Jeannette Edwards Rattray wrote in 1938 about a previous time, in the late 19th century, when Montauk was a “Gunner’s Paradise,” a “practically womanless Paradise for groups of men who went ‘on’ gunning for days and weeks at a time.” They camped in little shacks and packed few provisions, as they could live on what they hunted and gathered, even take some home.
In 1891, on land at Gin Beach that they leased from the Benson estate, a group of East Hampton men who called themselves the Pelican Club built a shack for their own use. When they weren’t hunting or playing cards or swapping stories, the men kept a log of the weather and abundance they found in Montauk. Mrs. Rattray shared some of those entries in her Montauk: Three Centuries of Romance, Sport and Adventure. The men reported bagging and eating all manner of ducks as well as geese, quail, coon, snakes, flatfish, oysters, mussels, scallops, eels, grapes, beach plums, strawberries, and other prizes.
“This is the land of pure delight,” one of the men wrote one September 23.
By the time Mrs. Rattray had published her book, wild migratory birds were somewhat “diminished by civilization,” but foxes, mink, muskrat, otter, opossum, raccoon, skunk, and rabbits were still abundant. “Deer are becoming so plentiful at Montauk as to be a real menace to traffic,” Mrs. Rattray noted, again in 1938. “Blinded by headlights, several have crashed into automobiles at night.”
Harry Bruno shot this photograph, possibly at Deep Hollow Ranch or Indian Field, a little bit later, in the 1940s. He and his wife, Nydia Bruno, had moved to Montauk after Carl Fisher hired Harry – who owned an advertising agency – to promote Montauk as a luxury resort. Nydia, a musical comedy star, loved fishing and hunting as much as her husband did, and she set records in Montauk as an accomplished surfcaster. The Brunos also liked to entertain guests at their Montauk home, called Green Chimneys, with its gorgeous views and gardens.
“The photographs in this collection speak of a happy life well lived,” says a biography on the New York Heritage website, where 178 of Harry’s photographs from the Montauk Library’s archives can be found. Certainly the hunters in the photo above seem to be enjoying themselves – the men and the women both.
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