Back when hunting was big — and the buck stopped here | News, Sports, Jobs


Again, as I was finishing my purchase from my pal, Sam Grimone, a couple of young bucks came into the store and were listening to hunting stories from Sam. He was telling them about the Trudeau Big Buck Contest, so I dug out this photo of that yearly event in Saranac Lake. The location is 42 Main St., now Compass Printing, at that time, Saranac Lake Hardware parking lot next to the great music emporium, The Waterhole, then Mike & Sandy’s Restaurant. The photo was probably in the early 1950s but carries no date. We were able to make out three names of the shooters. From the left Alfred H. Martelle, next was Shirley McCarthy’s trophy and next to the last was Paul Roberts. The moose was shot in Quebec by Bob Liddy.

The late John Duquette, an honest-to-god Saranac Lake historian — and I might add, Ruth Fortune’s dad — supplied all the historical material for Saranac Lake’s 1992 Centennial book.

In my column here 15 years ago, I quoted from a piece John had written many years before about the big bucks in the late 1800s.

“A couple of outstanding records authenticated by game commissioners are almost unbelievable when compared to the big bucks of today. During the open season of 1877, a hunter named John Denny killed a buck at Meacham Lake which weighed 357 pounds, live weight. During October 1890, Denny’s record was beaten by Henry Ordway, of Mud Lake, who bagged a 388 pound buck, live weight, with antler beams of 32 inches [that’s close to a yard wide] and a maximum point length of 13 inches.”

Now that the regular deer hunting season is upon us (Oct. 21 to Dec. 3) I am here to tell you that Saranac Lake used to sell thousands of hunting licenses. Now the licenses are sold here in the hundreds.

I have a copy of a tabloid size newspaper, “The Shopping News,” published in Saranac Lake, claiming “4,000 copies weekly, Vol. II, No. 38.” My copy is dated Thursday, Sept. 26, 1940 with Page One, the only page I have, almost entirely about hunting season.

No names are listed under this photo, again courtesy of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac lake Free Library — but George Doty is in here somewhere. This was 1939 and George was captain of the team the next year. I probably should not mention — to help ID any players, call Bud Duffy. I did that last week and Bud received four phone calls. So I won’t suggest that this week. Information under the photo reads in part: “The first call for footballers was answered by such veterans as co-captains Lew Kelly and Ray LaRose; ‘Scratch’ Doty ‘Tich’ Kelly, Lou D’Onofrio, ‘Bullet’ Smith, ‘Doc’ Myatt, Ozzie Lowenberg, ‘Murph’ O’Donnell, John Demming and Dick Sennett. Along with newcomers, Jim Harrigan, Dave Potter, Ben Banker, John Dreyfors and George M. Eleven comprised a squad that totaled 75 to comprise the largest turnout in school history.” (On the right in the suit and tie is handsome coach Art Mahoney, shortly before he left to become an Army ranger seeing combat in WWII.)

I lose track of who has gifted me the stacks of old newspapers in my possession so I try to give credit when they are received. I believe this copy came from my friend Mark Peppin.

In 1940, the Harrietstown town clerk was the only source to buy hunting and fishing licenses, so now hear this:

“To hunters, campers, hikers, prospective hunters and rocking chair hunters, 2,132 hunting licenses have been sold by Town Clerk Matthew M. Munn in his office in the Harrietstown Town Hall, during the 1939 season. This number is expected to be passed this season.”

In the last season of 2022-23 the Harrietstown Town Clerk Sabrina Harrison sold 15 or 20 licenses. However, those licenses can now be purchased at the Blue Line Sports and the Woods and Waters Sport Shop. The Blue Line had no available figures on how many hunting licenses they sold last season, Woods and Waters estimates they sold about 500.

Licenses being sold at these outlets really makes sense, because hunters can talk to the store owners to get hunting information in the long and short tales, they might be told.

Sam and Chris Grimone, owners and operators of the Woods and Water shop, know a lot of local history on many topics. I was lucky enough to overhear some of those tales as I was making a purchase. My friend Sam gave me 40 or 50 topics for columns I might write, some I have covered previously, before Sam was old enough to read.

Following is the lead story in The Shopping News:

“The windows of Saranac Lake clothing stores are now chuck full of hunting garments.

“Bright red plaid shirts, heavy coats, sportsmen’s and lumbermen’s pants, heavy wool socks, caps, gloves, belts and what not.

“And the windows of the hardware stores are given over to the sports departments.

“All kinds of camp equipment from portable stoves to collapsible beds. To say nothing of the guns and ammunition.

“Sports goods stores, of course, are showing the best they have in guns, gadgets and ammunition for amateurs and seasoned hunters. They go into both the plain and fancy varieties of sports wear and accessories.

“But the hunting season has always been a harvest season for some stores and hunting homes. Even the demand for a ‘side of bacon’ and other types of standard camp foods reaches its high volume point at about this time every year, helped by hunters.

“In a word, there is a turnover of capital during the hunting season, while not an economic earthquake, is still substantial.

“And this should be helped in this section of the Adirondacks by the increased ease with which the readers of hunting columns in the newspapers may get to the land of their dreams.

“Men in Utica, Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, Troy, Schenectady and even closer points as Plattsburgh and Malone, can get away easier and land farther afield than they could even a year or two ago. They can, with ease, drive a hundred miles farther to get to hunting territory than was their custom in days only recently past.

“So, despite that fact that our Canadian friends can’t come down until after the war is over, we may expect larger hunting crowds in and about Saranac Lake and neighboring points this year than ever before.”

A football story

“With the same speed with which he is accustomed to travel in and out of the tangle of high school legs, shoulders and butting backs and heads, George Doty went into the General Hospital Saturday after the Canton High-Saranac Lake high game. He was treated for head injuries, photographed, held overnight darted out the next morning in practically as good shape as he was in when he entered Saturday’s game. He is captain of this year’s local high school football team.”

I was lucky enough to know George and I knew him as a happy, witty guy … somewhat like his nephew, North Elba town Supervisor Derek Doty. Derek’s Dad, Tom, was my friend and the same fun guy to spend time with. We came up with an idea one evening, when we were having a couple of pops, to write a book, entitled, “Just Ask Nate.”

Nate Pratt had worked at the bobrun in Lake Placid forever and he knew every bump and curve in the run, the way we know the cracks in our driveway. The engineers rebuilding the run for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games were constantly asking Nate about the veritable intricacies of that mile-long run. I guess you had to be there.

Part II next week.

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