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The Legend of Jack Miner

The life and story of conservation icon and bird banding pioneer.

The Legend of Jack Miner

Banding was a practice that Jack Miner continued until his death by heart attack in 1944. Said to be responsible for more than 50,000 ducks and 40,000 geese being banded by his passing, countless thousands more have been banded since with band recoveries taking place in the more than 20 states throughout the Central, Mississippi, and Atlantic flyways. (Wildfowl photo)

On a mild sunny December day more than a decade ago, I found myself gathering around the back of a pick-up truck with a group of outdoor writers attending a Texas Ducks Unlimited media event along the Gulf Coast east of Galveston.

After this particular hunt, which had been somewhat slow due to the mild pre-Christmas weather, a few green-winged teal, a few shovelers, a mallard or two, and even a mottled duck had been bagged. But the star of the post-hunt tailgate show that morning was an eagle-headed blue goose wearing a band.

And not just any band, mind you, but a highly coveted Jack Miner band, one placed on the leg of this trophy specimen by the Jack Miner Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Kingsville, Ontario.





The Legend of Wild Man Jack

While most of us had heard of the fabled Miner bands, none of us had ever seen one. And that remains true for most modern waterfowlers today. They may have heard of John Thomas Miner—or Jack, as many knew him along with his nickname of Wild Man Jack—and his unique bands with Bible verses on them. But odds are, they’ve rarely, if ever, have seen one.

That’s a shame, because few individuals have cared as much for waterfowl, or tried to do as much on their behalf as Miner did, a man that some call the father of North American conservation. While there are many worthy heroes from the 20th Century conservation movement on this continent, from Aldo Leopold to Ding Darling to Theodore Roosevelt and more, Miner certainly has his own place on conservation’s Mount Rushmore.

The son of a brickmaker, Miner was born in Dover Center, Ohio in 1865. In 1878, Miner and his family moved to Ontario not too far removed from the shores of Lake Erie. Through his youth, Miner used the wild paradise to become a great fisherman, hunter, and eventually a market hunter, to help the family out.

But according to authors James M. Linton and Calvin W. Moore in their book The Story of Wild Goose Jack, a series of events changed the trajectory of Miner’s life in only a few months’ time. The first was when his uncle George Broadwell gave him a hunting dog in 1880 and the other was an evening in September 1882 when a neighbor warned Miner that “…some men were going to catch him hunting on Sunday and prosecute him for violating the Sabbath.”

That angered Miner and while he initially eluded the men, a few days later, he found a horse and wagon that had carried them to the area. Upon discovering the wagon, he soon began to remove the nuts from the buggy wheel. But then he stopped when he was suddenly struck with remorse, had tears trickling down his cheek, and experienced a profound change of heart as he began to re-tighten the nuts.

When he arrived home, he told his mother that he was never going to hunt on the Sabbath again. As his biographers quoted Miner, he reportedly said, “For He laid His hand on me and melted my revengeful heart into love, yes, love for even the horse. And the blessed part of this whole happening is that I have had nothing but the warmest of loving feelings towards those two men ever since. Yes, I treasure the memory of them and of that blessed occurrence that changed my whole life’s route.”

Moving Away from Market Hunting

Part of that course correction in Miner’s life would cause him to move away from market gunning to sport hunting. And around the turn of the 20th century, his life and its pathway would change again according to his son, Manly Miner, in a Reader’s Digest article many years ago.

“For my father, Jack Miner, life really began on a February afternoon in 1904,” he wrote in the story reprinted by the Jack Miner Foundation. “There he was—a 38-year-old, the deadliest game-bird hunter in southwestern Ontario—down on his knees fondling seven live Canada geese! While I watched with the bursting excitement of a seven-year old, Father carefully freed the wing-clipped geese in a muddy pond beside our farmhouse near Kingsville, Ontario. Then he rose, wiry-strong and straight as a rifle barrel, his blue eyes alive with the new idea.”

In the years that followed, Miner created the Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary, perfected ways of trapping and banding birds on his refuge land, and eventually embarked on a three-decade long conservation lecturing career that once included President Herbert Hoover in the audience.

mallard leg band
Leg bands are coveted by nearly every waterfowl hunter, but finding a Jack Miner band means holding onto a special part of waterfowl history. (Photo By: Outdoor Creative/Shutterstock.com)

The Jack Miner Band Saga

Miner’s pioneering work led to his first banding of ducks in 1909, followed by the first recovery of one of his bands in South Carolina in 1910. Faith was of particular importance to Miner after the loss of two children to illness and a brother in a hunting accident. So much so that in 1915, he banded a Canada goose with a band featuring a Bible verse, a practice that has continued ever since.

Banding was a practice that Miner continued until his death by heart attack in 1944. Said to be responsible for more than 50,000 ducks and 40,000 geese being banded by his passing, countless thousands more have been banded since with band recoveries taking place in the more than 20 states throughout the Central, Mississippi, and Atlantic flyways.

Such work brought Miner—who despite being unable to read or write until he was in his 30s, authored several books and helped found the Outdoor Writers Association of America—a measure of fame and caused national leaders to seek out his friendship. King George VIawarded him the Order of the British Empire in 1943. His important migratory bird data contributed to landmark legislation like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

The bands and their Bible verses continue to bring Scriptural encouragement and inspiration to waterfowlers to this day, more than a century after the practice started. In fact, my longtime waterfowling friend, Bill Massenburg of Denison, Texas, has found himself in possession of two such bands after a longtime waterfowling friend gave them to him.

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Even with 50+ waterfowl bands of his own, those two bands are among Massenburg’s most cherished possessions.

Massenburg was kind enough to share his Jack Miner bands and the documents he received after I told him about this column topic. And that includes the May 2005 letter he received from Kirk Miner, Jack’s grandson, and The Jack Miner Migratory Bird Foundation (which was created in 1931).

“JACK MINER goose band #94644-93 ‘CAST ALL YOUR CARE UPON GOD’ 1st Peter 5:7, was one of 80 migrating lesser Canadas (SJBP) caught, tagged and released here by myself & volunteers on Dec. 8th, 1993. (9 years prior),” wrote Miner.

The grandson then added his own message of encouragement as he closed out the correspondence, “Keep your eye to the sky and nose to the wind!”

Just like his grandfather, Wild Man Jack, would have certainly done

Do you have a unique or exciting Miner band recovery story? We want to hear all about it! Send an email to Wildfowl Digital Editor Chris Ingram at chris.ingram@outdoorsg.com for more info and a chance to have your Band Tale featured with Wildfowl.


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