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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Legend of Jack Miner

Thanksgiving morning November 22, 2007 was a day that changed my life. Normally I spent Thanksgiving morning hunting pheasants with family and/or close friends, just one of those traditional things we always did, even though the pheasant numbers have drastically fallen off in our area. But this year I wanted to be alone. I had recently lost my mother due to cancer, and Thanksgiving was our favorite holiday. I was really having a hard time trying to deal with the fact that I would never be able to share this special day with her again.
I chose not to go on our traditional pheasant hunt, instead decided to take my young lab and a few decoys down to my duck blind on the Maumee River. I still to this day have no idea why I picked this location, I hadn’t seen any ducks around there all season. It was as if I was supposed to hunt there this particular morning. I spent most of my time just thinking about Mom, and all the special times we shared together over the past 27 years. Occasionally I would look over at my one year old lab Sadie, smiling as I watched her play on the bank of the river. Ducks could have been moving or even working my spread but I really never paid attention to the sky. I was deep in thought, trying to find a way to salvage this day of thanks. I sat until 9:30 and decided to head for home. Just as I leaned forward to stand up I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I looked closely, and saw two mallards approaching from down river. I made a couple subtle quacks with my duck call and the pair of mallards hooked in with their wings set. I stood up and fired one shot, dropping a fat drake. The other duck, a hen, got a free pass that morning. I wasn’t ready to send my lab into the fast moving current, she was just along for moral support on this hunt. So I tied her up in the blind, and slid my little jon boat into the water. I rowed down stream trying to catch up with the old drake. I finally pulled up beside him and flung him into the boat. As this beautiful bird laid at my feet, I caught a glimpse of something on it’s right leg. I stopped rowing and started drifting down stream. As I picked him up I saw he was sporting an old worn out aluminum band. As I took a closer look, I began to read the words “Be Not Afraid; Only Believe - Mark 5-36, Jack Miner Foundation, Kingsville, ON.
I was immediately overwhelmed with emotion. I had heard the tales of Miner Bands and there biblical scriptures, but had never seen one in person. I knew this was no coincidence, this was a sign, a message from mom telling me she was still with me, and that I need not worry about her. It was her way of helping me through this rough time, like she had done so many times before.
I made it home later that morning, and after we enjoyed our Thanksgiving feast, I picked up the phone. I contacted Kirk Miner, the grandson of Jack Miner, who now runs the sanctuary up in Kingsville. He congratulated me on my recovery and thanked me for reporting it. I never went into detail about the significance of the band, but I didn’t have to. Before we said our goodbyes he told me that his grandfather always said “It might sound strange, but we really believe the people that recover our bands are meant to get them.” He said, “It’s Gods way of reaching into their lives.”
I started doing some more research about Jack Miner and his sanctuary. I soon realized I was apart of something very special.
The legend of Jack Miner dates back to April 10th 1865. The day “The Father of Conservation” was born. Jack lived with his parents and nine brothers and sisters in a small town in Ohio (Now known as Westlake, Ohio) until the age of 13. At that time they moved to Gosfield South Township, just outside Kingsville, Ontario, Canada. There, Miner became a professional trapper and market hunter. Over the years he developed a special bond with the animals for which he pursued. That’s when his vision of conservation began. He started building brushwood shelters and providing grain to the Bobwhite quail, which he noticed had a difficult time surviving the winter. In 1904 he dug a pond on his 10 acre piece of land, and bought four tame geese. He clipped their wings and hoped they would work as live decoys to lure in migrating geese on their long journey southward. Kingsville was not a prominent stop over for migrating waterfowl at this time, and after two years of disappointing results, the skepticism was high throughout the small town. Neighbors would jokingly greet Jack in the streets with honks and clucks, thus arrived his nick name, “Wild Goose Jack”.
But in 1908, four years after he dug the pond, a group of 11 geese descended out of the sky and landed with the clipped wing decoys. The following year 35 geese graced his small pond, and the year after that the number grew to over 400.
This was when Jack Miner changed the way we’d study waterfowl forever. He had a vision to tag ducks and geese with aluminum bands inscribed with his name and address so he could learn where the birds would travel after they left his property. He decided to mark each band with a biblical verse from an old Salvation Army calendar. By doing this, he thought it would truly label them as “Missionaries of the Air”.
Just five months after he started tagging the birds, the first band was returned. It was from a mallard taken by a hunter in Anderson, South Carolina. The scriptures on the band read, “Keep yourselves in the love of God - Jude 1-21” and “With God all things are possible - Mark 10-27” Soon after that, hunter’s began harvesting geese sporting his biblical bands from the James Bay region.
With the bands being reported at a steady rate, Miner soon mapped and identified the northern nesting grounds and the southern wintering stations of the birds that left his property. All of Jack’s data from the band reports helped establish the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. This Act represented an agreement between six nations which made it unlawful to capture, sell, or kill certain migratory birds.
Jack began digging more ponds, and spreading grain throughout his property. By making a safe stop over area for the birds during there migration. The number of waterfowl steadily grew from 11 geese during the first migration to over 15,000 birds during last years southernly push. The then 10-acre farm, is now a 370 acre waterfowl sanctuary, with 2,000 acres of non-hunting farmland around it.
In 1929 Jack Miner was awarded the Outdoor Life Gold Medal, for “ The greatest achievement in wildlife conservation on the continent”. He was also acknowledged for this award by King George VI.
Jack Miner passed away on November 3rd 1944. He had banded over 50,000 wild ducks and over 40,000 migratory Canada geese. Soon after his passing, many U.S. newspapers rated him 5th Best-Known Man on the continent, behind only Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Charles Lindbergh and Eddie Rickenbacker. And in 1947, just three years after his passing, Canada named the week of April 10th, (his date of birth) National Wildlife Week. An everlasting memorial to remind Canadians of a pioneer who changed the attitude of a continent, against all odds.
Although the man is gone, his legend will live on. His grandson Kirk now runs the day to day operations on the sanctuary. There annual goal is to band 1,000 geese and 2,000 ducks. The data received from there bands are still a vital piece of information used by biologists to decipher the migratory travel of birds and their flight patterns, and to asses the survival of different sexes and age classes of birds.
Jack Miner bands have become collector’s items. “We have people who want to buy them,” Kirk Miner said. “But they’re not for sale… at any price.” At auctions Miner bands have sold for over $500 apiece.
A few weeks after I reported my band to Kirk, I received a package from him in the mail. Enclosed was some great information about his grandfather, a DVD about the sanctuary, and a personalized 8 x 10 certificate that reads,
Dear Robert,
Thanks for your prompt report on the JACK MINER duck band you recovered from a drake mallard today, American Thanksgiving, along the Maumee River, near Liberty Center, Ohio, USA.
JACK MINER duck band # 02598-03 “BE NOT AFRAID; ONLY BELIEVE “ Mark 5:36, was one 471 migrating wild ducks (95% mallards) caught, tagged and released here by myself & volunteers on October 22nd, 2003. (Over 4 years prior)
JACK MINER duck and goose bands, with their unique verses of Biblical scripture, are cherished by collectors around the world and we are pleased you were fortunate enough to get one. Many hunters say it is the JACK MINER band which separates the men from the boys.
Kingsville, on the north shore of Lake Erie, is the southernmost town in Canada, 30 miles SE of Detroit, Michigan, Please visit sometime.
Thanks Robert for making this recovery report possible!
Best wishes,
“Capt” Kirk Miner

Jack Miner once said, “When I came up with the idea of stamping Bible verses on waterfowl bands, it was like a message from God.” I know I have been blessed with one of those messages as well. I will never forget that day as long as I live, and that band will grace my lanyard until it’s time to pass it on to my oldest son. We as waterfowlers owe a great deal of gratitude to Jack Miner and all he has done for our sport. And I know I owe him much more than that. For his band was a true “missionary of the air” and it helped me through one of the roughest times of my life. So if you are ever fortunate enough to recover a Jack Miner band, don’t over look the meaning behind it, for it is a message from God, and it was meant to be.
Other notes:
The Sanctuary is open to the public year round. Monday thru Saturday 8:00am to 5:00pm. Admission is free, the way Jack always wanted it. He once said, about admission to the Sanctuary, “Let there be one place on earth where no money changes hands.”
The Jack Miner Foundation and Bird Sanctuary does not receive any government funding. The operating funds come strictly from gifts and endowments It is a charitable organization in both Canada and the United States. Donations and bequests make it possible to keep the sanctuary open and free to everyone.
The Jack Miner Sanctuary is located in Kingsville, ON, Canada just south of Windsor on the shore of Lake Erie.
Bob Murdock (allflockedup) PHJ FieldStaff    

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