Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sport on the Hackensack Marshes

Despite human interference and destruction of habitat, wildlife somehow managed to survive on the wide marshes and sunken meadows of the Hackensack estuary. On September 11, 1879, the Evening Telegram noted, "Great shooting on the Hackensack swamps," reporting hunters penetrated the meadowland in the beginning of September when "the law is up." Gunners and their "pushers"—that is what they called the men who poled boats through the high grass—went out in search of railbirds. On November 19, 1880, the Bergen Index reported, "a day or two ago a flock of blackbirds numbering thousands passed over the Hackensack meadows. So large a flock has not been seen in New Jersey in years."

Governor John W. Griggs was one of many enthusiasts who made outings onto the meadows in pursuit of railbirds. Several gun clubs closed in the first quarter of the twentieth century owing to severe degradation of the river. Hunting revived somewhat after 1930 as industrial pollution of the stream abated during the Depression. Duck and hares remained plentiful.

The Hackensack River scull-boat was extensively used amongst the meadow grasses for hunting duck, geese and railbirds or for trapping mink, muskrat and snapping turtles. Anglers used it to catch white perch, striped bass, sturgeon, catfish and eels. The scull-boat was flat-bottomed, sharp at the bow and square at the stern. Its deck covered only three-quarters of the length of the boat. A shooter or angler would kneel in the front while a "pusher" with an oar mounted on a fulcrum at the stern would "scull" or guide the boat noiselessly through the reedy channels.

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