Mar
13

The Field and Stream Club – First 100 Years

March, 1919.

Had there had been an endangered species list then, it would have included elk, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, Canada geese, and most waterfowl species. The Boone and Crockett Club, founded in 1887 was actively working to raise awareness of the wildlife Americans were in genuine danger of losing. Hunting sportsmen across the US were pushing the development of a “duck stamp” (a tax on themselves, really) to restore wildlife habitat – mostly wetlands – and made it happen in 1934. Another, bigger, tax was under discussion by those same sportsmen, and, thus, the 1937 Pittman-Robertson excise tax on firearms and other sporting goods.

In March of 1919, Oregon reopened beaver trapping after 20 years. Lingering budged problems from WWI meant big cuts in game warden numbers and irregular pay (as much as six months between paychecks) for fish and game workers across the West. In response to the post-WWI interest in competitive shooting, Savage was the first to announce a .22 caliber competition model; the Savage model 1919 NRA bolt action, seven pound rifle with 25 inch barrel, aperture rear sight and a Marine Corps type front sight, for $18.50. That year, South Dakota announced its first pheasant season, and Custer State Park became SD’s first state park.

In those post-WWI days, entire families still traveled by wagon or auto into the mountains for picnic gatherings or extended stays to escape the heat of the valleys. Seeing wildlife was an event worth sharing. Outdoor magazine covers regularly showed hunters or riders shooting off the backs of horses. Women rarely hunted.

In the context of those times, in March of 1919, 75 charter members agreed to dues of 50 cents a year, and formed the Ellensburg (Washington) Sportsman Association. Austin Miers was its first President, and J.H Van Gusen its first Secretary-Treasurer. As far as can be told, the Association was, from the beginning, committed to a motto of “Working Today for Tomorrow’s Wildlife.”

Early records are sketchy at best, having been drowned, shuffled among record-holders, and simply lost. Various notes and letters, however, give insight into the Club’s never-ending efforts to live up to its motto by speaking up, forming partnerships, and working as closely as possible with those charged with looking after the lands and wildlife of Paradise.

Nor did Association members forgot to celebrate the sporting life, as indicated in an uncredited typed letter found among the earliest records. A bird dog field trial was held in the “forenoon” of September 17, 1920 north of Ellensburg. Organizers reported hundreds of birds on ag land where the trial was held – especially “Hungarian pheasants” (now commonly “Huns,” but properly Hungarian partridge). Club member Orrin Craig’s pointer, Teddy, took home first place, and it was reported that the Huns outnumbered “Chines” pheasants “8 to 1.”

Newspaper accounts occasionally reported on various shooting activities and competitions sponsored by the Club, including a WWII “Butter Shoot.” This two-day trap shoot drew many hunters from Seattle and across the state (butter was rationed in those days, and well worth competing for), earning the club well over $600.

At some point in the 1930s, the Association became the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club. It incorporated in 1946, to more effectively deal with funding and supporting the post-WWII outdoor interests of Americans.

Through its ten decades of existence, the organization partnered with dozens of local, regional and national organizations. These included Club predator control programs with U.S. War Bonds as payment, North- and South-Central Washington Sports Councils, Washington State Big Game Council, U.S. Soil Conservation Service, Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, National Wild Turkey Federation and the Cascade Field and Stream Club.

Projects managed by the Club or in partnership with others included the Yakima River Cleanup, repairing and preventing game and human damage to the Knudson Ranch, Tamarac Springs, Sorenson’s Pond, McCabe Pond, Whiskey Dick Creek, Fio Rito and Mattoon Ponds, wildlife safety access to irrigation canals, and many handfuls of others.

Those partnerships, and stand-alone Club efforts, raised funds for conservation and habitat for gamebirds and mammals in the county, and drew folks together to support or oppose policies affecting the outdoor future of Washington and American families.

The founders of  the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club worked across a wide band of future-oriented activities ranging from the setting aside of regional wildlife areas and parks to the implementation of the 1937 Pittman-Robertson excise tax, which supported the immediate development of professional game management agencies here and across America. (Those P-R funds have produced well over seven billion dollars for wildlife management – some 70% of state wildlife agency budgets today come from those taxes and license fees paid by hunters.)

From its founding, Club members have seen children as the emissaries sent to a time we will never see – what they take forward is critical. More about those efforts next week.

On March 30, the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club’s Chukar Run Banquet will kick off the Club’s second 100 years. Tickets available from Board members or www.kittitasfieldandstream.org. Have yours yet?

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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