From 1904 to 1941, the DeBary family recorded the kind and amount of game killed in hunts on or near their namesake winter retreat. Along with the game bagged on registered hunts, the family documented various notes from these excursions, including weather conditions, hunting locations, wildlife observations, the amount of guns or people involved in each hunt, and remarks on the training and health of their hunting dogs. For this project, I focused only on the recordings documenting the wild game killed on the property. The following charts were generated to help visualize and understand the data within the ledger. After transcribing and organizing the game record’s scrawled cursive into spreadsheets, I was able to use Shiva VisualEyes tools to chart this raw data into coherent and interpretive graphs. The following charts not only exhibit a very diverse makeup in the kinds of game killed at DeBary Hall, but they also show a gradual decline in the amount of game hunted at DeBary Hall over the span of the 37 years recorded in the ledger. This rundown will examine each chart created and make deductions from their findings. Afterwards, I will explain the significance of the ledger and its data to revealing new details on Florida and US Southern history in general.
Before diving into the numbers killed, the first question that should be asked is this: What game did the DeBarys and their guests hunt the most of? These pie charts break down the kills by kinds of animals.
94% of the animals killed by the DeBarys were quail and snipe. Quail took up 66% of the ledger’s recorded kills, equaling 6,172 killed over the ledger’s 37 year span. Snipe took up 28% of the ledger’s total kills, equaling to 2,564. Considering that each of these birds have their own space for recordings in the ledger, this find was expected. The “quail” hunted here was the Northern Bobwhite, which thrives in pine forests like those that once dominated the landscape around DeBary Hall and Central Florida as a whole. Choice habitat plays a part in quail’s strong presence in this ledger, but the DeBary family might have also raised quail on their property to hunt them in the field. Because there is photographic evidence of the family raising pheasants, another popular game bird, and that there are notes within the ledger observing quail as “very wild,” it is safe to assume that the DeBary household at least dabbled in raising and managing quail populations on their acreage.
The “snipe” recorded in the ledger refers to Wilson’s Snipe, a shorebird that is hunted more for sport than meat. Known for flying in a fast, zigzagging path, Wilson’s Snipe are challenging game to take down for a marksmen. Their migration into Florida for the winter made them key targets for the DeBarys as they finished out their seasonal stay at the hall.
5.96% of the remaining game were either ducks, bass, or doves, which were recorded in the ledger under a space titled “Various.” 356 ducks were recorded within the ledger. Though ducks make up a mere 3% of the game killed, this group was the most diverse when it came to specific species represented. The DeBarys recorded six kinds of duck being shot within their game record, which were the Hooded Merganser, the American Black Duck (Blackhead), the Mallard, the Blue-Winged Teal, the Lesser Scaup (Broadbill), and the Ruddy Duck. 156 bass, most likely Largemouth Bass or Striped Bass , were fished at the hall, making up 2% of the game recorded. Mourning Doves, totaling at 54 recorded kills, make up 0.6% of the ledger’s game.
The remaining 0.4% of the game recorded in the ledger, labeled “Other Game” in the preceding pie chart, is divided between nine animals that were killed irregularly among the more popular targets The next pie chart will break down the 0.4% of “Other Game.”
Within the variety of creatures that make up the remaining 0.4% of kills, rattlesnakes and rails make up 0.1%, a quarter of the “Other Game” represented in the previous pie chart. 14 rattlesnakes, presumably Eastern Diamondbacks, were all killed in one day. The 11 rails (shorebirds) were killed randomly, and they were made up of 3 distinct species; the King Rail, the Greater Yellowlegs, and the American Coot. The 6 Killdeer recorded in the ledger met their deaths in one day like the rattlesnakes, making up 0.06%. Raccoon and Foxes, numbering 4 kills each, make up 0.04%. Alligators and rabbits make up 0.02%, or 2 killed each. A single deer and a lone Bald Eagle make up the remaining game percentage with 0.01% each.
All in all, 13 kinds of animals were killed at DeBary Hall. Of these creatures, only two of them were considered endangered or threatened during the ledger’s time span, the Bald Eagle and the American Black Duck. Both species though have recovered their numbers since then and are of least concern for now. Fortunately, the Debarys did not aid substantially in creating a threatened, endangered, or extinct species. However, a gradual decline in kills is observed in the ledger when one tallies the amount of game killed per season.
This line chart demonstrates a decline in all game numbers over the time period recorded in the DeBary Hall hunting ledger. A “season” represents the time the family was in Florida. The DeBarys usually came into Florida by early November/mid-December, and they would stay until the coming of Spring in early March. This chart generates the sums of the quail, snipe, and the rest of the game killed each season. On average, snipe and all the other game declined one kill per season. Quail, despite being game that was more or less raised by the family, declined 6 kills per season on average. Three notable declines are explainable: the 1908 season was not recorded in the ledger, and the 1924 and 1925 season were banned by state legislation to actually help bird numbers recover. But even considering this background information, the lines representing game kills show far more decrease than increase or stability in kills over time. This bar chart below also exemplifies this conclusion in the data:
With a gradual decline so evident within this data, it begs a bigger question; what is responsible for this obvious declivity? There are two possible answers to this question, and each can be supported by more data held within the pages of the ledger.
The first viable answer is a growing disinterest toward hunting by the DeBary family as time progressed. An analysis of the average days hunted in each season questions this supposition, determining if mere lack of interest over time explains a decline in kills. Here is a graph exhibiting the days hunted per season:
As one can see, the amount of days hunted per season is a little but not too similar with the gradual decline in kills charted previously. The average season had 18.5 hunting days. The 1912 and 1917 seasons had the most days hunted at 37 and 42 while the 1914 and 1937 were very short at 4 days each. The days hunted in these seasons are reflected and seemingly explain the high and low game kills of those years, but other seasons do not coordinate in such ways. For example, the 1936 and 1939 seasons had above average days hunted, but the kill numbers were much more dismal than previous seasons with around the same amount of days hunted. For the most part, the days hunted do affect the amount of kills per season, but, as shown in the kill numbers and the days hunted of the 1930s, there was no obvious disinterest over time that explains the gradual decline of game kills recorded in the ledger.
The second and probably the most viable answer is a reply already stressed by environmentalist and conservationists abroad. Continued human population growth and development of Central Florida’s natural environment throughout the early 20th century led to habitat loss and thus a decline in game and wild animals within the peninsula. More research and data is needed to solidify this claim, but it is a safe assumption to make. Though the population did not boom in Florida before WWII like it did afterwards, tourists and farmers were already permeating and establishing their presence in the peninsula. With this influx of people, the environment suffered. Increasing human population in the early 20th century transformed Florida’s hinterlands through the expansion of agriculture, the dredging of wetlands, and the introduction of invasive plants and animals (even in the ledger, one can see complaints of nonnative water hyacinth choking the waterways and grounds for birds). Because of a late Victorian fashion trend in feathered hats, widespread unrestricted hunting also came into the state, decimating thousands of birds. Florida already suffered multiple blows to its natural resources and ecosystems even before the 1904 season was recorded in the ledger, prompting early regional conservation groups like to retaliate through supporting the passage bird protection laws and hiring wardens to enforce those laws. There is quite a bit of historical evidence on the existence of habitat change throughout the state already, so it more than likely is a factor at least on the reduction of game numbers over time in the ledger. Though the ledger does not concisely describe the effects of habitat loss and development on the environment around DeBary hall, it does contain some details that can be used to help prove this point further. Bevy observations run through portions of the ledger (these are notes chronicling the amount of quail groups, or bevies, seen during a hunt), but, because of inconsistent and sometimes piecemeal recordings, they are not as trustworthy as the daily listings of kills. Nevertheless, such data could strengthen the notion that wildlife species were dwindling because of human activity.
Despite begging bigger questions to be answered, this project did succeed in doing one thing; it shows how incredibly valuable this ledger, and other hunting ledgers like it, are at revealing the environmental conditions of the past and enriching the ecological history of Florida and the US South. By recording the game killed, these documents offer an intimate glimpse into historic wildlife numbers that were not as documented as they are in more recent decades. The addition and comparison of other hunting ledgers inside and outside of Florida can reveal just how much the environment changed in this state and other North American regions as human development prospered, and such data can show the true impact of human activity over the lands and waters of the continent over time. Though this project only uncovers one small regions’ wildlife numbers, it can be used as a template for similar studies in the future and slowly began a reevaluation by environmental historians into how wildlife numbers in the US and have responded to, respond to, and will respond to human activity in prior, present, and prospected times.
James A. “Drew” Padgett