Frankly, Gable was gung-ho about duck hunting
Author: Jimmy Robinson
Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, 10-04-1998, pp 18C.
Editor's note: The late Twin Cities outdoors writer Jimmy Robinson
(1897-1986) wrote this story in 1939, chronicling a duck hunt with
Clark Gable at Robinson's famous Delta Marsh (Manitoba) hunting camp.
The boom, boom of a shotgun shattered the stillness of the vast
delta marsh on Lake Manitoba. Two canvasbacks halted in mid-flight,
hurtled to the rushes and mud below.
The hunter was Clark Gable of Hollywood. He stood in a battered
duck boat, grinning and happier, perhaps, than he had ever been before
on a duck hunt.
``I've fulfilled my life's ambition, Jimmy!'' Clark shouted.
``I've always wanted to shoot the limit of canvasbacks in a single
day - and boy, oh, boy, I've done it at last!'' Clark almost tipped
over the flimsy boat in his enthusiasm.
Gathering in the ducks and pulling in our decoys, we paddled
through the tall rushes and wild rice to the channel which would lead
us back to our little duck camp on the shore of Lake Manitoba, 60
miles west of Winnipeg. Hundreds of mallards, canvasbacks and widgeons
whizzed over our heads to settle in the potholes and bayous of the
Clark Gable insisted upon doing the paddling. All I had to do
was sit on my seat and give steering directions!
It is a far cry from the glare of lights in Hollywood's studios
to the solitude of the Manitoba marshes. The only artificial lights
within miles of the boat in which Clark and I sat were the gasoline
lamps in our hunting shack and those of our neighbors.
Gable liked our Manitoba marsh country. He stayed with us a week.
Each day we visited a different section of the marsh. In spite of
the warm September days, the birds were flying early in the morning
and in the evening - the cream of the waterfowl population of the
``I didn't know there were so many ducks in the world!'' said
Clay targets brought Clark Gable to Manitoba. He loves duck
hunting - it's one of the things he lives for. He's an upland bird
shooter and big game hunter, too. Clay targets, however, are
for Gable's presence on the Canadian prairies. Clark does a lot of
skeet shooting at the Santa Monica Gun Club in California.
Between rounds of skeet at Santa Monica, one winter day in 1935, I told Clark and Jack Conway, motion picture director and Gable's
hunting companion, about our duck hunting on the Manitoba marshes.
My tales attracted Clark's attention to such an extent that when I
suggested that he should join me at Portage la Prairie, Manitoba some
time, he accepted my invitation with alacrity.
Almost three years elapsed. Clark was busy in pictures. His
was confined to skeet, to ducks and doves in California, to doves
in Mexico, to cougars in Arizona.
Grant Ilseng, top ranking skeet shot of 1938, and Ed Williams
started Clark on the Manitoba duck trail. Having listened to my duck
stories at the National Skeet Tournament at Tulsa, Oklahoma, where
they were my roommates, Grant and Ed deluged Clark with yarns about
canvasbacks and mallards when they met him at the Santa Monica Gun
Club a few days after the Tulsa tourney.
On September 10, 1938, I received a wire from Clark in Los
Angeles, addressed to the Sports Afield office in Minneapolis. It read
like this: ``Met Grant Ilseng at gun club today. He informs me that
you are going duck hunting at Lake Manitoba again this year. Have
a week to spare so will take up invitation you gave me a few years
ago if convenient. Wire.'' - Clark Gable.
My reply urged Clark to wait until October, because we were
an unusually warm September in Manitoba. His second wire advised me
that he had to go to work on a new picture in October. I said: ``Come
Clark came by train from Hollywood directly to Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
``I wish you had come a little later,'' I greeted him. ``It's
warm and the ducks are not flying so good.''
``Shucks,'' Clark replied, ``I just came up for a little holiday.
If we don't get any ducks, that's O.K. with me.''
Winnipeg newspaper men, who had been tipped off by Hollywood
correspondents that Gable was coming to Manitoba, shot pictures of
the movie actor even before the Canadian Pacific transcontinental
pulled out. I had made an effort to keep secret Clark's coming, but
to no avail.
``If we can get a few ducks for a feed or two, that'll satisfy
me,'' Gable continued. ``We can sit around the stove at night and
talk about how many we should have gotten. That's what we do in
Clark insisted upon seeing Portage la Prairie before we headed
for the camp. He bought his shells and hunting license at Cadham's
hardware store, then visited the 5 and 10 cent store where he shook
hands with all the girls. Our next stop was at the Leland hotel,
by my old friend, Telf Miller. By this time a big crowd had gathered.
Clark ordered Telf to ``set them up'' for all the boys.
We arrived at the camp - our hunting shack, we call it - at 3
p.m. Clark met the boys. Included in our party were Ernie Maetzold, Minneapolis, vice president of the Amateur Trapshooting Association;
Walt Taylor, Minneapolis, of Sports Afield; Chuck Murphy, Joe Brush, George Hart, Ted Culbertson, Nick Kahler and Phil Fjellman of
Minneapolis, and Phil and Rod Ducharme, local French-Canadian guides. Walter
Peacock, Chicago, veteran trapshooter and member of the Illinois Racing
Commission, was scheduled to be a member of the party but he did not
arrive until after Gable had gone.
``This is swell,'' Clark declared, as he unpacked his grips,
slipped on a pair of slippers and made himself comfortable.
``Take it easy,'' I said. ``We won't do any hunting until tomorrow
Clark rested only a few minutes. The marshes were close. His
body demanded exercise after the long train ride.
``Let's to hunting now, Jimmy!'' he exclaimed. ``I want to take
a look at those ducks I've been hearing so much about. Tomorrow's
too long to wait.''
So we set out to the marsh with Rod Ducharme, our French-Canadian
guide. Clark paddled the boat.
Mallards, canvasbacks and widgeons winged their ways over our
heads. The air was full of ducks. The huge marsh was alive with
A golden September sun, reflected on rushes and wild rice, lent color
to the scene.
``Boy, this is swell!'' exulted Clark.
Fortune smiled at us. We set up our decoys in a little pothole, pushed our boat into the rushes, which are our blinds out here. Sleek
barely and wheat-fed ducks, fattened by crops in nearby fields, decoyed
obligingly. We garnered our limits within an hour.
Gable brought two shotguns with him to Manitoba. One was a double
barrel Parker, the other a Winchester pump. The rest of his outfit
was the kind you or I might wear: a battered Berlin leather hat, six
years old, leather trousers and jacket which had seen plenty of service
in the out-of-doors, light-weight boots, etc.
Gable was among the first up each morning. Usually it was the
sound of his ax biting into the chunks on the woodpile that awakened
me. Our typical schedule was breakfast at six, then out to the marsh, ready to shoot, by sun-up. At noon we returned to camp to rest, to
talk about hunting and fishing trips, to play diamondball.
This man Gable is quite a ball player. He can handle himself
well in the field and when his turn at the bat comes around he connects
often enough to be classed as a fair hitter.
Gable is strong as a bull. He's six feet, one inch tall, weighs
200 pounds. He's fast as a cat - and in tip-top condition. Not only
did he out-shoot me on the marsh but also he out-walked me in hiking
to the marsh. In fact, he out-did me in almost everything except
``Got to watch my diet,'' said Clark. His appetite ran away with
him, however, when Mrs. Robinson served a canvasback hot from the
oven, at the supper table each night. He insisted that the Lake
wall-eyed pike our guides caught were the best-eating fish he ever
Clark's first canvasbacks in years of shooting were the ones
he dropped that first afternoon, a few hours after he got off the
train. Gable insisted that he was just a fair duck shot. He had
no excuses to make about his shooting after he killed that first double
that came in. Although he hasn't shot many ducks, he's an exceptionally
fine duck shot. The speedy way he handled his gun surprised me.
Among the visitors who attracted Gable's attention was Jack
Handily, Manitoba game warden. The pair did a lot of talking about hunting
in the North Country. Several ``mounties'' stopped in to say hello
The camp, a private one leased by the group of Minneapolis
hunters, is located on the Delta Marsh on the south shore of Lake Manitoba, 14 miles north of Portage la Prairie and 60 miles west of Winnipeg.
We can drive to the camp when it doesn't rain. It's two miles from
the camp to the marsh and we drive it with lights when we go out for
the morning shooting. It's a job, pushing our boats through the runways
in the rushes and rice, but we get through. When we come to a pothole
or to the big bay, we push our boat into the rushes, set out the decoys
which the guides have whittled, and we're ready for the flight.
The camp - ``shack,'' we call it - is an old farm house. We
have a big kitchen, a dining room, and two bedrooms rigged up with
triple bunks. A huge stove supplies the heat and another big woodstove
takes care of the cooking.
Clark Gable is so long that his feet stuck out of the end of
Clark proved to be helpful around camp in other ways than chopping
wood. He also helped Mrs. Robinson with the dishes.
The whole gang went to bed at 10 each night, except one night
when we played poker for a 25-cent limit. That's Gable's top limit
out in California.
Each afternoon when we'd finished playing diamondball we talked
about hunting and fishing in other parts of the country. Gable revealed
that he enjoyed hunting mountain lions. He makes frequent trips to
the Kaibab Forest area in Arizona to shoot the big cats. He always
has felt that this type of hunting is a genuine contribution to big
game hunting. He claims lions such as he has killed take a terrific
toll among deer. It is estimated that a big cat will kill 25 deer
in a year.
In his Hollywood home Gable has three dogs, two cats, four
canaries, seven turkeys and a cook. When he hunts doves he goes in his trailer,
takes the cook and her husband with him. He does a lot of hunting
in company with Jack Conway, the director, and Jim Smith, California trap
Nick Kahler, who puts on the Sportsman's and Outdoor Shows in
Minneapolis and whose Chicago Sportsman's Show comes up in January,staged a party for Gable attended by sportsmen and newspaper men,
at the Nicollet Hotel in Minneapolis at the conclusion of the trip.
Following an afternoon at Lake Minnetonka, near Minneapolis, Gable
returned to Hollywood.
Clark Gable is an A-1 companion on a hunting trip - a first-grade
sportsman. We would enjoy hunting with him again.