In the last century, when Americans cherished the delusion that their wildlife resources were inexhaustible, sportsmen shot so many ducks that they didn't bother to count their daily bag of mallards, redheads and canvas-backs except by the wagonload. After a day's orgy hundreds of dead birds often rotted in the sun, but their loss was of little concern to the hunter. An estimated 15,000 birds per day were killed on Chesapeake Bay alone in the 1870s by professional market hunters in deadly cannon-equipped boats (left). The wild goose, most highly prized bird in the Dakota Territory during the 1880s, was shot from pits dug in newly harvested wheat fields where the geese (mostly Canadas) came to feed. Each gunner, peering from his pit surrounded by tin decoys, brought down so many geese with his 8- or 10-gauge shotgun that he barely had time to leave his pit between shots and collect the fallen birds. In 1878 Iowa, seeking to control this senseless slaughter, became the first state to fix a bag limit on game. Today federal law protects migratory waterfowl.
A DAY'S SPORT IN WEBSTER, DAKOTA TERRITORY, 1888, PRODUCED THIS PHOTOGRAPH OF UNRESTRAINED MASSACRE OF A VARIETY OF BIRDS
BLAST FROM SWIVEL GUN MOUNTED ON BOAT KILLED 50-300 DUCKS