By Marjorie Clark.
There was, before long, another type of hunter stalking in the township, too, in the north end. On Saturday, September 21, 1867, the Guelph Hunt Club held its first meet in Puslinch. They began on horseback at Keleher’s farm, went through McCrae’s place, crossed the road to Carter’s, rode in and out of Murton’s barnyard and finally the hounds killed the fox near the Speed River on Howitt’s property. Mr. Thompson proudly carried home the tail and the members assembled at Cull’s Hotel, where they unanimously resolved to hold another such hunt the following Saturday and further such hunting parties did follow.
On November 9, 1867, the Galt Reporter observed that there were a large number of wild geese on Puslinch Lake of late; the previous Saturday a flock of approximately fifty had remained nearly the whole day, while on Tuesday, another smaller flock were speedily disturbed by parties anxious to get a shot at them.
There were no seasons defined during which hunting was forbidden. Therefore, wildlife had no respite during the breeding season or when rearing their young. An item of July 21, 1873 reports that:
“A young man from Puslinch was exhibiting a young fox in our streets (Guelph) today, one of six, which he had captured in a hollow log some two weeks since. The mother made good her escape.”
In time, most hunters thought of themselves as sportsmen:
“SPORT IN PUSLINCH – On Thursday (Oct. 23, 1873) half a score of sportsmen had a shooting match in Puslinch Township, five a side, under the leadership of Messrs. Cockburn and A. Weir. Mr. Cockburn had with him Messrs. J. Amos, J. Weir, F. Beattie and P. Bain: Mr. Weir’s side comprised Messrs. J. Scott, J. Landon, R. Amos and J. Taverner. The targets for the shots were living ones and each bird or animal killed counted a certain number of points, varying according to its species. Mr. Cockburn’s side won the match with a score of 1,020 to their opponents 860. The weather was very unfavourable for shooting. Amongst the individual scores, Messrs. Cockburn and Amos killed one blue jay, two pheasants and 65 squirrels; Mr. Landon killed five partridges, one pigeon, two snipes and 27 squirrels. The stakes were a supper partaken of at the Anglo-American Hotel in Aberfoyle by about twenty persons, who spent a pleasant evening. We are informed by one of the shooters that game is very plentiful in the Puslinch woods, especially partridges, which, he says, are as thick as chickens in a barnyard.”
Their quarry was frequently considered a trophy, as evidenced by this excerpt from the Guelph Mercury, April 16, 1874:
“A BEAUTIFUL PHEASANT shot, we understand, by Mr. Cross, Puslinch, was on exhibition in the streets today. It weighs five pounds and its length from tip to tip is about thirty inches.”
The pelts of fur-bearing animals were a supplement to the income of some farmers:
“Mr. James Black of Aberfoyle has trapped this winter twenty-seven foxes some of which are what are called crosses. Mr. Black has realized about a dollar each on the lot.” – March 6, 1878.
Almost any creature was in danger from the early people. The June 29, 1878 newspaper reported that on Thursday of that week, P. T. O’Neil and Henry Keleher caught a snapping turtle weighing twelve pounds in the swamp at Aberfoyle. An article on Oct. 12, 1887, states that Donald McKerracher killed the largest turtle ever seen in the neighbourhood on his farm in Puslinch. It contained 210 eggs, ranging in size from a hen’s egg to a pea.
One of the few reports of lynx or bobcat in Puslinch was made on Oct. 3, 1878, when T. Rife, while travelling through the south-west corner of the township with his dog and his club, “encountered and slew a wild cat of twenty pounds weight and bore him as a trophy” to the proprietor of the Atkinson House in Hespeler, who was skilled at taxidermy and “whose case of stuffed animals took second prize at the Central Fair held recently in Guelph”.
“Next day, a number of sportsmen from Hespeler, well armed and equipped, proceeded to the scene of the conflict but no more large cats put in an appearance.”
There were, however, a number of cases of larger than ordinary domestic cats being killed, mistaken for lynx.
George Atkinson of Guelph Twp., J. Black of Puslinch and J. Hewer of Guelph Township held a contest on Wednesday, February 19, 1879, for first place “shooting snowbirds”. Whatever ill-fated bird this referred to, a total of thirty of them were sacrificed to decide the winner of this contest.
On Oct. 8, 1880, a report states that wild ducks were scarce at Puslinch Lake but on Oct. 27, 1880, there were swarms of them and a local Nimrod shot twenty. Woodcock were a favourite quarry. A sportsman from Guelph killed twelve and a half brace on July 31, 1881. A brace is defined as two; therefore, the count was twenty-five birds.
The Guelph Advertiser of Tues., Oct. 16, 1883 carried this:
“Thomas Ingram and Duncan McGibbon, Puslinch, while driving from Strabane to Morriston on Monday night, saw five mink cross the road. Ingram fired at them with his revolver and killed one.”
Fish were not exempt. Richard Campbell of Grange St., Guelph caught ninety-one trout in Strome’s Creek, Puslinch on July 18, 1883 and William Foster caught forty trout in the Aberfoyle Dam on May 1, 1885.
Sometimes they didn’t know what it was that they had shot, as was the case when James Black of Aberfoyle shot “a strange bird”, measuring eleven feet from tip to tip of the wings.
There appear to have been game laws by 1884, as some Puslinch residents were complaining of Guelph youths hunting prior to the opening of the season. However, enforcement of the laws was questionable, as the writer noted:
“There used to be a gun club in the city, whose duty it was to look after the protection of game.”