Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation




College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Robert R. Weyeneth


In part because some historians are ethically opposed to their avocation, sport hunters of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era are an understudied group. As environmental actors, they have been virtually ignored. Based on the biological traits of their quarry, one particular subset of sportsmen, waterfowl hunters, were especially disposed to manipulating the environment in which they hunted. Their efforts to attract migratory waterfowl to privately owned wetlands through habitat management, which started nearly a half-century before federal engineers and biologists undertook similar work on the national wildlife refuges in the 1930s, were pioneering. By the midpoint of the twentieth century, sportsmen were managing several million acres of wetlands in the United States as waterfowl habitat.

In areas with high concentrations of duck-shooting preserves, sportsmen’s management activities could alter the regional ecology. Strong evidence of duck hunters effecting widespread environmental change comes from South Carolina, where they purchased unprofitable rice plantations around the turn of the twentieth century and converted them to shooting preserves by employing a mixture of old and new approaches to wetland use. Initially, they carried on traditional agricultural practices and retained much of the ecological integrity of the rice plantations. Later, though, after adopting modern waterfowl-management techniques that sportsmen were using with good results in other parts of the country, they altered the ecology of the plantations by introducing new species of plants and reclaiming tidal impoundments. Managed duck marshes, artificial ecosystems created by the sportsmen, became a dominant feature of South Carolina’s coastal wetlandscape by the mid-twentieth century. At this point, hunters in South Carolina and elsewhere began passing on responsibility for managing waterfowl habitat to wildlife biologists.

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