About 1940 most of the predators of North America got to feeling their biological oats. They took off on an increase spree that in less than a decade added up to amazing abundance. Wolves prospered in the Arctic, marten and fisher showed up in forests where they had long been rare or absent, otter and mink pelts poured into the market, coon hunting got better and better, the coyote spread north and east, and that sinister citizen, Bre'r Fox, really took over. He spread his offspring, too thick, over much of the U.S.A.
It was what wildlife men call a general "irruption" of predators, and they do not claim complete understanding of what produces it.
Overlapping this was another sequence of events, possibly related, which is just as poorly understood and just as spectacular. In the early '40s, when the predators were first beginning their increase, such northern game as hares, rabbits, and grouse reached boomtime abundance in what your technical help talk about, uncautiously, as "the peak of the game cycle." It comes roughly at 10-year intervals, and this time it included two alien birds, the Hungarian partridge and pheasant. Natives and exotics alike were treating gunners to best-ever shooting in 1941-42.
It looked like the reward for good living, and sportsmen got set to enjoy it forever. Then the bottom dropped out. It was the sorriest game depression in recent years, and it hit a low in '46-'47. The predators were still on their population upswing.
When the game numbers dropped, while the predators prospered, there seemed to many hunters an obvious connection. The fox got the black ball. Certain state game commissions thought they had proved to sportsmen that bounties were a waste of money; but before long they were back at the old stand offering cash for the crown of Reynard.
But during the game decline, pheasants on Ontario's Pelee Island declined. There were no foxes there. This happened also on many mainland areas where there were few or no foxes. Biologists studied this and other evidence and could only conclude that predators had little to do with the scarcity.
For once professional men weren't cagey about predictions. "Sure," they said, "it's a mess, and we don't know all the ins and outs. But it has happened before, and if you'll stick around a while, things will improve."
They did, and by 1950 hunting generally was better. We haven't gone back to the rosy days of '42, but we'll be lucky to see that kind of game bonanza once in half a century.
THE SQUANDERING OF NUMBERS
Few of us ever have the chance to see the squandering of numbers that goes on in wild-game populations. When we do, it looks completely out of hand. Wholesale carnage is the status quo. It's the normal thing for around 60% of pheasant and other game-bird nests to fail for one reason or another. Weather extremes and just plain abandonment may be more important than predators. Frequently over half of the chicks are "expended" between hatching and the hunting season. This happens in good ranges where hunters are happiest. In poor ranges it's worse.