HUNT WITH AUTOS, asserted a Bangor Daily Commercial headline on Sept. 23, 1911, a few short weeks before the hunting season opened. The subheads continued: The Sport Will be Popular With Bangor People This Fall … CAMPING BY ROAD SIDE … Many Ingenious Devices to Add to the Comfort of the Party — One Local Car Has Beds.
Mainers were harnessing the latest technology to enhance one of their favorite pastimes.
“Hunting by motor is a new form of sport which promises to be popular in Maine this season and a number of automobile hunting and camping parties are planning to start out from Bangor during the next few weeks,” said the newspaper.
This new breed of hunter was equipped with tents, pneumatic mattresses, collapsible camp stoves, spirit lamps, thermos bottles and a host of other “ingenious devices.” What a great way to avoid bugs and bad cooking in “wayside taverns and farm houses.”
“One Bangor man has an automobile especially constructed for camping trips. The tonneau (rear seating compartment) was built in this city and the seats slide out in such a manner as to make beds inside the car. They are thickly upholstered and are as comfortable as the ordinary hair mattress,” the story continued. Thus the camper van was born.
But “auto hunting” posed a few problems in the minds of some. Were these hunters planning to get out of their cars before they started shooting?
The heavily wooded dirt roads of Maine provided a natural game park for excited Hawkeyes. Mainers already were worried that their big game was being decimated by the thousands of overenthusiastic hunters brought to the forests by train. Would the arrival of the auto further decimate the supply of game? Caribou had only recently disappeared, and some believed deer and moose populations were threatened.
The deer season began Oct. 2 that year. Within a few weeks, on Oct. 24, the first outraged cry appeared in a Bangor newspaper. Hunting by automobile at night “is nothing less than a modified form of jacking,” complained an anonymous hunter to a Commercial reporter who was posted at Union Station, where daily train shipments of deer, moose and bear were inspected by game wardens during the hunting season.
The anonymous hunter claimed that “autoists flash their lights, sometimes unwittingly, when coming around a bend in the road into the woods, and if a deer or other animal sees the light, it is sure to stop and look directly at it. The man in the auto aims directly at the eyes, which are a shining mark, and seldom fails to get the prey.” The complainant called for a new law banning deer hunting using searchlights, just as it was already illegal to shoot ducks “in gasoline boats at night, aided by the boat searchlight.”
A week later, on Nov. 2, the Bangor Daily News presented its readers with an ecstatic editorial on “hunting by motor car.” This piece was clearly about the joys of shooting game out the car window. Search lights were not mentioned.
“As a method of capturing game with a rifle or shotgun, the automobile has all horses, motor-cycles, bicycles and still hunting beaten to a standstill. The motor car will stand without hitching. It will not jump or shy or balk at the report of a gun; and when you get out of the car to pick up the game, no boy is needed to stand by and hold the vehicle lest it run away,” declared the editorial writer.
A sport could combine travel with hunting.
“A hunting party can leave a Bangor hotel in the morning, hunt all the way on route, and put up at a Houlton hotel for dinner and lodging. In this manner, the game party can reach Caribou the next night and so proceed by easy trips, and reach Fort Kent at the end of the third day. No expert game driver will be needed to ‘shoo’ the deer and moose out into the highway for the motor party to shoot as it passes along…”
The very next day, auto hunting’s detractors found another credible spokesman willing to go on the record. Capt. W. T. Pollard, chief of the wardens, had logged 16 years enforcing game laws. Hundreds of dead deer and moose were being carried out of the state each year by auto hunters to evade the state licensing law, he said. But that was not the worst of the “auto question.”
“Jacking by the use of powerful searchlights on automobiles is becoming a general practice in many parts of the game region and it is a practice that has got to be stopped. In many cases, the machines leave the main highways (mostly dirt roads) and take to tote roads and in some cases to fields where their bright lights serve as the best kind of jacks. To my mind the Legislature will have to pass a law to prohibit shooting game at night.”
In the years to come, lawmakers would deal with such issues involving automobiles. These adjustments to state hunting laws would address only a small part of the problems created by the gasoline engine, which was achieving supremacy over other forms of transportation a century ago.
Wayne E. Reilly’s column on Bangor a century ago appears every other Monday. An illustrated collection, “Remembering Bangor: The Queen City Before the Great Fire,” is available where books are sold. Comments can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.