Building an Adirondack Guideboat-Hunting by Guideboat

The Adirondack guideboat was designed and built for hunting.  Wealthy “sports” from the eastern cities came to the Adirondack mountains to hunt and fish.  They expected their guide to take them to the “hot” fishing grounds and to find them a trophy buck or two.  The guideboat was the vehicle to take them on “safari”, much like the Land Rovers in Africa provided the means to hunt trophy animals.

So the guides were expected to lead a party of “greenhorns” on expedition into the wilderness for a week or longer.  Guides rowed the boat (and carried it when necessary), set up camp, cooked the meals, provided entertainment when required, and organized the hunting and fishing forays.  They did all of this for about $2 a day.

The pressure must have been enormous on the guides to satisfy their client’s quest for adventure.  The sports needed some proof to those back home that their tall tales were to be believed.  So the guides bent the rules of sportsmanship to satisfy the expectations of their “sportsmen”.

One hunting technique was apparently very popular.  It involved floating for deer from the guideboat at night.  Another name for floating for deer is jacking, or using a bright light to freeze the deer in the “headlights”, so to speak.  Here is a sketch by Davis done in 1868 for Harper’s Weekly of the practice of floating for deer.

Floating for deer in the Adirondacks.
Floating for deer in the Adirondacks. Figure courtesy of the Adirondack Museum.

At first the lantern was a crude one using a candle with a reflector of birch bark.  Later on various versions of oil lamps would be used including one fastened to a fireman’s helmet.  This gave the hunter a greater chance of success because the light penetrated deeper into the marsh.

Marshes provide wonderful feeding grounds for deer.  They will come to feed there in daylight but especially at night.  Note that the guide is using a paddle to propel the boat rather than oars.  Using oars would be too noisy for this method of hunting

Guides apparently took great pride in their ability to hunt from their boats at night.  Here is a photo of the famous North Country guide Reuben Cary and his party after a hunt the night before.  What has always intrigued me about this photo is that Reuben is holding his paddle while the others are brandishing their weapons. It is as if he is saying they would not have been successful if it were not for me and my boat and paddle.

Reuben Cary and his party after a successful hunt the night before.
Reuben Cary and his party after a successful hunt the night before.  Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Museum.

Guide’s paddles are longer than canoe paddles.  Perhaps this is because guides could use them to pole the boat along in shallow water. Their paddles also had an interesting “motif” just below the grip.  The motif was unique to the paddle maker and took on various shapes.  One common feature of guideboat paddles is the round disk, or lollipop grip.  If you want to know more about them and some of the characters who used them you can check out my book “Guideboat Paddles An Adirondack Treasure”.

Another popular hunting method back then was hounding, or using one or more hounds to chase deer into a lake where the hunter awaited in his guideboat.  Here is a photo taken by Seneca Ray Stoddard of the results of such a hunt.  The giveaway for the hunting method is the hound in the guideboat.

A successful hunt using a hound. Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Museum
A successful hunt using a hound. Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Museum

Hounding and jacking for deer have long been outlawed in NY State.  However poachers are still caught using a spotlight to jack deer.  The practice is not common and is certainly frowned upon these days.

I always wondered if the sport ever assisted his guide by paddling from the stern seat.  In modern two man guideboat races the stern man paddles while the bow man rows.  They change place “on the fly” during the race to give each a change.  I finally found proof that, at least sometimes, the sport helped out.  Here is the photographic proof from Seneca Ray Stoddard.

GB paddle-4

Note that the guideboat is one made around the time when builders switched to double-ended boats. It has a beautiful wine glass stern and looks to have a lapstrake hull rather than a smooth skin. It was probably built around 1860 to 1880.

The view of the Adirondack high peaks in this photo is spectacular. I believe the mountain in the center is Nippletop.  Nippletop mountain is the thirteenth highest peak in the Adirondacks at 4620 feet high.  It takes a a 12.6 mile hike of 10 hours to reach it and return.

Next time: the ribs are finished.

One comment on “Building an Adirondack Guideboat-Hunting by Guideboat”

  1. Good morning, Dr. Fisher. I’ve been meaning to reply to your posts about how much I appreciate your work and the time you take to share it with fellow enthusiasts. I’m finally getting around to writing you because I can help identify the mountain in the last photo. It is in fact Mt Haystack from the Upper Ausable Lake Inlet. The cut in the foreground is across from Inlet Camp. Loons nest on the island to the right, but I keep hush about that. I’m an artist who has grown up blessed with experiences at our Upper Lake camp. I often paint from our guideboats and always make a pilgrimage to the ‘back’ end of Pitcher Plant Bog where the view of Haystack is sublime. Thank you for your work and your blog. I have done repairs to our boats but admit not in the traditional ways. A guide fiber-glassed the hulls decades ago so we stick with it. We need them to traverse their home waters and that’s it.

    Wishing you well,

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