees in the yard and when the cherries were ripe, grandfather and I would shoot robins and redheaded woodpeckers. At that time, redheaded woodpeckers were on most every old dead snag of tree. Today you very seldom see one.
We had lots of cleared land. Usually a lot of big oak stumps. Most every stump had a chipmunk on tap ready to dig up the corn. I used the cap and ball rifle, rested on a stump. I soon became very good on the chipmunks. They made a fine target. The only trouble it took so long to load.
I started hunting raccoons with an old shepard dog when I was about 12 years old. We had an old army rifle rebored to take shot. I still have that old musket. Of course, I now have several modern guns, but I often think of the old times with this old musket. To load, I would pour the powder out in my hand. I would think about 3 drams and shove it down with a piece of Sears Roebuck Catalogue and an iron ramrod. Then shot on top with more paper on the shot. I have actually shot quail on the wing with this gun. I would think this gun would be about 16 calibur.
In the army they used bullets with some kind of paper pasted to the bullet. A soldier had to have good teeth. He was required to bite the end of this paper and then it was shoved down the rifle with the iron ramrod. A brass cap was used in the (Firptib - can't figure this word out) resembled a small brass hat.
My raccoon hunting experience started. I would get up about 2 a.m. in the morning and if the old dog treed a raccoon and I thought he was on the outside of the tree I used to stay till day light and shoot it out. This dog would stay at the tree all night if necessary. Sometimes I would go home and go back to the tree in daylight and the dog was always there. This dog helped me get 16 raccoons the year he was 16 years old. I had a lot of experience raising different wild life.
At one time, I was the largest breeder of raccoons in the world. I developed the pure strain of black raccoons. I did this by cross breeding and careful selection of breeding stock. I had several different colors of raccoons. Black, red, and white. Also had a lot of common grey.
Raccoons, in my way of thinking, are the smartest animal living. They are very clean and will keep their nest clean. If given a chance, they will use only one corner of their pen for droppings. You will hear people say raccoons wash all their food. They seem to like to drag it to water if possible but will eat if water is not handy.
You often hear people speak of old as a raccoon. Age of the oldest one I had a record of is one that I raised. He was 22 years old when I sold him and I know the man I sold him to had him 3 or 4 years and then I lost count.
We had a mother cat that always raised a litter each year of little raccoons. We would take a kitten, rub a little raccoon on it and take the kitten away. She really took good care of them. In fact, a coon will raise most anything - rabbits, squirrels, and even chickens.
Raccoons have a language of their own. I never learned to talk it but have seen it demonstrated a lot of times. I have seen a mother with young out in the yard. A stranger or a strange dog would be in the place I could not see and the mother raccoon would take the young to the box and put them in and they would stay until she would signal to come out.
Raccoons will eat most anything a dog or cat will eat. We raised better litters when we fed a quality meat diet.
You will hear of raccoons that will weigh 50 or 60 pounds. My largest I bought in South Dakota. She weighed 30 pounds. I raised a litter for her from 5 to 8. If I had had the time, I could have developed a real raccoon from this female. She had long legs and could run like a fox. The largest long raccoon I ever saw was raised by a man in northern Ohio.
I used to buy all the grey raccoons I could find. I sold them to different game districts in Pennsylvania. (no ketrel?) was a good customer. One day I had 2 boys from Michigan come in. They had 50 wild caught raccoons in 2 Bu cotton gin sacks. They were piled in the back of a Model A Ford. I paid , I think, $10 each for them. I sold them to Pennsylvania starting the Raccoon Hunters Association. Was the one that started the increase of raccoons.
I can remember when 18 to 20 was a good season catch. A few years back I had as many as 200 long (tckee?) raccoon. As a rule, they are very healthy when fed with much corn. They will get a disease. We called it yellow disease. Their fat would be a real yellow.
Raccoons have worms the same as dogs. We (maybe inoculated) a raccoon for round worms and also tape worms.
The biggest market for black raccoons was Europe, mostly Germany. I had an order for 3 pairs that came on the Graf Zepplin. The balloon flew here from Germany. I cannot tell you the exact date without looking it up.
jdw note: This part is from three odd pages. Some of it is the same as above but some is different so I am putting it in.
Powder and shot was usually measured in the palm of hand. Sears Roebuck Catalogs were used for wadding. It was also a favorite in the outdoor toilet.
My brother took this gun and watched squirrels. One day he told me he shot at a squirrel and when trying to load the old gun, he was watching the squirrels and pored the powder down the barrel and when he rammed the paper wadding down, the ramrod stuck out about a foot. He was afraid to shoot it and when he came home, we wired it to the picket fence using a long string to pull the trigger. It sounded like a cannon and the pickets really flew.
I had at one time in a log cabin right next to a small woods there was a big elm tree close. Always raised a litter of squirrels. I would watch when the young came down. I would run and try to beat them back to the den sometimes. I would get one for a pet. They made nice pets.
I shot many a squirrel out of the upstairs window.
We have some game laws. Squirrel law came in in September.
Squirrels have two litters a year. First in February - March and second litter September and early October. This latter litter is usually in leaf nests. Fellows will go through the woods shooting in every nest they can see.
A few years ago, my nephew, Malcolm Russell (about 14 years old), shot a squirrel. He could see she was nursing. He climbed the tree and got 7 little squirrels without the eyes open. He took them home. His father has a gas station and junk yard. Malcolm's sister Penny helped him feed them with an eye dropper. They were penned up and they grew very fast and finally heard the call of the wild. It seems this family likes all animals.
A few years later, I was out to a farmers house. He was hauling manure out of a shed. He uncovered an old skunk and 6 young ones. He shot the old skunk. I got an old bucket and brought the little skunks in to Malcolm and Penny took over. They had the run of the place. They would be out on the sidewalk and strangers would cross the street. In early fall, two took to the wild. Finally, they all left.
My nephew, Zeb Russell lives right in town and has the junk yard and filling station. It has a log building. At one time it was a hotel. Now mostly houses antiques.
This building for several years has had a litter of raccoons raised in it located on Main Street. One little raccoon draped himself from above. Penny gathered him up. It grew very fast. It was very tame but Penny was the only one to pick him up. It was only a block from uptown. He (the raccoon) would go up town to restaurants and filling station. He mooched candy and ice cream. I noticed him go down an alley one evening. There was a garbage can and a big dog was licking it. The raccoon went on down and the dog left finally. He (the raccoon) ventured out on the street and got hit by an auto. That did not hurt him much, but it wasn't long until he ventured out on the railroad tracks and that really fixed him.
The reason I quit raising raccoons was when the depression came on you could not get rid of them. I never did anything I liked better than raising wild animals.
I would like to tell about our early game laws.
I have obeyed the game laws since it started. I don't know the exact year, but squirrel laws first came in on July the 4th. I still think that was right.
We would find a wheat field in shock along a woods with a rail fence for that was about all the fence we had. You usually could shoot squirrels as fast as the muzzle loaders could be loaded.
About 40 years ago, quail was first on the song bird list by the Federal Government. The last time I shot quail, I walked 2 miles out of town to my father-in-laws farm and I shot 18 on going both ways. I doubt today that there are that many in our township.
For the first 3 or 4 years, quail increased quite a lot, then started backwards and never came back. No one can give you the cause, but I have observed several nests that were hatched a single egg.
It is quite amusing to see a nest just hatching. The little quail will run with the shell sticking to them.
Often we would mow over a nest and if we did not break the eggs we would stand hay up about the nest. The old bird would go back and take away. But if you put your hand on the eggs that was finish.
I notice now we have a law on chicken hawks and I wouldn't be surprised if they someday put the fox on the song bird list.
Several years ago, I was rabbit hunting in a thicket. All at once there came a quail flying through the brush and a hawk right after it. I stopped his desire for quail.
I have shot my share of game. Some people bird watch. I like to watch squirrels. About 3 years ago, I was watching a nest of 5 fox squirrels playing around a leaf nest. All at once, down came a hawk. Came very close in getting one. The next day, mother moved them to a den tree.
When I was a kid, my aunt had a small farm with a piece of timber across the road. The hawks were raiding the chickens so much that she said she would give me an old hen for every hawk I killed. There was a big oak out in a little cleared place with dead top. Hawks would sit on the tree and watch for chickens. I got a couple of dead chickens and placed them about 3 or 4 hundred feet from this oak tree. I caught so many hawks that I had a nice bunch of old hens.
I haven't forgot all my early training with rifle and shot gun. Four years ago, I killed 17 grey squirrels and 2 red and shot all through the head. Missed one shot. I have a 52 Winchester with 5 (B____ L____ brand name?) scope. Of course, I did most of this shooting with a rest.
I have shot clay targets with the best shots in USA. 15 years ago I did not have much trouble breaking 100 straight targets. I also had a straight run of 390 without a miss. A lot of this I attribute to my early gun training.
I would now much rather see game than to shoot it. I have 2 rabbits that have been coming to my back yard for feed. For several years, my wife and I often on a moonlight night set and watched them. I enjoyed that more than picking up the shot gun and killing one of these.
Last season, I had as many as 16 doves feeding in my back yard. Only a few this winter. I expect the others have gone south and probably not be back.
About two years ago a man living here in town, in the night, would hear a brick fall on his roof. He hired a man to go up and see what was the cause. The chimney had an offset in it and Mr. Coon had a good warm place to sleep.
A cemetary had an old store in one of the sheds. A female raccoon had a litter in this store.
Some farmers will shoot any raccoon they see. I know of one farmer that had 25 young and two old raccoons killed in the hay mow.
Most people don't know a raccoon will raise two litters. This usually happens when she loses the first litter early. I have, a good many times when I was hunting, refused to kill a bunch of half grown raccoon, even if in season.
In 1915 - 1916, I raised skunk. Had 150 at a time. The way I happened to get into that job. Fur raising was just getting started. I had a man in Nova Scotia wanting to buy skunks.
I had a young man that worked for me. He would go out in early fall, about August and September. Skunks would be in the old meadow fields after mice and bugs and grasshoppers. I had a female hound She would round these up and would not touch one. She got her lesson early in life. After she rounded them up, she would run around them and bark. I would step in with a lantern or flashlight, pick the skunk up by the tail. My pardner would hold a 2 bu gunny sack and I would drop the skunk in.
Very few will then scent when you hold them by the tail, but don't let his hind feet touch anything or you are in trouble. I got it one time from a big broad stripe. His feet caught on the sack when I dropped him. I was a long way from water so I just sat down and let the tears wash it out.
There must be something useful in this scent, as you can see twice as good after you get it out. Don't rub your eyes. A pan of fresh water is best to wash from eyes.
They are very interesting animals. Live mostly on worms and bugs. I had one once nice and let me out in the yard and he will leave a bug or worm just like a bird dog.
We soon learned how to descent them. You read a lot about skunks having rabies. Skunks will walk right up to your house. They won't harm you. Don't make a quick pass at one or you will likely get sprayed. You won't believe it, but I have picked up wild skunk and carried them all night in my hunting coat and you would not know I had a skunk.
Old timers always used skunk grease for croup in kids. Their grease, if handled right, is just as pure as lard.
We used to also bottle the essence. Someone told a restaurant man here that it was good for piles. He made a mistake in opening the bottle in his restaurant. It spilt on the tobacco and cigars. He took the bottle out and threw it up against a building . That made as much smell as 20 skunks.
Skunks raise 4, 5, or 6 to litter once a year bred in February. Skunks are cannibals and will eat each other. Also, they are not a healthy animal.
The way we killed them, we put them in a box and gave them chloroform. It only takes about 30 minutes to put them to sleep. I have let several out of steel traps that I did not want to kill.
I will have to tell you a little story. I had an old building back of my place. I had about 5 or 6 skunks that belonged to me and some of the boys that worked for me. An old German lived across the street. The boys decided to kill the skunks. I guess they used clubs for they raised a big stink. The old German walked over to my place and he said by golly if it wasn't healthy I would have kicked long ago.
If you get a skunk in your trap, always be careful. Get you a long stick that you can press down on the skunk and he'll walk out and no doubt will thank you.
If you get a skunk in your basement don't kill him there. Place a board so he can walk out he will soon learn. People used to say skunks would kill chickens. Yes, little chickens raised under a hen like they used to do but not old chickens. We kept old hens right in pens with skunks just to see what would happen. Of course, we did not get any eggs. Skunks like eggs.
Opossum are no good around. I was ready to raise them but have had a few with young. When you first see the young in the pouch, they look like a good big maggot. I remember one old female that had 17 young. I kept her in a box with a lid. I could raise this lid and look down. The little possums would be all around the pouch but the least disturbance, they would immediately disappear in the pouch.
When I was a kid, no one had much money. I had to make mine in trapping and coon hunting. Raccoon pelts no doubt helped pay off many mortgages on farms. I caught 52 rats (muskrats) one night in traps. The pelts brought 8 cents each. I caught 100 prime rats one time that sold for 10 cents each.
About 1912, fur began to get better prices. During the First World War, I paid around 4.50 each for muskrat pelts. A farmer came in one day. He had a pond swamp back on his farm. He had stacked fodder close to the swamp. He hauled the fodder when it was cold and after a big snow he killed 44 rats. Brought them in unskinned. I paid him 4.00 each for them. A nice little check for rats.
When I was about 15 or 16, I bought a (?Stevens Proton) 12 inch barrel. I put real fine sights on it and did some fancy shooting. 22 shots could be bought for 15 cents per box of 50. I soon could (?drive tack) at 15 and 20 feet, shoot a playing card through the edge or shoot a string hanging up.
Most ammunition would cost money. A thing I was mostly out of.
My brother and I would go rabbit hunting. We both were very good at locating a rabbit. In his nest, I would shoot him with my pistol. If he jumped out, I would try to get him with my shotgun.
In the winter we killed lots more rabbits than we could eat. My grandmother would put them down in salt brine. Same when we had too many squirrels for immediate use. I didn't know then that muskrat was good eating. I think better than squirrel.
During the First World War, I had a lumber camp and had about 10 men working and staying in Camp. Chas. Mathews was one of the boys working. There was a small stream near the camp and my brother was catching rats. Some of the boys said something about eating the muskrat. Charley said he would never eat one.
There were lots of rabbits in this woods. I killed 4 or 5 and dressed nice. Also 3 or 4 rats. I told the cook (Lee Carter was the cook) to cook them and to place them on one side of the platter and all the other boys knew what the rats were. If you have ever worked in the timber, you will know what an appetite you will have. Charley started in on the rats, thinking he was eating rabbits. After dinner, some asked Charley how he liked the rats. He said if they were rats they was good. In the big cities they are called marsh rabbit.
Muskrats like all other game is getting scarce. I remember a place about 2 miles from where I now live. It had probably 80 acres of swamp and was called muskrat prairie. It had thousands of muskrat houses. In fact, I caught my first rat here, or thought I did. I did not know I should have staked my trap chain out in the water to drown the rat. Instead, I had the stake on the bank. When I got to my trap, I had a rat but he had his front feet almost twisted off. He made a jump for the water minus one front foot. If the trap is on the hind foot you will have no trouble. Cannot twist it. (Grandma Hazel's note - Muskrat prairie was on the right side of the road at Hugh Mateers farm and extended south. My note: Go out South Marion Street and it would have been at the end of the road.)