Monday, May 14, 2012

Market Hunting & Plumes

With the development of the shotgun came an increase in waterfowl hunting. By the 19th century market hunting with shotguns allowed the taking of dozens of geese and ducks, sometimes by mounting several guns on a boat or sinkbox. In one day hundreds of birds could be killed, then shipped to northern markets. Because of such indiscriminate hunting practices the early 20th century saw a steep decline in migratory waterfowl and the beginning of a robust conservation movement. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and the Federal Duck Stamp Act of 1934 put an end to market hunting and the wholesale slaughter of waterfowl.

A couple of weeks ago I had an interesting conversation with a visitor to Ocracoke. Although market hunting was practiced on the Outer Banks, including Ocracoke, it was less economically feasible in isolated areas such as Ocracoke. Because of the greater distance to markets, it was more difficult to preserve the birds and more costly to ship them.

Some remote areas, I was told, resorted to plume hunting. In the early nineteenth century egret, heron, and other such fancy feathers were in demand by the military and makers of ladies' hats. Unlike whole birds, feathers could be stockpiled without preservatives, and shipped to markets at the convenience of the hunter. The bird carcasses were simply tossed aside once the feathers were harvested.

I was curious to know if any Ocracokers had ever been engaged as plume hunters. There has been little written about this almost forgotten enterprise, and I had never heard of any islanders who killed birds just for their feathers. I even asked Blanche about this. Blanche was born immediately after the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed, so the practice had been stopped for several years when she was growing up. Blanche told me she had never heard of anyone on Ocracoke engaged in market hunting for plumes. As one who loves wildlife and appreciates the natural world I am sure she is happy to know (or at least to believe) that plume hunting was never resorted to on the island.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of Project Nutmeg, and how Ocracoke almost became a site for testing nuclear weapons. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous6:51 AM

    Maybe I'm not fully awake yet, but I am clueless...what use would the military have for feathers?

  2. Many military hats in the 1800s were adorned with plumes. As it turns out, I am reading War and Peace right now, and there are numerous mentions of officers' hats decorated with feathers and plumes.

  3. Anonymous8:47 AM

    Oooh I never would have guessed that. Thanks for the enlightenment. Doing a little light reading, huh? Enjoy :)

  4. Anonymous3:08 PM


    Hello from beautiful Haddon Heights, NJ. Oh how Sasha & I miss Ocracoke! I wanted to let you know how much I "enjoyed being frightened" on the ghost walk tour.
    Walking down British Cemetery Road was never the same after Tuesday.
    I never did go back to visit Aunt Lorraine's burial plot. I needed an excuse to come back to the island again. I may even be brave and rent a house on Howard Street.
    Your tales were hair raising! I will never forget how my heart dropped and the fear that accompanied me on the walk home that night. I am sure there were some spirits tagging along too. One of the highlights of my journey in paradise.

  5. Vicki, thank you for the testimonial. It certainly was fun to have you join our Ghost & History Walk. I hope you don't have too many frightening dreams! We hope to see you on your next visit to the island.

  6. Anonymous2:19 AM

    Oh Horse feathers. Remember when raising ostriches was the rage? A farm raising the birds was willing to donate molted feathers to my son's 4th grade class for hat decorations. The Nutcracker I was in charge of hats for the soldiers and I knew of this ostrich farm. but what to do with smelly yes, that's right-- feathers, that need a bath?? It involved a paper bag and a hair dryer what an endeavor. I might say the hats made from tag board from a paper craft book visor braid looked rather marching band but hey , those 4th graders took their role seriously- fightin those mice

  7. hello friends hello admim how are you.?? ı m from turkey in ankara ı working hunting shop everybody thanks