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Ohio's first outdoorsmen found good hunting, fishing

By DICK MARTIN • Jan 19, 2019 at 8:00 AM

As readers know well, I like to hunt and fish, as do many thousands of fellow Buckeyes.

But did you ever wonder how our first outdoorsmen, the Ohio Indians, pursued the same activities? I did some looking and reading, including a few very early books written by Ohio pioneers who were first to meet the local native Americans, and discovered they were very good at filling the spit or cook pot with edibles using the tools and weapons they made themselves.

For hunting, most Indians used a bow and arrows. The bows were fairly light weight, probably about 30 to 40 pounds pull, which means they had to get pretty close to a deer or turkey, and most were made of hickory or Osage orange. Also for deer, and particularly for large game like bison or elk, they used a spear thrown by a device called an atlatl, a grooved piece of wood with a handle that the spear would lie in. It improved the speed and distance of any thrown spear. A scientist friend made one, and found he could drive a spear part way through a one inch board on a fairly distant corn crib.

They tipped their spears and arrows with flint heads, a type of stone that could be chipped so sharp that I'm told surgeons still use flint tipped scalpels today for extremely fine work. And used turkey feathers mostly for arrows and spear fletching. The kids had their own bows and arrows, smaller versions either tipped with bird points or maybe blunts for small game hunting and honed their skills on squirrels, ruffed grouse, turkeys, rabbits and other small animals.

Fishing was an important food source, and the streams and rivers teemed with fish. To catch them they made hand woven nets using fiber made of braided grass or tree bark, and they definitely had the use of weirs. These were long baskets usually made from flexible willow twigs that started wide and diminished along its length ending in a funnel that was easy for fish to enter, but hard to exit. Weirs could be very useful, because they did their work non-stop and only had to be checked once a day or so and the fish removed to be carried home in baskets.

They fished with lines too, made of braided grass, thinly cut rawhide, and similar materials, tipped them with cleverly carved bone or wood hooks, and baited them just like we do with worms, minnows, frogs, and pieces of clam. From studies of midden pits, we know they caught mostly catfish, but were happy to eat any other species caught from walleye and muskies to carp.

Fire was important to their hunting success. Ohio was mostly heavy forest, but there were prairies here and there with rich grasses and reeds that deer, buffalo, and elk loved, and the Indians burned them frequently to remove growing seedlings and saplings of brush and trees and fertilize new growth of prairie grasses. It was a hard life these early peoples lived, and dangerous sometimes, but most times they lived well. And enjoyed the fruits of their efforts just as we do today.

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Hooks & bullets

• Ohio hunters checked 14,182 deer during the 2018 muzzleloader season. That's up a bit from last years muzzleloader kill of 13,268 animals. Huron County gunners did well, taking 175 whitetails. Hunters in Erie County bagged 42, Lorain — 136, Seneca — 98, and Richland County black powder folk found 247. A good years ending for gun hunters.

• It's not carved in stone yet, but the Ohio Division of Wildlife has sent its proposals for the 2019-20 small game and migratory bird hunting season to the Ohio Wildlife Council. Among those proposals are a request to increase the daily bag limit of walleye, saugeye, and sauger in Lake Erie from four to six fish daily between March 1 and April 30, excluding the Sandusky River which will keep its four fish limit. Also, they propose modifying waterfowl bag limits by decreasing the brant and pintail daily bag from three to one and two to one respectively. For a complete list of all proposed rule summaries, visit wildohio.gov.

• The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) is working to bring women into the shooting sports at an even faster rate than they're coming already. This summer there's a Women's Wilderness Escape program with Leupold and Kristy Titus that will occur from June 3 through 7. Fourteen ladies will spend three day in central Oregon learning to handle and shoot a scoped rifle and optical sighted pistol. The $1,200 registration fee includes all firearms, ammunition, targets, classes, activities, ground transportation, lodging and most meals. The NRA will also host a women’s Weekend of Sporting Clays at Seven Springs Resort on June 21 through 24, a Sig Sauer MPX Carbine Class on Sept. 14 and 15, and more. For details, call 703-267-2595.


Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at richmart@neo.rr.com. You also can visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.

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