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Batt, James R. (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 20, Number 4 (Fall 1974)

Ellis, Mel
Metamorphosis of a hunter,   pp. 9-12


Page 12


and I was pleased to see Outdoors, now defunct,
take on nature writers who went afield only with
binoculars.
   Then one of the best things to happen to me, to
Wisconsin, and to a nation of hunters and fishermen
happened-a man named Gordon MacQuarrie came
south from Superior to become outdoor editor of
The Milwaukee Jurnal and contributor to many of
the nation's leading magazines.
   An avid hunter and fisherman, but even a more
avid watcher of the wild, MacQuarrie conferred
citizenship on chipmunks, crows, deer, coyotes,
wrens, and even sparrows. He bestowed dignity on
the lowly ant and the caterpillar, and wrote that
animals needed no reason for existence other than an
inalienable right to life such as man had previously
described as only his heritage.
   Still at Sheboygan, I came under MacQuarrie's
spell, as did tens of thousands of people all across
the country. It was in the thirties, and if the rod and
gun had already come to play a lesser and lesser
role in my outdoor life, Gordon's tales of setting up
housekeeping in a duck blind just to enjoy the smells
of the marsh, his stories of deer hunting in which he
often hoped fervently the deer would escape the
hunters widened my already expanding appreciation
of the outdoors and the wild creatures inhabiting it.
  Ultimately I moved to The Milwaukee Journal,
though a long war intervened, and became a
coworker with MacQuarrie. A few years before
MacQuarrie died, I moved to the country to dig four
spring-fed ponds, plant thousands upon thousands of
trees, bring in hundreds of wild flowers dispossessed
by freeways-create a miniature outdoor paradise,
a microcosm of what a wilderness might be like if all
the ecological laws necessary to a healthy and
thriving environment were observed.
  So it was that my love affair with the wild ones
finally became a full blown marriage and in addition
to the children in my house, you might on any day
find squirrels and chipmunks, raccoons and seagulls,
woodchucks or a crow. Gradually I found I'd rather
hunt mushrooms than mallards, gather asparagus
than fish muskies, sit and count bees and birds in
passing . . . or watch a goose mother her goslings.
  I was considerably relieved to be able to put the
job as a rod-and-gun editor of The Journal behind
me and turn to books. Now I could write about the
boy who was saddened because when he killed a
coyote, the coyote's pups starved. Now I could write
about how a boy took a captive wolf back to the
wilds and released it. I could write about a boy's
friendship with a bear, about the ways of wildlings
unmolested by man. And I did. I wrote one book
after another, and my guns gathered dust. And what
ammunition I had left became useless and I sank it
into one of my ponds so it would be defused and
could harm no one.
12
   Only one rod-and-gun job still remained to me.
I hadn't quit as associate editor of Field and Stream.
But then I wrote a book, Wild Goose, Brother Goose,
and as a result my name was removed from the
masthead of the magazine. It seemed I had committed
a really mortal sin! I had libeled the hunter, but of
course, nobody made a point of mentioning for how
many years it was the goose which had been libeled.
  So at last I was free, and it was a relief because
now not anyone could tell me how and what to write.
So I wrote about the almost heroic struggles of Peg
Leg Pete, a one-legged mallard. I wrote about how a
"sidewalk Indian" rediscovered the wild ways. I wrote
about dogs and farm boys and all the things I liked.
  Except I still bought a sportsman's license, and I
still bought a duck stamp. And sometimes I dusted
off my guns, and sometimes I drove to the marsh
where I had once had a duck blind to see how the
northernbirds were coming in. And I can tell you
that the heritage which my hunting forebears passed
along sometimes still sang piercingly on the night
wind, and ran like rapid fire through my veins.
  And even now I still awaken to hear the wild
goose call, and then when I sleep again I dream that
I am back in a goose pit trying to coax a wary
gander into gun range, and I awaken with a start
and my breathing has quickened and my heart is
beating faster.
  So perhaps the end of my affair with the wild ones
has not yet been written. Because, though I'd run the
man who killed one of my chipmunks right from here
to hell and gone, I still come sometimes at dawn and,
seeing a duck flock tail by on a high wind, wonder
how it might feel again to swing a fast gun out
ahead of them.
  But maybe if you have never been a hunter you
cannot understand about these things which send men
out to kill. Maybe if the difference between eating
bread or having a nice coot stew was one shotgun
shell you might understand how it sometimes is with
the hunter. And still, by the same token, if you have
not formed some sincere friendships with the wild
ones, likely you cannot understand either how some
people can tolerate absolutely no killing-little matter
the circumstances.
  So for me, what will tomorrow bring? What about
this metamorphosis of the writer, the hunter? Well,
I've had the best part of a hunter's life, and also the
best part of a dedicated nature lover's life. And
whatever I do, this I know: I am glad it was my
privilege to live on this earth. I am glad to have met
the wild ones with a gun in my hands, and I am
glad that I have met them offering nothing but life.
  I am glad about it no matter how it turns out-
whether I hunt or not-because I have discovered that
in them, the wild ones, there is a little of me, and I
am sure now that in me there is more than a little
of the wild ones.


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