THE SUPREME CRIME AGAINST CIVILIZATION: THE TRAGIC DESTRUCTION OF THE LUSITANIA

No thinking man–whether he believes or disbelieves in war–expects to
have war without the horrors and atrocities which accompany it. That
“war is hell” is as true now as when General Sherman so pronounced it.
It seems, indeed, to be truer today. And yet we have always
thought–perhaps because we hoped–that there was a limit at which even
war, with all its lust of blood, with all its passion of hatred, with
all its devilish zest for efficiency in the destruction of human life,
would stop.

Now we know that there is no limit at which the makers of war, in their
frenzy to pile horror on horror, and atrocity on atrocity, will stop. We
have seen a nation despoiled and raped because it resisted an invader,
and we said that was war. But now out of the sun-lit waves has come a
venomous instrument of destruction, and without warning, without respite
for escape, has sent headlong to the bottom of the everlasting sea more
than a thousand unarmed, unresisting, peace-bent men, women and
children–even babes in arms. So the Lusitania was sunk. It may be war,
but it is something incalculably more sobering than merely that. It is
the difference between assassination and massacre. It is war’s supreme
crime against civilization.

AN UNPRECEDENTED CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY

The horror of the deadly assault on the Lusitania does not lessen as the
first shock of the disaster recedes into the past. The world is aghast.
It had not taken the German threat at full value; it did not believe
that any civilized nation would be so wanton in its lust and passion of
war as to count a thousand non-combatant lives a mere unfortunate
incidental of the carnage.

Nothing that can be said in mitigation of the destruction of the
Lusitania can alter the fact that an outrage unknown heretofore in the
warfare of civilized nations has been committed. Regardless of the
technicalities which may be offered as a defense in international law,
there are rights which must be asserted, must be defended and
maintained. If international law can be torn to shreds and converted
into scrap paper to serve the necessities of war, its obstructive letter
can be disregarded when it is necessary to serve the rights of
humanity.

[Illustration: THE TRIUMPH OF HATE.]

THE LUSITANIA: BUILT FOR “SAFETY”

The irony of the situation lies in the fact that from the ghastly
experience of great marine disasters the Lusitania was evolved as a
vessel that was “safe.” No such calamity as the attack of a torpedo was
foreseen by the builders of the giant ship, and yet, even after the
outbreak of the European war, and when upon the eve of her last voyage
the warning came that an attempt would be made to torpedo the Lusitania,
her owners confidently assured the world that the ship was safe because
her great speed would enable her to outstrip any submarine ever built.

Limitation of language makes adequate word description of this mammoth
Cunarder impossible. The following figures show its immense dimensions:
Length, 790 feet; breadth, 88 feet; depth, to boat deck, 80 feet;
draught, fully loaded, 37 feet, 6 inches; displacement on load line,
45,000 tons; height to top of funnels, 155 feet; height to mastheads,
216 feet. The hull below draught line was divided into 175 water-tight
compartments, which made it–so the owners claimed–“unsinkable.” With
complete safety device equipment, including wireless telegraph,
Mundy-Gray improved method of submarine signaling, and with officers and
crew all trained and reliable men, the Lusitania was acclaimed as being
unexcelled from a standpoint of safety, as in all other respects.

Size, however, was its least remarkable feature. The ship was propelled
by four screws rotated by turbine engines of 68,000 horse-power, capable
of developing a sea speed of more than twenty-five knots per hour
regardless of weather conditions, and of maintaining without driving a
schedule with the regularity of a railroad train, and thus establishing
its right to the title of “the fastest ocean greyhound.”

GERMANY’S ANNOUNCED INTENTION TO SINK THE VESSEL

On Saturday May 1, 1915, the day on which the Cunard liner Lusitania,
carrying 2,000 passengers and crew, sailed from New York for Liverpool,
the following advertisement, over the name of the Imperial German
Embassy, was published in the leading newspapers of the United States:

NOTICE!

TRAVELERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that
a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain
and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to
the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the
Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain,
or of any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and
that travelers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or
her allies do so at their own risk.

IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY.
WASHINGTON, D. C., April 22, 1915.

The advertisement was commented upon by the passengers of the Lusitania,
but it did not cause any of them to cancel their bookings. No one took
the matter seriously. It was not conceivable that even the German
military lords could seriously plot so dastardly an attack on
non-combatants.

When the attention of Captain W. T. Turner, commander of the Lusitania,
was called to the warning, he laughed and said: “It doesn’t seem as if
they had scared many people from going on the ship by the looks of the
passenger list.”

Agents of the Cunard Line said there was no truth in reports that
several prominent passengers had received anonymous telegrams warning
them not to sail on the Lusitania. Charles T. Bowring, president of the
St. George’s Society, who was a passenger, said that it was a silly
performance for the German Embassy to do.

Charles Klein, the American playwright, said he was going to devote his
time on the voyage to thinking of his new play, “Potash and Perlmutter
in Society,” and would not have time to worry about trifles.

Alfred G. Vanderbilt was one of the last to go on board.

Elbert Hubbard, publisher of the Philistine, who sailed with his wife,
said he believed the German Emperor had ordered the advertisement to be
placed in the newspapers, and added jokingly that if he was on board the
liner when she was torpedoed, he would be able to do the Kaiser justice
in the Philistine.

The early days of the voyage were unmarked by incidents other than those
which have interested ocean passengers on countless previous trips, and
little apprehension was felt by those on the Lusitania of the fate which
lay ahead of the vessel.

The ship was proceeding at a moderate speed, on Friday, May 7, when she
passed Fastnet Light, off Cape Clear, the extreme southwesterly point of
Ireland that is first sighted by east-bound liners. Captain Turner was
on the bridge, with his staff captain and other officers, maintaining a
close lookout. Fastnet left behind, the Lusitania’s course was brought
closer to shore, probably within twelve miles of the rock-bound coast.

LINER’S SPEED INCREASED AS DANGER NEARED

Her speed was also increased to twenty knots or more, according to the
more observant passengers, and some declare that she worked a sort of
zigzag course, plainly ready to shift her helm whenever danger should
appear. Captain Turner, it is known, was watching closely for any
evidence of submarines.

One of the passengers, Dr. Daniel Moore, of Yankton, S. D., declared
that before he went downstairs to luncheon shortly after one o’clock he
and others with him noticed, through a pair of marine glasses, a curious
object in the sea, possibly two miles or more away. What it was he could
not determine, but he jokingly referred to it later at luncheon as a
submarine.

While the first cabin passengers were chatting over their coffee cups
they felt the ship give a great leap forward. Full speed ahead had
suddenly been signaled from the bridge. This was a few minutes after two
o’clock, and just about the time that Ellison Myers, of Stratford,
Ontario, a boy on his way to join the British Navy, noticed the
periscope of a submarine about a mile away to starboard. Myers and his
companions saw Captain Turner hurriedly give orders to the helmsman and
ring for full speed to the engine room.

The Lusitania began to swerve to starboard, heading for the submarine,
but before she could really answer her helm a torpedo was flashing
through the water toward her at express speed. Myers and his companions,
like many others of the passengers, saw the white wake of the torpedo
and its metal casing gleaming in the bright sunlight. The weather was
ideal, light winds and a clear sky making the surface of the ocean as
calm and smooth as could be wished by any traveler.

SUBMARINE’S PERISCOPE DIPS UNDER SURFACE

The torpedo came on, aimed apparently at the bow of the ship, but nicely
calculated to hit her amidships. Before its wake was seen the periscope
of the submarine had vanished beneath the surface.

In far less time than it takes to tell, the torpedo had crashed into the
Lusitania’s starboard side, just abaft the first funnel, and exploded
with a dull boom in the forward stoke-hole.

Captain Turner at once ordered the helm put over and the prow of the
ship headed for land, in the hope that she might strike shallow water
while still under way. The boats were ordered out, and the signals
calling the boat crews to their stations were flashed everywhere through
the vessel.

Several of the life-boats were already swung out, according to some
survivors, there having been a life-saving drill earlier in the day
before the ship spoke Fastnet Light.

Down in the dining saloon the passengers felt the ship reel from the
shock of the explosion and many were hurled from their chairs. Before
they could recover themselves, another explosion occurred. There is a
difference of opinion as to the number of torpedoes fired. Some say
there were two; others say only one torpedo struck the vessel, and that
the second explosion was internal.

PASSENGERS OVERCOME BY POISONOUS FUMES

In any event, the passengers now realized their danger. The ship, torn
almost apart, was filled with fumes and smoke, the decks were covered
with débris that fell from the sky, and the great Lusitania began to
list quickly to starboard. Before the passengers below decks could make
their way above, the decks were beginning to slant ominously, and the
air was filled with the cries of terrified men and women, some of them
already injured by being hurled against the sides of the saloons. Many
passengers were stricken unconscious by the smoke and fumes from the
exploding torpedoes.

The stewards and stewardesses, recognizing the too evident signs of a
sinking ship, rushed about urging and helping the passengers to put on
life-belts, of which more than 3,000 were aboard.

On the boat deck attempts were being made to lower the life-boats, but
several causes combined to impede the efforts of the crew in this
direction. The port side of the vessel was already so far up that the
boats on that side were quite useless, and as the starboard boats were
lowered the plunging vessel–she was still under headway, for all
efforts to reverse the engines proved useless–swung back and forth, and
when they struck the water were dragged along through the sea, making it
almost impossible to get them away.

BOAT CAPSIZES WITH WOMEN AND CHILDREN

The first life-boat that struck the water capsized with some sixty women
and children aboard her, and all of these must have been drowned almost
instantly. Ten more boats were lowered, the desperate expedient of
cutting away the ropes being resorted to to prevent them from being
dragged along by the now halting steamer.

The great ship was sinking by the bow, foot by foot, and in ten minutes
after the first explosion she was already preparing to founder. Her
stern rose high in the air, so that those in the boats that got away
could see the whirring propellers, and even the boat deck was awash.

Captain Turner urged the men to be calm, to take care of the women and
children, and megaphoned the passengers to seize life-belts,
chairs–anything they could lay hands on to save themselves from
drowning. There was never any question in the captain’s mind that the
ship was about to sink, and if, as reported, some of the stewards ran
about advising the passengers not to take to the boats, that there was
no danger of the vessel going down till she reached shore, it was done
without his orders. But many of the survivors have denied this, and
declared that all the crew, officers, stewards and sailors, even the
stokers, who dashed up from their flaming quarters below, showed the
utmost bravery and calmness in the face of the disaster, and sought in
every way to aid the panic-stricken passengers to get off the ship.

HUNDREDS JUMP INTO THE SEA

When it was seen that most of the boats would be useless, hundreds of
passengers donned life-belts and jumped into the sea. Others seized deck
chairs, tubs, kegs, anything available, and hurled themselves into the
water, clinging to these articles.

The first-cabin passengers fared worst, for the second- and third-cabin
travelers had long before finished their midday meal and were on deck
when the torpedo struck. But the first-cabin people on the D deck and in
the balcony, at luncheon, were at a terrible disadvantage, and those who
had already finished were in their staterooms resting or cleaning up
preparatory to the after luncheon day.

The confusion on the stairways became terrible, and the great number of
little children, more than 150 of them under two years, a great many of
them infants in arms, made the plight of the women still more desperate.

LUSITANIA GOES TO HER DOOM

After the life-boats had cut adrift it was plain that a few seconds
would see the end of the great ship. With a great shiver she bent her
bow down below the surface, and then her stern uprose, and with a
horrible sough the liner that had been the pride of the Cunard Line,
plunged down in sixty fathoms of water. In the last few seconds the
hundreds of women and men, a great many of them carrying children in
their arms, leaped overboard, but hundreds of others, delaying the jump
too long, were carried down in the suction that left a huge whirlpool
swirling about the spot where the last of the vessel was seen.

Among these were Elbert Hubbard and his wife, Charles Frohman, who was
crippled with rheumatism and unable to move quickly; Justus Miles
Forman, Charles Klein, Alfred G. Vanderbilt and many others of the
best-known Americans and Englishmen aboard.

Captain Turner stayed on the bridge as the ship went down, but before
the last plunge he bade his staff officer and the helmsman, who were
still with him, to save themselves. The helmsman leaped into the sea and
was saved, but the staff officer would not desert his superior, and went
down with the ship. He did not come to the surface again.

Captain Turner, however, a strong swimmer, rose after the eddying
whirlpool had calmed down, and, seizing a couple of deck chairs, kept
himself afloat for three hours. The master-at-arms of the Lusitania,
named Williams, who was looking for survivors in a boat after he had
been picked up, saw the flash of the captain’s gold-braided uniform, and
rescued him, more dead than alive.

INTERVIEW WITH CAPTAIN TURNER

Despite the doubt as to whether two torpedoes exploded, or whether the
first detonation caused the big liner’s boilers to let go, Captain
Turner stated that there was no doubt that at least two torpedoes
reached the ship.

“I am not certain whether the two explosions–and there were
two–resulted from torpedoes, or whether one was a boiler explosion. I
am sure, however, that I saw the first torpedo strike the vessel on her
starboard side. I also saw a second torpedo apparently headed straight
for the steamship’s hull, directly below the suite occupied by Alfred G.
Vanderbilt.”

When asked if the second explosion had been caused by the blowing up of
ammunition stored in the liner’s hull, Captain Turner said:

“No; if ammunition had exploded that would probably have torn the ship
apart and the loss of life would have been much heavier than it was.”

Captain Turner declared that, from the bridge, he saw the torpedo
streaking toward the Lusitania and tried to change the ship’s course to
avoid the missile, but was unable to do so in time. The only thing left
for him to do was to rush the liner ashore and beach her, and she was
headed for the Irish coast when she foundered.

According to Captain Turner, the German submarine did not flee at once
after torpedoing the liner.

“While I was swimming about after the ship had disappeared I saw the
periscope of the submarine rise amidst the débris,” said he. “Instead of
offering any help the submarine immediately submerged herself and I saw
nothing more of her. I did everything possible for my passengers. That
was all I could do.”

Continue Reading

TRAP-SHOOTING

The amusement of trap-shooting is pursued in the Northern States, on the
margins of the western lakes–as some eminent marksmen of Buffalo and
Niagara Falls can testify–and on the sea-coast–as some famous matches
at Islip would prove. It is not a field sport; it is hardly a sport at
all; and a pigeon is not, properly speaking, a game-bird, in spite of
the instances quoted. If this work were to be confined strictly to its
professed objects, this chapter would have to be excluded; but for the
reason that it belongs nowhere else, that an account of this peculiar
style of shooting will be useful to many sportsmen, and that no
published book contains any information on the subject, the writer has
presumed to collate the experience of his friends rather than of
himself–for he does not pretend to much skill in this particular
art–and to offer it to the sporting public.

Trap-shooting, although quite an ungrammatical expression, is perfectly
understood as a sporting term, having acquired a conventional meaning;
it signifies neither shooting at a trap, which its construction implies,
nor shooting out of a trap, but shooting at a bird–generally a
pigeon–released from a trap. Although not a highly scientific sport,
and somewhat open to the charge of cruelty, it has its devotees; and
certainly, amid a crowd of spectators and competitors, to take the palm
and carry off the prize is no mean glory. The birds probably suffer as
little, cut down with the whistling charge of fine shot while on the
wing, and with a chance for life, as though their necks were
remorselessly wrung by the poulterer; and in either case they find their
way to market and furnish food for the people.

The most serious objection to this sport is, that the wild pigeons have
to be taken from their nests in the spring, and thus, either prevented
laying their eggs, or hatching their broods. As the preservation and
increase of all species of wild birds, animals, and fishes, and the
prevention of their destruction at unseasonable times, are the first
duties of a sportsman, the killing of pigeons ere they have raised their
broods is on a par with shooting ducks and snipe in spring, and is
excusable only because the feeling of the people does not require the
enactment of thoroughly appropriate laws; and while it prevents the
protection of the latter, makes the preservation of the former–which is
a comparatively valueless bird–scarcely worth the trouble.

Under these circumstances, and in order to fill up a season of the year
when there is no other legitimate sporting excitement, trap-shooting has
grown in public estimation, and being adopted by a large class of
sportsmen, has led to the employment of a numerous body of followers,
skilled in the secrets of trapping and preparing birds so that they may
be presented to the shooter in the best possible condition.

This class of underlings, who attend to the many wants of the
sportsman, whether in the field or at the trap; who break his dogs,
carry his bag, or tend his birds; with their quaint wisdom and innate
honesty,–deserve more consideration than they receive: but above all,
in trap-shooting, are they a necessity, and is their uprightness above
price? An unfair trapper may give one man strong birds, and another
weak; may pull their wing-feathers, or keep some without water or food,
and thus almost decide a contest beforehand.

Their labor is excessive; they have first to catch the birds, and attend
to their arrival at the place of shooting early enough to meet the
sportsmen; and then they have to run eighteen or twenty-one yards over
the uneven and often muddy ground for every bird they place in the trap.
Hence, in selecting a place to shoot pigeons, it is desirable, by
avoiding sand or soft earth, to save the trapper; under the most
favorable circumstance, he will soon be exhausted, and with every
advantage, cannot trap more than five hundred birds in a day. Two birds
are released, either together or successively, ere the traps are
replenished; the trapper, carrying two birds, runs to the traps, sets
one after the other, and returns also on the run–for the marksman by
this time is at the score–and selects two more birds from the box; this
labor, continued during the noontide hours of a blazing day, is not
over-remunerated by liberal pay and the surplus birds, that, unless
claimed by the shooter, fall by common consent to the share of his
hard-working assistant.

The most rapid way is to use five traps, in single-bird shooting, and
employ five boys–with a relay of five others when the first are
exhausted–to set them; boys are naturally more active than men, and are
buoyed up by an excitement that the latter do not feel. The five birds
are shot at before the traps are refilled; and by the time the last bird
is released the boys stand armed with a fresh one apiece, ready to reset
the traps in a moment. In this mode, with good luck in not having too
many birds that have to be retrieved, and with regularity, fifteen
hundred birds may be shot at in ten hours.

The difficulty of obtaining pigeons in our seaboard cities has been so
great of late years, as advancing civilization has reduced the number,
and driven westward the migratory hosts which once visited the Eastern
States, that not only has the expense enormously increased, but the
practice of trap-shooting has diminished. The ordinary price along the
Atlantic coast is from twenty to thirty dollars a hundred, and the
supply is so small, that the collection of any considerable number, even
at that rate, is extremely difficult.

As skill in the act of shooting birds released from a trap, where the
sportsman stands prepared, gun in hand and nerves disturbed, if at all,
only by the presence of spectators, does not imply ability to acquit
oneself well in the field, and tends but little to that end; so it is
pursued not for improvement so much as for temporary excitement during
the dull months of the year. Pigeons nest in June, a season during
which there is absolutely no legitimate sport with the gun whatever; the
woodcock are not yet grown, the snipe have passed to their northern
homes, and the sportsman fills the vacancy with the emulation of
surpassing his associates at trap-shooting. The attempt is exciting, and
the art peculiar, requiring great self-command and utter disregard of
the jeers, praises, or contemptuous laughter of a thousand spectators.

Tame pigeons are not so well adapted to the purpose as their wild
brethren, having a quiet way of ignoring the object for which they are
produced, and walking towards the stand, or picking up scraps of food
the moment they are released, that is trying to the expectant shooter.
Then they are strong of wing and well feathered, so that the shot must
be driven hard to penetrate to a vital spot; and they fly as often
towards the crowd assembled behind the score as in the contrary
direction. Their flight is uneven, and frequently, after rising a few
feet, they will suddenly alight, or pitch down part of the way. The best
shots, therefore, prefer the wild birds, that go off with a rush the
moment the trap is pulled–for, although they fly faster, they are more
certain in their motions. Tame birds are collected in the neighborhood
of towns and through the country, but rarely in large numbers; and being
accustomed to the presence of man, require little special care. Wild
birds are brought from long distances, frequently from the confines of
Wisconsin, and in consequence of their timid, excitable nature, require
continued care. They are captured on their nests, where they congregate
in millions; and being cooped in shallow boxes made of slats, only deep
enough to allow them to move, but not to use their wings or bruise
themselves, are transported as rapidly and tenderly as possible to their
destination. They must invariably be accompanied by a careful person to
wait on them, and supply food and water, of the latter of which they
require large quantities, and they must be moved as rarely and carefully
as possible.

The moment they arrive, they should be placed in a prepared room; and
each one, as he is taken out, must have his head plunged in water, and
be allowed to drink freely. The ceiling of their apartment should be
low, or there will be difficulty in catching them, and the windows may
be slatted; a sufficient number of perches to accommodate them readily
should be set up, and they must be disturbed as little as possible. Food
and water should be introduced three times a day, either very quietly,
or after the apartment has been darkened by closing the shutters. In
spite of the best of care, about ten per cent. will perish on the
journey, or in consequence of it.

Having been retained in the room two or three days, they will be in
their best condition, recovered from their exposure, and not yet injured
by their confinement; and may then be caught, replaced in the boxes, and
carried to the shooting-ground. It is a common practice to pull out
some of the smaller feathers under the tail, or to stick a pin in the
gristle of the rump, with a view of making them fly better; as a bird
that remains in the trap, when a ground-trap is used, after it is
pulled, and refuses to rise, baulks the shooter, and any pain inflicted
on them just as they are being used will make them wild and anxious to
escape.

There are three kinds of traps used, called the ground, spring, and
plunge traps; the former is so arranged that when the string is drawn,
the trap, which is composed of tin plates, falls over and lies flat on
the ground; while the others, through the instrumentality of a spring,
or by a vigorous jerk on the line, throw the birds into the air. The
ground-traps are considered by many the most scientific, leaving the
shooter in doubt as to the direction of the bird’s flight, and
preventing his shooting on the calculation which can be made very
accurately with a spring-trap–that the bird will invariably be thrown
to a certain place, and may be killed there, nominally on the wing, but
before he has really got under weigh; but in the West the plunge-traps
are generally preferred, as they insure the bird’s flying at once.

The traps are also spoken of as “H and T,” or “head and tail” traps, and
are usually marked with a large H or T; but this means merely that the
shooter may select the trap to be pulled by the toss, in case the terms
of the contest permit it. The sportsmanlike mode, however, as claimed by
Eastern sportsmen, is to allow the trapper, provided he can be
perfectly relied upon, to pull any trap he may choose, without notice to
the shooter.

Four or five traps are generally used, placed several feet apart, at
twenty-one yards from the score in single-bird shooting, and at eighteen
yards in double-bird shooting. In double-bird shooting the two birds are
not placed in the same trap, but two traps are pulled at the same time.
In single-bird shooting only one barrel can be discharged at one bird;
and to save time, the shooter should fire at two birds, one after the
other, before he leaves the score, being thus compelled to use both
barrels of his gun.

A bird, to be credited as killed, must be retrieved within the
bounds–that is to say, must be gathered with the hands alone; and it
was formerly permitted to take him not only on the ground or in the air,
but from a tree, and the shooter might walk round a running bird and
drive him towards the trap; but more modern rules require that the bird
shall fall, and shall be proceeded to straight from the score. The
bounds are eighty yards radius from the centre of the traps in
single-bird shooting, and one hundred yards in double-bird shooting. The
distance should be measured with a rope, and marked by small flags or
painted stakes set up in the ground.

The judges order the shooter to retrieve any bird they think proper; and
in case there is doubt whether a bird was hit, although duly retrieved,
they must examine and decide, being occasionally compelled to pick the
feathers in order to ascertain.

In case of a missfire, according to the rules of the New York Club, if
the cap explodes, the bird is counted against the shooter, although his
gun may be properly loaded, he being responsible for the cleanliness of
the gun; but in case the cap fails to explode, he is allowed another
bird. Other clubs only require that the gun shall be properly loaded;
and others score the bird as missed. If in double-bird shooting one bird
only rises, it used to be counted to the shooter, and he was allowed
another bird in place of the one that failed to fly, thus really
shooting at two single birds. This was so manifestly unjust that the
rule has been changed by the State Association, and the shooter is
required to shoot at a fresh brace. The sportsman stands at the score
and directs the trapper when to pull; he must hold the butt of his gun
beneath his elbow, but usually drops his head, and bends his body into
the position it would take were the gun at his shoulder, so that he
merely has to raise his gun to his eye and point it. In double-trap
shooting, undoubtedly, the marksman requires every advantage he can
obtain, and then will have many birds pass beyond range ere he can fire;
but where a single pigeon is presented, it would be advisable to require
every contestant to hold his gun with the muzzle above his head.
Professional shots usually extend the arms and assume an attitude, and
gain an advantage that would be impossible to them in game-shooting.

* * * * *

The weight or character of gun and load of powder have not heretofore
been restricted, although it is unreasonable to match a light field-gun,
loaded with three drachms, against a fourteen-pound ducking-gun, driving
its charge of No. 10 shot with six drachms of powder. The load of shot
should not be over one ounce and a quarter; but even with this
restriction the heavy guns will have the advantage, being able to send
fine shot stronger, and have the benefit of the extra quantity of
pellets. The size of shot in light guns is generally No. 7, with three
and a quarter drachms of powder. The guns are loaded in the presence of
a judge selected for the purpose, and the shot is poured into a measured
charger; but with breech-loaders, as the cartridges are already
prepared, it is customary to select one of the latter at random and open
it.

A good shot will frequently kill twenty single birds in succession, and
some persons who have made this sport their specialty have been known to
kill many more; but the majority of excellent sportsmen will not kill
over nineteen out of twenty. The best field-shots are often bunglers at
trap-shooting. Where double birds are shot at, it is rare that twenty
are killed without a miss, and an excellent average out of ten double
rises would be seventeen birds. The second bird is frequently so far off
ere he is fired at, that, even if hit, he will go out of bounds and be
recorded as missed, although he falls dead. In this shooting there is
much in accident, not only as to the bird’s falling out of bounds, but
as to the mode of flight; for if both birds go directly away from the
stand, the chances are against the shooter, whereas if one approaches,
the difficulty of killing is not much greater than with single birds.

In England a better rule in shooting single birds generally prevails, by
which the rise is extended to twenty-five or thirty yards, but the
shooter is allowed to use both barrels; thus occasionally making some
brilliant shots at long distances, and proving the qualities, not merely
of the sportsman, but of his weapon. Firing a single barrel at a pigeon
within thirty yards, is dull sport; better marksmanship is required to
stop him at from thirty-five to forty with the first barrel, even with
the additional chance with the second at from forty to fifty.

No scattering gun, filling the air with its cloud of mustard-seed, will
answer for this work; the closest and strongest-shooting gun will have
to be held so true that the centre of the charge will hit the object, to
obtain the least chance with the second barrel, or to insure certainty
even with the first. Fewer birds that are fairly hit will go out of
bounds, as the second barrel may complete the work of the first; and the
best marksman will generally exhibit himself by the management of this
barrel, to use which at all will require extreme rapidity and accuracy.

This fact has been recognised occasionally at conventions, or where the
contests were for honor and not money, by increasing the distance at
which ties are shot off. In a large match there are always several ties,
which are shot off at five birds, and frequently not finished till
repeated several times. At the New York State Convention of 1865, held
at Niagara Falls, the parties tying one another were set back five yards
at every tie, and still at thirty-one yards four birds out of five were
killed with a single barrel–although, of course, at this distance much
will depend upon the direction and mode of flight. Success, even with
the use of both barrels, will require far more brilliant shooting than
in the present mode.

There has always been great dispute among trap-shooters as to the best
trap. The New York City Club claims that a bird released from a
ground-trap, selecting his own time to rise, and mode and direction of
flight, is harder to kill than one tossed heels over head from a plunge
or spring-trap. But our Western brethren, who are naturally more rapid,
and who have less difficulty in obtaining pigeons, are so annoyed with
the waste of time occasioned by a dilatory pigeon, that they universally
prefer the plunge-trap.

Probably the mesne between these two opinions is correct, or more
properly a combination of them both; a single bird is undoubtedly harder
to kill at a ground-trap, whereas the plunge-trap will free the two
birds in double-shooting, to go off at the same moment. So that for
these reasons, and to insure skill at both, they should be appropriated
to these offices respectively. The best Western shot, if not the best
gentleman shot in the world, who has killed his eighty-four out of
ninety double birds, was terribly baulked by the ground trap, to which
he had not been accustomed, when he first attempted to kill even single
birds from it. But for double-shooting, as it is essential that both
birds should fly together, the trap that insures this is preferable.

One of the worst features of trap-shooting is, that it has fallen mainly
into the hands of professionals; and although there is no reason for not
pursuing a legitimate sport because blacklegs enjoy it also, they have
introduced tricks and artifices that degrade the entire amusement. The
use of heavy guns is one of the mildest of these, for it is madness for
the best shot in the world to match his ordinary field-gun against a
number six bore single-barrelled piece; and they will put a clod of
grass or even a dead bird in the same trap with the live one, and if
this is a spring-trap, the adversary will be taken at a disadvantage.
They deaden their own birds by squeezing them under the wings, and
excite those of their opponent by plucking them or pulling their
feathers, and can even give them an irregular flight. The professionals,
therefore, may be expected to gain a nominal superiority, and claim to
be champions, more from their cunning unscrupulousness than from their
actual skill, and, by this fancied superiority, degrade the entire
sport.

The rules which were adopted at a convention of the principal clubs in
the State of New York, held in 1865, when the best sporting talent in
the country was represented, are given in the Appendix. Although an
improvement in many particulars on the former rules, they are not
perfect; it is probable that they will be further amended, so as, while
increasing the difficulty of killing the bird, to place all sportsmen on
an equal footing, and to remove as far as possible the influence of
accident.

* * * * *

And now, apologizing to the many sportsmen who are abler shots and have
had far greater experience than himself, the author urges in extenuation
of his presumption in publishing this book, that as they would not
commit their experiences to paper, he felt justified in attempting it;
and as the other sporting writers have utterly neglected this field of
labor as beneath their notice, he could not be blamed for entering upon
it and doing with it the best of which he was capable. And to those
persons who follow in the track of the literary sporting men, and affect
to despise the various kinds of water-fowl and bay-shooting, the author
would say that he only wishes they may have such days with the geese and
ducks, the marlins, yellow-legs, and dowitchers, the rail and the
plover, as he has had, in the full confidence that they will be very
soon converted.

APPENDIX.

The following technical descriptions are taken mainly from “Giraud’s
Birds of Long Island,” a work that is now almost out of print, but which
is more valuable to the student of nature than some of its more
pretentious rivals; and I have interpolated such suggestions and made
such alterations as my experience dictated and the purposes of this work
demanded. A discourse on the wild-fowl of the Northern States hardly
seemed complete without such a description of them as would enable the
sportsman to distinguish one from another; and yet it was not within the
purview of a work intended for sportsmen, to devote much attention or
many of its pages to ornithology. This is therefore condensed into an
Appendix, where it will not trouble the general reader, but will be easy
of reference when the information it contains is wanted.

THE GOOSE.

_Genus Anser_, Briss.

_Generic Distinctions._–In this class of birds, the bill is shorter
than the head, rather higher than broad at the base; head small,
compressed; neck long and slender; body full; feet short, stout, and
central, which enables them to walk with ease; wings long; tail short,
rounded.

THE WILD GOOSE.

Canada Goose.

_Anas Canadensis_, Wils.

_Specific Character._–Length of bill from the corner of the mouth to
the end, two inches and three-sixteenths; length of tarsi, two inches
and seven-eighths; length from the point of the bill to the end of the
tail, about forty inches; wing, eighteen; the head and greater portion
of the neck black; cheeks and throat white. Adult with the head, greater
part of the neck, primaries, rump, and tail, black; back and wings
brown, margined with paler brown; lower part of the neck and under
plumage, whitish-grey; flanks, darker grey; cheeks and throat white, as
are the upper and under tail-coverts. The plumage of the female rather
duller.

This bird is nowhere very abundant, but migrates across the Northern
States in their entire breadth from ocean to ocean; it obeys the call
well, and stools readily if the gunner is carefully concealed. It is the
latest in its migrations of the wild-fowl.

THE BRANT.

Barnacle Goose–Brent Goose.

_Anas Bernicla_, Wils.

_Specific Character._–Bill black; head and neck all round black; a
patch on the sides of the neck white; upper parts brownish-grey, the
feathers margined with light greyish-brown; quills and primary coverts
greyish-black; fore part of breast light brownish-grey, the feathers
terminally margined with greyish-white; abdomen and lower tail-coverts
white; sides grey; feathers rather broadly tipped with white. Length two
feet; wing fourteen inches and a half. Female rather smaller.

The brant is not fond of the fresh lakes and streams, but prefers the
ocean and its contiguous bays and lagoons; it is far more abundant along
the sea-coast than upon the western waters, and in fact I am not aware
that I have ever killed one in the inland States. It responds to its
peculiar note, stools well, and is often killed in great numbers on the
South Bay of Long Island.

THE SWAN.

_Genus Cygnus_, Meyer.

_Generic Distinctions._–Bill longer than the head, higher than broad at
the base, depressed and a little widened towards the end; upper
mandible, rounded, with the dorsal line sloping; lower mandible
flattened, with the angle very long, and rather narrow; nostrils placed
near the ridge; head of moderate size, oblong, compressed; neck
extremely long and slender; body very large, compact, depressed; feet
short, stout, placed a little behind the centre of the body; tarsi
short; wings long, broad; tail very short, graduated.

THE WHITE SWAN.

American Swan.

_Cygnus Americanus_, Aud.

_Specific Character._–Plumage, pure white; bill and feet black; length
of the specimen before us, four feet; wing twenty-one and a half inches.

These magnificent birds, the most majestic of the game-birds of our
continent, are rarely shot to the northward and eastward of Chesapeake
bay, but are much more abundant in the far West–even to and beyond the
Rocky Mountains.

FRESH-WATER DUCKS.

_Genus Anas_, Linn.

_Generic Distinctions._–Bill higher than broad at the base, widening
towards the end, and about the same length as the head; the upper
mandible with a slight nail at the end; neck rather long; body full;
wings moderate, pointed; feet short, stout, and placed behind the centre
of the body; walks with a waddling gait; hind toe furnished with a
narrow membrane.

MALLARD.

Green Head, English Duck, Grey Duck (female), the Duck, the Wild Duck.

_Anas Boschas_, Wils.

_Specific Character._–Speculum bright purple, reflecting green,
bordered with black; secondaries broadly tipped with black; secondary
coverts towards their ends white, broadly tipped with black; adult male
with the entire head and upper part of the neck bright green, with a few
touches of reddish-brown passing from the forehead, on the occiput;
middle of the neck with a white ring; the lower part of the neck and
breast reddish-brown, approaching to chocolate; fore part of the back
light brown, rest of the back darker; rump black; upper tail coverts
greenish-black; upper parts of the wings brown, intermixed with grey;
breast, sides, flanks, and abdomen, grey, transversely barred with
dusky; bill greenish-yellow; feet reddish-orange; tail rounded,
consisting of sixteen pointed feathers, nearly white; speculum violet;
length two feet, wing eleven inches.

Female smaller than the male; speculum less brilliant; general plumage
brown; head and neck streaked with dusky; the feathers on the back and
flanks margined with white, with a central spot of brown on the outer
webs; bill black, changing to orange at the extremity.

This bird is abundant both at the West and along the coast, but on the
fresh water it frequents the mud-holes and shallow marshes, in
contradistinction to the open water-ducks that affect the broad unbroken
stretches of water.

BLACK DUCK.

Dusky Duck.

_Anas Obscura_, Wils.

_Specific Character._–General plumage dusky; speculum green, reflecting
purple, bordered with black; secondaries tipped with white. Adult with
the forehead, crown, occiput, and middle space on the hind neck
brownish-black, the feathers slightly margined with greyish-brown;
cheeks, loral space, and sides of the neck dusky grey, streaked with
black; throat reddish-brown; general plumage dusky, lighter beneath;
under wing-coverts white; speculum brilliant green; bill yellowish; feet
reddish-orange. Female rather smaller, plumage lighter, speculum less
brilliant. Length of male about two feet; wing eleven inches.

These ducks are killed equally in the fresh and salt waters; they come
to the decoys warily.

GADWALL.

Welsh Drake, German Duck.

_Anas Strepera_, Wils.

_Specific Character._–Speculum white; secondary coverts black; upper
wing-coverts chestnut-red; general plumage dusky grey, waved with white;
abdomen white. Adult with the bill bluish-black; head and upper part of
the neck grey, streaked with dusky–darkest on the upper part of the
head, as well as the middle space on the hind neck; lower neck, upper
part of the breast and fore part of the back blackish-brown, the
feathers marked with semi-circular bands of white, more distinctly on
the fore part of the neck and upper part of the breast; sides of the
body pencilled with greyish-white and dusky; lower part of the breast
and abdomen white, the latter barred with dusky towards the vent; lower
and upper tail-coverts and sides of the rump greenish-black; tail
greyish-brown, margined with white; hind part of the back dark brown,
faintly barred with white; primaries brown; secondaries greyish-brown,
tipped with white; middle coverts reddish-brown; a few of the outer
secondaries broadly margined with greenish-black; inner scapulars brown,
broadly margined with dull yellowish-brown; outer undulated with dark
brown and yellowish-white; feet dull orange. Female two inches shorter;
about four inches less in extent. Length twenty-one inches and a half;
wing eleven.

This is an ugly duck, and not much esteemed by epicure or sportsman.

WIDGEON.

Bald-pate.

_Anas Americana_, Wils.

_Specific Character._–Bill short, the color light greyish-blue;
speculum green, banded with black; under wing-coverts white. Adult male
with the loral space, sides of the head below the eye, upper part of the
neck and throat, brownish-white, spotted with black; a broad band of
white, commencing at the base of the upper mandible, passing over the
crown; behind the eye, a broad band of light green, extending backwards
on the hind neck about three inches; the feathers on the nape rather
long; lower neck and sides of the breast, with a portion of the upper
part of the breast, reddish-brown; rest of the lower parts white,
excepting a patch of black at the base of the tail; under tail-coverts
same color; flanks brown, barred with dusky; tail greyish-brown, tipped
with white; two middle feathers darker and longest; upper tail-coverts
white, barred with dusky; lower part of the hind-neck and fore part of
the back undulated with brownish and light brownish-red, hind part
undulated with greyish-white; primaries brown; outer webs of inner
secondaries black, margined with white–inner webs greyish-brown;
secondary coverts white tipped with black; speculum brilliant green,
formed by the middle secondaries. Length twenty-one inches, wing ten and
a half. Female smaller, plumage duller, without the green markings.

This duck is much prized along the sea-coast, but at the West he holds
an inferior rank.

PINTAIL.

Sprig-tail–Pigeon-tail–Grey-Duck.

_Anas Acuta_, Wils.

_Specific Character._–Bill long and narrow, lead color; at the tip a
spot of black, at the corner of the mouth a spot of similar color; neck
long and slender; speculum bright purple, with reflecting deep green
bordered with black; the feathers broadly tipped with white; tail long
and pointed. Adult male with head, cheeks, throat, upper parts of the
neck in front and sides, dark brown; a band of light purple behind the
eye, extending about three inches on the sides of the neck; on the hind
neck a band of black, with green reflections, fading as it extends on
the back–a band of white commencing between the two former, passing
down the neck on the lower part of the fore neck; breast and fore part
of the abdomen white, tinged with pale yellow–hind part of the abdomen
and vent greyish-white tinged with yellow, and marked with undulated
lines of brown or dusky; at the base of the tail a patch of black; under
tail-coverts black, margined with whitish; two middle feathers black,
with green reflections, narrow, and about three inches longer than the
rest, which are rather long and tapering; upper tail-coverts ash-grey,
margined with yellowish-white, with a central streak of dusky. Rump
greyish-brown, marked with undulating lines of white; sides of the rump
cream color; sides of the body, back, and sides of the breast, marked
with undulating lines of black and white. Primaries brown; shafts
brownish-white, darker at their tips; secondaries and scapulars black,
with green reflections, the former margined with grey, which is the
color of the greater part of the outer web, the latter margined with
white; speculum bright purple, with splendid green reflections edged
with black, the feathers broadly tipped with white. Length twenty-nine
inches, wing eleven. Female with the upper part of the head and hind
neck dark brown, streaked with dusky; sides of the throat and fore neck
lighter; a few touches of rust color on the chin and on the base of the
bill. Upper plumage brown, the feathers margined and tipped with
brownish-white; lower plumage brownish-white, mottled with brown;
speculum less extensive, and without the lengthened tail feathers so
conspicuous in the male.

This duck is more abundant in the neighborhood of the great lakes than
along the margin of the ocean; in epicurean qualities it ranks with the
black duck.

WOOD-DUCK.

Summer-Duck.

_Anas Sponsa_, Aud.

_Specific Character._–The pendant crest, the throat, upper portion of
the fore neck, and bands on the sides of the neck white, with the
speculum blue, glossed with green and tipped with white. Adult male with
the bill bright red at the base, the sides yellow; between the nostrils
a black spot reaching nearly to the black, hooked nail; the head is
furnished with long silken feathers, which fall gracefully over the hind
neck, in certain lights exhibiting all the colors of the rainbow; a
narrow white line from the base of the upper mandible, passing over the
eye; a broader band of the same color behind the eye, both bands
mingling with the long feathers on the occiput; throat and upper portion
of the fore neck pure white, a band of the same color inclining towards
the eye; a similar band on the sides of the neck, nearly meeting on the
nape; lower portion of the neck reddish-purple, the fore part marked
with triangular spots of white; breast and abdomen dull white; sides of
the body yellowish-grey, undulated with black; the feathers towards the
ends marked with a broad band of black, succeeded by a band of white;
tips black; tail and upper tail-coverts greenish-black; lower
tail-coverts brown; sides of the rump dull reddish-purple; rump, back,
and middle portions of the hind neck, dark reddish-brown, tinged with
green; a broad white band before the wings, terminating with black;
lesser wing-coverts and primaries brown, most of the latter with a
portion of their outer webs silvery white; the inner webs glossed with
green towards the ends; secondaries tipped with white; their webs blue,
glossed with green; the inner webs brown, their crowns violet-blue;
secondaries black.

Female, upper part of the head dusky, glossed with green; sides of the
head, upper portion of the sides of the neck, with the nape,
greyish-brown; a white patch behind the eye; throat white, the bands on
the sides of the neck faintly developed; fore part and sides of the
neck, with the sides of the body, yellowish-brown, marked with
greyish-brown; breast and abdomen white, the former spotted with brown;
lower tail-coverts greyish-white, mottled with brown; tail and upper
tail-coverts dark brown, glossed with green; rump, back, and hind neck,
dark brown, glossed with green and purple; bill dusky, feet dull green.
The crest less than that of the male, and plain dull brown. Length
twenty inches; wing eight inches and a half.

This is an extremely beautiful duck, but of moderate size; it is rare on
the sea-coast, but absolutely swarms during the month of September among
the lily-pads of the Western swamps. Fed upon the berry of this plant,
called at the South chincapin, it becomes fat and deliciously tender. It
does not pay much attention to decoys.

GREEN-WINGED TEAL.

_Anas._

_Anas Crecca_, Wils.

_Specific Character._–Bill black, short, and narrow; the outer webs of
the first five secondaries black, tipped with white; the next five plain
rich green, forming the speculum; secondary coverts tipped with pale
reddish-buff. Adult male with a dusky band at the base of the bill, of
which color is the throat; a faint white band under the eye; upper part
of the neck, sides of the head, and the crown, chestnut brown; a broad
band of bright green commencing behind the eye, passing down on the
nape, where it is separated by the terminal portion of the crest, which
is dark blue; lower part of the hind neck, a small space on the fore
neck, and the sides of the body, undulated with lines of black and
white; lower portion of the fore neck and upper part of the breast
reddish-brown, distinctly marked with round spots of brownish-black;
abdomen yellowish-white, faintly undulated with dusky; a patch of black
under the tail; outer tail-feathers buff, inner white, with a large spot
of black on the inner webs; tail brown, margined with whitish, the outer
feathers greenish-black; upper parts brown, faintly undulated with black
and white, on the fore part of the back; outer scapulars similar, with a
portion of their outer webs black; lesser wing-coverts brown-ash;
greater coverts tipped with reddish-cream; the first five secondaries
velvety-black; the next five bright green, forming the speculum, which
is bounded above by pale reddish-buff, and on each side by deep black;
before the wing a transverse, broad white band.

Female smaller; head and neck streaked with brownish-white and dusky,
darker on the upper part of the head; lower parts reddish-brown, the
feathers margined with dusky, upper parts dusky-brown, the feathers
margined and spotted with pale reddish-white, without the chestnut red
and the green on the head; the black patch is wanting, as is the white
band before the wings, the conspicuous spot on the wings is less
extensive. Its short and narrow bill is at all times a strong specific
character; length fifteen inches; wing seven inches and a half.

This is an excellent little duck, too confiding for its own security,
but capable of saving itself by great rapidity of flight. It is greatly
attracted by decoys, and will generally alight among them if permitted.

BLUE-WINGED TEAL.

_Anas Discors_, Wils.

_Specific Character._–Bill bluish-black and long in proportion with the
other dimensions of this species; smaller wing-coverts light-blue;
speculum purplish-green. Adult male with the upper part of the head
black; a broad band of white on the sides of the head, before the eye
margined with black; rest part of the head, and upper part of the neck
greyish-brown, with purple reflections on the hind neck; chin black;
lower parts reddish-brown; lower part of the fore neck and sides of the
body spotted with blackish-brown; breast and abdomen barred with the
same color; lower tail-coverts blackish-brown; tail brown, margined with
paler, the feathers pointed, a patch of white on the sides of the rump;
back brownish-black, glossed with green; the feathers on the fore part
of the back and lower portion of the hind neck margined with
yellowish-white; primaries brown; inner webs of the secondaries same
color; outer vanes dark green, which form the speculum; secondary
coverts brown, the outer broadly tipped with white, the inner tipped
with blue; tertials dark-green, with central markings of deep buff;
feet dull yellow.

Female without the white patch on the sides of the head; throat white;
lower parts greyish-brown, the feathers spotted with darker; upper parts
blackish-brown, the feathers margined with bluish-white and pale buff;
smaller wing-coverts blue; speculum green; secondary coverts the same as
those of the male; length fourteen inches, wing seven inches and a half.

This species greatly resembles the last.

SPOONBILL.

Shoveller.

_Anas Clypeata_, Wils.

_Specific Character._–Bill brownish-black, about three inches in
length, near the end it is more than twice as broad as it is at the
base; much rounded and closely pectinated, the size of the upper
mandible at the base having the appearance of a fine-toothed comb. Adult
male with the head and the neck for about half its length glossy green,
with purple reflections; lower part of the neck and upper part of the
breast white; rest of the lower plumage deep chestnut-brown, excepting
the lower tail-coverts and a band across the vent, which is black, some
of the feathers partly green; flanks brownish-yellow pencilled with
black and blackish-brown; inner secondaries dark green with terminal
spot of white; outer secondaries lighter green; primaries dark brown,
their shafts white, with dusky tips; lesser wing-coverts light blue;
speculum golden-green; rump and upper tail-coverts greenish-black, a
patch of white at the sides of the rump; tail dark brown, the feathers
pointed, broadly edged with white, of which color are the inner webs of
the three outer feathers.

Female with the crown dusky; upper plumage blackish-brown, the feathers
edged with reddish-brown; breast yellowish-white, marked with
semi-circular spots of white. Young male with similar markings on the
breast; length twenty inches and a half, wing ten.

SEA-DUCK.

_Genus Fuligula._

_Generic Distinctions._–In this class the head is rather larger, neck
rather shorter and thicker, than in the preceding genus (Anas), plumage
more dense, feet stronger, and the hind toe with a broad appendage,
which is the principal distinction.

CANVAS-BACK.

_Fuligula Valisneria_, Wils.

_Specific Character._–Bill black, the length about three inches, and
very high at the base; fore part of the head and the throat dusky;
irides deep red; breast brownish-black. Adult male with the forehead,
loral space, throat, and upper part of the head dusky; sides of the
head, neck all round for nearly the entire length, reddish-chestnut;
lower neck, fore part of the breast and back black; rest of the back
white, closely marked with undulating lines of black; rump and upper
tail-coverts blackish; wing-coverts grey, speckled with blackish;
primaries and secondaries light slate color; tail short, the feathers
pointed; lower part of the breast and abdomen white; flanks same color,
finely pencilled with dusky; lower tail-coverts blackish-brown,
intermixed with white; length twenty-two inches, wing nine and a
quarter.

Female, upper parts greyish-brown; neck, sides, and abdomen the same;
upper part of the breast brown; belly white, pencilled with blackish;
rather smaller than the male, with the crown blackish-brown.

This is without question the finest duck that flies, as it is the
largest and gamest; it is abundant late in the season, but wary.

RED-HEAD.

_Fuligula Ferina_, Wils.

_Specific Character._–Bill bluish, towards the end black, and about two
inches and a quarter long; irides yellowish-red. Adult male with head,
which is rather large, and the upper part of the neck all round, dark
reddish chestnut, brightest on the hind neck; lower part of the neck,
extending on the back and upper part of the breast, black; abdomen
white, darker towards the vent, where it is barred with undulating lines
of dusky; flanks grey, closely barred with black; scapulars the same;
primaries brownish-grey; secondaries lighter; back greyish-brown, barred
with fine lines of white; rump and upper tail coverts blackish-brown;
tail feathers greyish-brown, lighter at the base; lower tail-coverts
brownish-black, rather lighter than the upper; length twenty inches;
wing nine and a half. Female about two inches smaller, with the head,
neck, breast, and general color of the upper parts brown; darker on the
upper part of the head, lighter on the back; bill, legs, and feet,
similar to those of the male.

This duck, as it is scarcely distinguishable from the canvas-back, and
has mainly the same habits, is but little inferior to that incomparable
bird.

BROAD-BILL.

Blue Bill, Scaup, Black Head, Raft Duck.

_Fuligula Marila_, Linn.

_Specific Character._–The head and neck all round, with the fore part
of the breast and fore part of back, black; the sides of the head and
the sides and hind part of the neck dark green, reflecting purple;
length of bill, when measured along the gap, two inches and
five-sixteenths; length of tarsi one inch and three-eighths; length from
the point of the bill to the end of the tail nineteen inches; wing eight
inches and five-eighths; a broad white band crossing the secondaries
and continues on the inner primaries. Adult male with the forehead,
crown, throat, and upper part of the fore neck brownish-black; sides of
the head, neck, and hind neck, dark green; lower portion of the neck all
round, with the upper part of the breast, purplish-black; rest of the
lower parts white, undulated with black towards the vent; under
tail-coverts blackish-brown; tail short, dark brown, margined and tipped
with lighter brown; upper tail-coverts and rump blackish-brown; middle
of the back undulated with black and white; fore part black; wings
brown, darker at the base and tips; speculum white, formed by the band
crossing the secondaries and inner primaries; scapulars and inner
secondaries undulated with black and white; secondary coverts
blackish-brown, undulated with white. Female with a broad patch of white
on the forehead; head, neck, and fore part of the breast umber brown;
upper parts blackish-brown; abdomen and lower portions of breast white;
scapulars faintly marked with white.

WHISTLER.

Golden Eye, Great Head.

_Fuligula Clangula_, Linn.

_Specific Character._–Bill black, high at the base, where there is
quite a large spot of white; head ornamented with a beautiful crest, and
feathers more than an inch long and loose; insides yellow; the entire
head and upper part of the neck rich glossy-green, with purple
reflections, more particularly so on the throat and forehead; rest of
the neck, with the entire plumage, white; sides of the rump and vent
dusky grey; tail greyish-brown; back and wings brownish-black–a large
patch of white on the latter, formed by the larger portion of the
secondaries and the tips of its coverts; legs reddish-orange. Length
twenty inches; wing nine inches. Female head and upper part of the neck
dull brown; wings dusky; lower parts white, as are six of the
secondaries and their coverts; the tips of the latter dusky. About three
inches smaller than the male.

DIPPER.

Butter Ball, Buffel-Headed Duck, Spirit Duck.

_Fuligula Albeola_, Linn.

_Specific Character._–Bill blue, from the corner of the mouth to the
end about one inch and a half, the sides rounded, narrowed towards the
point; head thickly crested, a patch behind the eye and a band on the
wings white. Adult male with the plumage of the head and neck thick, and
long forehead; loral space and hind neck rich glossy green, changing
into purple on the crown and sides of the head; from the eye backwards
over the head a triangular patch of white; the entire breast and sides
of the body pure white; abdomen dusky white; tail rounded,
greyish-brown; upper tail-coverts lighter; under tail-coverts soiled
white; back and wings black, with a patch of white on the latter. Female
upper plumage sooty-brown, with a band of white on the sides of the
head; outer webs of a few of the secondaries same color; lower part of
the fore neck ash-color; breast and abdomen soiled white; tail feathers
rather darker than those of the male. Male fourteen and a half inches
long; wing six inches and three-fourths. Female rather smaller.

The dipper is quite plentiful everywhere in the Northern States, but not
much valued.

OLD WIFE.

South Southerly, Old Squaw, Long-Tailed Duck.

_Fuligula Glacialis_, Linn.

_Specific Character._–Length of bill, from the termination of the
frontlet feathers to the point, one inch and one-sixteenth–the upper
mandible rounded; the sides very thin; the bill rather deeply serrated,
and furnished with a long nail; tail feathers acute. In the male the
middle pair of tail feathers are extended about four inches beyond the
next longest, which character is wanting with the female. Adult male
with the bill black at the base; anterior to the nostril reddish-orange,
with a dusky line margining the nail; fore part of the head white, the
same color passing over the head down the hind neck on the back; eyes
dark red; cheeks and loral space dusky-white, with a few touches of
yellowish-brown; a black patch on the sides of the neck terminating in
reddish-brown; fore neck white; breast brownish-black, terminating in an
oval form on the abdomen–the latter white; flanks bluish-white;
primaries dark brown; secondaries lighter brown, their coverts black; a
semi-circular band of black on the fore part of the back; the outer two
tail feathers white–the rest marked with brown, excepting the four
acuminated feathers, which are blackish-brown, the middle pair extending
several inches beyond the others. Female without the long scapulars or
elongated tail feathers; bill dusky-green; head dark, greyish-brown–a
patch of greyish-white on the sides of the neck; crown blackish; upper
parts dark greyish-brown; lower parts white. Length of male from the
point of the bill to the end of the elongated tail feathers twenty-three
inches; wing eight inches and five-eighths. Female about six inches less
in length.

This bird is abundant along the coast, but is generally tough and fishy.

MERGANSER.

_Genus Mergus_, Linn.

_Generic Distinctions._–Bill straight, higher than broad at base; much
smaller towards the end; upper mandible hooked; teeth sharp; head rather
large, compressed; body rather long, depressed; plumage very thick; feet
placed far behind; wings moderate, acute; tail short, rounded.

SHELL-DRAKE.

Goosander Weaser.

_Mergus Merganser_, Wils.

_Specific Character._–Forehead low; head rounded, crested; bill bright
red, the ridge black, high at base; upper mandible much hooked. Adult
male with the head and upper part of the neck greenish-black; lower
portion of the neck white; under plumage light buff, delicately tinged
with rose-color, which fades after death; sides of the rump
greyish-white, marked with undulating lines of dusky; fore part of the
back and inner scapulars glossy black; hind part of the back ash-grey;
the feathers margined and tipped with greyish-white, lighter on the
rump; upper tail-coverts grey, the feathers marked with central streaks
of dusky; tail feathers darker; primaries dark brown; wing coverts and
secondaries white, the outer webs of the latter edged with black; the
basal part of the greater coverts black, forming a conspicuous band on
the wings; under tail-coverts white, outer webs marked with dusky grey,
which is the color of the greater part of the web; bill and feet bright
red. Female with the head and upper part of the neck reddish-brown;
throat and lower neck in front white; breast and abdomen deeply tinged
with buff; upper parts and sides of the body ash-grey; speculum white.
Length of male, twenty-seven inches; wing, ten and a half. Female about
three inches smaller. Young like the female.

RULES FOR TRAP-SHOOTING

OF THE

NEW YORK SPORTSMEN’S ASSOCIATION.

RULE I. _Traps, Rise, and Boundaries._–All matches shall be shot from H
and T plunge-traps. Rise for single birds to be twenty-one yards; and
for double birds eighteen yards. The boundaries shall be eighty yards
for single birds, and one hundred yards for double birds, which, in
single-bird shooting, shall be measured from a point equidistant from,
and in a direct line between, the two traps; in double-bird shooting
from a point equidistant from, and in a direct line between, the
centre-traps.

RULE II. _Scoring._–When a person is at the score and ready to shoot,
he is to call “pull;” and, should the trap be sprung without his having
given the word, or in single-bird shooting should more than one bird
rise at a time, he may take the bird or birds, or not; but if he shoot,
the bird or birds shall be charged to him. The party at the score must
not leave it to shoot, and must hold the butt of his gun below his elbow
until the bird or birds rise; and in case of infraction of this
provision, the bird or birds shall be scored as missed.

RULE III. _Rising of Birds._–A bird must be on the wing when shot at.
All contingencies from missfire, non-explosion of cap, gun not cocked,
etc., etc., are at the risk of the party shooting.

RULE IV. _Recovering Birds._–It shall be optional with the party
shooting to recover his own birds, or to appoint a person for that
purpose. He shall in all cases walk directly up to the bird and take it
without injury; and, in case of doubt, hand it to the Judges for their
decision. If a bird flies outside the bounds it shall be scored as
missed. Should a bird alight upon a tree, house, or any other
resting-place within the bounds, after it has been shot at, the party
shooting, or his deputy, shall proceed immediately to the spot, and if
the bird does not fall, without any extraneous means being used, such as
throwing clods, stones, sticks, or using poles, etc., within three
minutes from the time it alights, it shall be scored a miss.

RULE V. _Flight of Birds._–In double shooting, both birds shall be on
the wing when the first is shot at; if but one bird flies, and but one
barrel is fired or snapped, the birds shall in no wise be scored,
whether hit or missed, but the party shooting shall have two more birds;
or if both birds fly and are killed with one barrel, he must shoot at
two other birds.


RULE VI. _Placing the Traps._–In single-bird shooting the distance
between the traps shall be eight yards; in double-bird shooting, as four
traps are used, the H and T traps shall be set alternately, and four
yards apart. When five traps are used, they shall be four yards apart.

RULE VII. _Powder and Shot._–The charge of shot shall not exceed 1½
ounces. All the guns shall be loaded from the same charger, except in
cases of breech-loaders, when the Referee may open one or more
cartridges to ascertain if the charge of shot is correct.

RULE VIII. _Ties._–In case of a tie at single birds, the distance shall
be increased five yards, and shall be shot off at five birds. In case of
a second tie, the distance shall again be increased five yards, and this
distance shall be maintained till the match is decided. The ties in
double-bird shooting shall be shot off at twenty-one yards rise without
any increase, at five double rises.

RULE IX. _Judges and Referee._–Two Judges and a Referee shall be
appointed before the shooting commences. The Referee’s decision shall be
final; he shall have power to call “No bird,” in case any bird fails to
fly; and may allow a contestant another bird in case the latter shall
have been baulked, or interfered with, or may, for any reason
satisfactory to the Referee, be entitled to it. If a bird shall fly
towards parties within the bounds, in such a manner that to shoot at it
would endanger any person, another bird may be allowed; and if a bird is
shot at by any person besides the party at the score, the Referee shall
decide how it shall be scored, or whether a new bird shall be allowed.

Continue Reading

SUGGESTIONS TO SPORTSMEN.

The word “sport” has been more abused, ill-treated, and misapplied than
any other in our language; of a high, pure, and noble signification, it
has been debased to unworthy objects; of a restricted and refined
significance, it has been extended to a mass of improper matters; from
its natural elegant appropriateness, it has been degraded to vulgar and
dishonest associations.

The miserable wretch who lives on the most contemptible passion in human
nature, and with practised skill cheats those who would cheat
him–winning by the unfair rules of games, so-called, of chance–or,
with less conscience, converting that chance into a certainty, calls
himself a sporting man. The individual who, having trained a horse up to
the finest condition of activity and endurance, drives or rides him
under lash and spur round a course to win a sum of money, although he
may call himself a sportsman, is really a business man. The daring
backwoodsman of the Far West, who follows the fleet elk or timid deer,
and who attacks the formidable buffalo or grizzly bear, is less a
sportsman than a mighty hunter; the man who shoots with a view of
selling his game is a market-gunner; and he who kills that he may eat is
a pot-hunter.

The sportsman pursues his game for pleasure; he does not aspire to
follow the grander animals of the chase, makes no profit of his success,
giving to his friends more than he retains, shoots invariably upon the
wing, and never takes a mean advantage of bird or man. It is his pride
to kill what he does kill elegantly, scientifically, and mercifully.
Quantity is not his ambition; he never slays more than he can use; he
never inflicts an unnecessary pang or fires an unfair shot.

The man who, happening to find birds plentiful in warm weather, and,
after murdering all that he can, leaves them to spoil, is no more a
sportsman than he who fires into a huddled bevy of quail, or who
considers every bird as representing so much money value, and to be
converted into it as soon as possible.

The sportsman is generous to his associate, not seeking to obtain the
most shots, but giving away the advantage in that particular, and
recovering it if possible by superiority of aim; for although to be a
sportsman a person must naturally be an enthusiast, he should never
forget what he owes to his friend, and above all what he owes to
himself.

Boys and Germans need not imagine that killing robins or blackbirds on
trees, no matter how numerously, is sport. Robins and blackbirds, the
latter especially, if the old song is to be believed, make dainty pies,
but do not constitute an object of pursuit to the sportsman. Diminutive
birds shot sitting are as far beneath sport as gigantic wild animals
shot standing or running are above it. The only objects of the
sportsman’s pursuit are the game birds; not in the confined sense used
in old times by the English, when the very prince of all–the
woodcock–was excluded from the list, but embracing every bird, fit for
the table, that is habitually shot on the wing. Many of these, perhaps
the finest, gamest, and bravest, are shot over dogs, where the wonderful
instinct of the animal aids the intelligence of the human; but whether
followed by the faithful setter, or lured to bobbing decoy; killed from
points where, prone in the reeds, the eager sportsman, insensible to
cold or wet, at the grey of dawn or dusk of night, awaits his prey; or
from the convenient blind which the deluded birds approach without
suspicion, or pursued with horse and wagon on the open plain–these all
are game birds, and he who follows them legitimately is a sportsman.

Wild birds, like the tame ones, are given for man’s use, and the best
use that can be made of them is the one that will confer most health,
nourishment, and happiness on mankind. Fanatics imagine that although
birds may be killed, it must be done only to furnish food; as if there
was nothing beyond eating in this world, and as if contribution to
health were not as essential as supplies to the stomach. The two may and
should be combined; a man who is hungry may kill that he may be
satisfied, the man who is sickly may kill that he may recover–neither
may kill in excess; and a third may kill lest he become sick, provided
nothing is injured that is not used.

Death before the muzzle of a gun, in the hands of an experienced
marksman, when the body of the charge striking the object terminates
life instantly–and even when, in the hands of a bungler, the wounded
bird is not put out of his pain till he is retrieved–is far more
merciful than after capture in a trap, accompanied with agonies of
apprehension and perhaps days of starvation, till the thoughtless boy
shall remember his snare and awkwardly end life. The birds of the air
and beasts of the field are given for man’s use and advantage, whether
domesticated, or wild as they once all were; and if they serve to supply
him with food or healthful exercise, and especially if they do both,
they have answered their purpose. It is certainly no more brutalizing to
shoot them on the wing or in the open field, when they have a reasonable
chance to escape, than to wring their necks in the barn-yard, or knock
them on the head with an axe.

To become a sportsman, the first thing to acquire–provided nature has
kindly furnished the proper groundwork of heart and body, without which
little can be done–is the art of shooting. A few, very few men become,
through fortuitous circumstances of nature and practice, splendid shots;
many shoot well, and some cannot shoot at all. The author of this work
has handled a gun from his twelfth year, and been out with thousands of
sportsmen, but he never yet saw a dead shot–one who can kill every
time.

Crack shots, however, are numerous; and include, according to Frank
Forester, those who, in covert and out of covert, the season through,
will kill three out of five of the birds that rise fairly within range;
but in the opinion of the author, the application should be extended to
any man who can kill two out of five on an average. This calculation,
however, has no reference to fair shots; every bird that rises within
twenty-five yards and is seen, though it be but for an instant, and many
that rise at thirty-five yards, are to be counted.

In our country there is so much covert, that the man who picks his birds
and only fires at open chances, is a potterer, unworthy even of the
common-place name of gunner; he has nothing of the sportsman and little
of the man about him. Afraid to miss, anxious to boast of his skill,
desirous of surpassing his friends, he unites the qualities of braggart
and sneak.

Be liberal in your shots; do not grudge ammunition, nor dread the
disgrace of a miss–the disgrace of eluding the trial is far greater;
and no man who waits for open shots, and acquires a hesitating manner,
will ever effect anything brilliant. If you miss, there are always
plenty of excellent excuses at hand–your foot slipped, the bird dodged,
a tree intervened; or, you hit him hard, cut out his feathers, or even
killed him stone dead, but he did not fall at once. If you doubt the
validity of these excuses, go out with the best shot you know, and
observe whether he does not furnish you with ten times the number in a
week.

Now, the author cannot shoot, and never could; but he manages to bring
home as many quail, woodcock, snipe, rail, ruffed grouse, and ducks, on
the average, as any of his friends. He observes that most of them miss
as often as he does, with no better excuses, and some far oftener; but
still he never, to the best of his belief, saw the season during which
he killed–that is, bagged–one-half of the birds he shot at. Some
professionals, of course, shoot at one kind of game wonderfully; the
gunners of Long Island Bay are astoundingly accurate on wild-fowl, but
would not kill one quail in a week; while some men who could scarcely
touch a duck, handle their guns splendidly in the thickest cover.
Professionals, however, usually yield the best chances to their
employers, and may be more skilful than they seem; but among amateurs
the author claims a rank that will at least entitle him to judge of
others.

The majority of persons rarely consider how many birds escape, without
the fault of the marksman; at over thirty yards the best gun, especially
when a little dirty, will leave openings in the charge where a bird may
be hit with only one shot, if at all. Ducks, the larger bay-snipe,
ruffed grouse, and, above all, quail late in the season, will carry off
several shots–flying away apparently unhurt, although in the end they
may fall dead. If the gun was held perfectly straight this would happen
less frequently; but to so hold it is almost impossible, for no living
man could kill, once in a dozen times, a flying bird with a single ball;
and even then the probabilities are, that a yellow-leg snipe shot at
more than thirty-five yards off, would once in five times carry away the
few pellets that may strike him; and at forty yards escape entirely
untouched. If the reader will select the best target his gun can make
with an ounce of No. 8 shot at forty yards, and see how many spaces
there are entirely vacant large enough to contain a snipe, he will be
convinced that the above statement is correct; and at fifty yards, the
chances are three to one against the marksman. Sir Francis Francis, who
is a good authority in England, says, that to kill one bird in two shots
is good shooting; and there the grounds are almost always open, while
the reverse is the case with us.

Do not be discouraged, therefore, if the sun gets in your eyes, your
foot slips, the bird dodges, a few floating feathers are the only result
of your effort, or you make a clean miss; others do the same. Neither
lose your temper nor curse your luck, as by so doing you may excite your
nerves and injure your shooting, and cannot improve it. Be cool, never
shoot without an attempt at aim, if it is only where the bird
disappeared; take your disappointments pleasantly, strive to do your
best, and you will improve.

Many ducks fly at least ninety miles an hour; that is, twenty-six
hundred yards a minute, or forty-four yards a second; if, therefore, a
duck starts at your feet with that velocity, and you require a second to
cover him, he will be out of range; or if he is flying across, and you
dwell one forty-fourth part of a second on your aim, you will miss him.
A quail, late in the season, flies as fast as this, and rises with a
rapidity equal to his flight. He is often found in coverts, dodges and
twists with remarkable skill and judgment, frequently flies off in a
direct line behind the thickest bush, and requires the perfection of
training to bring down with certainty. These are difficulties that
patience alone can overcome; for if shooting were simple, there would be
no art or pleasure in it.

All books on sporting tell you to fire ahead of cross shots, and in this
they are right; but the reason they give is, that time is necessary for
the shot to reach the object–in this they are wrong; shot moves
infinitely faster than the bird, and for practical purposes, reaches its
mark instantaneously. Human nerves and muscles, however, are imperfect,
and it requires an instant, an important one, to discharge the gun after
the aim is taken. The result, therefore, is the same, and you must
endeavor to shoot ahead of the bird; and if he is flying fast, far ahead
of him. If the motion of the object is followed and the gun kept moving
before the discharge, some writers allege no allowance need be made, but
it is so difficult not to pause slightly, that it is better in all cases
to allow some inches.

To follow the motion of a very fast-flying bird, is almost, if not quite
impossible, and the attempt to do so at all, is apt to create a popping
habit. When a broad-bill, driving before a strong northwester, darts
past, the best plan is to try and fire many feet, even ten or fifteen,
ahead of him; and then you will rarely succeed in discharging your piece
before he is abreast of the muzzle, and frequently will lag behind him.
The aim must be taken on the line of flight, and a little attention will
convince you that the bird is up with the sight ere the trigger is
fairly pulled. A knowledge of this principle, and an ability to practise
it, may be said to be the art of duck-shooting; as in that there are a
vast majority of cross shots, and the birds fly rapidly.

There is an erroneous idea that the eye must be lowered close down to
the breech, in order to have a correct aim; but, while it is apparent if
the neck is not bent at all there can be no aim, a slight inaccuracy
will not only make no difference, but will give an advantage by throwing
the shot high. It will be perceived, on fastening the gun in an
immovable position, that the eye may be moved from near one hammer to
the other, and the aim altered but a few inches, on an object thirty
yards distant–an inaccuracy, considering the spread of shot, which is
utterly unimportant.

So also, although by the attraction of gravitation the charge falls
somewhat, the deflection is too inconsiderable to merit attention.

After watching himself carefully, reading what the best authors have
written, and comparing experiences with his friends, the author has
concluded that experienced sportsmen miss from hesitation in pulling the
trigger, dwelling on the aim, and nervously shrinking from the recoil.
The first fault arises from some temporary or permanent condition of
mind or body, the second from anxiety to make assurance doubly sure, and
the last from habit.

If a man is naturally slow he can never shoot fast-flying birds, but if
his fingers are stiff from cold he can warm them. A resolution to fire
boldly, and not to dread missing, will cure the over-anxiety that
destroys its own intent, but to meet the recoil without giving to it, or
pushing against it, which is the more common mistake, is often extremely
difficult. This unfortunate habit, occurring at the moment of highest
excitement amid the noise and smoke, is rarely noticed by the guilty
party, and some will at first stoutly deny its existence.

To mind the recoil of a gun seems pusillanimous, and few can believe,
till assured by actual experiment, that it equals sixty or seventy
pounds, and will crush the bones of the body if immovably fixed. Let the
reader observe the next time that his gun is unwittingly left at
half-cock, how far he will pull it out of aim, and how he will push
against it, when attempting to discharge it at game. An acquaintance of
the writer, who would scout the idea of being affected by the recoil of
his gun, and indeed would have sworn “it did not kick a bit,” was once
chasing a diver on a placid, sluggish stream, in a dug-out. When the
bird rose close to the boat, the sportsman was standing erect, poising
himself with care in the unsteady craft, but as he pulled the trigger he
instinctively pushed so hard, that, as the cap snapped, he lost his
balance, upset the canoe, and pitched forward head-foremost overboard!

Probably one half of the fair shots that are missed escape on account of
this unfortunate nervousness; and it is a habit that can only be cured
by incessant care and unrelaxed watchfulness. Anything that affects the
nerves, as smoking or drinking, increases the difficulty, and the sudden
flushing of a bird will cause it. Unhappily it is apt to be most
prevalent when the shooting is good and the sportsman excited, thus
ruining many of his best days. With heavy loads, or what is known as a
kicking gun, the error will be aggravated; and most persons have no idea
of the proper proportions of powder and shot, putting in immense
quantities of the latter and sparing the former.

The true load for a gun not exceeding eight pounds in weight, regardless
of its size or bore, is one ounce and a quarter of shot and three
drachms of the strongest powder, or three and a half drachms of common
powder. The same proportion should be retained if the gun is heavier or
the charge increased. Where more shot is used power is lost and recoil
aggravated; and if the powder is not augmented one ounce of shot will do
better execution than two.

Many persons who have ascertained this fact and practise upon it, will
inform you that they drive their shot through the birds, and
consequently kill them instantly. This is a mistake; small shot are
rarely, if ever, driven through a bird; but where the force is
increased the blow is much harder, and stuns. It is the velocity rather
than the size or number of the shot that tells. A soldier in battle was
struck on the belt-plate by a spent minié bullet not a half inch in
diameter, and he described himself as feeling that he had been torn to
pieces, and that a cannon-ball had gone directly through his body.

The size of the shot is to be proportioned to the size of the
bird–weight, of course, being an element of power and telling on each
individual pellet–but the more the aggregate amount can be reduced the
less the recoil. Six drachms of powder and one ounce of shot, will not
occasion as much recoil as three drachms of powder and an ounce and a
half of shot.

The gun should always be held firmly to the shoulder, and the shoulder
never rested against a solid substance; indeed, the collar-bone may be
broken by simply firing directly upwards. Therefore, never fire in the
air while lying on your back upon the ground, and be careful when
shooting at ducks from a boat not to support yourself upon the latter.

If the reader still doubts the universally disastrous effects of
cringing at the moment of discharge, let him have an assistant to load
the gun out of sight, who without his knowledge shall vary the load, and
occasionally put in none at all. Then let the reader fire at a mark, and
in spite of the efforts which he will naturally make, he will find when
there is no load, and consequently nothing to distract his attention,
that he does shrink, and pull the muzzle somewhat off the object.

This book is not written for beginners; there are plenty of works with
every variety of instruction in them, and the reader is supposed to have
read them, digested their contents, acquired a knowledge of the gun, and
some skill in its use, and to have been frequently in the field, but to
be perfect neither in the use of the gun, nor the practice of the
sportsman’s art. There are, however, a few simple suggestions that may
prove valuable, not only in acquiring the ability to shoot, but in
restoring it where, from want of practice, it has diminished.

The sportsman must be as quick and ready in handling his gun as the
juggler in handling his tools; he must be able to bring it to his
shoulder and point the muzzle at a stationary mark simultaneously, to
aim in every direction with equal facility, and to follow a moving
object accurately. This is merely mechanical, and is acquired, like
every other mechanical art, by dint of practice.

Some writers recommend firing at turnips tossed through the air by an
assistant, and this is well; but an equally advantageous plan is to
throw a soft ball about a room and take aim at it, pulling the trigger
every time, with an unloaded and uncocked gun. The sole, but important,
recommendation of this idea is, that it may be carried out anywhere and
at all seasons, and if the reader will try it daily for a week before
going into the field, he will perceive the effects.

So also, to acquire quickness: if the reader will throw two small
objects–pennies, or the like–into the air, and endeavor to aim at or
hit them both before they reach the ground, he will in a short time
obtain such facility that he will be able to lay down his gun, and after
throwing the pennies, to pick it up and hit them both twice out of three
times.

To shoot at pigeons from a trap, robins from trees, and even swallows on
the wing, although the practice differs greatly from shooting at game,
is useful to a certain extent; but steady and long-continued practice of
this nature is injurious rather than beneficial. It is somewhat
notorious that the celebrated pigeon-shots are generally poor marksmen
in the field, and entirely at a loss in thick covert.

After all, however, the best place to learn the use of the gun, while it
is by all odds the pleasantest, is in the field; where, amid the
thousand beauties of nature, and under the excitement of the presence of
game, the sportsman by slow degrees overcomes the innumerable
difficulties that surround the art of shooting flying.

Closely allied to skill in killing the right object is the ability to
avoid killing the wrong one. A gun is extremely dangerous–how much so
is known only to those who have handled it long; in spite of the best
care it will occasionally go off at unexpected times, and in careless
hands is sure, sooner or later, to do terrible damage. Every possible
precaution must be taken, vigilance must never be relaxed, the muzzle
must under no circumstances point towards the owner or his companions;
if two men are crawling through thick brush, the gun of the first must
point forwards, and of the last, backwards; the caps should always be
removed when the sportsman gets into a wagon, and when the loaded weapon
is left in a house the hammers ought never to be left down on the caps;
but, above all, no man who is not in search of an early grave should
pull a gun towards him by the barrels.

These rules are simple, and the reasons for them apparent; if the hammer
is on the cap, a blow on it, or its catching on a twig, will discharge
the load; if a horse runs away, as horses have an unpleasant habit of
doing, even if the lock is at half-cock, the tumbler may be broken down;
if a gun is capped in a house, every one but an idiot knows it is
loaded; and if it is drawn towards a person–as will be often done by
thoughtless people in taking it from a wagon or lifting it from a boat
or from the ground–it is almost sure to go off.

In the field it should be carried either at whole or half-cock;
authorities differ as to which of these two modes is the safer. If the
hammer is at full cock, a touch on the trigger will set it loose; if it
is at half-cock, in the excitement of cocking it when a bird rises
unexpectedly, it will often slip unintentionally. I prefer the former
method, believing that the sense of danger makes the person more
careful, and that the risk of a twig’s touching the trigger in spite of
the trigger-guard is very slight, while the weapon is ready for instant
use, and only has to be pointed at the object and discharged. Moreover,
I have twice seen a gun that was at half-cock discharged when the
sportsman was in the act of cocking it hastily, and twice when putting
it back to half-cock; but the piece should never for a moment be trusted
out of the sportsman’s hands without his first putting it at half-cock;
nor should he ever cross a fence without the same precaution. In
changing from whole to half-cock, pass the hammer below the first notch,
so as to hear a distinct click when it is drawn back.

Countrymen when about to walk a log over a rapid stream, will usually
carefully put the hammers down on the caps, and placing the butt on the
log, steady themselves by it, thus insuring their destruction if they
should happen to slip; and if they stand on a fence they do the same
thing, and rest the stock on the upper rail. Not only should such
follies be avoided, but the gun should never be leaned against a tree,
as thoughtless people are apt to do when they stop at a spring to drink,
and never placed where it can slip or roll.

When you have fired and desire to reload, put the hammer of the loaded
barrel at half-cock, and if the right barrel has been discharged, set
down the butt so that the hammers are towards you, and the contrary way
if the left barrel is to be loaded; in this manner you will avoid
bringing your hand over the loaded barrel, and in case the other charge
should go off you would lose the end of your thumb, perhaps, but save
most of your fingers.

From the foregoing rules, which apply mainly to muzzle-loaders, it will
be seen how much safer are breech-loaders; with them the entire charge
can be withdrawn on entering a house or getting into a wagon, and there
is absolutely no danger to fingers or thumb in the process of loading.
And in carrying the weapon on long tramps in the woods, where it is
frequently removed from boat to shoulder, from shoulder to boat, and
from wagon to case, and when it has to be ready at any instant, with the
muzzle-loader the only possible precaution is to leave the nipples
without caps, which are to be carried in the vest pocket, and must be
removed after every vain alarm; while with the breech-loader, the charge
itself is not inserted till needed.

With these few suggestions, which are applicable not merely to the kinds
of sport treated of in this volume, but to every species of shooting, we
leave the young sportsman to his own resources and to the knowledge that
he will acquire in the field, hoping that he may find something in them
that will aid him to kill reasonably often the game he points at, and to
avoid the dreadful misfortune of injuring a friend or companion.

Continue Reading

DUCK-SHOOTING ON THE INLAND LAKES.

Out West–‘way out West–a long distance from our eastern cities in
miles, but now, thanks to steam and iron, a short one in hours, upon an
island lying in a bay that debouches into one of the great chain of
lakes, is situated a large, neat, white-painted and comfortable house,
where a club of sportsmen meet to celebrate the advent and presence of
the wild ducks. The mansion–for it deserves that name from its extent
and many conveniences–peeps out from amid the elms and hickories that
cover the point upon which it stands, almost concealed in summer by
their foliage, but in winter protected, as it were, by their bare, gaunt
limbs. From the piazza that extends along the front a plank pathway
leads to the wharf, which shelves into the water, like the levees on the
Mississippi, and down or up which each sportsman can, unaided, run his
light boat at his own sweet will. Adjoining the wharf is the out-house,
where the boats are stored in tiers, one above another, and are
protected summer and winter from the weather. Not far off stands that
most important building, a commodious ice-house, suggestive of the
luxuries and comforts that a better acquaintance with the ways of the
place will realize.

The island is not large, but wherever it is tillable, a garden, orchard,
and grapery have been planted, and furnish the household with delicious
fruit and vegetables. Quail have been introduced, and, being protected
by the regulations of the establishment, have increased and multiplied;
and wild turkeys occasionally commit upon the vines depredations which
are condignly punished. It is a lovely spot, far from other habitations,
and affords shelter during the fall months to as pleasant a set of
sportsmen as can be found the world over.

The President, with his short figure and grey hair, but sharp, clear
eye, was selected for his superior success as a marksman, and rarely
returns from a day’s excursion without a boat-load of game. The
Vice-President and Secretary are the only other officers, and upon their
fiat it depends whether any outsider shall trespass upon their inland
Paradise. Promiscuous invitations were once extended to the brethren of
the gun and rod, but so many spurious counterfeits presented themselves,
that a stringent rule had to be adopted to exclude all but the genuine
article.

The shooting lasts from the 1st of September till the chill breath of
winter closes the bay and drives the birds to more hospitable
localities. It is pursued in a small, light, flat-bottomed boat,
similar, on a larger pattern, to the rail-boats used on the Delaware.
Each boat is provided with a pair of oars working on pins that fit into
outriggers; and also with a long setting-pole, which has a bent wire,
like a tiny two-pronged pitchfork, on the end, to catch against the
reeds in poling. A place is made to rest the gun on upon one of the
thwarts; an ammunition-box, containing separate compartments for shot of
several sizes, wads, and caps, is stowed away in the bottom, and a heavy
loading-stick, in addition to the ramrod, is carried. Two guns are an
absolute necessity, unless the sportsman has a breech-loader; for many
birds are crippled and require a second shot before they escape into the
thick weeds, where they are hopelessly lost; and when the flight is
rapid, he requires, at least, four barrels, and would be thankful if he
could manage more.

The bay, which stretches in vast extent, is filled with high reeds and
wild rice, and rarely exceeds a few feet in depth except where open
passages mark the deeper channels. It is a matter of no little intricacy
for a stranger to find his way, and after nightfall the oldest
_habitué_, will often become bewildered, as the various bunches of
weeds, tufts of rice, or stretches of pond lilies look alike, and when a
southerly wind is blowing the water falls and leaves all but the deep
channels nearly or quite bare. If a man under such circumstances once
loses his course he may as well make up his mind to pass the night in
his boat; though he work himself almost to death trying to pole over
bare spots, he will but travel in a circle and grow momentarily more
bewildered.

I landed at the wharf in the middle of October, of a year ever famous
for the immense numbers of birds that were killed during it, and met
with a hearty greeting from a goodly company collected round the
groaning board of mine host of the white-flowing locks. There was our
worthy President, and our Secretary and Treasurer gracefully combined in
one; there our lucky man and the unlucky man, and there a famous
black-bass fisherman, and there my special friend, and others of lesser
note.

We sat down to tea with roasted canvas-backs at one end of the table,
broiled steaks at the other, and beautiful potatoes flanking each that
had been raised on our own premises and were tumbling to white
particles, as though they were trying to be flour; jolly, round, baked
apples sitting complacently in their own juice, vegetables of all sorts,
grapes from our grapery, and so many other inward comforts that one
hardly knew where to begin and never knew where to leave off. Our comely
hostess, who had prepared these good things, poured out the tea for us,
and put in sly remarks to her favorites; and, altogether, it was truly
pleasant.

After tea and adjournment to the sitting-room, while enjoying the
practical cigar or comfortable pipe, we discussed the varied fortunes of
the day and the probabilities of the morrow; compared views on the
habits of fish, flesh, or fowl, and related experiences of former
expeditions. But eager for the morning sun, we retired early and dreamed
of victory.

As soon as the lazy dawn streaked the east, dressing being done by
candle-light, we hastily disposed of our breakfast and prepared for the
start. Having selected our boats and arranged them on the wharf, we
stowed our guns, ammunition-boxes, over-clothes, a few decoys, and such
other articles as fancy suggested; and then taking two little tin pails,
we put a nice lunch of cold duck, steak, bread, pickles, cake, and fruit
in one, and into the other water with a large lump of ice bobbing around
in the centre; and thus equipped, each man slid his boat down the
inclined wharf, and shipping his oars, pulled for his favorite location.

My friend and myself joined forces, and made our first pause at a little
bunch of wild rice not far from the house, called Fort Ossawatomie.
Decoys are not generally used in this region, as they cannot be seen
from any considerable distance by the birds on account of the reeds; but
my friend had left his at this place over night, and they were still
“bobbing around”–pretending to swim and looking deceitfully
innocent–when we ensconced ourselves among the reeds near by, crowding
down into the bottom of our boats well out of view.

Several flocks were seen hovering over the horizon, or moving along in
the distance, scarcely discernible against the morning clouds; and
although occasionally they bade fair to approach, our hopes were
destined to disappointment, till a single bird turned and headed
directly towards us. When a bird is approaching head on, it is almost
impossible to tell whether he is not going directly from you; and at
times, except for his growing plainer every moment, we should have
doubted which way this bird was flying. Once he turned, from a change of
fancy or fearing danger, but perceiving some other cause of alarm he
again straightened his course towards us.

We were bent down, peering eagerly through the high reeds, as at last he
came by, within a long gunshot, on the side of my companion. The latter,
rising at the exact moment, wheeled round, brought up his gun, and fired
in an instant. It was just within range, but the bird turned over,
killed dead, and fell with a great splash into the water, sending the
spray six feet into the air. Seizing the pole, I pushed out to him, and
found that he was a blue-bill, one of the best birds of the Western
waters, and at this time in perfection.

We again concealed ourselves; but noticing that the birds shunned the
spot, I determined to leave it, and pushed out alone to one of the
principal landmarks, where the landscape presents so great a
uniformity–a large umbrella-like elm upon the distant shore. I did not
follow the regular channel; and at first the way was a difficult one,
being directly through a fringe of wild rice, where the water was
shallow and the stalks reached high above my heard, but beyond, an open
patch of water-lilies stretched for half a mile.

The broad, smooth leaves of this remarkable plant, far larger than those
of the pond-lilies of the Eastern States, lay in numbers upon, or half
buried in, the water; while standing up a few feet above its surface
with their straight stems, and gracefully waving in the wind, were the
cup-like pods that contain the seeds.

When the pods first form the seeds are entirely hidden from view, but as
they increase in size, holes form in the covering, through which they
peep as through a window. The seeds and pod are originally green, but
darken and turn blue, and then brown, as the season advances; and the
holes, which begin by being small, become larger till they open
sufficiently for the seeds to fall out. The seeds or berries are
elliptical in shape and of almost the size of a chestnut; in the green
state they are soft, and can be readily cut with a knife; but when ripe
and black, they are as hard as stone, and will turn the edge of a knife
like agate.

When about half ripe, or bluish in color, they are good to eat, and
after the removal of a little green sprout hidden in the centre, are
sweet, tasting much the same as a chestnut. As they ripen and their
covering recedes, their stems hold them upright; but the first heavy
frost breaks down the stems, and lets the seed fall out into the water,
where they lie till next year.

The working of nature is wonderful, as no one observes more frequently
than the sportsman; all this care is taken to preserve the seeds for
their appointed work. If they were permitted to fall out when green or
even half ripe, the action of the water would soften and destroy them;
extreme hardness is necessary to resist its action for so long a time;
while, on the other hand, if they were retained longer and exposed to
excessive cold, their germinating principle would be annihilated.

Wood-ducks are fond of them in their unripe state, and frequent the
marshes, especially in the early fall, to procure a supply. With a view
to nuts and grapes for dessert, I paused to gather a number of pods, and
was carelessly pushing along, when from out a bunch of weeds, with a
great clatter, sprang a couple of those birds. Dropping the
setting-pole, I threw myself forward to seize the gun; but for this
shooting, infinite practice and great aptitude are required; and
although well accustomed to kill rail from the floating cockle-shells on
the Delaware river, and able to take one end of a birch canoe with any
man, I was bunglingly in my own way, and, when at last one barrel was
discharged, a shameful miss was the only result. Anathematizing my
awkwardness, I was dropping the butt to reload, when, roused by the
report, another bird sprang not more than twenty yards off. In an
instant the gun was at my shoulder, and, when the fire streamed forth,
the bird doubled up, riddled with shot, and pitched forward into the
weeds. It was a drake, and, although young, the plumage was resplendent
with the green, brown, and mottle of the most beautiful denizen of our
waters–the elegant wood-duck.

Several more rose, far out of range, before the lilies were passed and
my destination in the open channel reached. Stopping on the brink of the
latter, to watch the flight of the birds, I noticed that they
frequently crossed a reedy island in the middle of the channel, and
consequently proceeded to conceal myself in what among our association
is called the Little Bunker. It was an admirable location; the channel
on each side did not exceed one hundred yards in width, and the weather
having become thick, with an easterly wind blowing and a slight rain
driving, the promise of sport was excellent.

Once fairly hidden, and my work commenced; bird after bird and flock
after flock approached, and although the boat, even while pressed in
among and steadied by the stiff reeds, was far from firm, a goodly
number was soon collected. How much more exhilarating is this noble
sport as it is pursued in the West than upon our Atlantic coast, where,
stretched upon his back in a coffin-like battery, the sportsman has to
lie for hours cooling his heels and exhausting his patience! There he is
not confined to one position; but, after shooting down a bird, has the
excitement of pushing after it, and, if it is only wounded, of following
it, perhaps in a long chase before it is retrieved; and then he must
make all haste to return to the hiding-place, over which the birds are
flying finely in his absence, and thus he keeps up a glow and fire of
activity and exercise.

It is a glorious sight to see a noble flock of ducks approach; to watch
them with trembling alternations of fear and hope as they waver in their
course, as they crowd together or separate, as they swing first one
flank of their array forward, then the other; as they draw nearer and
nearer, breathlessly to wait the proper time, and, with quick eye and
sure aim, select a pair, or perhaps more, with each barrel. It is still
more glorious to see them fall–doubled up if killed dead, turning over
and over if shot in the head, and slanting down if only wounded, driving
up the spray in mimic fountains as they strike; and glorious, too, the
chase after the wounded–with straining muscles to follow his rapid
wake, and, when he dives, catching the first glimpse of his reappearance
to plant the shot from an extra gun in a vital spot. Glorious to survey
the prizes, glorious to think over and relate the successful event, and
glorious to listen to the tales of others.

Sad, however, is it when the flock turns off and pushes far out to the
open water; sadder still when the aim is not true and the bird goes by
uninjured; sad when the chase is unsuccessful and the weeds hide the
prey, or he dives to grasp a root and never reappears; and saddest of
all to fall overboard out of your frail bark–a fate that sooner or
later awaits every one that shoots ducks from little boats.

I had had all these experiences except the last, and almost that–when
pushing through the weeds, my friend appeared, attracted by my rapid
firing, and after comparing our respective counts, ensconced himself in
one of the points opposite me on the channel. By this plan all birds
that came between us gave one or the other a shot, and each could mark
birds approaching the other from behind.

The morning passed rapidly away amid splendid shooting, and noon found
us united in my hiding-place to eat a sociable meal together. During the
middle of the day the birds repose, and the sportsman employs the time
in satisfying the cravings of hunger or even in a nap, interrupted
though he may be in either by an occasional whirr of wings, that, when
it is too late, informs him of lost opportunities.

We talked over matters. As the day had cleared off and become warm, the
prospect of sport for some hours at least was over, and my friend
suggested we should visit the snipe ground. To approve the suggestion,
to push out and to ship our oars, was the work of a moment, and we were
soon at Mud Creek bridge, a pull of about two miles through an open
lead, from which the ducks were continuously springing on our approach.
Having anchored our boats a short distance from shore, to prevent the
wild hogs paying us a visit, we waded to land, and substituting small
shot for the heavy charges in our guns, walked a few yards up the road
and crossed the fence.

I had brought my setter with me, and he had proved himself a model of
quietness in the boat, from the bottom of which he had raised his head
only once all day; when my first duck dropped he rose on his haunches,
and watching where it fell, sniffed at it as I pushed up, and then,
satisfied he had no part in such sport, lay down to sleep.

The moment he touched land his vigor returned; at a motion, he darted
out into the meadow of alternating broad slanks and high field grass
that lay before us, and ere he had traversed fifty yards, as he
approached an open spot, hesitated, drew cautiously, and finally paused
on a firm point. Stepping to him as fast as the impressible nature of
the ground permitted, we flushed three birds, rising as they are apt to
do one after the other, and killed two, one springing wide and escaping
unshot at.

While going to retrieve the dead birds we flushed two more, both of
which were bagged, one a long shot, wing-tipped, and not recovered till
some time afterwards; for, ere we reached him, we had sprung a dozen,
most of which were duly accounted for. The missed birds, after circling
round high in the air, returned to the neighborhood of their original
locality, and pitching down head-foremost, concealed themselves among
the high grass near enough to lure us to their pursuit.

The walking was terribly hard; the clayey mud uncommonly tenacious; the
day was already well advanced, and splendid as was the sport, we
resolved, after having pretty well exhausted ourselves and bagged
twenty-six birds, that we must hasten back to the rice swamp, or we
should lose the evening’s shooting.

We returned to our boats, and stowing the game, pulled with the utmost
vigor down the channel of Mud Creek, and in a short time were again
hidden among the high reeds, awaiting the ducks. This time my friend
selected a spot near a sort of semi-island, that was submerged or not,
according to the state of the water, and near which was a favorite
roosting-place.

The sun was leisurely dropping down the western sky, throwing his
slanting rays across the broad bay, and lighting up the distant
club-house as by a fire. The fringe of land, trees, and bushes, that
shut out the horizon and rose but little above the water level, was
growing dim and hazy of outline. The wind had died away; and stillness,
but for the quacking of the ducks, the splashing of the coots, or
so-called mud-hens, and the occasional report of a gun, reigned supreme.
A lethargy seemed to have fallen upon the birds; a distant flock alone
would at long intervals greet our eyes, and for some time our evening’s
sport bade fair to prove a failure.

However, as the sun was about to sink, the birds began to arrive, at
first one or two at a time, then more rapidly and in larger flocks, till
at last it was one steady stream and whirr of wings. Faster than we
could load, faster than we could shoot, or could have shot had we had
fifty guns, from all quarters and of all kinds they streamed past; now
the sharp whistle of the teal, then the rush of the mallard, sometimes
high over our heads, at others darting close beside us; by ones, by
twos, by dozens, by hundreds, crowded together in masses or stretched in
open lines, in all variety of ways, but in one uninterrupted flight.

Such shooting rarely blesses the fortunate sportsman; we drove down our
charges as best we could, sometimes having one barrel loaded or half
loaded, sometimes the other, oftener neither, when we were interrupted
with such glorious chances; our nerves, eyes, and muscles were on the
strain, and to this day we have only to regret that we did not then
possess a breech-loader.

The air was alive with birds; the rustle of their wings made one
continuous hum; the heavy flocks approached and passed us with a sound
like the gusty breeze of an autumn night rattling through the dying
leaves. When the sun fled and darkness seemed to spring up around us,
they appeared in the most unexpected and bewildering manner; at one time
from out of the glorious brilliancy of the western sky, then from the
deep gloom of the opposite quarter, darting across us or plunging down
into the weeds near by.

Our birds lay where they fell, and when the approaching night bade us
depart, we retrieved sixty-seven–the result of about one hour’s
shooting–doubtless losing numbers that were not noticed, or which,
being wounded, escaped. Had we not been awkward from a year’s idleness,
or had we shot as the professionals of Long Island and each used a
breech-loader, I could hardly say how many we might not have killed. As
it was, the sport was wonderful, and the result sufficient to satisfy
our ambition.

We lost no time in escaping from the weeds into the channel-ways,
whither the open-water ducks–the red-heads and canvas-backs–had
preceded us, and were still directing their flight; and then started for
the few dim trees that we knew surrounded the club-house, rousing in our
course immense flocks of the worthless American coot, _Fulica
Americana_, the mud-hen of the natives.

The wharf reached, the boats landed, supper over, the birds counted and
registered, the social pipe illumined, and we gathered in a circle round
the fire of our parlor for improving conversation.

“How many birds have we killed this year?” inquired a member.

“The record shows a goodly total of 2,351,” replied the Secretary,
turning to the register; “almost as many already as the entire return of
last season, during which we only killed 2,908.”

“And the better varieties seem this year to be more numerous.”

“In that particular there is surprising uniformity from year to year.
Last season the return is made up as follows: canvas-backs, 246;
red-heads, 122; blue-bills, 395; mallards, 540; dusky-ducks, 108;
wood-ducks, 601; blue-winged teal, 474; green-winged teal, 39; widgeons,
204; pin-tails, 50; gadwalls, 67; spoonbills, 11; ruddy-ducks, 2;
butter-balls, 7; geese, 2; quail, 14; cormorants, 2; turkeys, 3; great
hell-diver, 1; and this year the average is about the same.”

“But I think,” said the President, “the canvas-backs and red-heads are
earlier and better than usual.”

“They are rather earlier in making their appearance abundantly. The
variation is never great, however, and the birds appear in the following
order: the wood-ducks first, being plentiful early in September; the
blue-winged teal begin to surpass them about the 20th of that month, and
soon afterward the mallards arrive; widgeons are abundant by the middle
of October, and canvas-backs and red-heads are the latest.”

“Ah,” burst forth the unlucky man, enthusiastically, “the wood-duck
shooting is my favorite; when they rise from the lilies they are easier
to kill than when flying past at full speed; and you have a punter to
pole the boat and help mark the wounded birds.”

“October has my preference,” responded the President, with glowing eye;
“the large ducks–the mallards, canvas-backs, and red-heads–have then
arrived; the blue-bills and teal are numerous; and, when a single teal
flies past, a man has to know how to handle his gun to keel him over
handsomely.”

“But mallards dodge, when you rise to shoot, at the report of the first
barrel; and red-heads and canvas-backs, if not killed stone dead, dive
and swim off under water, or, catching the weeds in their bills, hold on
after death and never reappear. Have you noticed the large teeth, or
nicks, in the bills, especially of red-heads?”

“Yes. Those long, recurved teeth aid them in tearing up the wild celery,
on which they feed. I have had them serve me the trick you complain of
when they were at the last gasp–so nearly dead, that I have pushed out
and been on the point of picking them up. When not so badly hurt, they
will swim off with their bill only projecting above the surface, and if
there is the least wind this is entirely invisible. The trick is known
to others of the duck family; even the ingenuous wood-duck will have
recourse to the same mean subterfuge occasionally, as one that was but
slightly wounded proved to me to-day.”

“Is it true,” inquired the fisherman, “that other ducks steal from the
canvas-backs the wild celery that they have exhausted themselves in
procuring?”

“The widgeons have the credit of doing so; but I have never seen, and
somewhat doubt it. The canvas-back is too large and strong a duck to be
readily trifled with, and is by no means exhausted by diving to the
depth of a few feet after celery. This celery, as we call it–which has
a long, delicate leaf, resembling broad-grass, and bears the name of
_Zostera valisneria_ among the botanists–grows in water about five feet
deep, and its roots furnish the favorite and most fattening food of the
canvas-backs, red-heads, and, strange to say, mud-hens. The widgeon is
not a large nor powerful duck; can dive no further than to put its head
under water, while its tail stands perpendicularly above the surface;
and, although a terrible torment to the weak and gentle mud-hen, would
think twice before incensing the fierce and powerful canvas-back. Of a
calm day it is amusing to watch the flocks of noisy mud-hens, collected
in front of the club-house, diving for their food, and being robbed of
it by the widgeons. The latter swims rapidly among them, and no sooner
does he espy one coming to the surface, with his bill full of celery,
than he pounces upon and carries it off. He is watchful and voracious,
and quickly devours the food; while the injured mud-hen, with a resigned
look, takes a long breath and dives for another morsel.”

“Do they not combine to drive the robber away?”

“Occasionally; but he minds their blows as little as their scoldings,
and generally swims off with his prize. The canvas-back, however, would
soon teach him better manners.”

“Are the western canvas-backs as delicate and high-flavored as those of
the Chesapeake?”

“Fully so, as my friends in New York, who have been fortunate enough to
share my luck, have often testified. Of course, when they first come
they are thin and poor, but having the same food as is found in the
Chesapeake, and being less disturbed, they soon attain excellent
condition, and are entirely free from the slightest sedgy flavor.”

“That sedgy or fishy taste is confined mainly to birds shot on the salt
water, and is rarely found in any birds killed upon the inland lakes, so
that many–for instance the bay-snipe–that are barely passable when
shot along the coast, are excellent in the interior.”

“And yet the naturalists class the canvas-back among _fuligulæ_, or sea
ducks.”

“That arises from some scientific peculiarity, and is not universal. He
is certainly a fresh-water duck, and thousands are shot here yearly.”

“I lose a great many crippled birds,” said the unlucky man,
meditatively; “I wonder what becomes of them all?”

“Many die, a few recover, some are frozen in when the bay freezes over;
after the first hard frost large numbers can be picked up, but they are
so poor as only to be fit to send to the New York market. Most sportsmen
lose many ducks that they should recover; considerable practice is
required to mark well, but the search after a bird should be thorough,
and not lightly abandoned. The boat, when pushed into the reeds, must be
so placed that it can be easily shoved off, and the pole kept ready for
instant use. If, however, a mallard is only wounded, and falls into the
weeds, it is useless to go after him.

“On the other hand, if a canvas-back, but slightly touched, falls in
open water, he will be rarely recovered; the one hides in the weeds, the
other dives and swims under water prodigiously. The mallard and
canvas-back are the types of two classes–the former is a marsh duck,
the latter an open-water duck. The mallard lives on the pond-lily seeds,
and affects the shallow, muddy pond-holes; the canvas-back seeks the
broad channels, and devours the roots of plants; the one dodges at the
flash of the gun or sight of the sportsman, the other moves
majestically onward, regardless of the havoc that the heavy discharges
make in his ranks. Of nearly the same size, of unsurpassable delicacy on
the table, of equal vigor, they differ utterly in their habits.”

“Speaking of types,” said the unlucky man, recalling unpleasant
reminiscences of numerous misses, “you might call blue-bills types of
the fast-flying and dodging ducks. When they come down before a stiff
wind, and are making their best time, lightning is slow by comparison,
and shot does not seem to me to go quite fast enough.”

“They are the scaup or broad-bill of the East, _Fuligula Marila_, and
are aptly termed the bullet-winged duck. They are undoubtedly the most
difficult duck to kill that flies. I have known a thorough sportsman and
excellent shot on quail, shoot all day at them without killing one. You
must make great allowance for their speed.”

“And, moreover,” added the President, “you must load properly; there
must be powder enough behind the shot to send it clear through the bird;
one pellet driven in that way will kill a bird that would carry off a
dozen lodged beneath the skin or in the flesh.”

“Perhaps so, but I doubt its feasibility,” was the response; “no small
shot was ever, in my opinion, driven through the body of a duck with any
charge of powder at over thirty yards. I use light powder and plenty of
shot.”

This announcement was received with unanimous dissent, and the President
expressed the general feeling when he continued–

“Heavy shot will make a gun recoil painfully; but if the shot is light
the charge of powder may be large without producing unpleasant effects;
the shot will be driven quick and strong, and the bird deprived of life
instantaneously. Perhaps the pellets are not driven through the body,
but the blow is severer and the shock is more stunning. I use one ounce
of shot and three drachms of powder, and would prefer to increase rather
than diminish the powder. It is a mistake to suppose powder does not
burn because black particles fall to the ground if it is fired over snow
or white paper; these, I take it, are flakes of charcoal and not powder,
and some will fall, no matter how light may be the load.”

“For my part,” persisted the unlucky man, “I think the crippling of
birds arises from our inability to judge distances, and from our firing
at birds out of reasonable range. The patent breech was meant to remedy
the necessity for such heavy charges of powder as are used in the
old-fashioned flint-locks. Johnston, the author of an admirable treatise
on shooting, which is now out of print, is my authority, and he says
that an over-charge of powder makes a gun scatter prodigiously without
adding proportionately to the force.”

“That depends upon the character of the bore,” answered the Secretary;
“if it is relieved at the breech, and after narrowing above, made a
perfect cylinder towards the muzzle, the more the powder the better it
will shoot.”

Seeing that an interminable discussion was about to open, branching
off, in all likelihood, into the comparative qualities of powder and
manufacturers of guns, the President interposed.

“This is a dry, serious, and solemn conversation, and as every member
has already made up his mind on the subject, not very improving; who
will volunteer to tell a story or sing a song?”

“My friend here,” replied the unlucky, pointing to the lucky, man, “once
intimated to me that his first day’s duck-shooting was the best and
pleasantest he ever had, but would never give me the satisfaction of the
particulars.”

“The story, the story, let us have the story!” burst forth the chorus,
with delight.

“I will tell it on one condition,” responded the party addressed: “that
the gentleman who suggested it shall give a true account of his first
day’s trout-fishing.”

All hands shouted with delight at the prospect of two stories, scenting
a joke in the suggestion, but the unlucky man replied, pitifully, “I
will if I must, but there are more agreeable episodes in my existence.”

“Never mind that; if I confess, so must you.

“Many years ago, gentlemen, myself and a friend had driven down on Long
Island for a few days at the ducks. He was an old sportsman, and
promised to initiate me, who had acquired considerable facility with my
gun, but had never yet been in a battery on the bay.

“It is not necessary to say at what house we stopped; the island is
dotted with them–the best in the country–and as it was necessary to be
up at two o’clock in the morning in order to follow down the creek and
row out to the feeding grounds, we retired early. Strict injunctions
were left with the hostler to wake us at the appointed hour; but as
there was a grand ball going on in the hall adjoining the hotel, his
recollection was not to be depended upon.

“The beds were good; but, either disturbed by dreams of ducks or sounds
of revelry, my sleep was fitful. I was at last awakened by a loud noise,
which I took to be some one knocking at the door, and sleepily rising,
saw a light shining through the crack as it stood ajar. I woke my
companion, who responded with an unwilling grunt, and thinking the
hostler had left the candle for our accommodation, I stepped out to get
it.

“The night was cold, my dress was light and airy, the distant sounds of
expiring revelry were still faintly audible, and I hastened to get the
light that I might hurry on warmer clothes. To my surprise, on opening
the door, the candle appeared to be some yards off on the floor, in the
middle of what seemed to be an adjoining room. My eyes, dazzled by the
sudden change from total darkness, saw little as I stumbled forward; but
when I turned, light in hand, to regain my room, I came suddenly upon a
bed, and stopped as though shot.

“Gentlemen, a bed is nothing unusual or surprising in a country tavern,
but there is sometimes a great deal in it. In this particular instance
there was not even much in it, but that little was of the female sex.
Astonishment changed to admiration. She was very pretty, her rosy cheek
rested pillowed on one little hand, while the other arm was thrown
gracefully across her head, framing her innocent child-like face in a
cloud of white. She was lying on her side, and below her arm the
bed-clothes sank down to her waist and then rose in a magnificent swell.
Her hair in massive curls poured upon the pillow, and one strayed round
her throat and joined with the white drapery in protecting her neck.

“Admiration changed to curiosity. I stepped nearer, bringing the light
so that while it did not shine strongly on her eyes, it fell upon the
white drapery. Man is but a weak creature, liable to be swayed by evil
passions. Curiosity has always been my besetting sin, and sudden
temptations ought to be included among the other sudden dangers in the
prayer-book. In consequence of the position of her arm, the clothes had
fallen back from her shoulders, but that envious curl was cruelly
unsatisfying; the white drapery rose and fell with the long breathing of
her sleep. My first impulse was to retire noiselessly, but curiosity
conquered; she slept so sweetly, so gracefully, and so soundly.
Approaching nearer, stealthily, step by step, I carefully put forward
one hand, and gently touched the curl–she did not move–then quietly
gathering it up, I began slowly drawing it aside. It lifted and fell
with the marble neck beneath like a brown vein across it, but no other
motion testified that life pervaded her unconscious beauty.”

A pause; the chorus, excited–“What next? what next?”

“Gentlemen, it would have been a shameful act to take advantage of her
innocent sleep–a mean, unworthy, contemptible act. It is enough to say,
gentlemen, I did not commit it–for at that moment she moved.”

CHORUS–“Oh!”

“She moved, and was evidently about to wake.”

CHORUS–“What did you do then?”

“Modesty is another of my failings; it is no small matter to be found by
a lady in her bed-room, and you must recollect my dress was scanty.
Wishing, therefore, to spare her feelings as much as my own, I put out
the light, and standing still, listened. From the sound as she moved, it
was clear that she was awake and sitting up in bed. I kept as quiet as a
mouse, no longer daring to stir and hardly daring to breathe.

“‘Who is there?’ asked the sweetest little sleepy voice in the world; it
was evidently time for me to leave if the feelings of either side were
to be spared.

“‘Husband, is that you? How late you are, Oscar. I wish there were no
balls; you have let the light go out and will have to undress in the
dark, and you have been drinking; you do not answer, what are you
mumbling in that husky voice; you do not walk steady, you shuffle with
your feet; let me smell your breath, sir!’

“Another of my failings is inability to say no. A moment’s consideration
would have told me it was far from honorable to assume the place of
another person, and that person the husband of a pretty woman; but in my
state of hesitancy or virtuous indignation at being falsely accused of
drinking, or without really anticipating what would happen, I obeyed;
and bringing my face near hers, encountered the sweetest pair of lips in
Christendom.

“‘I am not quite sure,’ she said, ‘let me see again.’

“Now that was clearly her fault, and left me no excuse for refusing her
absolute satisfaction.

“‘Make haste, Oscar,’ she whispered, ‘how cold you are.’”

The lucky man paused, while the chorus breathlessly broke in with:

“Did you make haste?”

“Gentlemen, man is a contemptible creature in his treatment of woman;
she is infinitely his superior in every good quality, and he absolutely
takes advantage of his baser capacities to betray her superior nature.
He matches his cunning against her truthfulness, his selfishness against
her disinterestedness, his deceitfulness against her affection. Woman’s
nobleness of heart is a provision of nature to prevent the degeneration
of our species; were women as bad as men, our children would be brutes
or idiots. Traits of mind and heart are transmitted–”

CHORUS–“Never mind all that, did you make haste?”

“Gentlemen, with those feelings, I could not long remain in that room;
it was time to make haste; and mumbling some excuse, I escaped before a
noise, that seemed to be ascending the stairs, approached. My friend
wondered at the time I had been away, abused me for allowing the light
to go out, but was easily convinced that the time had been lengthened by
his dreams. Virtue is its own reward, and, gentlemen, I never shall
regret that night.”

CHORUS–“But you have not said a word of the duck-shooting.”

“Well, to tell the truth, I heard next day that Oscar was inquiring for
me, and concluded that the shooting would be better elsewhere.”

The shout of laughter that succeeded this answer died away, and the
unlucky man was called upon for his adventure.

UNLUCKY MAN.–“Gentlemen, I can give you no such entertaining history as
my friend. In all my life, I never saw a woman unless she was fully
dressed and prepared for it–much as I would like to–for I am not
endowed with one half of his virtuous sentiments. But my adventure also
occurred on Long Island, whither I had gone to learn trout-fishing. I
had a new rod of Conroy’s best and most expensive pattern, a book full
of flies, a basket, a bait-box, a net, a gaff, and all things
appurtenant, and was especially proud of my fishing suit, which a
brother of the angle had kindly selected for me. My boots came above my
knees, and were of yellow Russian leather, with which my brown pants
matched admirably, while a blue vest, a white flannel coat, red
neck-tie and crimson cap, combined all the colors that were least likely
to alarm the fish.

“The other anglers collected at the hotel kindly aided me with their
advice, for which I was truly grateful. They rigged out my leader with
flies, and convincingly proving that the more flies used the more fish
must be taken, fastened on thirteen. Conroy had hardly served me fairly
in selecting my assortment, for they were pronounced by all not to be
half large or bright enough. It was clear that the larger the fly the
easier the fish could see it, and the more surely it would catch; so
they loaned me a number, principally yellow, green, and blue, which was
the more generous of them, as they had but few of the same sort
themselves.

“They impressed upon me to be up early, because trout will not bite
after sunrise–besides, I knew from the proverb that worms were more
easily obtained early; and it was still dark when, having passed a
restless few hours, I awoke and dressed. The house was silent, not a
person to interfere with me, and having set up my rod the night before,
I crept cautiously down stairs. The tip would slash about and knock at
the doors and on the walls as I passed, and gave me great trouble in
turning the corners of the stairs, but I reached the hall door safely
and stepped out upon the piazza.

“I had hardly congratulated myself, when, hearing a suspicious growl,
and recollecting that the tavern-keeper had a cross mastiff, I turned,
and saw him in the dim light making straight for me. Running was never
my forte, but, gentlemen, my speed round that house with that mastiff
after me has rarely been equalled; he kept it up well, however, and if
he could have turned a corner readily, would have caught me. Recovering
my presence of mind in the third round, I darted through the hall door,
and slamming it to behind me, heard my enemy bounce against it, and
after a growl and a sniff or two, turn away in disgust.

“Upon regaining my breath, I ascended to my room, and loading the
revolver which I always carry on dangerous journeys, returned to the
attack, determined on revenge. Strange to say, however, the cowardly
beast, the moment the pistol was presented at him, uttered a low whine
and shrank away. Disgusted with his cowardice, I seized up my rod, which
had been dropped in my first flight, and pursuing him howling piteously
three times round the house, laid it on him soundly.

“It must have been poor stuff, for the tip broke. Conroy mended it
afterwards, without charge, when I told him the circumstances. But I put
in a spare one, and having dug my box full of worms, went to the shed
where my horse was left standing, ready harnessed, from the night
before. There is nothing like attention to these little matters in time;
for, if the hostler had had to harness him, he might have detained me
many precious minutes.

“A half-hour’s drive soon brought me to the pond, and, after hitching
the animal to the fence–for it was necessary to turn into the field
from the main road–I walked down to the bank and jumped into a boat.
Unfortunately, it was chained to a staple and padlocked; the inn-keeper
had forgotten to give me the key. They were all the same but one, lying
on the shore and turned bottom up, that did not seem to be sound. No
time, however, was to be lost; the streaks in the east were beginning to
turn red–an indication that the sun was rising–and the hour for
fishing would soon be over. I launched the boat, such as it was, and
pushed off.

“Casting the fly is difficult, but casting thirteen flies is almost
impossible. The boat was leaky; the fish did not rise, and the water
did. I bailed as well as I could with one hand, and fished with the
other, till at last, almost exhausted, I saw the sun rise. As a
desperate resource, however, the bait-box came into play. I removed the
flies and substituted a hook and worm; but while thus employed, and
unable to bail, the water gained on me rapidly. Hardly had the bait
touched the water before a fine fish seized it. I tried my best to pull
him out, but he would not come–the rod was such a miserable, weak
affair that it bent like a switch. The trout swam about in every
direction, and tried to get under stamps and weeds and to break my line;
but I held him fast and reeled in–for my friends had explained to me
what the reel was for–and was about to lay down my rod and fish him out
with the landing-net, when–the boat sank.”

CHORUS–“Could you swim?”

“No; but the water was only up to my arm-pits, and I was about to wade
ashore, when a colored gentleman, who had arrived and been sitting on
the bank for the last few minutes, shouted to me that it was his boat
and I must bring it with me. I answered, savagely, that I would do
nothing of the sort, when he began to abuse me and call me thief, and
say I had stolen his boat, and he would have me arrested. So I thought I
had better comply, and waded along, dragging it after me. The bottom was
muddy, and I slipped once or twice and went all under. It was probably
then that the fish got off; but my colored friend took pity on me, and
pointed out to me the best places to walk.

“I was nearly ashore, and had clambered upon a bog, as the gentleman
advised, and, by his direction, I jumped to a piece of nice-looking
green grass. I have always thought he deceived me in this, for it turned
out to be a quagmire, and I sank at once above my waist in solid, sticky
mud. The matter now became serious; my weight is no trifle, and every
motion sank me deeper and deeper. I implored the colored man to help me
out; to wade in to me, and let me climb on his back; I offered him money
profusely; and–would you believe it?–he laughed, he roared, he
shouted, he rolled over in an agony of mirth. He asked me whether I was
afraid to die–that only cowards were afraid to die. I did not dare to
say no, lest he should take me at my word, and was ashamed to say yes;
but, as I kept on sinking, I had to own up that I was afraid, and then
he only laughed louder than ever.

“My feelings were beyond description–fury does not adequately describe
my rage; but fear so tempered it, that I seemed to change suddenly from
the extreme of heat to the extreme of cold. I would begin by swearing at
him, and end by imploring; I begged, cursed, prayed, and raved. Overcome
by his unrestrained delight, at last I threatened–pouring out upon him
the vilest abuse, and dire menaces of what I would do when I did get
out. The prospect of that, however, rapidly diminished–the nasty, slimy
mud rose by perceptible degrees–and then he made me take back all my
threats and apologize to him. In the agony of my returning terror, he
actually made me beg his pardon.

“When, however, hope was nearly over with me, he slowly, with maddening
deliberation, took a rail from the nearest fence, and, interspersing the
operation with much improving advice, began to pry me out. As I rose
towards the upper world my courage returned, and my revenge was merely
waiting till my body touched _terra firma_ to take ample amends. Even
that satisfaction was destined to disappointment; for when I was so far
out, that with the aid of the rail I could help myself, he dropped it,
and, suspecting my intention, he scuttled off as fast as his black legs
would carry him.

“What an object I presented after effecting my escape–from head to foot
one mass of mud; my handsome clothes, my hands and face, all blacker
than my ebony friend, and stiff and heavy with the noisome
conglomeration. After resting for a few minutes, I gathered up my rod
and started for the wagon, when what should I see in the other end of
the lot but a bull. A single glance showed me what I had to expect; no
bull could stand such an object as I was. I ran and he ran. I made for
the wagon and he after me. Such a picture as I must have presented,
flying from an infuriate bull, may seem funny to you, gentlemen, but was
not to me. We both reached the wagon and both went into it together–I
into the seat, he into the body; the result being that I went flying out
again, on the other side, over the fence. The horse, which at that
moment must have been dreaming, or sleeping the sleep he did not have
the night before, aroused by the crash, cast one look behind and burst
his bonds and fled.

“It was a long walk home; people looked strangely at me on the way, and
some unfeeling ones laughed. My wagon was broken, my horse was ruined,
my clothes were spoiled; and the only consolation I had, was that my
brother anglers at the hotel felt and expressed such intense sympathy
for my sufferings.”

The resigned tones and manner of the speaker were inimitable, and his
story was received with great satisfaction and closed the evening’s
amusements. All parties having resolved upon an early start, retired
early, and enjoyed a rest such as the sportsman only knows.

One of the attachés of our club-house, without whom it would be deprived
of many pleasant features, and who is a remarkable and eccentric
character, is called Henry–a Canadian Frenchman. He possesses the
lightheartedness, the honesty and trustworthiness of that peculiar
class, with the strongest prejudices against mean and underhanded
actions and those who are guilty of them; he is, in his own obstinate
way, devoted to the service of those who enjoy his esteem. Animated with
strong dislikes, he is barely polite to those who have excited his
distrust, while he will do anything for his favorites. He is a good
shot, and thoroughly acquainted with the marsh and the habits of the
birds, but on no terms will he make any suggestions as to the most
promising localities. To the question, no matter how casually or
confidingly littered:

“Well, Henry, where had I better go, to-day?” He will respond, looking
you calmly in the face, and in a slightly admonitory tone:

“You know I never give advice, sir.”

His greatest favorites can obtain no more satisfactory answer, and in
fact not much information of any kind, from him in relation to the
flight or haunts of the birds. He appears to have discovered that
knowledge worth having is worth working for, and is resolved that every
man shall be his own schoolmaster. He has quite an insight into
character, and appreciates the members of the club and their
peculiarities.

One day a party, including a number who were not members, had been
snipe-shooting, and some of the latter indulged the habit of pushing on
before their neighbor to shoot any bird they may have seen alight, or
had reason to believe was upon his beat. Afterwards Henry remarked, as a
sort of soliloquy, “He was a poor man–did not have much education, and
supposed he did not know; but he did not think it right for one
sportsman to run in ahead of another in order to shoot a bird before
him. Probably he was wrong; but that was the way he felt, and could not
help it.”

It was this curious individual who waked us the next morning at an hour
before daylight, and enjoyed heartily the satisfaction of rousing us up
at that unseemly time. We were no way loth, however, and hastily
swallowing our breakfasts and launching our boats, pushed out under
cover of the darkness for our respective points. As yet the water and
land were scarcely distinguishable, and localities could only be
determined by intuition. Night was still brooding with outstretched
wings on the earth; the sky seemed to be close overhead, and the clouds
could not be distinguished from the open heavens. Slowly, however, the
outlines of the horizon became apparent; then the heavy masses of
lowering cloud that hung in the eastern sky, and left a narrow,
transparent strip of light between themselves and the horizon, came out
in strong relief; the stars faded and turned dim; trees, bushes, and
distant elevations–the minutiæ of the landscape–appeared; long lines
of sedge-grass and reeds sprang up from the water; the eastern sky, and
especially the bright strip beneath the cloud, became lighter; a roseate
tinge spread itself over the meadows, deepening to intensity in the
east, and at last the sun peeped over the horizon.

Occasionally ducks will move at the first break of dawn; but frequently,
as in the present instance, they do not fly till about sunrise; then the
canvas-backs commenced coming in from the open water; the red-heads
accompanied them; and the mallards, aroused from safe beds among the
reeds, flew with loud quackings overhead. Later, the rapid blue-bills
and teal darted past, the pin-tails moved majestically in stately lines,
and the diminutive butter-balls hurried by. The rising sun dissipated
the clouds, and the increasing wind announced a glorious ducking-day.

To enjoy this sport thoroughly, or to make the most of the chances
offered, requires long practice and peculiar skill; but, when this skill
has been acquired, no specialty in sportmanship can be carried to higher
perfection, or confer more intense delight. To observe quickly and note
the direction of flight of the distant flock; to catch sight of the
single bird just topping the reeds; to hide well from the sharp eyes of
the approaching ducks; to keep a steady footing, yielding to the
treacherous motions of the unsteady boat without losing self-command; to
measure the distance accurately from birds passing high in air; to
select the proper moment to fire, and to determine correctly the speed
of the moving object; to do all these things at once, without hesitation
or failure in any particular, requires in a man the highest qualities of
a sportsman. The wonder is that success is so often attained; for there
are many men who will kill almost every bird that comes fairly within
range, and who will tell you before they shoot whether they are sure of
killing or not.

Unfortunately our party, although tolerably proficient, were far from
perfect. Many were the fair shots missed, or only half hit, and more
still were the impossible shots that were wasted. The wind drove the
birds upon the long neck of reeds called Grassy Point, where several of
us had located ourselves, and the river-scows, or small boats,
occasionally passing kept them in motion.

During the morning several flocks of swans were seen, looking, when they
passed in front of a dark cloud, like flying snow-flakes. Although
somewhat resembling the appearance of geese, at a distance, the beat of
their wrings and their trumpet-voiced cry are altogether different. They
were very shy, keeping far out of range; but excited our nerves at the
mere thought of what glory would be conferred if they should happen to
come within the proper distance.

One of our party, however, acquired but little credit by a shot which he
made at a flock of geese that passed within twenty yards of him. He was
of Milesian descent, and explained the occurrence afterwards as
follows:

“You see, I was watching them come closer and closer, and making my
calculation to pick out two fine ones. I knew the fellow at the head was
an old gander, and tough; but right behind him came two tender, juicy
youngsters–altogether the fattest and best in the whole flock. Well, it
took me some time to make this selection, and, letting the old one go
by, I was just about preparing to knock over the two others right and
left–and done it I should have, because I intended to, you know. Well,
I put up my gun, and was about taking aim, and was waiting for them to
get just in the right position–for I was as cool as I am this moment;
an old hunter like me is not easily flurried. Well, they were almost
ready, and I was on the point of cutting them down, when somebody
else–bad luck to him–about a hundred yards off, fired into the flock.
Of course they flirted in every direction, and darted about so, that I
lost sight of those I selected; and how could you expect me to kill any
others when I had made up my mind to have those? You need not laugh
because I missed with both barrels; I wouldn’t have missed if the birds
had been in their proper places, where I was pointing my gun.”

So it was that we obtained no geese. But the canvas-backs and mallards,
in the early morning, made up for the deficiency; and when, towards
midday, they ceased flying, some of our party resolved to pole for
wood-ducks.

To do this, as has been heretofore intimated, requires more practice
than even shooting from “points”–exacting from the sportsman not merely
readiness in handling the gun, but activity of motion and accuracy of
balance. The gun, at full cock, is laid in its rack across the thwart;
or, as I prefer, from one thwart to another, with the triggers up; the
sportsman, standing erect on the stern, wields his pole with care,
avoiding noise, and never by any chance touching the side of the boat
with it, for nothing alarms the birds so much as rapping on the side of
the boat, although it is not easy to avoid doing so. He faces forward,
raises the pole carefully, and replacing it without a splash or a blow
on the crackling stems or leaves of the lilies, uses his body as a
fulcrum as often as he wishes to alter the direction of the boat. He
works his way against the wind as much as possible, and, casting his
eyes in every direction, is always on the alert. Suddenly, with a roar
like distant thunder, a wood-duck, generally the male, starts from the
weeds, and with a curious cry, like that of a wailing infant, makes the
best of his way from the approaching danger; instantly the sportsman
drops the pole, wherever it may be–in mid air or deep in the mud, just
planted or at its full reach–and springing to his gun, raises it with
rapidity but deliberation, and, if the bird has not already gained a
safe distance, discharges it with the best effect he is able to command.
Frequently, at the report, another bird will start, and offer a fair and
generally successful shot.

To one accustomed to kill quail, this shooting, after the awkwardness
arising from the motion of the boat is overcome, is not difficult; but
the knack of dropping the pole at once is almost unattainable. Most
persons, at first, frantically endeavor to deposit the pole in the boat,
and cannot drop it instantly; others give it an energetic push. The
former allow the birds time to escape, while the latter increase the
unsteadiness of the boat.

The birds usually rise well, attaining the height of twenty feet before
they move directly away, and hence present a good shot. If they are
missed, they may be marked down, pursued, and started again; and as they
are frequently very numerous, and rise at unexpected moments, they keep
the sportsman excited, until, worn out with the excessive and
unaccustomed labor, he has to stop and rest. If the water is low the
poling is hard work, and at the most favorable times will be found
sufficiently exhausting. The birds principally frequent the lily beds,
which stretch out in broad patches where the water is moderately deep;
but they are also found in open spots among the high reeds, and
occasionally among the deer tongue.

There are several kinds of weeds growing in the shallows of the bay, and
restricted in their extent by its depth. The reeds, which in the fall
resemble a ripe field of grain, have crimson stems, and narrow yellow
leaves, almost inclosing the stems at their base and streaming
gracefully in the wind at the top; they thrive in shallow water, and,
attaining a height of twelve feet, form the hiding-places of the
sportsman. The wild rice has a greenish-yellow stem, with longer joints
and without leaves; it branches at the end into the seed-receptacles,
and is not found in such large patches. The deer-tongue grows in deeper
water, and retains its green hue till the weather intimates that winter
is present. It has a leaf like a dull spear-head, that projects but a
few inches above the surface; and its stout sterns, springing up close
together, constitute a serious obstacle to the advancing boat. There are
also scattered patches of weeds, usually called grass because they are
green, but with a round, hollow, tapering stem, or leaf, that has no
resemblance whatever to grass.

Early in the season, when there are few birds flying over the points,
and the young, tender, and gentle wood-ducks crowd the marshes and will
permit an easy approach, it is customary to employ a punter, who poles
the boat while the sportsman sits on the forward thwart, gun in hand,
ready in a moment to cut down the feeble birds. But if any of the
shooting is to be done from the points, the punter will be found in the
way, increasing the unsteadiness of the boat and augmenting the danger,
already sufficiently great. Although by no means proficient, I always
prefer poling myself, and will never permit any guns in the boat but my
own.

On the day more particularly referred to in this chapter, we found the
birds plentiful, although rather wild, and had grand sport, starting the
crying wood-ducks and the quacking mallards from their hiding-places,
and killing a goodly number in spite of their sharp ears and strong
wings.

Of the particular shots, the numerous misses, the various mishaps, it
were vain to tell. A baptism in the shallow bay-water is regarded as a
necessary initiation, and not being dangerous, the ceremony is
frequently repeated. Good shots are rarer than bad ones, even with the
best marksmen, and perhaps the author would have to vindicate truth by
telling some awkward blunders of his own, and thus forfeit the reader’s
respect for ever. It is sufficient for the reader to recall the best
day’s sport at ducks he ever had, to imagine his own shooting
considerably improved, his strength and activity augmented, and his
promptest deliberation surpassed; and he will have a faint idea of our
performance. It is enough to say the birds were there, and we were
there.

Towards night we occupied a series of points above the Gap, as it is
called–an opening between the island where the house is situated and
the land beyond–and waited for the evening flight. The wind had died
away, and as the sun was setting, the mallards came in from the lake to
pass the night. Innumerable flocks, one after another, appeared from
behind the trees, and passing overhead, settled down into the reeds. By
twos, threes, or hundreds in a flock, in straight, even lines of battle,
or bent like the two sides of a triangle, or in long single file, their
wings whistling in the still air, or producing reports like pop-guns as
they flirted or touched one another–immense numbers moved over us.

Having ascertained by several ineffectual shots that they were far out
of range, we watched them with delight and curiosity, wondering whence
they could all come, and whither they were going. There was no abatement
or pause till the increasing darkness shut them out from our sight. Had
we been prepared with Ely’s wire cartridge we could have rained
destruction among them, but as it was we only killed a few chance birds;
and then reassembling our party where the open lead joined the bay, we
returned to the club-house together.

The next day being clear and still, it was devoted to fishing and
exploring. A Kentuckian who was among our numbers, having no fishing in
his own State, and knowing nothing of salmon or striped-bass, and little
of trout, was devoted to black-bass fishing. Persuading the writer to go
in the boat with him, while two friends accompanied us in another, we
crossed the bay, and having fastened large Buel’s spoons to the end of
stout hand-lines, proceeded to troll in the most primitive manner.

The bass were plentiful, and rushing from their lairs in the weeds close
to the shore, darted out after the boat had passed, and devoured our
baits. Although quite large, they gave feeble play, turning over and
over in the water, and rarely jumping with the vigor of fish brought up
in cooler latitudes; in fact, the river and lake bass differ so greatly
as to seem almost to belong to different species. The river fish, which
lie in the discolored water where long weeds grow from a bottom of deep
mud, are yellow in color, have a large head, and a yellow iris to the
eye. The lake fish, which prefer the clearer element near rocky shoals,
have a small head and reddish eye, are dark-sided and vigorous, have a
large forked tail, and are infinitely preferable on the table.

One of our friends in the other boat was a practical joker, and of a
lively turn of mind. He at first amused himself by jerking the line of
his companion who sat nearer the bow, to induce him to think it was a
bite; then he landed all the fish that were taken on either hook; and
finally, having accidentally caught his hook into his companion’s and
drawn it in without the latter’s knowledge, he hung it on the gunwale
and had the fishing to himself. As the portion of the line, or bight as
sailors call it, which still towed overboard kept up the ordinary
strain, his associate was in great wonderment at his bad luck, and did
not discover the reason till the fishing was over.

Having absolutely filled our boats with bass that weighed from two to
four pounds, and having ordered a good dinner at the club-house to
entertain some strangers, we returned, rather disgusted with such tame
sport.

We caught, besides the bass, a few pickerel and a small pike-perch,
_lucioperca Americana_; and found the most successful bait was a red and
tin spoon, with a white feather on the hook. The natives call the
pickerel a grass-pike, and the pike-perch a pickerel. Those curious
nondescripts–half fish, half reptile–bill or gar-fish, _lepidosteus_,
relics of antediluvian ages, were seen in the water, but are only taken
in the net.

The weather had been clear, mild, and still; it continued so for several
days, and as storm and wind are necessary to duck-shooting, our sport,
although pleasant, was greatly diminished. Consequently we rose at
reasonable hours, ate comfortable breakfasts, and smoked our pipes
before we left the house. One morning, as I was about departing, the
Kentucky fisherman, who had found the weather admirable for his sport,
offered to bet ten of the largest fish he would catch against the
largest bird I should shoot, that I would not kill a dozen ducks. Of
course I accepted the wager.

It was unpromising weather, still and warm, and there was absolutely no
flight either during the morning or evening; but by chance two
cormorants came close to my stand. Without waiting to distinguish what
they were I fired, killing one dead, and dropping the other some
distance off in the open water. My disgust on picking up the one
nearest, and observing the thick legs, ugly shape, and crooked yellow
bill, was only diminished by the recollection of my bet. I lost, failing
in the end to bring home the dozen birds–although I shot more than that
number, but was unable to recover several that fell in the weeds–and on
my return, using that fact as an excuse, endeavored to beg off. The
Kentuckian was delighted; imagining from my conversation that I had shot
a canvas-back, and anticipating an amusing triumph, he insisted upon the
letter of the law.

Our discussion, as was intended on my part, attracted the attention and
interest of all the members, and my opponent waited with a victorious
air till I should bring him my largest bird. At last, after much
procrastination, it was produced amid such shouts as rarely rang through
the old club-house. In vain did my Kentucky friend attempt to disclaim
his acquisition or propose to waive his rights; “he would have the bird,
and he must take him; it was a remarkably fine one of the kind, and a
good specimen.” At last he burst forth:

“Oh, get out with your cormorant; take him away; do, and I’ll never make
another bet with you as long as I live.”

To this day, in that section of the West, a man who is too exacting
occasionally wins a cormorant.

The time that circumstances permitted me to devote to pleasure was
drawing to a close, and the last morning that was to be appropriated to
the ducks had arrived, when, as I was about loading my boat, Henry stood
before me, and with great earnestness remarked:

“I am going to shoot with you to-day, sir.”

If he had said, “I am going to shoot you,” he could not have spoken with
more firmness and solemnity; or, if he had anticipated the most violent
contradiction, he could not have assumed a more convincing manner. The
proposal, as it suggested an augmented bag for my last day, was,
however, cordially welcome; and, as soon as he was ready, I inquired in
an unconcerned manner:

“Well, which way shall we go?”

The effrontery of the question fairly took him aback, and, pausing in
apparent irresolution as to whether he was not in danger of being caught
at last, he seemed for a moment half inclined to run for it.
Incoherently he commenced his usual response about not giving advice;
paused, and then, in a sadly reproachful tone, remonstrated as follows:

“You know if I were to give advice to gentlemen, and they were to have
bad luck, they would blame me; and how can I know all the time where the
ducks are flying?”

“But, Henry, as we are going together, I must certainly be told where
the place is to be.”

This appeared to surprise him; for, after a moment’s deliberation, he
jumped into his boat, and, seizing his paddle, said, “I am going to
Grassy Point,” and made off as fast as he could.

“Well, Henry, I suppose I shall have to go with you, instead of you with
me; but the difference is not very great.”

He seemed confused, and in doubt whether he had not compromised himself,
and paddled with such speed that I could scarcely keep up with him.
Seated with his face towards the bow of the boat, his guns lying ready
for instant use in front of him, he plied his double paddle–that is to
say, a long paddle with a blade at both ends, which are dipped
alternately–with a vigor that would have distanced, for a short
stretch, the most expert rower. Like the other natives, he preferred
the double paddle to the oars. “While using it he could make an accurate
course–an important consideration in the intricate channels; could
watch for a chance shot ahead of him, or chase a wounded duck
advantageously; at a moderate speed, could travel a long journey; and,
for a spurt, could surpass the same boat propelled by oars; and was not
annoyed by catching the blades in the innumerable weeds. So great was
the respect that I acquired for the double paddle, from his manner of
wielding it, that I thereupon resolved to have one and learn to use it,
even if I did suffer somewhat in the attempt.

We proceeded in unbroken silence, and, reaching the point, located
ourselves well upon it, not far apart, and awaited the ducks. Henry was
an excellent shot, and set me an example that I did my best to follow;
but as the birds did not fly well, we left at the expiration of a couple
of hours, and crossed Mud Creek into the main swamp, called Lattimer
Marsh. On the way, happening to pass an old muskrat house, my curiosity
was excited, and I inquired:

“Are there any animals in that house now?”

“I don’t know whether there are any animals, sir; there might be some
sort of animals, but there are not any rats.”

“Where are the rats, then?”

“They all disappear in summer; they leave their houses, and in the fall
build new ones. I can’t tell what becomes of them; but they have queer
ways. They build a big house–a sort of family house, as I call
it–where a number of them dwell; and around it, about fifty rods off,
smaller ones, where each rat appears to feed or go when he wants to be
alone. There are generally two entrances, one above and the other under
water, so that when the bay is frozen over they can get in.”

“How do you catch them?”

“We set spring-traps of iron, but without teeth, so as not to hurt the
skin, near their houses, and where we think they will be apt to step
into them. The time to catch them is from the 1st of March till the 10th
of April.”

“Can anybody trap them?”

“Oh no, sir; that wouldn’t do at all; a person has to own the land, or
have the right to trap. The land isn’t worth much, though–only about a
dollar an acre.”

“The Indian name of muskrat is said to be musksquash?”

“I don’t know how that is; but I have heard people call them so. There
are a good many in the marsh, and we sometimes make three or four
hundred dollars a year from them.”

“But, as the swamp fills up and the land makes, won’t they disappear?”

“No, sir; the swamp isn’t filling up; but the land is sinking, or the
water rising–either one or the other; for the swamp is growing larger.
The trees on the island are being killed by the water–some are dead
already; and every year more high land becomes meadow, and the meadow
turns into swamp.”

“I thought the Western lakes were growing shallow, and receding yearly.”

“Not here, sir. Why, that long spit of reeds beyond Grassy Point was dry
land once, so that you could drive a team clear over to Squaw Island;
there were large trees on it, but they are all dead, and the channel
between it and the island is six feet deep.”

“All the better for us sportsmen. Have you any other valuable animals
besides the rats?”

“A few otter; but not many. No, sir; the ducks are the most valuable
things we have.”

“They will soon be killed off.”

“No, sir; as there is no shooting allowed in the spring they are
becoming more plentiful. They are tamer, too; and some stay here all
summer and breed. It was the spring shooting, when they were poor and
thin, that killed them off or drove them away.”

“How many birds can a good shot average daily the season through?”

“I think I can kill forty a day, but perhaps there are some men who can
shoot better. But now, sir, if you will choose your stand, I will go a
little way below.”

I ensconced myself in a bunch of high weeds surrounded by a pond of open
water, and killed a few mallards. The birds did not fly well, however,
and we moved from place to place in the hope of better luck, and with a
restlessness that showed increasing dissatisfaction on the part of
Henry; so that I was not surprised when, early in the afternoon, he told
me that he must return to the club-house. I remained for some hours
where he left me; but hearing rapid shooting near the Gap, I poled my
way there through a broad field of lilies, known as the Pond Lily
Channel, and there, to my surprise, found Henry.

Whether it was the desire to be alone, for his peculiarity of preferring
to shoot by himself has been mentioned, or whether he was tempted by a
favorable flight of birds, I never knew; when I appeared, he paddled
hastily away as though ashamed, and made no answer to my inquiries as to
what detained him, or how they could manage without him at the house.
Unceremoniously occupying his place, I completed the evening, and the
allotted hours of my stay, with some excellent shooting at flocks of
mallards, widgeons, and blue-bills, that poured through the Gap in
endless flights, till after dark.

Then, for the last time, I rowed through the darkness towards the
well-known point; for the last time sat down at the groaning board which
our kind-hearted landlady had furnished so liberally; played my last
game with the euchre-loving son of Kentucky; smoked a farewell pipe of
Killikinnick in the sociable circle around the air-tight; slept for the
last time in the comfortable bed under the hospitable roof of the
club-house; and next morning, having seen my associates depart, each in
his little boat, and bid them all farewell, I set out, with my birds
packed in ice, for the City of New York. My friends welcomed me and my
birds gladly. Reader, had you been my friend, you would also have
welcomed us both.

Continue Reading

WILD-FOWL SHOOTING

It is not proposed to give any extended account of wild-fowl shooting as
practised on the waters of Long Island, or in the neighborhood of the
great Northern cities; the unsportsmanlike modes of proceeding which are
there in vogue, and which, while contravening all true ideas of sport,
insult common sense by the ruthless injury they inflict, have been fully
set forth by other writers.

In stationing a battery–that imitation coffin, which should be a
veritable one, if justice had its way, to every man who enters it–and
in lying prone in it through the cold days of winter, the market-man may
find his pecuniary profit, but the gentleman can receive no pleasure;
while the permanent injury inflicted by driving away the ducks from
their feeding-grounds, and making them timorous of stopping at all in
waters from any and all portions of which unseen foes may arise, is ten
times as great as the temporary advantage gained; and as for calling
that sport, which is merely the wearisome endurance of cold and tedium
to obtain game that might be killed more handsomely, and in the long run
more abundantly, by other methods, is an entire misapplication of the
word.

So long as the shooter confines himself to points of land or sedge,
whether he uses decoys or awaits the accidental passage of the birds, he
not only permits himself a change of position and sufficient motion to
keep his blood in circulation, but he allows the frightened flocks that
have already lost several of their number in running the gauntlet, a
secure retreat in the open waters, and undisturbed rest at meal time.
And so long as this is granted them they will tarry, and trust to their
sharp eyes and quick ears to save their lives; but when they cannot feed
in peace, and when they can find no haven of safety in the broad expanse
of water, they will inevitably continue their migration, and seek more
hospitable quarters.

Wild-fowl shooting, as pursued at the West, or even at the South, is
glorious and exhilarating; there the sportsman has exercise, or the
assistance of his faithful and intelligent retriever, and is required to
bring into play the higher powers of his nature. He manages his own
boat, or he stands securely upon the firm ground, and if he has not a
canine companion, chases his crippled birds and retrieves the dead ones
by his own unaided efforts.

At the West, although the vast numbers do not collect that congregate in
the Chesapeake Bay and Currituck Inlet, there is an independence in the
mode of pursuit that has a peculiar charm; and from the facilities
afforded by the nature of the ground, the excellent cover furnished by
the high reeds, and the immense number of single shots, the average
success is as great as in the more open waters of the Southern coast.

The employment of retrievers is not general in our country, which is, by
the character of its marshes and growth of plants, better suited for the
full display of their capacities than any other. There are certain
objections to the use of a dog in wild-fowl shooting, which, although
entirely overbalanced in the writer’s opinion by the corresponding
advantages, are unquestionably serious. The season for duck-shooting is
mainly late and cold, when it is essential to the shooter’s comfort that
his boat should be dry; but the dog, with every retrieved bird, comes
back dripping with wet, and if he does not let it drain into the bottom
of the skiff, where it “swashes” about over clothes and boots, shakes
himself in a way to deluge with a mimic cataract every person and thing
within yards of him.

It is unreasonable to ask of the intelligent and devoted but shivering
creature, that he should remain standing in the freezing water or upon
the damp sedge; and if the master is as little of a brute as his
companion, and has a spare coat, the dog will have it for a bed,
regardless of the consequences.

Nor is this the only difficulty; for unless the animal has instinctive
judgment as well as careful training, he may in open water upset the
frail skiff, by either jumping out of it, or clambering into it
injudiciously. A thoughtful creature maybe taught to make his entry and
exit over the stern, but unfortunately, some of the most enthusiastic
and serviceable dogs have little discretion or forethought; and unless
he is trained to perfect quiet, and broken to entire immobility at the
most exciting moments, he is apt to interfere sadly with the sport.

In spite of these inconveniences, however, the loss of many of his
birds–amounting, amid the dense reeds of the western lakes, to nearly
one-half of the whole number–will satisfy the sportsman that the
retriever, with his devoted and wonderful sagacity, to say nothing of
his delightful companionship, is a most desirable acquisition. Where the
sportsman is forced to pursue his calling solitary and alone, so far as
human associates are concerned, he will find the presence of his
four-footed friend a great satisfaction, and, amid the solitary and
unemployed midday hours, a pleasant resource.

The dog is the natural companion of the sportsman–the partaker of his
pleasures, the coadjutor of his triumphs; and whenever his peculiar
gifts can be used to advantage, it is a gratification to both to call
upon him. The knowledge that he will acquire in time is truly
marvellous. Not only does he possess the power of smell, but his
eyesight and hearing far surpass those of man; he will often discern a
flock long before it is visible to human eyes, and his motions will warn
his master of its approach.

His training can be carried on beyond limit; his knowledge increases
daily, and his devotion is unbounded. Of all the race, the retriever is
probably the most intelligent; as, in fact, intelligence is one of his
necessary qualifications. For this work no breed has the slightest value
unless the individuals possess rare sagacity and almost human judgment.
Some of the most valuable English dogs have been from an accidental
cross; and a pure cur with a heavy coat is often as good as any other.

There is in England a strain of dogs known as retrievers; they are
mostly used in connexion with upland shooting, as English pointers and
setters are not broken to fetch; but the favorite animals for wild-fowl
shooting, which have made their name notorious in connexion with this
specialty, have generally come from parents neither of which possesses
the true retriever blood.

In this country the best breed will have some of the Newfoundland
strain; the animal must be clothed with a dense coat of thick hair to
endure the severe exposure to which he is subjected, and must be endowed
with a natural aptitude and passion for swimming. The usual color is
dark, which, in the writer’s judgment, is a great mistake; and the only
really distinct breed of retrievers is known as that of Baltimore.

In the Southern States the dog, as an assistant in wild-fowl shooting,
has always been in far greater repute than at the North; although the
inland lakes of the latter, the extensive marshes closely grown up with
tall _zimosas_, matted wild oats, and thick weeds, make his services far
more desirable. At the South alone has any intelligent attention been
given to raising a superior strain of retrievers; and whether we seek
an animal that by his curious motions will toll ducks up to the stand,
or by his natural intelligence will aid the punt-shooter in recovering
his game, it is at the South alone that we can find any admitted
pedigree.

In the Northern States, however, the “native,” as he is called at the
West–probably from the fact that he is invariably a foreigner–selects
any promising pup, and by means of much flogging and steady work trains
him to a faint knowledge of his duties. A young dog loves to fetch, and
will take pleasure in chasing a ball thrown for him round the room, and
if he is a water-dog, naturally brings from the water a stick cast into
it, so that the routine part is easily impressed upon him; but an animal
with this proficiency alone is scarcely worth keeping.

A good dog must have intuitive quickness of thought and judgment; he
must know enough to lie perfectly motionless when a flock is
approaching; he must understand how to retrieve his birds judiciously,
bringing the cripples first; he must have perseverance, endurance, and
great personal vigor. A duck is cunning, and to outwit its many
artifices and evasions the retriever must have greater shrewdness; it
can skulk, and hide, and swim, and sneak, and he must have the patience
to follow it, and the strength to capture it. Wonderful stories are told
of the many exhibitions of what seems much like human reason, evinced by
some of the celebrated retrievers.

But probably the rarest quality for a dog or man to possess, and the
most necessary to both, if they would excel in field sports, is the
power of self-restraint. To ask an animal, trembling all over with
delirious excitement, to lie down and remain perfectly motionless during
those most trying moments when the ducks are approaching and being
killed, is to demand of him a self-control greater than would be often
found in his master. Yet upon this quality in the dog depends the entire
question of his value or worthlessness; if he makes the slightest
motion, the quick eyes of the birds are sure to discern it; and if he
bounces up at the first discharge, he will certainly destroy his
master’s chance of using his second barrel, and perhaps upset him over
the side of the boat.

It is to avoid the sharp eyes of the ducks that a black color for the
dog has been condemned. Amid the yellow and brown reeds of the marshes,
or upon the reflective surface of the open water, black, from its
capacity for absorbing the rays of light, is visible at an immense
distance. Yellow, brown, or grey are the best shades; and any color is
preferable to black. Red is selected by the Southerners for their
tolling dogs, but this is with the purpose of making them attractive.

Many persons conceive that a dark coat is warmer for an animal than
white, an idea that is carried into practice in the ordinary winter
dress of human beings; but it is refuted not only by the simplest
principles of science, but by the natural covering of the animals that
inhabit the cold climes of the north. The polar bear is clothed in
white, while the southern bear is of a deep black; and many of the
animals and some birds that pass the winter in the arctic regions,
change their dress in winter from dark to grey or pure white.

Undoubtedly with a retriever the first point is to consider his
protection against cold; plunging as he does at short intervals into
water at a low temperature, and exposed when emerging to the still
colder blasts of Æolus, he must be rendered comfortable as far as
possible at the sacrifice of every other consideration. This is attained
by the thickness more than the color of his coat; and the writer has
always fancied, whether correctly or not, that curly hair is warmer than
straight hair.

The matted coat of the Newfoundland dogs–the smaller breed being
preferable by reason of size–is extremely warm, and where its color is
modified by judicious crossing, is all that can be desired; while the
instinctive intelligence, the devotion, faithfulness, docility, and
interest in the sport, of these admirable animals, fit them in an
extraordinary degree for wild-fowl shooting. Coming from the north and
accustomed to playing in the water, they can, without danger, face the
element in its coldest state; and whether it be to chase a stick thrown
into the waves by their youthful human playmates, or to recover ducks
shot by their sporting owner, they take naturally to all aquatic
amusements.

Nevertheless, as has been heretofore remarked, although it is well to
have a slight strain of the Newfoundland, no distinct breed is necessary
to make a good retriever. Our ordinary setters are sometimes
unsurpassable for the purpose; and any tractable dog, if well trained,
will answer in a measure.

How different it is to stand in the narrow skiff among the tall reeds at
early dawn, with the eager and expectant, though humble, associate,
crouched in the bottom upon his especial mat, and there in the
increasing light that paints the east with many changing hues, to single
out the best chances from the passing flocks, and have your skill doubly
enhanced by the intelligent coöperation of your companion; than to lie,
cramped, cold, and suffering, all through the weary hours, stretched at
full length upon your back with eyes staring up to Heaven and straining
to catch a glimpse of the horizon over your beard or forehead; and
occasionally to rise to an equally constrained posture that is neither
sitting nor lying, and do your best to discharge your gun with some
judgment at a passing flock of fowl! Who can hesitate in selecting the
mode in which he will pursue the sport of wild-fowl shooting? Most of
the favorite varieties of ducks, including many that are known among
ornithologists as sea-ducks, _fuligulæ_, are found in the many scattered
ponds, the shallow marshes, or the extensive inland seas of the great
west; while the swans and geese are shot, the former along the larger
rivers and lakes, and the latter in the corn-fields. It is true that the
enormous flocks that collect in the lagoons and bays of the South are
rarely seen; but the flight of small bodies or single birds is more
continuous, and probably the total number even larger.

It is impossible to particularize localities as pre-eminent for this
sport where so many are good; and the innumerable streams, lakelets,
drowned lands, swamps, rivers, lakes, cultivated fields, and even open
prairies of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and the Western States
generally, abound in their seasons with various descriptions of
wild-fowl; and for a statement of the mode of their pursuit, and the
views of their pursuers, no better course can be taken than to give an
account of a few days in one of the numerous tributary bays of Lake
Erie.

Although the use of a light skiff is always desirable and adds
enormously to the comfort of the shooter, circumstances will often arise
that will deprive him of its use; and in such case he has no better
resource than to don his long wading boots, and tramp through the
shallow water until he comes to a favorable spot, perhaps the deserted
house of a family of beavers; and there, perched upon its summit and
concealed by the surrounding reeds, to resign himself to the inevitable
inconveniences of his position. When his feet grow cold in spite of
their india-rubber casing, and his muscles weary for want of rest, he
will long for the dry skiff; and when he comes to “back” his load of
game–consisting, if he is successful, of geese, canvas-backs,
red-heads, mallards, blue-bills, widgeons, and perhaps a swan–across
the muddy flats a mile or two to dry land, he will long for it still
more intensely.

For shooting ducks the best weather is dark, or even rainy, as at such
times the birds fly closer to the earth, being unable to follow their
course, and do not perceive the sportsman so readily. But as a natural
consequence, the sportsman’s ammunition becomes damp and his clothes
wet, while the old-fogy owner of the muzzle-loader will unjustly
anathematize Eley’s water-proof caps when his gun misses fire, instead
of blaming his own stupidity. The insides of barrels will foul and the
outsides rust; the loading-stick will become dirty and the sportsman’s
hands and face grimy; and then the happy possessor of the breech-loader,
when he handles his clean cartridges, although one occasionally may
stick, will thank his good fortune and bless Lefaucheaux.

A strong wind forces the birds out of their safe course, up and down the
open “leads,” upon the various points where the fowler, selecting the
most favorable by watching the flight, takes his stand; and, when they
are heading against it, reduces their speed from the lightning rate of
ninety miles an hour to reasonable deliberation; but when they are
travelling with it, renders the art of killing them one of no easy
acquisition.

In shooting wild-fowl, or in fact any rapid flying birds, it is
necessary to aim ahead of them–not that the gun is actually fired ahead
of them, but to allow for the time, hardly perceptible to man, but
noticeable in the changed position of the birds, necessary to discharge
the piece; and the distance allowed must depend not only on the rapidity
of their flight, but on the customary quickness of the marksman. The
great fault of sportsmen is, that they shoot below and behind their
birds; and this is particularly apt to be the case where the game, as
with wild-fowl, appears to move more slowly than it really does.

To the novice in this peculiar sport, the second difficulty to overcome
will be the inability to judge distances. Not only do objects appear
over the water nearer than they really are, but there is no neighboring
object that will aid the judgment in coming to a correct conclusion; and
by changes in the weather birds in the air will seem to be nearer or
further off, and their plumage will be more or less distinctly visible,
according to circumstances. After several days’ experience in dark,
cloudy weather, the greatest proficient will, on the first ensuing day
of bright sunshine, throw away many useless shots at impracticable
distances.

There is no criterion to determine the distance of any bird high above
the horizon, and any recommendation to wait till the eyes can be
seen–the book-maker’s rule–is worse than useless; it is a matter of
experience and judgment.

There is no better time to kill ducks than when they are coming head on,
the commonly promulgated idea that their feathers will turn the heavy
shot being simply absurd; and all the marksman has to do is to cover his
bird, pitch his gun a trifle upwards, and pull the trigger.

In the matter of ammunition, the high numbers of shot and the light
charges of powder of old times have changed by general consent; and for
ducks, one ounce and a quarter of No. 4 or 5, and perhaps No. 3 late in
the season, and of No. 1 or 2 for geese, driven out of the ordinary
field-gun by three and a half drachms of powder, will be found
preferable. I say a field-gun, because, although the heavy duck-gun,
with its enormous charge of six drachms of powder and three ounces of
shot, is undoubtedly more killing when discharged into large flocks, the
waste of ammunition would be immense were it used at the scattering
flight of the western country.

Many kinds of wild-fowl will, like bay-snipe, be attracted by an
imitation of their cry; and, when decoys are used, the mastery of these
calls is necessary to the proficiency of the bayman. But at the West,
where the use of decoys is not customary, and where the nature of the
ground prevents full advantage being obtained from these devices, a
knowledge of the art is not so necessary. Nevertheless, there is
something thrilling in the “honk” of the wild goose; when it is heard,
the sportsman is earnest in his efforts to imitate it, and if
successful–which he often is, for the bird responds readily–is not
only proud of the result, but amply rewarded for his skill.

In shooting from any species of cover, when ducks are approaching, it is
more important not to move than to be well hid; the slightest motion
startles and alarms the birds, that would possibly have approached the
sportsman in full view if he had remained motionless. If they are
suddenly perceived near at hand while the sportsman is standing erect,
let him remain so without stirring a muscle, and not attempt to dodge
down into the blind. The ducks may not notice him–especially if his
dress is of a suitable color–among the reeds, but will inevitably catch
sight of the least movement.

So much for general suggestions and advice, which will be regarded or
disregarded by the gentlemen for whom this work is written, much
according to their previously conceived ideas; and which may or may not
be correct according to the opportunities of judging, and the skill of
turning them to account, of the writer; and now we will record a few
personal experiences, in the hope, if not of further elucidating and
supporting the views herein expressed, of furnishing the reader with
more interesting matter.

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