Duck hunting has changed greatly since the days of unlimited duck kills, as the limit of fifty ducks a day established in 1902 has fallen to the present three. A legitimate hunter now, Dale Hamm learned the art of market hunting—taking waterfowl out of season and selling them to restaurants—from his father during the l920s. During the l930s and l940s, he kept his family alive by market hunting. At the peak of his career, Hamm poached every private hunting club along the Illinois River from Havana to Beardstown.
After market hunting died out, Hamm became a legendary and almost respected—albeit controversial—character on the Illinois backwaters. He was eventually invited to hunt on the same clubs from which he had once been chased at the point of a shotgun. He hunted with judges, sheriffs, and the head of undercover operations for the Illinois Department of Conservation, all of whom knew of his reputation. He passed on to these hunting partners a lifetime of outdoor knowledge gained from slogging through mud, falling through ice, hunting ducks at three o’clock in the morning, dodging game wardens, and running the world’s only floating tavern.
"I always said if anyone ever cut open one of us Hamms, all they’d find was duck or fish," Hamm once said of his family. Now in his eighties, Hamm still carries a pellet from a shotgun in his chin to remind him of a shotgun blast that ricocheted off the water and into his face. Bakke notes that it is appropriate that a man who spent his life with a shotgun in his hands should carry a bit of buckshot wherever he goes.
Everyone who ever met Dale Hamm has a story about him. His own story is that of a one-of-a-kind character who, in his later years, used his considerable outdoor savvy to conserve the natural resources he once savaged. "His time and kind are gone," Bakke notes, "and there will never be another like him."
This book will be of interest to anyone who has ever been hunting—or who enjoys reading about colorful people and times that exist no more.