Big game hunting in the Adirondacks "ain't what it used to be." Just look around you and remember what the streets of Saranac Lake looked like in Novembers past. Men in red and black checkered wool jackets with matching pants and caps, with laced-up leather hightops or rubber boots, would be jammed into Cheeseman's Sport Shop, then located in the Berkeley Square.
No camouflage or high-powered rifles then, with scopes, as though going into combat. No, these men wanted to be seen in the woods and most were probably carrying an old 30-30 Winchester that belonged to their grandfather. My grandfather, Billy Keegan, had a 38-55 Winchester which my mother sold shortly after he died in the 1930s.
Cheeseman's is now the Blue Line Sport Shop which was named and established by Peter LeMay, Howard Ellithorpe and Al Homburger, Jr. Ellithorpe and Homburger were employees of Cheeseman's.
This illustration is from Page 178 in the 1895 Fisheries, Game and Forest Report, which is in the archives of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library.
(Illustration courtesy of the Saranac Lake Free Library)
Big game harvest - 1895
Just take a gander at these statistics of deer taken (in the previous year, 1894) from the report to the state legislature of the Fisheries, Game and Forest Commission.
In Franklin County there were 813 deer taken; 386 bucks and 427 does. The numbers were even broken down by the style of hunting. Of that total 165 were killed by night hunting; 568 by hounding and 80 by still hunting.
The deer take on Middle Saranac Lake was 46, on Rainbow Lake 24 and at Meacham Lake, 33; this report may mean actually killed in the lake as you will understand if you keep reading. The total deer killed in Essex County was about half as big as Franklin at 486 with the most taken in Lake Placid, 39; there were 28 reported killed in North Elba.
"The treacherous beast"
Before getting to the hounds you must read what the Commissioners had to say about the Adirondack buck:
"Now the Adirondack buck is far from being the gentle, interesting creature that the sympathetic public has in mind. There is a buck in the State Deer Park that tried to kill its keeper, a man who had cared for it, petted it, and fed it since it was a fawn. The treacherous beast charged on the keeper, threw him down, and spiked him three times, driving one of his horns six inches into the man's body. The unfortunate keeper who was laid up in bed for months from his wounds, would have been gored to death had not a neighbor who was passing by heard his cries for help and, picking up a club, drove the buck off.
"A few seasons ago in a private deer park at Saranac Lake, owned by Mr. Nathan Straus, of New York, a buck pushed a doe over and disemboweled the defenseless animal with his horns. While expressions of sympathy for the fate of the tearful-eyed doe may be proper, any humane sentiment regarding a buck is entirely misconceived. He is a vicious, treacherous brute that may be shot without compunction whenever the law permits."
Now to the hounds
More excerpts from the report:
"The most of the deer hunting in the Adirondacks is done by hounding, the time for which under present law is limited to thirty-one days, from Sept. 10 to Oct. 10, both inclusive.
"The Adirondack deer hound has long, drooping ears, slender nose and smooth tail. It weighs about 35 pounds as a general thing. It is of all colors, black and tan predominating. There are also many white and liver; also gray and black. Straight colors, white hounds and black hounds, are occasionally seen, but not often. When crossed with beagles or collies good results are always obtained."
(The hounding method of hunting was to drive the deer into the lake where the hunters in boats would overtake the deer and kill them while they were swimming and then tow the carcass to shore.)
"In the early morning the "starters" with their hounds are climbing the hills in search of deer signs and the "watchers" will be stationed near a broad river or lake. The method of hunting called hounding is based on a well-known trait of the deer, this instinct which prompts it to seek water when hard pressed by dogs.
"Of late years many ladies visit the Adirondacks during the hounding season, and some of them with the assistance of a guide and boat shoot deer that are driven into the lake. In one season I saw five deer killed at different times by five ladies in different localities. And yet, hounding is not as sure a thing as many suppose. A surprisingly large proportion escape through poor marksmanship.
"Some of the opposition to the law permitting the use of hounds is based on the idea that the dogs overtake the deer, spring upon the game, fasten their teeth in its neck or body, pull it down to the ground, and there mangle and tear the defenseless creature. This is all nonsense. The hound cannot catch the deer, a deer can easily outrun a hound. The hound is a slow-running, stupid animal, following with his nose near the ground, and occasionally losing the scent through some artifice of the deer."
Now to back up the above statement that a hound is no threat to a deer the anonymous report writer adds this tidbit: "A few years ago there was a tame deer, a pet deer in Olmsteadville, Essex County, which could whip any dog in the village, and it ran at large through the town with perfect safety."