The eastern end of Long Island, that extremity which seems to stretch
out like the hand of welcome towards the nations of the old world,
beckoning their inhabitants to our hospitable shores, is divided into
two long points like the tines of a fork. The upper point shuts in Long
Island Sound, and protects our inland commerce from the violence of the
“Great Deep;” while the lower prong, which is kissed on the one side by
the blue waters of the Peconic Bay, and on the other is buffeted by the
billows of the great Atlantic, is known as Montauk Point. The heaving
ocean seems here to have solidified itself into a sandy soil, which
rises and swells and rolls, much after the manner of its mighty
prototype, except that a scanty garment of tawny grass clothes the
outlines of the billowy waste. “Cattle on a thousand hills” here roam in
a state of, at least, semi-independence, which they occasionally assert
by charging upon the intruding sportsman in a manner which may be
intended as playful, but which looks somewhat serious. For a dozen miles
or so only a few houses break the monotony of the dreary expanse, and it
is to one of these, distant some nine miles from the extreme point,
that I am about to carry the reader, for here alone can plover-shooting
be enjoyed in its fullest perfection.

There are numerous kinds of plover that make their migratory passages
along our coasts; but the one to which I refer, while to the epicure it
ranks almost, if not absolutely, the first upon the list, and affords,
by the swiftness of its flight and the eccentricity of its habits, a
prize not unworthy of the highest efforts of the sportsman, has been the
victim of many a misnomer, but is correctly known by the appellation
American Golden Plover, _Charadrius pluvialis_ (P.). The Plover-family
is large and of high respectability; but, when “upon his native heath,”
no one of its clans is entitled to wear a loftier crest than that which
we now have under discussion. His near relative, the Bartramian
Sandpiper or Grey Plover, is perhaps more aristocratically delicate in
his figure, and is welcomed as heartily at the table of the epicure. But
he is less social in his habits, and rarely affords any but single
shots. He does not fraternize with wooden counterfeits, and his mellow
whistle, as he rises at an impracticable distance, rarely responds to
even the most seductive efforts of his pursuer. But our Golden friend,
notwithstanding his auriferous title, his superior beauty of plumage,
his swiftness and strength, and the savory reputation which he enjoys
among the knowing-ones, is possessed of gregarious habits, of a
singularly frank and unsuspicious nature, and is generally ready to stop
and have a chat with anything which bears the faintest resemblance to a
bird and a brother. It is well for his admirers that such is his nature;
and although the wide appreciation of his merits certainly causes great
destruction among his ranks, still the vast flocks which, sometimes for
days together, fly past, within sight of the stands, unshot at, seem to
warrant the hope that the hour of the final extinction of his race is
very far distant.

Taking the Long Island railroad to Greenport in the early part of
September, and having encountered and overcome the ordinary delay and
difficulty of obtaining a sailboat to further prosecute our voyage, we
find ourselves at last gliding on the waves of the beautiful bay, past
Shelter and Gardiner’s islands, and approaching the long low line of the
Nepeague beach. With a favorable breeze we may expect to be landed on
the smooth sand in a little cove, about one mile from our destination,
in two hours from our time of departure; but if the wind is adverse and
the fates unpropitious, we may have to follow the path from the shore in
the dark, which will require our best instincts, aided by the guidance
of the distant booming of the surf, and the assistance of our especial
guardian angel.

Once there, however, and we will be repaid for our sufferings; we may
find a table covered with “South-side” delicacies, and bearing in the
centre a huge dish of beautiful, odorous, melting plover, cooked to a
turn, and we will undoubtedly meet kindred spirits and generous
sportsmen who are on the same errand as ourselves. As we dispose of the
former, the latter will pour into our sympathetic ears wonderful
accounts of their sport, and rival one another in recounting the long
shots and the good shots they have made, the numbers of birds they have
killed, and the pounds of bass they have caught.

Under the influences of a delicious supper and moderate “nightcap,” we
seek our couch with fond visions of the great flocks, and hopeful dreams
that we will do as well on the morrow. At earliest dawn we spring from
our bed, and rushing to the primitive little casement have only time to
rejoice in the promise of a fine day, ere we note the welcome cry of our
noble prey hurrying westward over the beach.

To don our shooting costume, to grasp our gun and ammunition, to load
ourselves with the basket containing decoys and incidentals, and to
emerge into the cool air of the September morning, require but a few
minutes; we hasten across the sandy hillocks to our appointed spot,
marked by a hollow scooped out for the concealment of former visitants,
and by the quantity of feathers and cigar-stumps lying loosely around;
and with hands trembling with impatience, we distribute the stools in
what seems to us to be the most artistic and seductive manner,–for the
birds are now beginning to fly just within a tantalizing yet
impracticable range, and we long for action.

How wild, how glorious is the hour and the scene! The heavy boom of the
ocean, which rolls almost at our feet, is relieved by the soft, mellow
notes of the sea-birds which float through the air in varied yet
harmonious cadence, and by the low of distant cattle, just shaking off
their slothful dreams. Hardly have we disposed our body to the requisite
flatness, when a chattering chorus of melody makes our heart leap with
eagerness, and our eyes strain with impatience to discern its source.
Aha, we have them now! that small, erratic cloud to the eastward,
bearing directly before the wind towards our covert, sends a thrill
through our being, which the whole “spacious firmament on high,” even on
the loveliest of nights, has, we honestly confess it, never succeeded in
imparting. On they come, nearer, nearer, nearer. We pucker up our lips
to greet their approach, but the saucy gale renders our rude efforts
futile, and we commit our trust to Providence and our painted
counterfeits. Now they are within easy range, but somewhat scattered;
with a violent effort at self-command, worthy of a higher cause, we
remain motionless, for there are evident indications of a social spirit
in that joyous group. They pause, they swerve, they wheel upon their
tracks, and with motionless wings and a sweet low-murmured greeting,
they approach the fatal stools. How rash the confidence! How foul the
treachery! But, we must also confess, how intense the excitement, as we
pull the right trigger at the critical moment, and then, as the deluded
victims scatter wildly, with an outburst of appeal against man’s
cruelty, give them the left barrel, and add three more to the list of
feathered martyrs. With lightning speed, their thinned ranks vanish
beyond the neighboring sand-hills, and reloading our gun, we hasten to
gather up the slain.

Six with the right and three with the left barrel, are pretty well for a
beginning; but we had better have remained at our post, for while we are
chasing up one of the wounded birds, two more flocks pass within easy
range of our hiding-place. Hurriedly twisting the neck of the fugitive,
we resume our lonely watch, and before the breakfast-hour of eight,
which our umwontedly early exertions have made a somewhat serious epoch,
we have had two more double shots, and increased our score to
twenty-one. Beautiful, “beautiful exceedingly” is the burden of game
which we proudly carry back to our inn, leaving our stools as they

A hearty breakfast makes us feel like a _new man_, and, after a fair
discussion of its merits, lighting our pipe, we again wend our way to
the scene of our triumph. The cry is still they come; flock after flock
presents its compliments, and leaves mementoes of its presence; but
towards noon the hot sun disposes the birds to listless inactivity, the
flight diminishes, and finally stops. Returning to the house with a bag
larger by only three birds than that of the morning, we kill the hours
before dinner by a few casts into the breakers, and land a ten-pound

With sharpened appetite, we welcome the savory dinner, and are quite
contented to rest and let our prey rest till five o’clock, when fifteen
more birds reward our post-prandial exertions, and make up a total for
the day of sixty plover and one bass. We sink to sleep that night with
the proud consciousness that our first day’s plover-shooting has been a
great success; our heart prays silently for a continuance of our good
fortune, and we indulge in sweet thoughts of home, and the pleasure our
return laden with spoils will cause, when our friends greet us and them
at the social board.

The next day is as delightful; the sweet, thrilling music again fills
the air at short intervals; again our trusty breech-loader sends its
charge into the thickest of the “brown,” or cuts down the straggler
looking for “former companions all vanished and gone.” Again we call the
swift-travelling flock from the very zenith, or whistle our lips into a
blister, endeavoring to attract the wary knowing ones that pause to
look, only to flee the faster; and the night finds us with a still
larger bag, but without a bass. So eager have we become, so fearful that
we should lose a shot, and judging by the accumulating clouds in the
east that on the morrow it may storm, that we stay out all day, except
the necessary moments for our meals, and give no thought to the monsters
of the deep.

Nor were we mistaken; the morrow comes, the gathering storm has broken,
and no creature of mortal mould can face its fury–at least no bird,
with any pretensions to common sense or respectability, would imperil
his plumes by an unnecessary exposure to such an ordeal. So with forced
patience, we get through the live-long day as best we can; and on the
following day, hail a sky as cloudless as the most ardent sportsman
could desire. But alas! the flight has gone by, scared away perhaps by
the storm, or retreating before the advancing fall; and when we take our
seat at the breakfast-table, we are obliged to admit that only nine
birds have fallen to our gun.

But the irrepressible and inextinguishable host rises triumphant in this
emergency. He boldly suggests that there _must be_ some sluggards, who
have tamed, spell-bound by the attractions of such a terrestrial, or,
rather ornithological, paradise; and accordingly, he _hitches up_ a
venerable specimen of the genus “_Equus_,” and we start for an excursion
“over the hills and far away.” Before we have advanced a couple of miles
we have bagged a half dozen solitary specimens of Bartram’s Sandpiper or
Grey Plover, so dear to the sportsman and the gourmand, but have seen no
trace of the object of our pursuit. When, suddenly, as we surmount one
of the swelling eminences which are the prevailing feature of this
district of country, we come upon a sight such as, perhaps, but few
sportsmen have ever beheld. A gentle hollow spreads before us, for
several acres, literally covered with the ranks of the much-desired, the
matchless Golden Plover.

As they stand in serried legions, the white mark on their heads gives a
strange chequered weirdness to the phalanx: and we involuntarily pause,
spell-bound by the novelty of the spectacle. Our host himself, though an
old hand, owns that he has never before gazed on such a sight. There
they stand with heads erect, and bodies motionless, just out of gunshot.
Their number is computed by our companion to be not less than three
thousand, closely packed, and apparently awaiting our onset. What is to
be done? Delay may be fatal, but precipitancy would be equally so: and
our pulses stop beating under the stress of the emergency. Our horse
also stops, obedient to an involuntary pull of the reins. We accept the
omen, and cautiously descend from our vehicle; warily crawling to within
seventy yards, we halt as we see unmistakable evidences of uneasiness
and suspicion among the crowded ranks. They stoop, they run, they rise
with “a sounding roar,” to which the united report of our four barrels
savagely responds. Away, away with headlong speed, scatters and
dissolves that multitudinous host, and we hasten to secure our spoils.

But, seventy yards make a long range for plover-shooting, and we are
somewhat chagrined to find that only six dead and seven wounded birds
remain as proofs of the accuracy of our aim, and the efficiency of our
weapons. Hurriedly we plant our stools, hoping for the return of at
least a considerable portion of the vanished forces; but they have
apparently had enough of our society, and, after two hours spent in
ambush, with only an occasional shot at single stragglers or small
flocks, we wend our way back to the house.

On the morrow we kill a dozen birds over the stools, before breakfast,
among which are two specimens of the beautiful Esquimaux Curlew or Fute,
as he is commonly called, and which seems to be on terms of the closest
intimacy with our Golden friend. We find him to be a heavier bird,
equally inclined to obesity, and, as future experiments satisfy us,
nearly as perfect in delicate richness of flavor.

At nine o’clock Dobbin is again harnessed, and we start for the scene of
yesterday’s exploit. But the sighing wind now sweeps over only a
deserted moor, and we direct our course in a direction to make an
inspection of Great Pond. Here, by good luck and management, we bag five
teal and a black duck, as well as three passing plover. A few large
flocks of the latter are seen, but they are wary and unapproachable; and
after several fruitless efforts, we abandon their pursuit and start for

Having rendered full justice to the merits of a bountiful repast, which,
if it is made prominent in this account, was still more prominent in our
hungry thoughts, we stroll to the ocean-side and make a dozen casts for
bass, but our luck seems to be on the turn and we decide to leave on the
morrow for Greenport. About an hour before sunset, a few birds are on
the wing, and we again seek the field of our first success. Here we make
our final effort, and are rewarded with five noble victims, killed
singly at long shots, and we restore our breech-loader to its case. We
have no reason to be dissatisfied with our four-days’ sport, and it is
with a certain reluctance, and a sincere resolve to renew our visit at
an early date, that we pack our valise in anticipation of a start on
the morrow.

Our team is at the door; we bid adieu to some ladies of the household
(of whom while writing these lines we have thought much, though we have,
until now, said nothing), and, mounting by our host’s side, we trot
merrily over the hills, till we reach the deep sandy desert of the
Nepeague beach. “A long pull, and a strong pull” for an hour, brings us
to “terra firma” again, and rattling through the quaint old town of
Easthampton, after a charming drive, we reach Sag Harbor, where a most
absurdly diminutive steamer, of just _seven-horse_ power, awaits to
convey us to Greenport. We part from our host with sincere gratitude for
the genial kindness which he has shown to us during our visit, and step
on the narrow deck of the tiny craft. A voyage of thirteen miles, made
under a full head of steam in just two hours and a quarter, brings us
once more to the beautiful village of Greenport, where the cars are
awaiting us.

We return with a bag full of game, and the following general conclusions
and precepts impressed upon our mind: In plover shooting use No. 6 shot
in the left barrel, for the birds are of wonderful strength and require
to be hit hard, or they will fly an immense distance even if “sick unto
death,” and if crippled, will sneak, and hide, and run, and cause much
loss of time that is precious indeed. Do not fire too soon; as the flock
will generally “double” if allowed sufficient time, and then is the
chance to “rake ’em down.” Be patient, keep cool, aim ahead of the
birds, and keep wide awake.

On almost any day, from the 25th of August to the 10th of September,
there are sport and pleasure to be had among the wild sand-hills of
Montauk; and if there has been a north-easterly storm, with pitchforks
full of rain and caps full of wind, there will be such an abundance of
birds as only experience can conceive of or appreciate. That is an event
that most of us have yet to wait for. Reader, I wish I were sufficiently
unselfish to say honestly–may you enjoy it first.

Since I first went to Montauk, when large and jolly parties of sportsmen
congregated every fall at Lester’s and Stratton’s, some changes have
taken place. The plover have diminished until the chance of sport is
uncertain, although occasional good days are had; and there is a
probability that the railroad will intrude on its “everlasting hills,”
and that fashionable watering places will replace the old-time sporting
hotels. Then bid farewell, a long farewell, to all the shooting.