Gordon MacQuarrie fans, rejoice! Another trove of old magazine stories available in new book
The Superior native died in 1956, but his writing still has a huge following.
BARNES, Wis. — Dave Evenson has been on a crusade the last four or five years, a mission of sorts, and his zeal has paid off for folks who like to read old-time hunting and fishing stories.
Evenson has been digging through historic magazine and newspaper articles to find gems left behind by Gordon MacQuarrie, the Superior native and former Evening Telegram (now the Superior Telegram) reporter who went on to become one of the best-known outdoor writers of the first half of the 20th century.
MacQuarrie wrote thousands of outdoor stories and columns for the Milwaukee Journal, and he wrote maybe hundreds more for various outdoor magazines like Field & Stream and Outdoor Life.
Nearly a half-century ago, some of those stories appeared in a three-volume book set called “Stories of the Old Duck Hunters,” compiled by famed outdoor writer Zach Taylor. But Taylor only scratched the surface. And as the internet grew more powerful and Google became its thing, MacQuarrie fans were eager to find more of the writer’s stories.
Enter Evenson, who has now compiled three books of MacQuarrie gems in recent years, the latest of which was just released in paperback and hardcover: “Found Stories of the Old Duck Hunters and Other MacQuarrie Adventures.”
Evenson, 77, of Cumberland, Wisconsin, is a retired DNR wildlife manager who loves to hunt and fish. He came across MacQuarrie's writings later in life, only in the last 20 years or so, and has become perhaps MacQuarrie’s biggest fan. The latest book follows Evenson’s compiling and editing, “Right Off The Reel,” in 2018 and “Dogs, Drink and Other Drivel,” in 2019.
All three books hold MacQuarrie stories that hadn’t been read by anyone for 70 years or more, and some are from hunting and fishing trips MacQuarrie made nearly 100 years ago, in the late 1920s.
“Found Stories of The Old Duck Hunters And Other MacQuarrie Adventures” includes six Old Duck Hunters Association, Inc. magazine stories of duck and ruffed grouse hunting and trout fishing, mostly in Northwestern Wisconsin. Another 22 stories are of various adventures MacQuarrie had before he suffered a massive heart attack and died in 1956 at age 56.
Evenson at first approached the Milwaukee paper to publish the stories, but officials at what is now the Journal-Sentinel said the book would never sell. They eventually gave Evenson and the Barnes Area Historical Association permission to use what they saw fit at no charge. (MacQuarrie had a cabin he wrote about often on the Eau Claire chain of lakes near Barnes. The historical association also houses a substantial exhibit on MacQuarrie.)
Evenson and the association also received permission to republish old magazine articles now technically owned by the heir to the MacQuarrie estate: Peter Rycraft, of York, England. (It’s a long story. Rycraft never met MacQuarrie, but was a friend of MacQuarrie’s widowed second wife who later remarried and moved to England.)
Evenson hasn't made a dime for his effort. He's done it just to keep MacQuarrie's work alive and maybe get the stories in front of some new eyeballs.
“This is probably the last one for me. We don’t know for sure, but we think this is all of the 'Old Duck Hunter' stories that Mac did,” Evenson told the News Tribune. “I have another very short book coming on his muskie fishing stories. … He wrote quite a bit about muskies for magazines, and as part of his reporting for the Journal. But I think we’ve probably hit the end of the best general stories.”
Evenson said there are hundreds of other MacQuarrie stories remaining, waiting on microfilm, but not all are gems.
“His very best work, to me, were the magazine articles, when he had more time to put into them. His writing really shines through on those,” Evenson said. “Some of the magazine articles started as newspaper stories and then he’d rewrite them for later publication. … Sometimes he rewrote them several times for several magazines.”
Evenson said many of MacQuarrie’s articles were more “how-to” pieces for the novice hunting and fishing public who read the newspaper.
“I skipped over those and tried to focus on the ‘why’ stories, where he has such heartfelt words about why he is out there doing something, be it hunting or fishing. No one was better than Mac about expressing the why part of being outdoors,” Evenson said.
Evenson was never a professional writer, but his snippets that set up each chapter are eloquent explanations of the times and frame of mind and history that MacQuarrie was writing in. Evenson even researched the likely dates the trips in the stories actually occurred.
“I can't help myself. When I find connections or other dates or facts about the story, I just need to share them,” Evenson said, noting he tried to follow the lead set by Taylor in the first trilogy of MacQuarrie books.
Evenson has spent a good deal of his retirement tracking down not just MacQuarrie stories, but also tracing MacQuarrie's footsteps. Like MacQuarrie did, Evenson knows well the back roads, rivers and lakes of Northwestern Wisconsin, and he's been able to find most of MacQuarrie's spots that were given only private nicknames in the stories. And now, Evenson leads an annual tour, also through the historical association, called the MacQuarrie Pilgrimage, where MacQuarrie fans come from across the country to see the lakes, rivers and woods where the writer based his stories.
“We have a core group of about 10 or 12 who do the tour every year,” Evenson said. "And then we get another 10 or 12 people who come from all over the place to see where Mac was writing about.”
MacQuarrie was born in 1900 and raised in Superior. He spent two years at the Superior State Teachers College (now the University of Wisconsin-Superior) and then graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1924 with a degree in journalism. He came home to work for the Evening Telegram, where he was a reporter, city editor and eventually managing editor and outdoor writer.
MacQuarrie was a traditional newsman first, but also dabbled in outdoor writing in his hometown, including selling some stories to larger papers and magazines. Evenson said he's searched for early MacQuarrie outdoor stories from the Telegram days, but hasn't found many with MacQuarrie's name.
MacQuarrie jumped in 1936 to the Milwaukee Journal, where he remained the full-time outdoors sports editor until his death in 1956. He wrote two popular columns in Milwaukee, "Right Off the Reel" and "Jack Pine Joe," in addition to covering the various outdoors issues of the day. But his most famous work always centered around his hunting and fishing exploits in Northwestern Wisconsin — namely Douglas, Bayfield and Burnett counties.
His absolute favorite things to do, and favorite things to write about, were duck hunting on Northwestern Wisconsin lakes and river fishing on the Bois Brule. Many of his stories focused on his outdoor exploits with his real-life father-in-law, Superior auto dealer Al Peck ("Hizzoner" in most stories) and their fictitious club called the Old Duck Hunters Association, Inc.
From 'The Convert'
“Up in northern Wisconsin, where the map is veined with rivers and pitted with lakes, one is supposed to speak only in reverent or hushed tones of the Brule, where presidents fish. My first day on the Namakagon, however, taught me that even the Brule may have rivals, and I unhesitatingly name the Namakagon as one of its greatest. … Lest I offend those ruling piscatorial red gods who roll the dice when one angles, let it be said that the Brule offers more varieties of trout, larger trout and perhaps even sweeter tasting trout, for its water is always cold. But the Brule seizes one in a rough embrace. It snatches at one’s waders with a pull that quickly tires. Its rock-strewn demands incessant alertness. … After a tussle with the Brule one retreats gladly to the more hospitable Namakagon where browns lie in water not a foot deep and the wading is mere child’s play.”
From MacQuarrie’s story “The Convert” published in Field and Stream magazine in February 1933 and now in the book ”Found Stories Of The Old Duck Hunters And Other MacQuarrie Adventures.” (Note: MacQuarrie spelled "Namekagon" differently than the river is named now.)
From 'High Up, an’ Coming Fast'
“The rising sun just topped the pines across the lake, forming a glorious background for the five ducks, high up and coming fast. In front, and on both sides of us, were waves of sun-touched water. Behind stretched a forested point of land on the end of which our blind was located. And nearly overhead, those five ducks. Too high, I knew. But beside me in the blind was Mac, my inexperienced guest. And I was painfully aware that he expected much of me.”
From MacQuarrie’s story “High Up, an’ Coming Fast,” published in Hunting and Fishing magazine in October 1932 and now in the book "Found Stories of the Old Duck Hunters and Other MacQuarrie Adventures.”
From 'The Wind Blown Flight'
“There was no dawn that morning on Lake Nancy. The roaring gale from the west, which had blown for three days, rushed to the east with enough fierceness to beat back the struggling sun. Out of the black spaces came the frigid wind, swooping and twisting over the lake as though it would never stop.”
From MacQuarrie’s story “The Wind-Blown Flight,” published in Sports Afield magazine in December 1931 and now in the book ”Found Stories of the Old Duck Hunters and Other MacQuarrie Adventures.”
Buy the book
- “Found Stories of The Old Duck Hunters And Other MacQuarrie Adventures" by Gordon MacQuarrie, edited by Dave Evenson
- Published by the Barnes Area Historical Association
- $26 paperback; $32 hardcover
- All proceeds go to the Barnes Area Historical Association, which houses the world's only Gordon MacQuarrie museum. Go to
and click on “MacQuarrie info,” or call Larry Bergman at 715-795-2442.
Other MacQuarrie collections published by the historical association include:
- “Right Off The Reel,” (2018, 220 pages) is named for the column that MacQuarrie wrote for The Milwaukee Journal. The reel in the title refers to the typewriter reel, as well as the fishing reel. Most of these columns were written shortly after Mac had left Superior for Milwaukee and thus dealt with the places and characters of his beloved Northwestern Wisconsin. Other chapters deal with his life and neighbors at the cabin on Middle Eau Claire Lake, conservationists of the day such as Ding Darling, Aldo Leopold and Sig Olson and some first drafts of stories that were worked into the Old Duck Hunters magazine stories.
- “Dogs, Drink and Other Drivel,” (2019, 293 pages) is also comprised of Milwaukee Journal columns. It deals with Mac's own dogs as well as writings about other dogs and dog trainers. Life at the lake, conservationists through Wisconsin's deer wars of the 1940s and a whole chapter of first drafts of magazine stories are included. The last chapter is MacQuarrie's obituary as written by his friends and co-workers at the newspaper.
Even more MacQuarrie
- In 2003, Wisconsin outdoor writer and wildlife photographer Keith Crowley wrote the first and only comprehensive biography, "Gordon MacQuarrie: The Story of an Old Duck Hunter." Wisconsin Historical Society Press. The book had a second printing, published by the University of Wisconsin Press. It is available at Amazon.
- MacQuarrie's famed "Old Duck Hunters" stories were originally published in various outdoor magazines including Outdoor Life, Field and Stream and Sports Afield. They were posthumously gathered into book form in three anthologies: "Stories of the Old Duck Hunters & Other Drivel," "More Stories of the Old Duck Hunters" and "Last Stories of the Old Duck Hunters." The first of these was originally published in 1967 by Stackpole Publishing, but all are now out of print. They are still fairly readily available on the used book market.
Join the Old Duck Hunters Association Circle
The Old Duck Hunters Association was the name of the fictitious club to which MacQuarrie belonged to with his closest hunting partners. Now you can join the Old Duck Hunters Association Circle run by the Barnes Area Historical Association (which has a large MacQuarrie exhibit.) All proceeds go to the Barnes museum. You get a membership card, certificate and a free subscription to an electronic newsletter in addition to private tours of the museum and discounts to other events. Membership is $25 annually or $500 for a lifetime membership.
For more information or to join go to
and click on “MacQuarrie info.” This year’s “MacQuarrie Pilgrimage” weekend tour of MacQuarrie haunts is set for Aug. 25-26.