Theodore Roosevelt’s Legacy
Many sportsmen consider President Theodore Roosevelt the father of our modern conservation movement. At a minimum, he was our first Conservation President, and one of the most influential in developing federal programs to preserve our forests, game habitat and all wildlife species. Like all of us, he loved the great outdoors and cherished his time afield harvesting our panoply of game animals which dotted the American landscape at the turn of the 20th century.
But he hated the wanton waste of our game and natural resources which were taking place before the turn of the century. We think of Roosevelt as a big-game hunter as a result of his founding of the Boone and Crockett Club, but his conservation and game preservation influence was equally as inspiring to the shotgun hunters of his day. He certainly was a strong influence over the manner in which Rufus Ingraham Jones (“Season of ’42”, March 2014 issue) comported himself as he interacted with upland-game species with his Fox and Ithaca shotguns at the turn of the 20th century.
I always wondered what inspired Grandfather Jones to preserve and display his game in such a unique way. Rufus was born in 1883 and would have just graduated from high school in 1901. That was the year Vice President Theodore Roosevelt became our 26th president. Grandfather had a leather-bound collection of Presidential Letters covering Presidential correspondence through 1913, and there was a bookmark in the collection of Theodore’s Presidential proclamations.
We all know Teddy was an avid hunter and conservationist. Among his many contributions to the preservation of our game species, he set aside the first 51 Federal bird reserves. It took only a little research to discover Teddy was also a taxidermist. At age 12, he studied taxidermy with an associate of ornithologist, naturalist and painter John James Audubon and was hunting plover with a double-barrel shotgun when he was 14. Today, few of us would consider taking a course in taxidermy and attempt to master the art of creating a living background in oils just to preserve the memory of our hunting experiences.
But it would appear those who were passionate about hunting at the turn of the 20th century followed the example set by President Roosevelt in preserving the game birds and animals they shot with their doubles and presenting them in a realistic oil on wood landscape. (Note: In addition to game animals he shot with his shotguns, Rufus, much like President Roosevelt, mounted birds and animals donated by the local zoo).
Grandfather Jones had a special room where he displayed his Roosevelt-inspired wildlife art. It was the attic in their two-bedroom home in Lafayette, Indiana, (photo circa 1937). I remember seeing his special room, right after his death in 1945. I was in awe of his artistry in preserving memories of his upland game hunts with his shotguns, along with memories of the bass he caught on a split bamboo fly rod on the lake I now call my second home at Lake Leelanau, Michigan.
Grandfather’s love for shotgun hunting with his Fox and Ithaca doubles, coupled with his artistic bent, led him to preserve his memories of the hunt with mounts of his game birds and animals displayed on oil-painted scenes. His paintings depicted the action as he remembered the hunt. Like Roosevelt, he detested wasting any portion of the game he harvested, using the hooves of a deer he shot with the Fox as the support arms for his custom shotgun rack. He then painted his pointer Sally on the hardwood background. Grandfather learned taxidermy through a correspondence course from Northwestern University and was a self-taught artist. His Kodak Bellows camera loaded with 616 film preserved some black-and-white stills, but his vivid memory of shotgun hunting action with his dogs in the field provided the inspiration for his game mounts displayed on oil-painted hunting scenes in his special room in the attic. You saw one of his artistic recreations of a pheasant hunt in Part One of my review of RST Ammunition (January 2017 issue).
I never had the opportunity to hunt game with my grandfather, and my father's passion was limited to fishing. So, in no small measure, I attribute the Game Art legacy left to me by Rufus as the inspiration for my lifelong passion for shotguns and bird hunting. Had I just inherited his shotguns, it may not have been enough to guide me in my young and impressionable years. I attribute the strong influence of grandfather's VISUALS as the inspiration for decades of enjoyment with my shotguns. If you are looking for a way to inspire future generations of family members and their friends to follow in your footsteps, you may want to consider creating a special collection of hunting art to communicate your passion for shotgun hunting.
Hunters are conservationists. We love the game birds and animals we hunt and dedicate many hours and dollars to the continued preservation of our game and habitat. And, when we harvest a game bird, we grieve quietly if the kill does not contribute in some measure to a greater good. At a minimum, we insist on eating the flesh and go to great lengths to preserve visual monuments to God’s game animals. In Teddy Roosevelt’s era, taxidermy and oil painting art were popular mediums. Today, we’re blessed with digitally created canvases, needlepoint art, oil on canvas artistry, sculptures and publications like Shotgun Sports Magazine to preserve our memories.
I feel blessed, in some small way, to have been influenced by the Roosevelt Conservation movement through my grandfather. Over the years, I’ve felt a need to keep my game bag light and to preserve the memory of the game I harvested through various artistic mediums. I’m not personally blessed with the artistic skills of grandfather, but Lyda and I have explored various mediums to preserve the memory of those precious days afield. Many of those memories are stored in photo albums, framed photographic prints, needlepoint art, oil on canvas art and taxidermy. I’ll share my thoughts on this subject in hopes that you, too, will be inspired to preserve precious memories of your days afield with your shotgun.
Shotguns: Meaning Beyond the Sportsman’s Tool
Most of you don’t think of your gun collection as a celebration of the game species you hunt, but for me it definitely is. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before when I hunt game, it is important the gun I carry on a hunt bears special significance beyond its use as a tool to harvest game. Each gun in the gun cabinet adds meaning to my life as a sportsman, beyond utilitarian value. Each gun reminds me of special hunting partners, unique canine companions and the memory of a special hunt which has endured through the ages.
I built and hunted with muzzleloading shotguns for over a decade, in part because the century-old technology added a challenge to the hunt which made the harvesting of each duck, pheasant and woodcock more meaningful. And now, when I look upon my full-stock flintlock fowler, it instantly brings back fond memories of the few times I was actually successful in harvesting game. After 35 years, I can still remember the exact circumstances accompanying a successful quest for game. It is, indeed, ironic the guns which were responsible for filling boxcars with Illinois ducks in the 1800s are now a conservation tool in the hands of those who love a challenge. So for me, each shotgun does, indeed, have special meaning beyond utilitarian value as a means to harvest game birds.
At the top of almost everyone’s list of artistic mediums is photographic art. In the days of Grandfather Jones, he used a Kodak Bellows camera and 616 film to preserve black-and-white images. The negatives were so large they didn’t need an enlarger to make suitable prints.
Today, with the advent of digital photography, the presentation formats are endless. At the top of my list is the availability of inexpensive canvas prints. A 1.0-megabyte digital image from your camera or smartphone can be transformed into a wall hanging to adorn the wall of your den. An attractive canvas print display of your days afield with your shotguns will remind those who visit how rewarding an avocation the shotgun sports can be. Your friends won't know the outdoor legacy was inspired, in some measure, by President Theodore Roosevelt, but you can tell them our story.
Much of my early wall art consisted of framed needlepoints lovingly and masterfully crafted by Lyda. The cost was minimal, but the memories each evoke bring a lump to my throat when I recall the hours she dedicated to her craft. I’m absolutely certain these won’t go to auction when our daughters inherit Lyda’s beautiful collection of dogs and game birds.
I also have two oil on canvas paintings of past canine companions depicted in a South Dakota landscape I shall never forget. They were painted after our pheasant hunts by our guide. Each would command minimal value at auction, but they resurrect priceless memories for me. And, they will remind my guests of how rewarding a pheasant hunt out West can be.
Reprints of original oil on canvas art can resurrect memories of hunting dogs and companions past. Somewhere along the way our fascination with Golden Retrievers as a hunting breed led to the purchase of a numbered print by Crowe. I think it was right after we had raised our own litter of Golden puppies.
Roosevelt may have popularized feather art, but I can assure you it is alive and well today in various forms. Somewhere along the way you’ll harvest a game bird which holds particular meaning. The woodcock I shot with my 12-bore flintlock in the ’80s fell into that category. You saw it in my article on woodcock hunting with Ron Keller and Mark Steih (April 2016 issue). I had spent most of a year building a half-stock and a full-stock fowler in the early ’80s, and another year learning how to shoot them at skeet and trap with enough proficiency to attempt hunting game birds. I knew a few migrant woodcock were hanging out in a local covert south of Merrill, Michigan, and I was determined to bring one to bag.
After several attempts, I got lucky with the half-stock fowler and headed off to the taxidermist the next afternoon. A year later I harvested a pair of ringneck ducks with my full-stock flintlock fowler. I’m extremely fortunate Mark Steih has been my grouse-hunting mentor. Mark’s father was an avid hunter and decorative decoy carver. Mark combined his genetic predisposition for sporting artwork with his love for grouse hunting (“Anatomy of a Grouse Gun”, March 2015 issue) into a unique art form. Mark preserves and attractively displays his grouse fans on a hardwood base. Killing a grouse is such a unique experience for me that Mark preserves each of my precious grouse fans with an engraved brass plate inscribed with the date, hunting party, grouse dogs and guns involved in the hunt.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you one of the most wonderful surprises of my life was a week-long series of decoy carving lessons Lyda surprised me with Christmas morning in 1983. A gentleman by the name of Jack Teegarden was offering decoy-carving classes in his woodshop behind his home in Buckley, Michigan. We stayed at the cottage on the lake, and I drove daily to Jack’s workshop for lessons. The two Chesapeake Canvasback decoys I carved in class are displayed prominently on the fireplace mantel in my Shotgun Sports Room. I subsequently began the process of making my own hand-carved working decoys with hunting companion Dick Laramy. Shortly thereafter, I began carving cork-bodied decorative decoys for our daughters. Dick and I used the working, cedar block decoys to hunt ducks on the lake with our muzzleloading shotguns, and each daughter now has a complete set of decorative, hand-carved diver and puddle duck decoys on display in their homes. I even crafted six canvas-bodied Currituck Sound Geese to complement the growing assortment of working and decorative decoys. Funny how a love for shotguns and duck hunting will spin off into related hobbies.
The writers’ art last, but certainly not least, is an infinite collection of books and magazines on all aspects of the shotgun sports. When I was writing for Muzzleloader Magazine, I accumulated a small assortment of original/reproduction texts from the 19th century. Greener, Hawker, Forester, Bumstead and Stonehenge come to mind. But the bulk of my book collection is on specific guns of historical interest (Winchester Model 21 along with specific works on Spanish, Ithaca and Fox doubles) and texts of note by McIntosh, Brister, Zutz and others on the sport we all love. All of us would be honoring Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy if we created a library of popular literature on our sport. You’ll find a starter list of books on the shotgun sports by our most acclaimed authors on page 50 of this journal.
Your pursuit of the shotgun sports will undoubtedly follow along different lines than mine, and the artifacts and works of art you choose to collect will be personal. But regardless of the shotgun path you choose, the treasured collection you surround yourself with will provide comfort and meaning to your life as you build on the sport you love. But more importantly, it will provide inspiration to those who follow you to pursue all aspects of our shotgun sports with passion. Theodore Roosevelt created a model for Rufus Ingraham Jones circa 1901, and Grandfather Jones gave me inspiration via the legacy art collection he mastered in the 1920s and 1930s. May your collection of memories inspire another generation of sportsmen in the 21st century. SS
Ron Jones is a retired pharmacist of 49 years who confesses his first love after family and God are shotguns and hunting. His first shotgun experience was his grandfather’s 1911 Ithaca Flues 20, and that experience nearly caused him to look for more pleasurable avocations. He admits to missing all 50 targets his father threw with their Remington hand trap, and the experience resulted in a headache which wouldn’t quit. But his love for guns, particularly vintage scatterguns, has remained with him in the ensuing 60 years. Our heritage is important. Preserving and embracing the values and traditions which our forefathers have handed down will enrich the experiences of those who follow. In some small measure, Ron hopes to contribute to that body of knowledge the younger generation embraces.