Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. November 30, 1902. [Duck shooting trip to the Valentine lake district.] Sunday World-Herald 38(45): 18. Includes a sketch. Also: 12/7, 38(58): 18, includes a sketch; 12/14, 38(65): 18; 12/21, 38(72): 18, includes a pictures; 12/28, 38(79): 18; 1/4/1903, 39(86): 18; 1/18, 39(100): 18; 1/25, 39(107): 18; 2/1, 39(114): 18; 2/15, 39(128): 18; 2/22, 39(135): 18; 3/1, 39(142): 18; 3/15, 39(156): 18; 3/22, 39(163): 18. First installment of 11/23/1902 not available; also nothing available for 2/8/1903. Spelling corrected to Stilwell from Stillwell. Portions repeated October 8, 15, and 22, 1904, Forest and Stream 63(15): 306-307, 63(16): 322-323, and 63(17): 345-346. Son Gerard Griswold the other person in the 1904 account rather than George Holmes given in this 1902 account.

[Duck Shooting Trip to the Valentine Lake District]

After dinner we lounged around camp until well along toward 3 o'clock, smoking and discussing our plans for the evening's inroad among the sandhills. After considering the matter thoroughly it was finally settled that Herman and Carl should take one team and skirt round the hills to Trout lake, while McClure, Fred, Bob and myself would take the other and cut across the country for Clear lake, which traversed the range of sandhills were we to shoot in, on the south. Thousands and thousands of birds had been seen basking in the sun and feeding on Trout lake in the morning, and the idea was that by putting out a big stool of decoys there Metz and Carl could get some fine shooting, at the same time keep the birds moving across the hills where we would be stationed and give us a pop at them also.

In accordance with this understanding both teams were hooked up at the given time and the start made. Herman, Carl and the teamster, with boat and decoys in one wagon, and McClure, Goodrich, Low, Gerard and myself in the other. With the dogs barking and rollicking about us, we pulled out of Stilwell's together, but separated when the base of the hills was reached. Herman and his convoy skirting round to the north and McClure and our party steering straight up the sandy incline, through the wild pass, and on to the open again at the head of Clear lake, where the leucopyilts tassels of the wild rice swayed in the warm breeze and the hordes of redwinged blackbirds kept the air tinkling with melody.

Along the north shore of this beautiful lake the team and wagon slowly crawled, and although in what is commonly considered an arid waste, with the chalky, alkaline wall shutting us in on the north, and a parallel range performing the same office across the lake to the south, the scene was an exhilarating one and we all enjoyed it most bounteously. We were really kept in a fever of expectancy and excitement, for the calls of thousands of waterfowl, in the air and out on the broad, blue bosom of the lake, was in our ears, mingled with the weird scream of the circling hawk, the gurgling jangle of the blackbirds, the ceaseless plaint of the winds through the rice and rushes, the twitter of the buffalo birds and innumerable voiced expressions of a happy, teeming, wild life known only in the gloomy sandhills. Now the raucous quack of an old hen mallard, as she started from her basking place in the reedy shallows, and went scurrying across the lake, would greet us, then a startled squeak of a lingering pintail, the ejaculatory squawk of a rising bittern, the sudden "skeape" of a jack, as like a rosewood streak he jumped from beneath the horses' feet, or perhaps the clatter of a kingfisher, faring with jerky flight along the winding course of his angling route.

These only now, with long intervals of deathlike silence, or if the lake has been harried such by the hawks, not even one of these sounds, save that of the perennial wind, or aught else to break the silence, unless a blundering yellow jacketed hornet comes humming athwart your way, the one, perhaps, you saw early in the morning, benumbed of the yucca clump just outside the tent door, where he had sought to sup.

Almost every songster of the hills or plain has departed. Of those that linger, only the redwing remembers his orchestral powers, which he researches continually when undisturbed. The larks, to be sure, tarry at the feast of wild rose buds that gleam like globules of blood upon their deep carmine stems, but few and brief are their farewell adios.

The voices that oftenest strike the ear in these solemn depths in the autumn time is the clamor of the greedy fish-hawks, the yip and yowl of the coyote and the scoffing of the canadian jays never too busy with their seed gathering to indulge in an outburst of cynicism.

Louder than any of these, however, not a sound of nature, yet so common to the season that it almost seems one to the accustomed ear, from lake, marsh, and prairie land burst the spiteful crack of nitro powder, now sharp and clear, now faintly afar like a fitful puff of wind. As one idling under October skies listens to these sharp disturbances in the atmosphere, he is apt to guess upon what game the brief storm here and there is breaking. Across there on the grassy plain, was it a prairie chicken or sharp-tailed grouse bursting up like a gray rocket from the sere covert, or was it a jack rabbit limping through the yellow tangle? Or there, on the broad expanse of the marsh, where a moment before the report struck the ear, and one sees a thin puff of smoke cast forth, and float away in a dissolving veil, was it a mallard or a teal splashing to flight from its sedgy cover or a jack forced to reluctant wing from its muddy banquet board; or a flock of redhead following with swift pinions the bends and reaches of open water; or was it only a poor heron or lagging bittern fluttering out of the rush-shaded ooze and lumbering away across the sunlit marsh?

Any of these it may have been, but whatever and wherever each sudden detonation marked a moment of someone's satisfaction or disappointment and some poor thing's sudden pang of wound or death or exultation of escape. However, with or without a gun, it is good to be out among these lonely fastnesses, afield or afloat, in the glorious days of the lovely autumn time.

Finally, with a thunderous "Whoa!" Fred pulled up a team, on the curve of a big bay, at the opening of a wide, sandy pass up into the hills, and followed this up with "Well, get out of this-we go up here!" he flung the reins over the horses' backs and leaped to the ground.

We all followed suit with alacrity, the team was unhooked and hitched to the rear end of the wagon, and, with guns and shell cases in hand, we began our arduous climb to the tops of the hills, where we were to station ourselves and await the evening flight across the range from Trout to Clear lake.

A half hour the difficult ascent had been accomplished, and each man selected his stand in the tall grass that grew luxuriantly even here, high up, say, six or eight hundred feet above the surrounding country. I selected a comfortable "blowout," on the side of a jutting peak, at the extreme western end of the line, and opened up my shell case. In order to be in readiness when the birds began to move, Gerard and I threw ourselves down in the warm sand and feasted our eyes on the wondrous scenic beauties that, for miles and miles, encompassed us.

And what a picture it was.

Way off to the north, like an expanse of molten silver, with the ragged chop hills, just as they had been left by some prehistoric cataclysm, between lay Trout lake, and to the south at the very base of the hills on which we rested, stretched the cerulean waters of Clear lake. Booth looked entrancingly beautiful, with the playful summer breeze-for the weather could not have been more bland-ruffling over their gloss and the sunlight in kissing it into riant smiles. Gerard was in an ecstasy of delight and as I gazed enrapt I thought what a splendid wilderness, and how little known, of glistening water, shining sand, waving reed, rush and grass, rounded domes and jagged peaks, the whole scope within our vision made, so lonely in its environing details, so imposing in its sweep of grandeur. Like Thor, it does not require a stupendous Niagara, with its reverberating thunders, beetling Rockies, with their stoney towers and dark canons, or a majestic ocean, for the sportsman to discover the beautiful in. Far to the north, through the shimmering haze, dimly loomed the Niobrara bluffs, while intervening dotted a very network of silvery gems, sprawling marshes and clean cut lakes, glistening with rice and flag and cane. To the east and west the ragged undulations of volcanic hills, and to the south, Clear, Willow, Dewey and fragments of innumberable other lakes, dim arteries to the core of the whole region's heart, its ghostly recesses and tenebrious crypts, lights and shades, once the diurnal home of the elk and the black-tail deer, the wolf, coyote, eagle, hawk and skunk.

"Isn't this beautiful, Gerard?" I asked the boy, still peering hungrily, as if I meant to penetrate the greater mysteries beyond, upon the immeasurable panorama before us.


It was Fred's piece, suddenly disturbing the serenity of the scene, and checking Gerard's replay, and, turning to the east, we saw a pintail hanging in the air, the, with dangling neck and folded wings, plunge down to the sands of a deep gully that separated our stands. It was a lone bird that had essayed to make a pass, but the precursor of hordes and myriads that quickly followed. Sport, the old red setter, had barely carried the dead pintail back to where Fred and Low were crouched behind the spearlike stalks of a bunch of acacia, when a series of faint reports came to us on the languorous air from off on Trout lake, and McClure hallooed that Herman and Carl were at work.

And so they were. A moment later a cloud of black dots arose from the waters of the distant lake, and, circling and towering and curveting, streaming in long lines, this way and that, and, climbing in dark bunches high into the air, they wove an intangible web in the sky. There seemed to be millions of them.

Then there was another fusillade, of faint reports, and I saw a dark line cleaving the sunshine over the lower hills and coming straight our way. Gerard and I crouched low down behind the rim of our sandy barricade, and, in eager expectation, waited.

But it does not take a flock of mallards long to cover a few miles, when once well upon the wing, and quickly the black dots merged into shapes, and the next instant, like a charge of cavalry in bright uniform, with long, green necks and heads gleaming like couched spears, they sped toward us, but to our left, between Fred's stand and our own, so low that we could see the white circlets at the base of their necks, the flashes of the glistening bands of blue on their whizzing wings and the delicate curls of shining green upon their rumps were as clear as the white bands on their tails.

Road to the Valentine lake district 1902.
[Full Size]

Leaping up, just as this long line of mallards rushed by me, I let them have the right barrel, and two drakes, dead as door nails, plunged down into the sands of the gully to our left, and, as the flock went sweeping on over the hills for Clear lake, I cut out another at remarkably long range. It was only wounded, however, and, with that tenacity for which the bird is so well known, it kept to the air until after the next big dome had been crosses, then it sagged, wobbled uncertainly for a few yards more, and went down out of sight behind the intervening hills.

Gerard and the red setter had been watching the bird's uncertain progress, and, when it disappeared, the boy said he could get it, and, with the dog, down the hill he flew.

I retrieved the two that had fallen into the gully, and had hardly gotten back into my blind again when I saw another bunch of birds approaching, if fact, several of them, while over the distant lake to the north they were weaving backwards and forwards in myriads, and for the next hour we had one of the greatest duck shoots that ever befell the lot of happy gunners.

Along the clear sky to the north streamed lines of dark dots, while by us and over us and all about us shot small bunches, big flocks and single birds. As I crouched down in the sand and long thin blades of straggling yellow grass, a drake canvasback, resplendent in white and black, with rufous hood and a garnet eyes, came whizzing past from the right. As I whirled my Parker toward this magnificent bird, a big cock widgeon, bound to reach South Dakota before the sun went down, came shooting from the opposite direction, and must have been four or five yards past the canvas when I pulled the trigger of the first barrel. How I jerked my gun, back and onto the widgeon without dislocating my shoulder, I don't know. But it was one of those rare opportunities for the most difficult of all double shots and I accomplished it without knowing how. I don't believe I would have attempted the feat with an old ducker in the blind looking on, but I was practically alone and I didn't care much whether I hit or missed. It was a great shot, however, and as any experienced wild fowler will readily see, the second bird must have been forty yards or more beyond the point where I fired at the canvasback, before I could have possibly reversed the motion of my Parker and thrown it far enough around to get onto the widgeon. In both cases it was necessary to cover the bird and pull the trigger with the speed of electricity, for the slightest delay or failure to get just the right lead of the second bird would have rendered the effort abortive.

Si-swish! That was a flock of greenwings and they dipped down and out of the air as if they meant to knock me off the top of the hill, and were gyrating all about me for a few seconds, and I was trying to shoot them without a shell in my gun.

"I got both birds, Dad," exclaimed Gerard, as he came puffing up the hill, "the mallard that went over the hill and this big canvasback, that fell right at my feet. And you killed that other bird, too, which you shot just after the canvas, and it fell way off there, and Sport has gone after it. You didn't see it fall, I guess, for those teal tried to eat you up." And Gerard laughed as he threw down his birds and mopped his brow with the sleeve of his sweater.

But I had seen it fall and I was mentally exulting over the great double when those greenwings swished about me. However, I intended to pass over the event without chronicling it, but the kid, you see, gave me away, and I hope none of the craft will imagine that I am throwing posies at myself. But it was a great shot, wasn't it, and one you can bet is seldom made.

But I was allowed but a brief space of time to enjoy the thrill of my success, for another bunch of mallards came speeding toward us from the sunlit hills. I aimed at what I thought the right spot ahead of the leader, with a confidence rendered supreme by my late exploit on the crossing canvasback and widgeon, and pulled the trigger. Yet, at the sound of each of those good old Peters shells, every shining feather sailed along and on out over Clear lake as smooth as a gossamer thread on the evening breeze.

"Pshaw!" ejaculated the boy, kicking up the loose sand with his rubbered feet, "why, pop, you could have hit them with your gun barrel!"

"Yes, I know that," I replied in pique, "but that was the trouble-they were too close. Look at Sport-he can't get it through his head why there were no birds fell!"

And that was true. The loyal old settler had risen trembling from his place in the sands at the crack of the gun, but as the birds dove on in unbroken line, he simply turned his big brown eyes questionably up into my face, then turned and intently watched the glistening line as it cleared the air over the lake.

"That's all right, Sporty, old fellow," I exclaimed, giving him an appreciative pat on the head, "you ask your master when you get back into camp, this evening if there is anything more effective in relieving a sportsman of his conceit than a wild duck on the wing."

An almost, constant fusillade from the line of blinds, to the east, satisfied me that I wasn't getting all the shooting, and that Fred, McClure and Low were exceedingly busy. I could see the birds scurrying over them, and puffs of light, thinish smoke, and falling ducks, followed by the sharp reports of their guns, told of their success. But I had no time to do anything but attend to my own knitting, and for the three-quarters of an hour succeeding the boy will tell you today, that I lost my mind.

I never saw a bigger or better flight of ducks. They seemed to be everywhere-the very air was working with them. As the golden sun lowered closer and closer to the hazy rim of the distant western horizon, they seemed to increase with every minute. Most of those that had already cleared the hills were birds that had been idling the day on the silent waters of Trout lake, where they had doubtless reveled in undisturbed serenity all fall, being routed for the first time from the beds of rice and smartweed when Herman and Carl launched their boat an hour or so before and began banging away into the floating flotillas of green and chestnut heads and lack and white and gray blue banded hulls.

That was a new sensation for them, as they were doubtless largely the year's crop of young birds, and it required sometime for them to realize that those whip-like reports and puffs of thin smoke meant ruination and death. For a time they went up and down the lake and circled round and round, distraught and bewildered, but loth to leave those rich wallowing and feed grounds, where for weeks they had fattened and disported themselves in the undisturbed quiet of a bird's Arcadia. But the perserverance of those two young marauders with their double barrels, ere long wore out their curiosity, and with strident cries of fright they rose in the air for good and started off over the hills for safer grounds beyond, little reckoning the greeting they were to receive from the sun-glinted tops of those big sand piles.

If the law and conscience had not limited us there is no telling how many birds we would have killed, as it was we filled the prescription and were content. The sun was yet fully a half hour high when I called to Fred and McClure asking them if they hadn't enough, and replying promptly in the affirmative, guns were put at safety and we assembled together to canvass results and get ready for the homeward jog. And mind you, too, the flight was just now barely at its height, in the cool of the evening, the natural exercise hour of the birds.

Host upon host that had been putting in the day on the great marshes to the north and on the broad, wet prairie lands, began to steer for the expansive waters of Clear, Willow and Dewey lakes to roost, while the vast army of wild fowl, bound for Deer and Marsh lakes farther south, came marching down the northern sky. Long lines came widening out and sliding down, as all of you old timers have seen them do time and time again in the happy days of the past; rising out of the dark horizon in clouds hanging against the rose-colored fleece in the heavens a moment, then come bearing down upon you like a tide of fierce wind. Thrilling spectacle indeed! Some of the birds came over the hills so low that they were on a line with our eyes, and as the twilight deepened we frequently caught ourselves dodging to avoid them.

Over the rounded bluffs to the west of us, where the land rolled like the broken billows of some mighty ocean, they hurried no longer in infrequent or isolated flocks, but in an unending army, and swifter than the prairie's gust itself thousands streamed in on the expiring beams of the sinking sun.

Before dark Clear lake was a sight, for all over its broad surface, and on the farther shores even, floating and sitting in the grandeur of their solitude, ducks were seen by the tens of thousands. A wild and wondrous scene, indeed, and quite incredible now, in the days of the birds' waning glory, to see the wild fowl throng at nightfall on the waters of Nebraska's greatest resorts.

An hour later we were back at Stilwell's. Darkness was fast thickening, and while we were unloading the wagons, we were brought to an involuntary halt, for there drifted through the open portals of the hunter's sod lodge, the dulcet tones of Hons. Bill Dorgan and R.J. Green, the Lincoln nightingales, in that touching old ballad, "A Boy's Best Friend Is His Mother." Judge Holmes of Lincoln was also there, and so was George Holmes, and Doug Frey, and George H. Hoagland and Rev. Edwin H. Jenks of this city.

After the Hon. Bill and Attorney Green had closed their musical caverns, such cordial greetings followed as were bewildering, actuated undoubtedly by the loads and loads of ducks Rivers and Sam hauled round to the rear end of the lodge and hung from the customary pegs, where legions of birds had hung before. In sweet converse, and more music by the Dorgan-Green band, the evening was spent after supper, and a hunt arranged for all hands on the morrow, save our party who had enough for a few days, anyway, that was to make history for the future American sportsmen. Then to bed to be lulled to sleep by the soft soughing of the autumn winds and the tremolo of the distant coyote.

Early one morning, fully a week after out shoot on the hilltops, George Holmes of Lincoln, and I took one of Stilwell's teams and drove over to the old bull camp lake, latterly known as Watt's lake. A caller at the hunter's lodge the evening before told us that there were a great many mallards and teal feeding there and as yet, this fall, they had not been disturbed, and putting our heads together Holmes and I concluded to make an early start, take our lunch and put in the day on these new grounds.

Our way led down the north shore of Hackberry lake until pretty nearly opposite the old Frenchman's, when it swerved off across the hills to the northwest. After crossing the hills the country we passed through was flat and low in places; the sloughs and overflow being fringed with tall wire grass and tules, affording good cover for both grouse and wild fowl. Now and then we were enthused by the sight of a flock of mallards or spoonbills rising from some muddy shallows, or circling over a small lake, and our spirits rose commensurately.

"Hello! there is a bunch of chicken," ejaculated the Lincoln man, pointing in front of us and off 40 or 500 yards, between two haystacks, where the grass had been closely cut. I espied six or eight birds, with the hoar frost glittering around them, basking in the earliest rays of the sun, which came streaming over the eastern rise about this time, in a golden flood.

"Grouse," I laconically added, "We seldom see a chicken up here. But I say, George, get out by keeping that nearest haystack between you and the birds. I think you can get a shot, and remember, old Stilwell's good wife makes the best grouse stew of anybody in the world.

"I believe I can, too," replied George climbing out over the wheel as I slowed up. "Got a couple of eights in your pocket. If so, let me have them. I've got nothing but sixes."

"Just the thing. Remember, those birds are big and strong, and you'll not get any too close, for they are a good, long shot beyond that stack as it is."

"I guess that's so. Now watch me, and I'll show you how a man from the city makes a double on chicken"-


Capitalist's double on grouse at Watt's Lake 1902.
[Full Size]

The Capitalist's Double on Grouse.

"Well, hang the difference. I know they are grouse as well as you do-but keep your eye on the Professor. I'll get one on the ground and the other on the wing."

And slipping a shell in each barrel, the young capitalist-George, you know, is worth a million or two in his own right-crouched, for which there was little need, as the haystack completely concealed his advancing form, and moved rapidly forward.

He made the stack all right and it looked as if he was going to carry out the program just as he had pictured it, but as he was tiptoeing around the conical pyramid of dead grass, an old hen grouse, who had been so close up on the other side of the stack, we had not seen her, arose with a Bbbbbbbb! and an angry kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk! that caused the young man to rush out into the open with a bound, and as the old hen was just clearing the brow of a low sandhill, crack went his Parker.

The bird struck the sand with a wop and a flurry of dying particles, well up the incline, then rolled down until she was lodged against a clump of blue stem.

It was a magnificent shot, but poor beside the one with which this was followed, for with the report the other grouse-and there must have been eight or ten of them-leapt into the sunlit air and in a whirl of brown and gray went off tunneling the atmosphere like vertical cannon balls. They were all out of range, and Holmes could not have gotten his second shot, had not one of the birds diverged from a straight line to safety and come swinging around the haystack straight toward the spot where I stood holding the reins.

"Hold on there!" I yelled, as I saw George whirl around with his gun on a line with the cleaving bird, but I was too late to check him. I saw the gun flame forth, also the grouse wilt in mid-air and then tumble to the close cut sward not twenty yards away. It required but a moment for the Lincoln man to go after the old hen, and o his return he picked up the second bird, and dangling by the neck he brought them in and tossed them onto the bay in the back part of the wagon.

"Did you think I was going to sprinkle you?" he inquired with a laugh.

"I didn't know but what you might." I replied. "I wasn't worrying much about myself, but you remember, Rivers told us this off horse was nothing but a colt, and that we shouldn't get gay with him."

"Yes, I remember, and I took good care not to shoot in your direction. You saw where the bird fell? Yes. Well, that is fully twenty yards to your right. But they are fine birds, aren't they?" And as he climbed in he turned round and gazed proudly at the two handsome birds bouncing on the hay, and then added:

"I can't shoot grouse-can I?"

"If that is a sample of your skill in that line," I rejoined, "you are certainly fine and dandy! Both shots were corkers-I couldn't have done better myself, and here's to you!" and reaching under the seat, I drew out a bottle of Yellowstone from the lunch basket, and we moistened our lips with the precious elixir.

A quarter of an hour later we struck the high road leading along the south shore of the old bull camp lake, and as we gazed out over the shimmering expanse, we were filled with rapture at the sight.

The long line of serrated bluffs, in the full flush of the morning sun, looked like some old rampart of the days of the mound builders, frowning down the smiling waters of the big elliptical basin.

The mists had all lifted from the water, and the sun came streaming over the eastern range, sprinkling reed and rice and cane as with golden rain, and starting the blackbirds into noisy and delighted motion. As we rumbled on down, the road the scene was a stirring one. Indeed, just the sort to fill a duck hunter's heart with ecstasy.

Suddenly as the wagon bumped across an old rutty wallow, with a loud bang of the end-bard, we were startled, pleasantly, of course, by the deep-tone unk-auh-unk! of a wild goose, then a cloud of birds rose from off somewheres near the middle of the marsh, and marshaling in the air, single-file, off they went over the hills to the south. Immediately following a flock of mallards rose from the ricey shallows and then another and another and another, until the air was full of them and the roar of their wings sounded not unlike the incoming of a summer storm.

I drew up the team and in a delirium of joy, we gazed and gabbled. On the far shores on that little inland sea there was a grand sweep of barren sandhills now layed in alternate lines of crimson and topaz, swelling from the very edge of the shimmering waters, now shadowed by the deluge of bird's sweeping over them. It was the first the wild fowl had been disturbed that morning, in fact, for many mornings, and while hundreds of them dipped down and relit at different points over the lake, the great bulk of them rose high in the air and went off out of sight over the hills.

Twenty minutes later and not a bird-save the ever-shifting and tinkling redwings-was to be seen, and the primitive serenity of the region again took possession of the surroundings. Across the heavens floated great masses of lacey vapor, fiery-edged and dropping their lights and shades upon the bosom of the lake like the play of light upon a huge opal. Now, the rounded tops of silent bluffs glowed as if in the glare of a great prairie fire, and then an immense shadow would rise from the waters, like Afrite from his crystal vase, and clamber over their darkening walls, the sunshine, like a thing of life fleeing before, as a mass of cloud drifted across the orb of day. A playful breeze comes rushing down from the hills and through the tall, tawny grass along the draws and their rushes upon the lake, streaking the surface into many colored riffles, fanning the rice with gentle motion with its delicate winds, then melting away over the dark stretch of arrowy tules.

Filled with the enthusiasm of our beautiful surroundings, we again started up the horses and shortly reached the old, tumble dow, deserted sod house at the foot of the lake, where the caller at the hunting lodge the night before had informed us we would find a boat and were we quickly engaged unloading decoys, lunch and shell cases from Stilwell's wagon and making ready for the day. Everything out, George drove the team off a quarter of a mile or so to the foot of the hills and unhooked them behind a convenient hay stack where they were not apt to sheer off any incoming ducks.

While he was absent I found the boat-a commodious old, wooden affair, with one oar and a push-pole-hidden in the smart weed at the edge of the lake, and hauling it upon the bank I turned it over and nicely cleaned it out. Then pushing it back among the shallows I filled the bottom for the depth of a foot with nice clean hay, packed the decoys neatly at either end, set in the shell cases and lunch and on the capitalist's return we were ready to push out and locate and build our blind.

Without further loss of time young Holmes and I, he at the paddle and I with the push-pole, worked the old scow out of the smartweed, which, with the dead flags, formed an almost impenetrable barrier along the low shores, into the comparatively open water beyond and made for a jutting point in the standing rice a few hundred yards to the west.

Reaching this line of dead vegetation, we followed it slowly up the lake a ways looking for the most likely place to make a blind, and coming suddenly onto an uncommonly tall and exuberant growth of rice, George suggested a halting place. I demurred and kept pushing the boat gently along up the lake.

"I don't think you will find a better point along this channel," he observed dubiously, but without discontinuing his labors at the paddle. The fact is George Holmes is a sportsman of the appreciative kind, and he never makes an effort to impress you with the fact that he knows it all. He was satisfied to make the suggestion prompted by his ideas of the matter in hand, and then leave the case wholly to one whom he probably thought had had more experience than he. While the point he had referred to was an attractive one for a blind, in fact, the blind was already there, and while I found his judgment sound in regard to more things than duck shooting, the point did not suit me as I could discover no indications that showed that the birds had been "using" there, neither had we flushed any since leaving the shore. When coming down the lake, however, in the wagon an hour before, we had seen mallards and teal, too, flock after flock, rise from the shallows along the ricey border, up the lake where I was instinctively steering for.

"We will soon be out upon the lake itself," remarked the Capitalist after we had pushed and paddled along several hundred yards further in silence, "and while you are the boss, Sandy, I think it would be better to keep back to this channel, where the birds will not have such an expanse of water to fly over."

"That is true, George," I replied, pulling up my pole and searching the low places along in front of us, as Holmes lazily paddled on, "but whenever you get on a ground you are not familiar with, there are several important things to be observed and one or two of these is becoming more evident to me here every minute."

"What are they? I expect to do a lot of duck hunting in my time yet, and am desirous of knowing all there is to be known."

"Well, when I go on a strange ground for the purpose of shooting over decoys, I always search out the localities where the birds have been 'using' the night before, and what they have been using on and for. When approaching an opening or rounding a bend in the rushes or a slough or whatnot, and you see the birds and flush them in large numbers, you know they have been there, but you don't know for what purpose, roosting or feeding. Feeding grounds, of course, you know, are the most likely to afford one good shooting, for, when flushed from the roost, they rush away for good, but when jumped from the breakfast table, they will do so with remonstrative quacks, and on reluctant wing, and will keep returning by ones and twos and in small bunches, unless they have been much shot at there previously, all morning, until along toward noon, when they will resort, as is their custom, to the middle of the widest portion of the lake."

"But a roost and a feeding ground-how do you tell them apart along such a well stocked water way as this?"

"That is easy enough. If the birds have just been occupying any certain place, simply for a roosting place, you will find the waters much clearer than you will at a point where they have been feeding. You know that while mallards, especially, feed a good deal at night, the greater portion of the nocturnal hours are spent with head under wing, and their favorite time for regaling themselves is along in the refreshing hours of morning, or in the quiet and cool of the evening twilight. If the birds have vamosed before you get there, the signs will tell you whether they have been roosting or feeding. If roosting, as I remarked before, the water will be clear and undisturbed, but if feeding, the waters will be more or less roilly, and you will find floating on the surface or lodged against the dirty scum that their diving and wallowing has lined the bases of the rice stalks or tules with, or along the near shore line, tufts of down, with an occasional wing or tail feather, and countless atoms of masticated vegetation, wild celery, smart weed, nut grass, wapoto, umbellaria or whatsoever they have been feeding upon. Look, look there, don't you see those droppings and feathers along that low shore line there, and in the water, see, it looks as if the fecundating pollen of the summer's vegetation had been sprinkled over and into it. Hello!"

The latter exclamation was evoked by a loud splashing in the water, then a roar of wings, accompanied by the querulous squawk of an old hen or two, and a bunch of one hundred mallards or so, and half as many blue and greenwings, jumped up over the rice just around a little promontory in the ricey shore line in front of us and, lifting themselves high into the golden ether, went scurrying out over the main lake.

"Get your camera ready, George, I admonished, sinking my pole deep in the soft mud, and stopping the craft, "for when I round this bulge in the rice here, the probabilities are that you will get an exposure worth the work. I don't think the birds have all gone, for we have made so little noise. I'll have my gun ready and try to take a shot, also."

The young capitalist, eager at the thought of getting a picture of the birds right in one of their wildest haunts, settled himself comfortably in the hay as far forward in the prow of the boat as possible, got his instrument ready and focused it, as he thought, about right, while I picked up my Parker in my right hand, and once more making sure that all was ready, gently poled the boat around the little reedy interference with my left hand.

Hardly had the old scow's pike-like snoot protruded beyond and around the point, when three mallards, a beautiful drake and two hens, jumped from the ricey tangle in front of us, the drake several seconds before his consorts. I dropped the pole and blazed away, and the drake, wing-tipped, struggled valiantly in the air a moment, and then, as the two hens shot by him, began to descend to the water, squawking loudly.

But the scene will be better appreciated by a glance of George's wonderful shot with the camera, which adorns the center of this page. It is so real that you can almost hear the bird's wild, distraught cry, and see the flashing blues and greens on his wounded wing, and the gloss of the sun on his emerald head.

The old drake fell in the open water, dove once or twice as we approached, and, seeing that he was likely to get back into the rice, I told George to overshoot him, which he did, and gathering him, we poled back into the so-called channel, and prepared for a day's shoot that proved to be a memorable one.

I found, by signs, that to the old wild fowler are infallible, that the ducks had been using the immediate vicinity, both as a roosting place and banquet hall, and George congratulated me voluminously for ignoring his suggestion to halt farther down the channel.

"And you think those birds will come back?" he asked, as he carefully encased his camera and shoved it under the forward seat; "if they do not," he added, I think I have got a pretty good picture of one or two of them, and that will be worth the limit of dead birds, anyway."

"Yes, they'll come back, especially the mallards," I replied, "I haven't the slightest doubt. Mallards, you know, are not like teal. The latter, you well know, if you ever shot them out at Clarks with Sam Richmond, leave their roosting grounds with the first intimation of daybreak in the east, and whizz away to their feeding grounds in the fields and murky sloughs; then to their basking and playgrounds; back to the feeding grounds in the afternoon, returning to their roosting grounds only when the shades of night deepen. But a mallard, well, he will remain upon his roosting ground, especially if there be feed about, until long after daylight, very often until the sun is several hours high. The farther away his feeding grounds, the earlier he will leave, if there is feed close by, he will probably swim to it upon the water, fill his crop to bursting, then indolently float back to rest and preen, and disport himself with his kind in the open. When a mallard is compelled to forage far for his feed, he, like the teal, will not return to roost until after sundown or thereabouts."

"How was it," inquired the Capitalist, "that you mentioned Clarks and Sam Richmond, when speaking about teal!"

"Simply because the Platte, and Clarks is on the Platte, and about every ninety-nine hunters out of 100 go there, is the greatest stream for teal of any in this section of the world especially the greenwings, who are distinctly river birds, although they also frequent lakes and ponds, and because Sam Richmond is the best posted wild fowler, as well as one of the best there is, that can be scared up between the Atlantic and the coast. What Sam don't know about the wild fowl, their feed and habits, in migration and nesting time, nobody else does. That's all"-

"Mark," and George crouched low, "there comes a bunch of teal now!"

Hardly had the young capitalist given utterance to his admonition before the teal were upon us. I had barely time to whirl 'round and crouch down in the direction that George's glance showed me they were coming when, like so many speckled meteors, they came shooting at us.

A gunner has to be pretty quick on the trigger at times like this, and the ragged bunch of birds was just topping the line of rice in front of us, when we let them have it, first the right barrel and then the left, as the little feathered apparitions streaked by us and on up into the air. We knocked down four birds at the first fusillade, but not a feather responded to our second volley. The birds were too close upon us and were going with too much velocity, and we both shot behind them, of course. But you have been there, all you old duck hunters, and you know what it is to down a teal with your second barrel after a flock has pounced literally upon you as this bunch did upon young Holmes and I.

"Bluewings!" I said laconically, turning to where the four dead birds were gently bobbling upon the little waves lapping against the rice stalks.

"Bluewings, are you sure of that," replied George questioningly, "isn't it a trifle late for bluewings?"

"Late or not, those are bluewings," I continued, "look at that one floating belly up there, don't you see how lightly it is mottled, and there, on that wing sticking up, is the blue bar as plain as the nose on your face."

"You're right, I can see now for myself, but, of course, I thought they were greenwings, as Stilwell told me the bluewings were all gone."

"Well, for once the old gentleman was off his nut, and it is funny he would say that, because yesterday there were hundred's of blue-wings flying up and down Hackberry lake. But come, George, as long as we haven't gotten into our blind yet, let's retrieve those four birds. I see one of them is apt to miss the rice and float away."

It did not take us long to gather our teal, and plump and fat and resplendent in their new autumn dress, George and I could not help but admire and comment upon them. We laid the birds out, side by side, breast up, on the hay in the bottom of the boat, and as we were poling and paddling back around the ricey promontory to the spot we had selected for our blind, George said:

"I don't think I ever saw four prettier birds than those, did you?"

"No, I never did, but I've seen thousands and thousands just as pretty. When out shooting, any time, morning and evening, I've always noticed that the first birds you kill are always the prettiest. Duck hunters are great lovers of their game and they take about as much delight in their birds when they first get them in the beat as they do when they get them on the table. Really, it seems a shame to kill such beautiful creatures."

"Yes, that's so, and I still don't think there is any call for any especial sentiment over the matter. They were certainly created for food and it is a part of the grand system of the Creator that we kill them. If it wasn't, we wouldn't kill them, and that's all there is to it."

"Then you are a what-is-to-be-will-be sort of a genius, aren't you?" I replied, giving the boat an extra vigorous push and sending it in out of the open channel up against the rice and cane.

"You bet I am-but here we are-now what?"

"Our blind, of course, and we can't be any too expeditious-just look at the ducks!"

Indeed, the air again seemed full of them, probably aroused by our rattling around in our old trap of a boat when retrieving the teal. You know, on a nice, still, bright, trenchant October morning, the jumping of a single bunch of ducks on a feeding ground is the signal for the rise of every bird in the vicinity. And so it seemed just now.

The flight was principally up and down the lake, although there was a cross-flight, owing to the existence of another considerable body of water to the west of us, just at the foot of the range of low hills. There was no bewilderment over building a blind, as all we had to do was to push our clumsy craft tight into the rice and tules, side-wise with the lake, then pull the stalks and fluttering blades about us as naturally as possible, and the trick was done.

Our stool of decoys out just off the point and we tugged away until well inside the outer rim of vegetation. Then with the aid of the pole and paddle we anchored the boat as steadily as possibly by thru[letters and word n.l.] one at each side, down into the mud, and were agreeably surprised to find how solid it was. The fact is we had pushed in over a veritable tangle of dead tules and the boat rested actually in no more than a couple of inches of water.

We cut enough long rice and cane stalks with our pocket knives and arranged them around our boat until it was entirely screened, without producing too bunchy an appearance at any point. You know there is such a thing as having too much of a blind. You want to restore things to as natural a look as possible, and the main thing in a blind in the tules or rice is arranging the standing stalks so as they will destroy the break the boat makes by occupying the space it does. On such occasions it is not the boat, or your crouching form, that sheers so many birds off, but the opening in the tules, which they detect from their elevated position in the air long before they get within range of your gun.

A great many birds flew over while we were steadying the boat and the temptation was too much for the young capitalist and, socking his paddle down into the mud with all the emphasis he considered necessary, he reached over impatiently and picked up his Parker and slipped in a pair of those long, deadly, Ideal shells.

"Don't be in a rush, young fellow," I said, "let's get our blind completed and then for some fun. We will kill more birds from a good blind in an hour this morning that we would from a poor one in a whole day. Straighten up those tules back of you there and obliterate the channel through which we came, then cut a few of those heaviest cane-stalks-you see what I am doing-and arrange them around the boat like this. There is no rush; we are going to have plenty of shooting."

Then for ten of fifteen minutes more we worked like beavers and at the end of that time we had as perfect a blind as you ever shot from. We broke down the tallest and thickest tops of the rice and cane which stood around us, so as to have our range of vision, when we rose in a stooping position, clear in every direction, and taking a small jigger of Yellowstone, just for luck, we loaded up and waited.

We hadn't long to wait before a flock of mallards came in, over the hills from the east, and dipping down pretty low over the water, steered for the west side of the lake. I gave a running call and was delighted when they answered immediately, and veering round on a graceful curve, I saw that they had caught sight of our decoys. Round they came, but still a little to our left, and I began chattering on the Allen rube and they turned just right, set their wings and decoyed in most beautifully. Just as they dropped their yellow legs over the wooden counterfeits bobbing enticingly out on the shimmering waters before us, George gave them his first barrel, knocking down three, and then another with his left, before they could begin to climb. With pounding pinions the remainder of the flock arose straight up and went off over the rice field to the west, all but one, which I knocked down at long range, and which fell in the thick of the marsh, where I knew I could not get it, and which I determined I would not do again no matter how tempting the shot. To knock down a bird where there is no hope of retrieving is worse than missing all together a thousand times. Glancing out over the water I saw one of the capitalist's birds, an old hen, swimming, with almost her entire body submerged, rapidly toward the rice line, and I quickly gave her my remaining barrel, and over she went on her back and two orange legs were kicking a jig straight up in the air.

Why didn't I shoot when Holmes did? Well, ask me something easy. Haven't you ever been crouching in a blind with a comrade when a flock of mallards came in, offering you as good a shot as you could ask, and yet you did not get on to them until too late, until after the crack of your companion's piece, the splash of the fallen on the water, and the wild scramble in the air of those that escaped, brought you to a realizing sense of your dereliction? It is a frequent occurrence and happens on the marsh every day, where two men are in a boat or a blind, and an incoming flock of birds offers both a capital shot, and yet only one man shoots, or at least shoots in time to make his shot tell.

"That was cracking good work, on your part, George," I observed, slipping in a couple more of those long killing Peters shells, "but I made a mess of it, didn't I?"

"You certainly was a trifle slow," responded the young millionaire, "but you had just as good a show as I did, did you not?"

"Every bit. I was simply so interested in watching the birds that I forgot to shoot."

"And you an' old veteran, at that! I know 'an old veteran' isn't the choicest of diction, but everybody seems to put it that way and out in the sandhills one's conversation is not apt to be enriched with the higher graces of phraseology, is it? However, old fellow, you have my thanks for killing that crip. I really believe he would have gotten away."

"You bet he would. When you are shooting near a line of marsh like this it is a good plan to ascertain whether your bird is dead or not. If not, over-shoot him as quick as possible. It is a hundred to one shot you will never have time to run out with your boat and overtake him, and a bird in the hand is worth a whole carload in a swamp like this back us."

Incessantly, almost, the ducks streamed about and over us, for quite an hour that morning. The incoming of that big flock of mallards, out of which young Holmes knocked four, and I the fifth one, which fell in the thick tules, where it could not be retrieved, seemed to be the signal for general migration. And, at that, we did not make an unusually big kill. While the day was one of the bright ones in my long career as a duck shooter, I have experienced hundreds when I killed five times as many birds. Neither of us were in even ordinary form, and some of our misses were really ludicrous. We opened up in brilliant fashion on both the first teal and the first mallards, but fell down awfully when the flight was the thickest and the best. About the only real exploit of the morning, aside from our initial crack at the teal and the capitalist's quartet of mallards, was when three chicken came flying at long range from our blind over the lake, and we killed them all. We both got a bird with our first barrel, and the third ceased his choppy flight at the combined crack of our left barrels.

The ducks began to decoy in the most satisfactory manner. With the running call I could attract the attention of the birds the moment they cleared the low range of sandhills that bisected the great grazing lands between Hackberry and the old bull camp lake on which we were located. Large and small flocks came over rapidly-mallards, teal, redheads, widgeon and butterballs. And, by the way, the Stilwell lakes are the greatest waters for butterballs than any I have ever visited in this part of the country. Flocks of a hundred or more of these little white and black beauties were not uncommon.

While our shooting was ragged and provokingly unsatisfactory we got down a good many birds. I cautioned the young Lincolnite to mark down carefully those that fell into the rice and tules to the west and back of us, while I did the same, intending to make diligent search for them when the flight ceased. If there is one thing a sportsman, that is the true brand, hates to do, it is to kill a bird and then be unable to retrieve it.

For the time the sport was unexampled. Poorly as I was shooting, I was killing my birds, when I did kill them clean, an altogether better style than George was getting his, and this I could only account for by the fact that I was using those specially loaded Peters shells, with three and a half drachms of Schultze powder, and an ounce and an eighth of chilled No. 7's, while Holmes was using some shells he had loaded at Lincoln, with some nondescript nitro and No. 5 shot.

Suddenly he shot an old green head and it fell almost into the boat, hitting the water with a loud smack near George's end, splashing him all over and causing him to fall almost over the gunwales. He quickly recovered himself, however, and reaching out he grabbed it by the neck and hauled it, kicking and flapping, into the boat.

"Hey! Another beauty. I'll bet he'll go four pounds! and old patriarch. And look, Sandy, his legs ain't yellow at all-see, they are a sort of an orange red, and his back, look, it is more of a fawn than most mallards. The fact is his plumage is more highly marked every way. Must be one of that other variety your always harping about. Do you recognize him?"

"You bet I do, but mark!" A brace of baldpates had dropped right into the decoys, noiseless as a thistle down, but they instantly leaped into the air again, as they heard our voices.

I dropped the male, a fine plump fellow, with a bright russet splotch on his speckled wings, and George got the hen, as she curved round over the rice, at very long range, so long, in fact, that she plunged down into the thick rice a hundred yards away, and he made the kill with one of my shells, too, for becoming more and more disgusted with his own. I placed my shell box between us and for the last half hour he had been using them.

"How do you like those Ideals and No 7s, anyway, George?" I asked. "You killed that hen as dead as a mackerel and she was sixty-five yards away, if she was an inch. And by the way, haven't you winged fewer birds since you began on the Peters shells, than you did before?"

"You can see that for yourself. Actually I haven't had a crip in the last twenty shots, and I've killed more birds than you have, to boot."

"And the theorists, eh?"

"They can go to. Your load is fine and dandy, the best I ever saw. I can kill at even a greater distance with theses 7s, and cleaner, too. I'm done with 5s for decoy shooting, anyway. They might do on a pass when the birds are traveling rapidly and high in the air, but for this kind of shooting I know now that they are too big."

It was getting well along toward 11 o'clock now, and the flight was slowing up very materially, in fact, the birds happened along at distressingly long intervals, after all the furious excitement we had been through.

"That was a great flight, Sandy," observed Holmes, pulling forth his pipe and lighting it, "but I think they were only local birds at that."

"No, I don't think so. Pass me that old mallard, and I'll examine him, for he looks like a northern bird to me."

"How can you tell strangers from local birds?" and George handed me the old drake he dragged into the boat by the neck an hour or so before, and cracked his emerald head over the gunwales.

"That is a part of the old ducker's education," I replied, feeling the bird's crop, "Local ducks coming into the lake as this time from their feeding grounds have full crops, corn if there are any cornfields in the neighborhood, or anyway, smartweed and grass, rice and wapoto, and their feet and bills will be streaked with mud. They also fly lower and less speedily than northern birds, and always pitch down to the water after circling several times, as if in reconnaissance for danger. Strangers, or newly-arrived birds, you will almost always find with scantily-filled crops, a little gravel, willow leaves and grasses, and their bills will be found bright and clean and their legs unsoiled. They fly way up high in the air and are only enticed from their aerial highway by the cravings of thirst or a hankering for the companionship of the birds on the water, who quickly guide them to the feeding grounds. They are shy at first, watchful as hawks, but when decoying circle less than local birds; in fact, they are not on to the surroundings. But more of this another time. My shadow says it is pretty nearly noon. Aren't you hungry?"

"I could eat a bale of hay. What do you say, lets push across to that hay field there, and eat and smoke and lounge around awhile, then push back here about half past 2."

"All right, that's the ticket. But let's retrieve our birds first, we must have nearly a limit, and, of course, when we get that we'll quit."

"Yes we will."

"That's what I said."

Then while George was closing up the shell cases I pulled up the push pole and with the end of it pushed all the floating empty shells under the water, as well as three or four empty shell boxes and the fragments of newspaper in which they had been wrapped.

"What are you doing?" asked the capitalist.

"Well, I don't know how much there is in it, but when I have been shooting from a blind to which I intend to return, before leaving I endeavor to destroy and hide all evidence of an artificial kind, all signs that man has been about. These wild ducks are wonderful intelligent birds, and it is little things like floating shells, boxes and flaring lunch papers, about a favored point that puts the ducks next, too quick. No really good wild fowler ever leaves the water about his blind littered up over night, or during the noonday rest between flights. You can soon tell whether the birds have been much shot at by watching their actions in the air. If they are local birds they will shy away from a marred point or rumpled blind, for they well know that these are tokens of the mischief that has been done them before, but if they are just down from the north it does not matter so much, but they soon get on and there is nothing like observing these little details at all times.

"There is no doubt but what you are right, and to know all these little details means success. Some shooters, you know, are foolish enough to attribute it all to luck, but I notice that it is the Hoaglands, the Griswolds, the Moores and Fryes that get all the game-the men who know what they are doing and how to do it."

"That's the philosophy. The man who has the reputation of being a lucky sportsman, George, you will find, is very rarely lucky in the sense that is ordinarily understood. The only way he is lucky is in the possession of perceptive faculties that enable him to do the proper thing at the proper time. His dog is naturally no better than others when after quail or chicken, but he has been handled in the manner that best brings out his good qualities. His Parker is not superior to the thousands and thousands of Parkers used by other shooters, but the proper charge is used in it, and that this is generally sent in the right direction at just the right time is to be credited, not to luck, but to hunting sense. Of course, the birds rise near him, or if flushed by others, fly in his direction, but there is no luck about it; he has been a close and careful student of the game he seeks, and, intuitively, as it were, he posts himself nearly always in the right place and at the right time. Even when on strange ground, a casual glance shows him where the game ought to or is apt to be; and the same half glance also shows him just the line of flight the birds will take when flushed, and mechanically, with hardly a thought upon the subject, his feet take him that way, and his companions have again occasion to congratulate him upon his luck. Mr. Hoagland is that sort of a sportsman, and so is Johnny Hardin, George Scribner, Henry Homan, "Forey" More, Fred Goodrich and scores and scores of others I could name you."

"That you could, for I think you are about as keenly observing of these things as any man I ever shot with. Of course, while we all know that with every shooter, good luck has ever so much to do with filling his game bag, and that bad luck is a sweetly consoling factor in accounting for slim results but the mistake these luckless individuals make is in ascribing to uniform good luck what is actually the fruit of skill and care and hunting sense."

"Sure. Luck plays its part with all of us in the field, but good luck does not persistently attend any one individual season after season, to the making of his reputation; nor does bad luck dog the steps of another year after year."

"But you have heard many a fellow claim this?"

"Indeed I have. While the so-called lucky sportsman is found in every locality, the trouble is, as I remarked before, he is looked upon, by many, merely as a fortunate individual, and no thought is taken as to why he is thus blessed above the ordinary man who goes a-field or a-stream with dog and gun and line and rod. He is lucky in always making a good bag, in always having a good dog, a good gun, a good boat and the best of rods and lines, and above all, is nearly always lucky in locating a blind where the ducks fly the thickest, or a point in the lake where the biggest bass lurk, while his comrades are generally in the wrong places and the birds and fish persistently fly and swim only in his direction."

Then we put a half-hour paddling about and picking up our dead birds. We counted up just forty-eight mallards mostly, sprinkled with widgeon, baldpates, butterballs, and four red-heads and once canvas We killed, too, a couple of dozen ruddys, but we didn't pick them up.

Then we toyed with the Yellowstone bottle a moment and pushed over to the hay field and ate our lunch.

Along about 2:30 young Holmes began to evince an anxiety to get back into our blind. The lines of ducks that occasionally hove into view out of the waters to the west and some hurtling over the rice tops within range of our hide was unquestionably the influence that was working upon him, and, nothing loth myself, I finally got up from the hay on which we had been reclining and remarked:

"Well, George, what do you say, hadn't we better be getting out on the lake again-it looks to me as if the birds were going to move lively this evening, and we want to get in our work effectually while we have the chance? You know the twilights are short in this high latitude, and when once the sun dips behind that chain of hills darkness succeeds almost immediately."

"Yes, I know that, and the quicker we get back into our blind the better. I'll bet if there has been one bird fly over our blind while you have been snoozing here, there has been a thousand."

"That's always the way. When you get out there again you will find that they will not come over nearly as fast. However, they do seem more than ordinarily restless, and that means a change of weather. If they fly well tonight we ought to get all we want before darkness sets in."

"Darkness, you talk as if you expect it to swoop down on us without a second's warning. Night before last the Judge and I killed the bulk of our birds after the sun had disappeared. We were over one Willow lake and had a good hour's shooting before darkness drove us to the wagon."

"You did?"

"That's what we did."

"Then you were shooting against the western sky, for I'll bet you a big red apple that it will be so dark fifteen minutes after the sun sinks tonight that you can't recognize your closest friend from one end of this boat to the other. Up in this latitude the twilight is marvelously short, unless the sky is fleckless and you are facing the west."

"Well, come to think of it, that was just the way we were facing, and we could see the incoming birds against the pale lemon background as plainly, almost as in midday. When one hit the water we could only judge where it was by the splash. Of course we didn't retrieve more than two-thirds of the birds we got down."

"That's true, for, of course, every wing-tipped and every bird with life enough in it to swim when it did hit the water got away. For the evening flight give me the spring shooting-it beats the fall a dozen blocks."

"How's that?"

"Why, the twilight lingers fully three or four times as long, and with a good blind of rice and tules facing the west, the sport can't be excelled. And spring wild fowl shooting is the grandest shooting of all, anyway, and there is nothing that stirs the old ducker's blood so much as the thoughts of getting out on the grounds during the first wild and blustery days of March. All this talk about abandoning spring shooting is rot. It is the very first sport that is afforded the gunner in the new year, and no other is so replete with keen and healthful enjoyment. These fellows that talk about the awful crime of killing a duck on the way to the breeding grounds, only advance one half of the argument. They say that when you kill a duck in the spring you destroy the chances of a dozen or more ducks in the fall. But they don't tell you that when you kill a duck in the fall you do the very same thing. A duck is a duck, either going to or coming from the breeding grounds, and if you do not kill it at either season the chances for more ducks are equal. A dead duck cannot bleed and it makes no difference in what month of the year you kill it. This is an argument that the wisest of them will eschew. And all this talk about the birds being thin and scrawny and unfit for the table in the spring, that is a good running mate for the other half of the argument. The birds are always thinner at the outset of the migrating season, let it be in the spring or fall, but in this particular latitude, where feed is always abundant and the other facilities for the birds' thrift unexcelled, a lean duck is seldom encountered, and the spring birds here are generally in as fine condition as the fall birds."

"You mean, of course, after they have been here a few days," interjected young Holmes.

"Yes, of course. The first birds up from the south in the vernal season are apt to be more or less attenuated from their long and tiresome pilgrimage, but it is just the same with the first issue of birds from the north in the autumn, but so rapidly do wild fowl fatten and get into good order that in less than a week after alighting in local grounds they are as plump, succulent and luscious as they will get any time during their sojourn here. The home-bred ducks in the fall of course, are always in condition, but just as soon as the feathered hordes come streaming down the northern sky, you will meet with as many poorly conditioned ducks as you will in March."

"Pintails, they are always poor, aren't they?"

"No, indeed. We killed lots of pintails last spring out at Clark's that were just as big and fat and heavy, and just as much of a marceau as the best ordered mallard or redhead you ever saw, and Sam Richmond will tell you that for his own table he would just as soon have a nice corn-fed sprig as he would a wild celery-crammed canvasback. And that reminds me that the immortal Frank Forester said he would make a detour of a mile around a canvasback to get a shot at a good, fat spoonbill. And look at the pintails we have killed here this fall. Go behind the lodge when we get back to Stilwell's tonight and examine those you will find hanging there among the other ducks and if they don't match the biggest mallards and all, on the spot. There are lots of erroneous ideas prevalent among alleged sportsmen about the desirability of certain species of ducks, and it's dollars to doughnuts, they couldn't tell one from another after they had been through the hands of even the most ordinary cook-a merganzer doctored up a bit would answer every purpose-they couldn't tell it from a redhead. You see, George, this eating business is a sort of a science, and some people know just as much about it as they do about Sanscrit. But, say, we are idling a good deal of time away-look at that line of mallards rising over the rice there, and, of course, they are going to cross our blind. Are you all ready?"

"All ready. I'll just leave this lunch basket here-we won't want it any more."

"No. Let it lay where it is-there is a sandwich or two in it and a few apples that some poor devil may stumble onto and he'll think he has struck a banquet."

"So we will get right back into the blind?"

"Yes, that's the place; I can't see anything else that promises half so well. You know what I told you this morning about local and northern birds. Yes. Well, you have been watching them for nearly two hours now, and if you had figured the matter out for yourself, you would have arrived at the conclusion that our blind is just off a favored roosting place, for, since we drove them off long toward noon, they have not returned yet-that is, in any very great numbers. Of course, there have been stragglers flying backward and forward, as is always the case, but there has been no alarming numbers alighted in the waters round-about our hide. Only a few scattered teal and mallard, which must have fed near here, have returned to the water, excepting, of course, the strangers that keep dropping in; therefore; there must be other feeding holes, probably better than ours, and that is where the birds have lain so quiet all this time."

"That sounds reasonable."

"Of course, it does. Now, if you want to know, I'll tell you where all the hundreds and hundreds of mallards we jumped this morning are. You have probably observed, while lying on the hay here for the past two and a half hours, that the birds that have passed over this end of the lake have lowered and gone down about two miles west of us. Of course, lots of them circled, just like that bunch of seven are doing off there now, and vanished over the hills toward Hackberry, but the bulk of them went down in the west-anyway, all I have watched have. You must certainly, too, have seen lots of birds coming off to the east, where Clear and Trout lakes lie, but I'll warrant they all converged at a point west of us. I know this from the simple fact that all the birds we drove out of here went in that direction. So it is clear to my mind that they have a body of water and feed ground over there that has not been visited yet this fall by any shooters, and there is several days of great sport awaiting some of us over there."

"Why not hook up and drive round there tonight?" inquired the capitalist, as for about the dozeneth time he broke his Parker to see that there was no shell in it.

"No. There is no need of that-we are going to have our hands full right here this evening. But I want to tell you, George, not that you don't know about as much about the business as I do, but when this is put in type, for you know I always write up my spring and fall shooting trips somewhat elaborately, that the few things we have just observed and what we have been talking about, will be found of great value by countless inexperienced duck-hunters, not only so far as shooting over decoys goes, but as to selecting a blind on strange grounds, and flight-shooting generally; for it stands to reason that if a gunner can ascertain to a certainty when the movements of the birds mean, that he is sooner or later, to get some great sport. But here we are. Take the pole, George, and push the end of the boat over to the right a little, the channel is more open there and"-

"What's that?"

And George, who had picked up the push pole, stood immobile, with the long shaft poised in the air like a lance, and bending his head to listen more intently, he fastened his wondering eyes on my face, as from somewhere up in the steely skies, fell a strange sound that sounded in a penetrating tremolo that could have been heard for miles, and which was well calculated to arouse anyone's curiosity.

Gerrrrrrrhooooooo! again came that wild chorus, trilled by four score of throats, and searching the vault above, I beheld a cloud of great birds, wheeling and sheering across the tinted sky, with the sunlight glancing from many a dagger-beak and many a waving wing.

"Sandhill cranes!" I said; and taking the pole out of George's hands, I shoved the end of the boat from out the brown tangle of smartweed, and jumped it.

I would rather kill one of those birds," remarked George, as he stepped over the gunwale and took his seat in the bow of the boat, "than any bird that flies," and, he glanced up where the long line of cranes were streaming across the blue vault, now almost white against the background of a floating cloud, now bluish gray where they sailed along at the cone of the fleecy pile, now dark where their course lay under the riant skies.

"Did you ever kill one, Sandy?"

"Yes, indeed, many and many a one, and long before I came to Nebraska, too, in the early seventies I did a good deal of shooting in the early spring and fall at Beaver lake, in Indiana, some twenty miles north of Kentland. Dr. Boerstier and I use to run out there from Cincinnati and in those days the flight of crane equalled that of the geese almost, and when I first came to Omaha they were very abundant in this state."

"Where did you have to go for them?" inquired the young capitalist as we slowly pushed our way through the devious channel out toward the open water again.

"Well, they were especially plentiful out north of Rogers and in the late fall stupendous flocks dotted the plains and slopes along the Platte"-

"Listen!" and Holmes chopped my remarks right in two in the middle, as with uplifted hand, and tilted his head he seemed to concentrate all of his faculties into that of hearing.

Shoving the push pole deep down in the mud I stood still as death myself and notwithstanding our sandhills had dwindled into the veriest specks in the distance that same weird, guttural "grrrrrrrooooooo!" came in quavering cadences through the sunlit air, back to us and as if charmed we listened and listened until it sounded like a spirit voice in the heavens.

"It must have been a grand sight in early days to have seen those birds like you have seen them," finally resumed the young capitalist as he dipped his paddle and we started on again.

"Yes, indeed it was. The fall I was out north of Rogers' with John Hardin, back in '88, no '7, yes, that was the fall of 1887, I saw the birds in greater abundance than ever before. Far and wide when the sunlight in the early morning played upon a thousand shades of green and yellow they stood upon the rising knolls, now blue, now almost white, according to the play of the light, but always vigilant, always alert, always watching for danger. At night, when we lay in our tent, their rolling notes fell from the starry heavens in unearthly vibration, and by day, with broad wings and long necks outstretched, they floated across the blue dome with such easy grace and so high above the ducks and geese and all other birds that they seem to belong to the celestial regions rather than to those of this terrestrial sphere."

"When did you kill your last sandhill?"

"Well, the last one I helped to kill, for Tom Foley and I both shot at a passing flock of three, and one fell, and of course we both claimed that we shot at the hapless bird, and we probably did. Anyway, I know I did, and as Foley is one of the most veracious sportsmen I have ever shot with, I have no reason to doubt that he did, too. That was in the autumn of 1898, up on the Lake creek marshes."

"Where were you?"

"We were in a blind way out in the middle of the marsh, and these three birds passed us flying not fifteen yards above the tules. The bird we knocked down, was not killed outright, however, and after he had been hit, he continued on with his mates for two or three yards, and before he fell, it was a touching scene Tom and I were treated to."

"How was that?"

"Why, when our bird, which was the middle one of the three, began to fall behind his companions, settling lower and lower with slower stroke of wing, the other two came falling back and, going to the side of the stricken one, seemed trying to cheer and sustain him in his hopeless way. Yet slower and more feeble became the great bird's stroke of wing, and more and more he dropped toward the top of the arrowy tules, with the other two clinging tenaciously to the last hope of saving him. But suddenly there was an alarming lurch, a spasmodic flap of one wing, the long neck folded and the wounded bird let go all at once and fell dead into one of the shadowy crypts below. With a melancholy pur-r-r-r-rut or two, his two friends shot up into the sky and left him to his fate.

"When we saw him go down, Tom and I were wildly enthusiastic, for every morning it had been the ambition of every man in camp to kill a crane, and each had made scores of futile efforts, and now when we realized that we had accomplished the coveted feat, our joy and triumph was boundless. We both tore out of our blinds and through the dense tules like a couple of wild men, each eager to outstrip the other, and first lay hands upon our prize. But that satisfaction was left for another. In our excitement in watching the uncertain flight of the wounded crane and his two companions, Tom and I had both failed to properly mark the spot where he finally fell, feeling, perhaps, that there was no especial care necessary as it certainly would be no very difficult task to locate such a hulking carcass as a big, fat crane, especially on that broad and unbroken expanse of brown vegetation. But we had reckoned without our host. Search as closely and diligently as we might and did, we did not find him. We did pick up a stray crimson stained feather or two, that had undoubtedly fallen from his fluffy and wounded side, but the bird itself we could not discover. We searched for over an hour, in fact, until it was almost dark, beating down several acres of dead tules and withered flags, but all to no avail, the bird could not be located. While we were looking for him the ducks flew by and over us in myriads, but so intent were we in searching for the sandhill that neither one of us took a shot, until finally, in deep disgust and mortification, we were compelled to give it up"-

"And you never got him?"

"Oh, yes, we did. Charlie Rogers and Scrib were shooting from the same blinds the next morning, and coming out about 10 o'clock. Scribner ran across our crane, lying flat, in plain sight in a little open glade in the tules, stone dead, with his long neck doubled back over his shaded back and his long lavender wings fully outstretched. By our track, Scrib said that he saw that Tom and I had tramped by the bird, within a dozen yards of where it lay, a score of times, and as he found it and Rogers carried it into Camp Merganzer, they, too, had the gall to claim a hand in our triumph."

"Well, as long as you finally got the bird, you didn't care, did you?"

"No, not particularly; anyway all feeling disappeared that night as we gathered around old Abner's table and feasted ourselves to bursting almost on roast sandhill crane. Yum, yum. I can taste it yet."


"Good? That's no name for it. It was a young bird, fat as butter, and Abner had him dished up in a style that would have made the Waldorf-Astoria's chef turn green with envy. Young turkey, with chestnut and oyster dressing, wasn't in it with our crane and the wild sage and onion stuffing with which Abner served it. It thought Charlie Metz and Billy Marsh never would quit eating. But here we are. Let's string the decoys a little further around the point this evening, where the birds coming from the west can see them quicker. From the way they are moving up the lake, I think we are going to have some great fun this evening. There, reach that decoy with your paddle there, and pull it along till we get round the point; I'll gather these in front of us.

"Before we get ready, Sandy, I want to ask you if you don't think the sandhill is the greatest game bird we have ever had in this section of the country?" and George began pawing at the nearest decoy with the flat end of his paddle.

"No, I do not. I even think-look out there, you'll throw me in the slough if you lean over the boat in that manner-I even think he is not in it with the wild goose, and so far as comparing with the whooping crane, he is as far beneath that bird as he is superior to a sawbill."

"The whooping crane, I don't believe I know the bird you mean. Are there any of them around here now?"

"Yes, but not very often. They are almost as thoroughly extinct, so far as Nebraska goes, as the buffalo or wild pigeon, although Bob Low came within an ace of getting a shot at one last fall down near Clark's lake, south of Omaha.

"Then they were once plentiful here too, like the sandhill."

"Just as plentiful. In fact, when I came to Nebraska they were to be encountered almost as numerously as the sandhills. They are larger by at least ten inches in extent of wing and eight inches or more in length, and have always been considered a rarer and more valuable bird. They are as white as a swan, excepting the several inches of velvet black that tips the wing, and when floating in the bright, sunlight of Nebraska's clear airs are the most beautiful of all big American game birds."

"And you say they were quite numerous, too, when you came here."

"Yes, very, and as late as march, 1894, Bill Simeral and I killed two out north of Goose lake in Deuel county-the spring we made that big kill on canvasback."

"Canvasback, I haven't heard you speak of that hunt, I don't believe. How many did you kill."

"Well, canvasback and redhead, but principally canvas-we brought back to Omaha exactly 604 birds after a ten days' shoot, this number including the two whooping crane and seven swan. That was never duplicated-that is in the high character of the birds-by any two hunters in the history of Nebraska. But I'll tell you about that later, just now I want to tell you about the crane-the whoopers. While they were abundant in the sandhills country, I never heard of many being killed here-hunters were always contented with geese and ducks, probably, however, because the whooping crane is about the hardest bird to approach in the world. He is as keen sighted as an Andes condor and has the most acute hearing of any animal I ever hunted. They are great fliers, and when in the air circle much of the time so far in the zenith that they seem but bits of down, and send through miles of air a note both wild and strange, ringing as the blast of a silver bugle, it is almost a hopeless task to get a shot at one. They-well, isn't that gall for you? I'll kill the drake on the water and you take the hen when she rises."

A pair of redheads-gliding onto us and into the water as noiseless, almost, as disembodied spirits, had dropped right into the midst of the decoys behind us, apparently unalarmed at the tones of my voice and perhaps unaware of, or proximity, and calling George's attention to them, I cracked away, and the old cock dropped his bright chestnut head and fell over on the water, kicking spasmodically, and George knocked down the hen as with an affrighted squeak she leaped into the air and sought to get away, whirling right toward us and over our heads. But she calculated without her host. Holmes' first barrel cut a handful of feathers out of her ashen tail, and the second sent her plunging dead on a long slant into the glistening tules.

"Well done," I cried.

"Nothin' at all surprisin'," answered George. "I had in one of those long-killing Peters shells of yours!"

Even before we had a chance, after downing the pair of redheads, to push our boat back into the covert of tules, another pair of ducks, baldpates, this time, came skimming down the channel just above the surface of the water. George and I both saw them at the same time and deeming any warning supererogatory we both crouched low down on the hay in the boat and waited for them. Holmes being in the bow of the boat and nearest the channel, I whispered to him to take the leader and I would attend to the one in the rear.

They were soon opposite us, and the reports of our Parkers followed each other in quick succession. So quickly, in fact, that they almost blended into one, and two white crested members of the wild fowl family lay struggling hopelessly upon the water.

"Oh, no, we aren't shooting a little bit this afternoon!" ejaculated the young capitalist in an effusion of exultation, as he broke his gun and slipped in another brace of shells. "Two doubles, on single birds, in less than three minutes, looks as if things were coming our way, eh?"

"Yes, indeed, it does," I replied, "but then all the signs point toward a good flight this evening, as I told you-but, heavens and earth! look at that line of mallards coming down over the hills! Push! George push! Let's get into the tules-they are coming straight your way!"

And tugging and pushing and pulling like a couple of Trojans, we soon had our boat tucked well back into a labyrinth of tules and stooping low, I gave a loud quack on the caller, thrice in rapid succession, then waited.

As long way off as they were I saw that I had attracted their attention. In those low sandhill valleys a caller can be readily heard for easily a mile, and by the birds in the air, I think, a good deal farther. Anyway, the bulk of the approaching flock had heard my signal, for as they came on over the lake, they came down with a rush, and when I uttered the chattering notes of an old hen, the fragment of the flock that had deviated a trifle to the north, turned and followed the main bunch. When about 200 yards away they all swerved a little, the way of all new comers when approaching an unfamiliar line of rushes. I called when they swung off and chattered as they turned again, and down they came on a line, like a charge of impetuous dragoons, with long green necks stretched to their utmost tension and heads gleaming like flashing gems in the slanting sunlight.

They cupped their wings and dropped their bright colored legs, and three birds, some yards in advance of the main line, like generals leading their troops, alighted right in among our decoys, before the others had bunched sufficiently to give us a good rake at them, but George was slightly unbalanced by the advance of the long line of glorious birds, and he arose and let drive among them a half minute too soon. Then there was a whirl and a wild scramble in the air, which seemed filled with thumping wings sheering upward and outward amidst a weird chorus of affrighted cries, while at the crack of Holmes' first barrel a whirl of green and gray and black strikes the weedy waters, two birds falling right together and at the report of his second barrel another white-collared neck droops and another pair of wings are folded. I was a bit slow, but in the aerial riot, I caught two with my right as they crossed, and got another with my left as the last stragglers was rapidly crossing the danger line.

Breaking my gun, I stood watching the scattered flock gathering together again far up the lake, and as they at last united in a big bunch, and went with the wind off over the hills toward Hackberry, where Fred Goodrich and Bob Low awaited them. I could not refrain from remarking, nettled a little, you see, at having such a grand opportunity spoiled by the impetuosity of my young friend.

"A trifle premature, George-if you had only waited a"-

"Oh, get out!" What do you want-the earth? Didn't we knock down five? Could reasonable man ask more?" He got back with some acerbity.

"No, indeed; but that isn't the thing. There is a proper time for shooting as a flock of incoming mallards, as there is a proper time for everything else. We killed enough of them, to be sure, but I wanted you to see those birds when they poised stationery in the air before dropping into the water. They would have all stood on their tails, as it were, until satisfied that the three birds that had already alighted had not made a mistake, and that, with a tremendous flock like that was"-

"There must have been a hundred of them."

"Fully. And I say, with such a flock the spectacle would have been one you would have remembered to the end of your days. I saw just a picture back on the old Kankakee over twenty-five years ago, and I can close my eyes now and see it again just as vividly as I did that glorious March morning so long ago. But look out there! Knock that bird down-don't let her get away!"

And as I spoke a big old hen mallard came around the south point of the rushes and was about to settle among the decoys, when she caught sight of us, and, turning swiftly, was putting as much space between her and our blind as her terror-stricken wings would permit, when the capitalist swung on her and down she tumbled among the smartweed with a broken wing.

"Well you got her, but she is only wounded and I don't think we will be able to retrieve her. But what do you say, lets try it. There seems to be a lull just now, and as a number of our dead birds have drifted out of sight, I think we will profit by running out and gathering them before the final round-up this evening. But aren't you handing it to them-think I'll have to match you against Billy Townsend when we get home, and if we could only spring ducks from the trap, I'd back you for the money. Push now, altogether, we'll soon be out. There, we are out all right. Now, George, you pick up the dead, and I'll do the pushing."

"All right, then, push over there among that smart weed and we'll try for that old hen first."

Accordingly I slowly poled the boat bow first over to the line of the weeds, which formed a thin brown wilderness along this side of the channel. Gun ready, George was on his knees carefully scanning the line of dead growth as we slowly floated along the selvedge. Failing to discover her, I said:

"She is right here, now let us both look sharp, while I hold the boat still. These old hen mallards are about the cutest birds of the whole family, and a wounded one is a touch proposition to solve. She has probably immersed her body, and is lying still, but you can depend upon it her greenish bill is above the water, concealed, maybe, by some clump of this pepper grass, and keeping her yellow eyes on us all the time. Hold on, still now. I think she is right under that little bunch over there." pointing with the pole to a small cluster of the brown leaves, which were blacker than the rest showing that they had been lately soaked in the water when the old hen immersed herself. "You see how light the leaves are all around those-well their color has not been changed by a sudden bath in the water. I'll push you right up close, then, take a whack at the bunch with the flat side of your paddle, and if she is there we'll soon find out."

Depositing his Parker on the hay, George [??] the paddle, and when within striking distance he brought it down on the clump of smart weed with a loud smack, crashing them down into the water, and sending circlets of waves radiating away in all directions.

Immediately following there was a violent commotion within the aqueous tangle, and the next instant the rufous back and snakelike yellow head of the old hen showed themselves above the surface, and a second quick blow from the paddle stretched her two brown wings out on the surface, and her short tail feathers, sticking almost straight up, twitched and trembled in a way that plainly told that she was good as a dead duck.

Another little push on the pole and Holmes reached over, grabbed Mrs. Mallard by the neck, shook the water from off her plumage and cast her back at my feet on the hay, and again picking up the paddle we started back to where our dead were floating.

"Well, you are certainly a duck hunter from a way back, Sandy," remarked the young capitalist as he reached over and lifted in one of the defunct bald pates, "there isn't one hunter in one thousand that would ever have secured that old hen. But ain't they foxy?"

"They are, indeed, much more so than the drakes."

"How do you account for that?"

"Simply because the mother birds, in the breeding season, have to depend much more on their wits and caution, in caring for their little ones. Whenever a wounded mallard dives hurry and get as near the spot as you can. Then remain as still as death and keep your eyes open. Sometimes tiny bubbles on the surface will apprise you where the bird has risen to get her breath, because they can't remain entirely beneath the surface for more than a minute or so. Sometimes they get entangled among the submarine vegetation and drown and are never found, and I have heard old duckers say that they will purposely cling to the weeds and grasses under the water with their bills and deliberately commit suicide rather than come to the surface and fall into the hands of their dreaded foe. This they will do, it is said, when they can see you waiting near by the spot where they lie concealed. This, however, is a trick of the hen birds only. When I am looking for a bird that has dove in a place like this, I generally watch for bubbles or the tendrils of the under weeds and grasses that have been forced to the surface when the bird went down, just as I did with your bird. If you go threshing around in a boat or in your waders your success will be very problematical. Once off your bearings as to where the duck disappeared, and you might as well give up the hunt."

By this time we had retrieved the last of our dead birds, and as dotted lines were seen in several directions along the distant horizon, we hurriedly pushed back into our blind and made ready for sport I felt confident was coming ere many more moments had rolled by.

Instantaneously, almost, with the fall of the red-tailed hawk, a flock of bluewings whirled over our heads, but they were going with the wind, and try as hard as I might to lead them, I couldn't do it, and the shot from both barrels whistled, harmlessly behind them. Then another flock of mallards dipped down behind the rushes to the west of us, and knowing that they had not settled in the water, I gave a running call and was answered by a laconic quack. I called again, and a splash, followed by another and another, told us that the birds had lighted just round the point, within easy gun shot had there been no intervening tules. As the young capitalist and I arose and peered intently toward the spot, as if we would penetrate the rushy labyrinth, four redheads came whizzing over the decoys. Two quick reports were followed by two splashes, for each of us killed our bird, but the mallards flushing with raucous cries from around the point, distracted our attention sufficiently to cause us both to miss with our second barrels.

Way down the lake the birds were weaving a veritable net-work in the air, but for some reason or other, only fragments of the flight had thus far found its way up in our direction.

"If we were down there," remarked Holmes with evident disgust, "the birds would be up here."

"Sure," I rejoined, "that is the way it always looks when you are duck shooting. And it is not chance either. We've been popping away here pretty regularly all day and there are a whole lot of the birds that know we are here."

"Yes, and when strangers come in I actually believe they warn them."

"That may be, but-mark off there to your right-a lone bird. You kill it."

It was a cock pintail, and he was high in the air, reconnoitering. He lowered, then rose again, just skirting our line of decoys out of range, but in answer to a soft, thrilling whistle, the spike stretched his long, sinuous neck, cocked his head and poised himself on fluttering wing, as if debating whether to come closer or retreat. He chose the later course, but too late, for, as he slanted his white sides toward our hiding place, George cracked away at him, and to our surprise the long neck wilted, and, with folded wings, the bird came down like a chunk of lead.

"A good long shot," I exclaimed, as the pintail hit the water.

"A beaut."

"And you killed him dead, too-must have centered him?"

There was a sudden, mighty uprising of ducks far down the lake just at this juncture, and, as the air kept filling with interlacing streams, three quick, faint reports came to us on the soft evening air.

"Ho, ho! We're going to have company, I thought I saw a wagon crawling down the north side of the hills a few moments ago, and I shouldn't wonder but what it is Fred and Bob. But get ready; they are coming our way this time good and plenty."

And so they were.

It was as grand a flight as I had seen in years and my blood tingles now as I recall the glories of the next half hour. It was a veritable cloud that came over us first, a cloud of ducks, canvasbacks, redheads, mallard, teal, widgeon, bluebill, butterball and ruddy; with wisps of jacksnipe, scattering yellowlegs and here and there a snowy avocet.

This advance guard, however, showed no inclination to decoy. They were evidently bound for other diggins and realizing this, the capitalist and I made up our minds to get a little sport out of it any way. And we began to pour it into them. Our first fusillade filled the air with flying feathers and sent one old russet-hooded canvas sagging earthward off over the reeds, but that was all.

"Too high," I said.

"A trifle," answered George.

Bang! bang! bang! High or low, we were there for a purpose and that was to shoot. We had plenty of shells and were really indifferent whether we killed many more birds or not. Now and then we would get one down, but they were generally only crippled, and we finally agreed to wait until they came within fair range and we settled back and watched the feathered hosts, high in the air, hurrying by.

And a wild and wondrous scene it was, and one that I have often pictured in these columns before and one I expect to photograph many times in the future, for next to shooting ducks and viewing the scenes surrounding, I love best to tell about them. I have seen many flights of ducks at Currituck and along the famous Atlantic seaboard haunts in the old days, on the Kankakee and the Illinois, but none that equals those I have witnesses, regularly every fall and spring, for fifteen years, in our desolate, but magic sandhills. Incredible, indeed, are the myriads of water fowl that swarm these sand bound lakes and marshes at nightfall in the seasons of migration.

All at once, after the first big issue of birds from down the lake had passed over us high in the air, and receded into faint lines in the hazy south, the young Lincolnite and I found ourselves the converging point of innumerable birds. Nerves that felt only a slight tremor at the incoming of a single flock now fairly quaked beneath the storm that seemed to break away from every point of the compass. Bunches, lines and strings of feathered rockets rushing toward us at different rates of speed, even the slowest, fearfully fast. There we stood plugging away at them with all the eagerness of a couple of novices who had never seen a flying duck, and the consequences was that we were doing little execution. But we didn't care. We had already accumulated enough to make as creditable showing as had yet been made, and we were simply enjoying ourselves. And we shot till our heads ached, and as flock after flock swooped by unscathed, we registered countless vows on high to hold a rod or two ahead of the next bunch, only to cut loose again and again far behind the whizzing birds.

By this time we hardly made any pretext at hiding. George stood in his end of the boat and I in mine, and if the birds wanted to come we let them come, and if they didn't, ditto.

Wondrous evening!

On the sky the light of the dying day was shattered into countless tints, with everything above the rush line in clear and distinct silhouette, while over all below lay a misty blue haze that but intensified the brilliant colors in the over-arching dome. From the sunken sun a delicate rose light radiated to the meridian, while the upper heavens to the east merged into pale gold and purplish black fringed with green. North and south the cerulean of the skies shaded into delicate olive tints, shifting into orange immediately, overhead. Lower down, toward the dropping orb, towered castles of rich umber, steepled and spired with crimson fire, while under these rolled waves of coppery gold and fleecy streams of pearl and lemon-colored vapor. Over this glittering stage we watched the pouring of a troop of actors that made the usual scenes of the kind at evening in other localities a show of the Lilliputs.

The ducks were now coming into roost and they seemed to come up out of the horizon, from the burning clouds and down from the heights of space. Now with a rushing, tearing sound, like the sudden burst of escaping steam, whirling through the darkening air as if they would rend the very earth in their descent. But you have all seen the birds coming in at this chilly and uncertain hour, and you know what it is. Down they swoop out of the maw of the night. Dense masses of bluebills and blackjack, with wings set in rigid curves, came shooting swiftly by, while long lines of mallards wound out of the depths, their stiffened wings making the air hiss beneath them. On long inclines and sweeping curves pintails and widgeon rode down the gloomy air, while, speedy and accurate as minnie balls, blue and green wing teal pitched from the now glowing zenith, while ruddies and butterballs shot by in volleys.

High up, so high we could hardly trace the outlines of their bulky bodies, but plainly hear the sonorous auh-unk! auh-unk! as it fell from their black bills, Canada geese trooped by, while the speckled fronts and white geese filled the air with their clamorous cackle. Hundreds of flocks, traveling from the artics, swept by with unslackened speed. Black in the falling night, the chestnut helmet of the canvasback and the emerald coiffure of the mallards were outstretched for the towheads of the distant Platte, and no inducement, unless it was a good load of No. 6s, was sufficient to stop them. Darkly outlined on the topaz sky was the forked tail of the sprig, steering for more salubrious climes, dropping as they went, their farewell plaintive cry. Far, far above all these, still bathed in the warm bright glow of the sunken sun, floated southward, soft as bits of gossamer, a long line of sandhill cranes, sending earthward through miles of darkening space their strangely penetrating bugle calls.

And what a time we did have in gathering our dead that night. George and I had been so engrossed with the wonders of the evening flight, that we never thought of retrieving until the hoo-hoooooo! of the floating crane brought us to a realizing sense of the increasing darkness, then we got about it quickly enough. But work as hard as we did, it was almost plumb dark before we got out of the blind, and literally so when we finally got really at work. However, by extreme care and by the light of torches made from the hay in the bottom of our boat, we succeeded in recovering about all we got down, and rest assured it was a healthy boat full, we labored through the smart weeds and clinging flags to shore with. We did not forget the dead hawk, even.

And what a joyous night we all did have in Stilwell's old sod lodge that night. A bountiful supper stowed away, every one felt good and every one was at his best, when it came to relating the incidents of the day. When we finally did retire, the coyote was tuning up on the distant hillside, and the south wind was moaning down the valley in a way that told of a change in the weather.

Notwithstanding the lugubrious soughing of the wind around the ragged corners of the old sod lodge and the extreme volubility of the coyotes all through the night presaged a new brand of weather for us in the morning, it did not come, and for once all signs failed. Instead of rain, or cold the morning broke beautifully, with a clear summer sky and a caressing breeze from the south. Somewhat fatigued by my previous day's experience with the young capitalist on the Bull Camp lake, I was inclined to linger in bed this morning, but long about 8 o'clock, when Gerard, bursting enthusiastically into the room, with an exclamation that the biggest flight of birds that had yet passed over was in progress, I got up, hurriedly slipped into my duds and joined him out doors.

The first thing I observed when I emerged through the low doorway was dotted lines, V shaped columns and massed bunches of birds streaking the whole heavens from the rim of the low sandhills to the southwest to the taller range rearing itself like a gray wall athwart the northwest between Hackberry and Watt's lake. There were thousands of them, canvasback, redhead, mallard, widgeon, pintail, spoonbill and teal, and they trooped across the blue canopy for fully three-quarters of an hour, all going in the same direction and finally disappearing at the same point over the distant hills.

Inspired by the spectacle, Gerard and I were not long in determining what to do, we would go over to Willow lake, the direction whence the flight had come, and in the tall reeds and willows which bordered it, await their return. I felt that the birds would be straggling back in this direction all through the day and urging Gerard to get ready I went into the lodge, refilled my shell case, pulled on my waders and as Gerard arrayed himself according to my directions, I discussed the proposed excursion thoroughly in order that the little fellow might know what to expect.

In the first place, the rest of the hunters, including even Colonel Stilwell and Rivers, had hiked off to the different grounds before I was up, and there being no rig available, we had to walk to Willow lake, which lay off to the southeast, probably a mile beyond Clear lake. We were then, after we got there, to hunt on a different plan than we had yet tried. Hither to we had just done most of our shooting from a boat, in which we had plenty of room for all sorts of traps, but on the present occasion we had to dispense with every pound of superfluous weight, for we would be compelled to do all our work from the shore, on foot, with a prospect of plenty of wading and walking. Consequently we made our arrangements accordingly.

For the benefit of young duck hunters I will add, as they probably already know, that inconspicuous clothing in shooting wild fowl from a boat, even, is very necessary, but in shooting from the shore, in the sparse covering of cane and reeds, your rainment must conform as closely as possible with your environments, for standing in shallow water, you will have no chance to lie down on the approach of a flock of birds as you would have in a boat. You have simply got to squat as low as possible and take your chances. A dead grass colored corduroy cap, shooting coat and Banigan waders, and you are all right. For the trip in question I deftly fashioned a coat for Gerard out of an old gunny sack, cutting armholes in the same and slipping it over his sweater, and he was rigged up about as appropriately as I was myself, although his hip boots were black rubber, instead of canvas, like my own. In duck shooting hip boots, you know, are a sine qua non, whether boating or wading. And it is always better to have a good wide brim to your hat or cap, for it comes in handy when shooting against the sun and acts as a shield to the face in wind and rain. Don't fail to see that you have your jack-knife and plenty of good stout twine in your pocket; for they will both come in nicely oftener than you would imagine.

At last we were on our way, and striking south from the lodge, we agreed that it would be better to skirt around Dewey lake than to climb the hills to the east and go down Clear lake. We chose the longest but easiest route and were wise in doing so.

"What are we going to do for decoys?" inquired Gerard, as the sheen of Dewey lake burst upon us, as we climbed the last roll in the prairie and began our descent towards the low-lying shores.

"We will not need decoys," I replied, "as we simply wade along the shores and jump what laggards there may yet be feeding in the rice. However, I think Al McClure and Herman were over here yesterday, and I think I heard them say that they left their decoys on the water, where they had been shooting, a bad plan, however. Decoys should never be left out over night at a point where you intend to shoot the next day or any time in the hear future. The birds get familiar with them and after a time steer as clear from them as they would a man standing, gun in hand, in plain view. If Mac and Herman did leave their decoys, though, we may stumble on them, and if we do, we will abandon pedestrianism, make a blind and take it easy. But look at that flock of gulls, they have been feeding on the minnows and mollusks along the shallows there; shall I kill one?"

As I put the interrogatory at least two or three hundred of these graceful, black-backed, creamy bellied waifs of the air, arose from the nearest shore line, and sounding, in dissonant chorus, their weak little squeak, they began to knit a net work of soft plumage in the sunlit air, and as one, with more temerity than wisdom, came dipping down over us. I inquired of the boy whether I should kill him or not, and getting a half-reluctant affirmative reply, I cut the beautiful creature out of the air and it came fluttering down almost at our feet.

Gerard picked the bird up daintily by the tip of one wing and as he whirled it around, the scarlet splotch dying its velvet-covered chest, caught his pitying eye, and reproachfully he said:

"Oh, Pop, what did you kill it for? Poor thing, it couldn't hurt anything!"

"But you told me to, son, and then, while I condemn the needless destruction of bird life in any one, I wanted you to see this bird, and examine it, as living, you would have no chance to. It is a good lesson in ornithology, and under the circumstances will make a lasting impression."

"I thought gulls only lived on the ocean and along the coast," continued Gerard, folding the bird's wings closely against its sides and wiping the blood off its pearly breast with the tail of his gunny sack wammus.

"No they do not. While they are naturally an ocean bird they do not confine themselves to its vicinity, but frequent all larger bodies of fresh water, often far inland, and ascend all our rivers many hundreds of miles from their mouths."

"There must be many kinds of them, for when out in Portland last summer we used to see a half dozen different species, all of them larger than this one."

"Oh, yes, there are fully forty species of gulls, and the most of them are to be found in this country. The bird you have in your hands is a lesser tern, one of the smallest of all the family. Many of the big salt water gulls are not as harmless as this little fellow, but prey fiercely on other birds."

"What kind of gulls are these-they are so much smaller than those we saw out along the Columbia and the Pacific coast last summer?" and Gerard gently deposited the dead gull within the protecting spikes of a clump of soap-weed.

"These are terns or sea-swallows. They are much smaller than the birds you saw, and are much more graceful in form and movement. It is doubtful whether you will ever see more beautiful exhibitions of the flight of birds than those being given by those terns out over the lake there. Like the larger gulls they are cosmopolitan. Some species are very abundant, others are extremely rare. In this country there are at least twenty well defined species."

"Where do they breed-the terns?"

"Why many of them right here, on the open ground among grass tufts, or in some dry nook on the lower slopes of the hills. No regular nest is made. The young are brown colored. The old birds make a good deal of noise when their young are molested, but make no attempt to protect them. Look! There is a flock of mallards coming back. See them settling there at this end of Willow lake?"

"Yes. And see, there are two or three bunches coming over the hills. Do you think they are part of the same birds we saw pass over the house this morning?"

"Very likely. You must remember, it is nearly noon now, and many of the birds will return about this time. But come on, let's mosey. We are apt to get some fine shooting, during the next hour or so."

Twenty minutes later and we stood on the last slight elevation overlooking Willow lake, and after surveying the charming outlook for a few moments we started on down to the shore and began our tramp around the lake.

We hadn't gone 100 yards, when, with much quacking, and old hen mallard leaped from amidst the smartweed and flags and undertook to curve around over the lake, but leading her a foot or two, I knocked her down nicely and Gerard started right out after her.

"Hold on there, Babe," I continued, "if you don't want to get in over your waders, go round to the right there and follow the open water."

"But it isn't as deep here in the tules, is it?"

"Yes, deeper. You see those fallen rushes out there in front of you?"


"Well, when you see them lying like that you can depend upon it that they are full of trouble for the inexperienced hunter. Those rushes always flourish on a soft, mucky bottom, and you would certainly get your boots full if you tried to wade through them. But over there, where you see those straight, arrowy fellows, you will have no trouble in getting along. They always indicate a substantial bottom, and if you work along them, you'll not get wet, and nothing is so annoying as to get your rubber boots filled with water. You see, Gerard, I want you to carefully note these little details for they will keep you out of many a difficulty in the future."

The boy then followed my directions, reached the dead duck with ease and picking her up brought her into the shore, and we started round the lake.

A quarter of a mile further down the shore, in rounding a big curve where the rushes grew luxuriantly, we suddenly came onto a bunch of decoys dancing merrily on the little waves in a little bay, out sixty or seventy yards from the sloping bank, and wading out we came to a nice round nest in the tules from which the owner had been shooting.

"McClure's decoys," I remarked, after a searching glance at the bevy of counterfeit birds on the water, "and from the empty shells scattered about here he and Herman must have had lots of fun last evening. Down!"

From out on the lake, coming straight toward us, was a line of birds. At first, from their size, I thought they were mallards, but there was too much white on them, and I concluded they must be canvasbacks. In another second or two they were almost upon us, and catching a good view of their long, sharp bills and bulky green heads, I knew at once what they were.

"Merganzers," I whispered. Then as they swished down over the decoys and up into the air, like the runner of an old-fashioned sleigh, I jumped to my feet, and leading the head bird, I killed the third one back of him and with the second barrel dropped one of the tailenders.

I noticed that both birds-the merganzers-had fallen in the water where it was a trifle too deep for Gerard's waders, and cautioning him to remain where he was I went out and retrieved them myself. They were a male and a female, the former an old bird and in the fullest flush of his autumn plumage, with his head as bright green as the purest emerald, the splotches on his wings as glossy and black as silk velvet and his body as white as the driven snow.

"Isn't he a beauty?" I remarked to the boy, as I stepped inside the blind and handed the drake over for his inspection.

"Yes, indeed, he is, and what a pity it is to kill them," replied Gerard, as he lay the bird on the tules to one side and smoothed out its ruffled feathers. "What did you say they were?"


"Are they good to eat."

"No, not very. They are what we call 'fish ducks' and take no more rank as a table bird than a mud hen."

"Then why did you shoot them?"

"Well to tell the truth, they fooled me until it was too late. When I first drew up on them I thought they were canvasback, and when I did recognize what they were I was already pressing the trigger. However, they will furnish you with another lesson in nature, and the drake we will try and preserve, and when we get home I'll have it mounted.

"Did you ever kill one before?"

"Oh, yes, many times. They are a very interesting species of water fowl, and there are a half dozen varieties of them-these are the Great American merganzers, the largest of their tribe. Generally they are called 'saw-bills' out this way, but in the east they are shelldrakes, 'spirit ducks' or 'harlequins.'"

"Are they plentiful here?"

"Quite. The hooded variety, a smaller bird, about the size of a hen bluebill, being the most plentiful. They are drab in general color, with a chestnut crest on their heads extending down over the back of their necks. They are seen in greater numbers in the spring, and on the breaking up of the Platte, are to be encountered numerously along that stream, even the great American variety. they come in flocks of from ten to twenty and even double this number, especially this species. The hooded variety are more solitary and do their traveling mostly in pairs. These big fellows have a steady but rapid flight, pursuing their way along the shores two or three deep. I have noticed the flocks along the Platte in the early spring seem to be made up almost wholly of males, the females following later in large flocks. See that hawk, [word n.l.] perfectly still, I think he will come over us.

And sure enough he did, a big redtail, and as he dipped down close over our heads, we caught the flash of his wild eye ball and the orange of his slender legs, as he swept by. He did not discover us and I allowed him to continue on in quest of his noonday meal unmolested.

"But the merganzers, Pop, tell me more about them," and it was evident that the boy was stirred by the same fires that had stirred his progenitor in the years long gone.

"Well, I don't know what more there is to tell, Gerard, (there goes a flock of redheads off there over the hay field), only I do know that if you could see a pair of these greenheads swimming along the edge of the ice in the spring out on the old Platte, with the snowy bank for a background, you would see as hardy a picture as this prairie country affords. It is a stirring sight in March, on a bright, breezy day, to see the drake, a crimson-eyed beauty, feeling fresh in spirits and costume, passing swiftly up the broad valley thinking only of the fete that awaits him in the far north. Down in Deuel county, where I shot in the spring of '94, I saw a good many white and black tufted headed mergansers but I have never seen one up here, although they must come her, as they are anything but rare, and in the fall and winter they go far up most all our rivers and visit our inland sloughs and marshes. They are shy and vigilant, feeding on small fishes, crustacea and aquatic insects. These they obtain without difficulty, as they are patterned greatly after the loon, and are magnificent divers. But of all the sawbill family, I think our little hooded merganzer is the most interesting. The Indians use to call them the 'devil duck' on account of their mysterious and erratic movements, and they would no more think of killing one that a mountaineer would think of killing a magpie-it is an omen of bad luck. As I intimated before, their plumage is composed principally of sombre gray and drab tints, but on the inside of the wings there is a lovely pale rosy hue reminding you of a dying sunset flush. We may get a crack at one before we leave, and I hope we do, for I want you to see one. Look out there, Gerard, what is that coming toward us, there in the water, don't you see it?"

"Where-oh, yes. It is a musk rat."

While talking I had noticed a small, triangular shaped riffle in the placid waters approaching us, point first, and coming evidently from one of the half-whelmed hay cocks, which were scattered numerously all over this end of the lake.

Gerard was correct, and it pleased me to see that his lessons in nature's wild ways were not being thrown away. If was a rat and he was making directly for the point of land on which our blind was located.

"Now keep perfectly quiet, Gerard," I whispered, "and we will watch this fellow and see what he does."

We crouched down low and through the interstices in the tules, kept our eyes on the little V-shaped waves approaching us. Closer and closer they came, until finally, when off about fifteen or twenty yards from the point, we caught sight of the rat's funny little flat face, with his whiskers sticking out from his puffy cheeks and his nostrils twitching queerly, as he came on through the shallowing water with the gracefulness of a member of the finey tribe.

Right up to the low shore he came, and, on reaching the same, he halted a moment, lifted up his round head, and with black eyes sparkling like diamonds in a brown setting, he sniffed the atmosphere suspiciously, once or twice, just as if there was some indefinite taint about it that he didn't quite understand. Perhaps he caught the odor of the dead ducks lying at our feet, but if he did he was evidently used to it, and apparently unconcerned he crawled quietly out upon the bank, his sleek coat, shedding the last vestige of moisture as if he had been on dry land all morning, and shining in the sun like the boa about my lady's neck. He waddled up to within a yard of the tules behind which Gerard and I lay, then sitting up on his haunches he wiped his nose with one creamy paw, looked sharply into our crypt of reeds and flags, then set to work scratching and pawing at the roots of the smallest of the tules. He soon, with his flat incisors, pulled out a long slender white tendril, and began to munch the same complacently, and Gerard and I were tickled immensely at the sight. Through with the first root, which he seemed to merely bite into small fragments, holding the same in his expanded jaws a brief interval, then ejecting the same, as if he had extracted all it succulency, he again began his excavations. Rot after root was withdrawn from the soft soil and reduced to bits, and at last appearing as if tiring of the diet, he backed into the shallow water, keeping his piercing little eyes glued upon our blind the while, but evincing no timidity whatever. Once in the water, he doused his chubby head beneath it once or twice, washed his face with his hands, slapped the water joyously with his flat tail, rolled over, shook himself and then set sail back toward the submerged hay stack, in which, undoubtedly, he had built his winter home.

He hadn't left the shore but a few yards behind when Gerard jumped suddenly to his feet, and with a whoop, fired an empty shell at him. There was a instantaneous splash, and from the midst of a caldron of roilly waves we saw his flat, hairless tail spasmodically wiggling in the air and Mr. Rat was gone as completely as if he had never existed.

"Wasn't he funny, Pop?" remarked Gerard, as he stepped out of the blind and gathering up a handful of the tule chaff the rat had left at the water's edge, he came back sifting it through his fingers and continued: "I don't believe he ate a bit of this stuff, and was chewing it just to entertain us."

"He was getting the juice out of it, that was all. There, reach out there and pull up one of those tender tule sprouts and I'll show you what he was after."

Gerard found the task a greater one than he imagined, for he had to give two or three tugs at the wirey rush before its slender white root let go, and he pulled it forth and handed it to me.

"Gee! I don't see how that little animal pulls these things out so easily; he didn't seem to exert himself at all," and he handed me the tule.

"Well, he knows how. You see the all-wise Creator hasn't quite taught us all, and as you go along through life you will find that you can learn many things, even from a muskrat. See here?" and I broke the bleached extremity of the bulrush, which was as esculent as brittle, and squeezed from the end a thin whitish fluid into the palm of my hand.

"There is what Mr. Muskrat was after-the milk of the tule root."

"Where do you suppose he is now?" and the boy gazed off toward the soggy dome of the haystack protruding from the distant waters.

"Safely out there, right where you are looking, in his home in the heart of that hay."

"Just what sort of an animal is a muskrat, Dad? They don't look any at all like the real rats in town. Are they plentiful about these lakes?"

"Very. They are a species of the beaver genus, and are peculiar to this country, being extensively distributed in suitable localities all over the northern part of this continent, clear from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Rio Grande to the barren grounds bordering the Arctic seas. They are always interesting to me, and I seldom shoot one in wantonness."

"But do they come out much in the daytime?"

"No. They are most active at night, and spend the greater part of the day concealed in their tule built houses or in their burroughs in the banks, which consist of a roomy chamber with numerous passages, all of which open under the surface of the water. Like all rodents, they are omnivorous in their habits, although I doubt very much if they will eat flesh. Duck hunters, you know, think that it is the rats that carry away the dead ducks they are compelled by darkness to leave where they fell, over night, but in ninety-nice cases it is a skunk, mink, otter or hawk that gets the prize. However, while the dentition of the mushrat-we always use to call them mushrats, and I like the old day name, it takes me back to the Little Reservoir and Widener's pond when I was a little 'un, like you-is adapted particularly to certain kinds of vegetable food, they are always muxing around any dead bird or animal they may stroll upon, but I hardly think they even partake of much of the flesh of the same. The mussels of our streams, however, are devoured voraciously by them, and old Captain Whitehead, the old cabin boatman with whom I use to shoot on the Illinois, swore that they opened these mollusks without injuring the shell. So do you wonder that they know how to pull up a tule root. But funnier than this, Gerard, the old captain declared that a muskrat finding a mussel with the soft parts extruding seizes it so quickly that those soft parts are pinched and become paralyzed after which he finds no trouble in parting the shell and extracting the bivalve. This, however, I know from absolute research, is literally untrue, and it is only old codgers of the Whitehead stripe that believe such absurdities. But, say, Gerard, the ducks seem to have gone to sleep, what do you say, let's stroll back over toward Clear lake, and try them in the pass this evening."

"All right. But the decoys?" and the boy motioned toward the bobbing counterfeits on the water.

"Oh, they are none of our doings. Al and Herman will probably be back here themselves tonight. Here, shove these mallards and the merganzer-or shall we take them both-very well, push them all into my back pocket here, they won't bother me much, and you can tote the shell case awhile. That's the caper. Come on."

Reaching the top of the sloping shore Gerard and I halted a moment in order to figure the shortest cut across the prairie to the hills encompassing Clear lake, and satisfied upon this point we started forward. All along the shore of Willow lake at this end, there was a luxuriant growth of long yellow pampas grass, that grew in clumps rather than uniformly, as is the case with the bluestem and wild timothy, and observing the droppings of grouse here and there, as well as dusty excavations, where the birds had been wallowing, I remarked to the boy that I was apt to get a shot before we got out on to the shorter verdure of the prairie.

Hardly had I mentioned this likelihood, when, with a sudden roar, a huddle of light brown backs and snowy underwear burst from a patch of short sage and ragged mullen thirty yards in front of us, aimed for the distant hills, and went upward and onward at a rate of speed surpassed only by the green wing teal, and not very much by even him. There was not a twinkling to be lost, and my gun cracked almost simultaneous with the rise of the first bird. One went down in a flutter of white, then I banged away with the second barrel at the whole bunch, without selecting and covering a single bird, a very amateurish trick by the way, and as I have lived a half a year since without knowing what became of the rest of them, it is possible I may survive the rest of my allotted time in the bliss of continued ignorance.

"You only got one," cried Gerard as he strode forward to where the grouse that I had downed was still fluttering vainly among the sage.

"That's true," I replied, "and do you know the reason why?"

"Only you missed-that's all."

"No. It was because I shot at random into the bunch after I had grassed the first one, thinking that I couldn't miss them, and the fact is I expected to see three or four fall. You see, Gerard, it is always better to single out a bird, whether with grouse, ducks or quail, cover it and kill it, than it is to shoot aimlessly into a bunch and miss them all. In the long run, the gunner who selects his single bird will show the biggest bag when the day's hunt is over."

Boo-ooo-ooo! and as Gerard was stuffing the dead grouse into my already bulging back coat pocket, a dozen more birds leaped absolutely from under our feet. Pulling away from the boy I made two quick shots, and two more big birds went whirling over. But before they had hit the grass, with that familiar bump, twenty or thirty more rose with a vast flutter of white wings and a frightened kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk-kuking that was thrilling to hear, and massing up like a charge of grape shot, sped away over the prairie on the course taken by the birds that had preceded them. Three or four hundred yards they went; set their wings and rode swiftly down the breeze as if to alight; then suddenly with rapid stroke they arose again, then skimmed low along the horizon, then changed to a quick beat of wing that carried them up a little, then with whiffling stroke of pinion sped on again until nearly two miles away they sailed with majestic sweep over the low sandhills.

"They don't see to go very fast, Gerard, but they are great flyers," I remarked as we strode forward to retrieve our birds. We found one without difficulty just where he had fallen, and a splash in the sand and a tuft or two of feathers showed where the other had struck, but look as hard as we might we could not see it.

"Why I thought you had killed them stone dead, didn't you?" and babe stopped in his quest and gazed at me.

"Yes, to tell the truth, I did, but you can't always tell about a bird with a broken wing, sometimes one will whirl over and drop like lead, then the moment he hits the ground, he's up and off like a deer. Let's make a little bigger circle. It can't get away, unless it has gone back over the lake shore and got among the thick"-

"Here she is!" joyously interrupted the juvenile as he made a dive down among the shriveled sage stalks, only to go sprawling on his face and stomach in the arm sands, as the grouse ducked and ran wildly cackling toward the brow of the rise overlooking the lake. But Gerard and I soon had her cornered, and with an exultant exclamation the latter fell upon her.

"I've got you this time!" he cried, and so he had, and cracking her head over the heel of my rubber boot, he pushed her into the canvas cavern on my back and we once more pulled out for the hills.

It was quite a long and tiresome pilgrimage across the short cropped grass of the broad valley and on more than one occasion the weight of the ducks and chicken in my game pocket and the shell case, which Gerard tugged and fumed with, compelled us to recumbent positions on the ground.

It was during one of these halts for rest that Gerard became impressed with one of those circular, bowl-like depressions in the prairie, on whose edge we had thrown ourselves, and which concavities are so familiar all over Nebraska's prairie country.

"What is this hole, and that one over there and, in fact, all of these holes scattered about us?" asked the boy pointing first at this and then at that hollow in the ground; "looks as if some one, years ago had scooped these places out with a shovel."

"Don't you know what those holes are, Gerard?"

"No. How should I?"

"Why, surely they have been mentioned in your presence many a time in making our trips to and from the ducking grounds in the last four years, and don't you remember the day when Mr. Frank Burkley, Stockton Heth, you and I and Judge Carlin camped in just such a one as this one before us and eat our lunch there? The second day we were chicken hunting out below Bassett in the fall of 1900."

"Yes, I remember, that hunt all right, and that we ate luncheon on the prairie, but I don't recollect anything being said about these holes."

"Well, my boy, they are what is known as buffalo wallows, and were made fully forty years ago, when the American bison roamed this very valley in herds of unknown thousands. You see on hot days in August, when the buffalo were pestered with gnats and flies, they would lie down on the flat prairies and roll over, first on one side and then on the other, and they would wear in the soil in just such excavations as these, and wallowing thus, they would also create a deep dust, in which they would find surcease from the troublesome insects. These big animals resorted more frequently to this wallowing in the dust than they did to wading into the lakes to escape the torments of myriads of flies and the nasty tiny little gnats which use to sweep over these plains in veritable clouds, and annoyed all animal life beyond endurance. Deer and elk were more prone to resort to the water to get rid of the pests, but the buffalo found more protection in wallowing in the dust. On a hot day, when the flies were particularly pestiferous, the wallowing of these huge animals would make a perfect mortar box of these holes, and emerging from them for migration, exercise or food, they resembled a lot of white cows more than anything else. Perspiration had made an emulsion of the alkaline dust, and this clinging to the animal, became perfectly white as soon as dry, and it has been the cause of a many a wondrous tale about white buffalo. You know that there is more or less alkali in the earth all over this plains country, and it was in just such a country as this that these now extinct animals use to thrive the most."

"And do you think they are all gone."

"Yes, almost absolutely-that is in a wild, native state, and these wallows are about the only monument they have left of their former glory. Even their bones, which twenty-five years ago strewed the prairies in all directions have been gathered up and carried away for fertilizing and other purposes. You remember the buffalo skull and horns you found down on Baird's ranch last spring?"

"Yes and I wanted to keep them, but you said it was too much trouble."

"That's a fact, but I wish now we had preserved them, for I don't believe another such specimen exists in the state. They would have made a nice addition to the public library's archaeological collection. But come on, let's be moving. See how the sun is getting. It don't take it long to slip behind the sandhills when it gets good and well on the way, and we want to get up into the pass long before that. Look at the meadow larks, there must be a hundred of them."

And as Gerard and I arose from the grass, a big, straggling flock of these pretty songsters passed over us, with a nervous chopping of their short mottled wings, and a querulous piping of their usually melodious voices. They were coming down from the hillsides to the lake for their evening draught and ablutions. All birds, from the grouse and chicken, hawks and owls, to the chirping ground sparrow, gravitate toward the sandhill lake shores as the afternoon begins to wane.

At last Gerard and I reached the first range of low hills separating us from the basin of Clear lake, and after a little blow, we began the toilsome ascent. We had barely reached the top when a jackrabbit, with one ear flopped back over his head, and the other as erect as a cock's comb, jumped up from his form beneath a clump of yucca, right into the air, like a jack-in-the-box. Then as he went hobbling away, as if with a broken leg, casting gruesome glances back at us over his shoulder, we couldn't help but laugh, for if there is a buffoon in the sandhills, it is the jackrabbit. What the crow and blue jay is to the wooded districts, the jack is to the sterile ranges of the prairie country.

"Don't try to fool us," I cried, and bringing my gun to my shoulder I made the sand fly in the rear of the mincing gray clown with seismic furore, and it was sort of satisfying to see him cease his monkeying, drop his black-topped tail down tight over his buttocks, prick up his velvet-tipped ears, and with stupendous long leaps go up and over the parallel ridge.

"A hare-breadth escape," and, realizing the archaic nature of the pun, Gerard tickled himself in the ribs as he perpetrated it; then looking up into my face, he added, "did you try to hit him?"

"No, indeed," I replied. "I think a jack rabbit is the most interesting denizen of all this wild region, and why should I destroy him. Didn't he add a zest to all this weird picture surrounding us as he limped away so comically in his first efforts at deceit, and then, when I shot at him, his gait was a match for the gale? We don't eat them, we couldn't have it mounted, so why should we kill them? No, no my boy; rather let us preserve all the wild life we can; it is going fast enough, and, when you are as old as I am, you will look back on the jack rabbit and the grouse and ducks as I look back on the buffalo, the deer and wild pigeon. "Hello! There comes a flock of birds! Down. I'll surely get a crack at them," and together we dropped into the thin, yellowing grass on the ridge top and awaited the approach of the long dotted line that had just specked the sky over the higher hills in front of us.

Gerard and I cuddled down close together in the tall, yellowing grass, and while we kept well hidden the approaching line of birds did not give me a shot. As they neared the ridge on which we were crouching they went up into the air just as if someone had told them that it would be a good place to give a wide berth, and they passed on over us way out of range. By the dark streak made by their hooded heads, the glistening white of their bellies and the peculiarly sibilant noise of their short, sharp wings. I knew what they were just as well as I would if they were just as well as I would if they had passed within a couple of yards of me.

"Canvasback!" I ejaculated in response to the kid's inquiring look as the long line of royal birds rapidly merged into a mere thread in the hazy perspective over Clear lake.

"Doggone it! That's just our luck," and Gerard kicked spitefully at a clump of soap weed; "if they had been spoonbills or ruddies I suppose you could have knocked them down with the end of your gun."

"Why, that is always the way, Gerard, with the ducks," I replied, smiling at the boy's acerbity. "It is the canvasback and the redhead and the mallard that tantalize you the most. They are the biggest, the best and the wariest of all, the most desirable and, consequently, the hardest to get. It is these high-class birds that always fool you, it seems, but you have no trouble with the widgeon, spoonbills, butter balls and smaller fry. When lying in a blind you seldom miss one of these birds, and, in fact, your doubles are frequent, but it is the canvasback, the redhead and the mallard on which you always miss, or nearly so, and you are not the first young hunter who has learned that disappointing lesson. You see, if diamonds were as plentiful as beans, no one would wear them. However, I don't think we have done so badly. We've killed our share of the canvas and more mallards, by a long shot, than any pair in the party. So we've no kick coming."

We were now slowly putting up, through the grass and sand, the most commanding ridge of the range, through whose ragged formations were cleft the pass, or passes, in which we had already done such marvelous shooting, and in which we intended to shoot that evening.

It was quite a laborious climb, laden as we were, and on reaching a sort of a circular bench, when about half way up, we halted to recuperate, and as we stood there a reticulation of tiny tracks and trails in the golden sands attracted Gerard's attention, and, falling on his knees, he bent over to examine them, calling me to come and look at the same time.

"The jumping mouse," I remarked, after scrutinizing the lace-like trails and convolutions at our feet, and lounging down beside the boy I continued:

"These sandhills are full of these mice, Gerard; in fact, all the sandhills, where there is plenty of soapweed, are. They seem to haunt the habitat of the cactus, and are really a curious and interesting little animal."

"What do they look like-have you ever seen them?"

"Oh, yes, many a time, and once, way back in 1893, the Barrister and I attended one of their dancing parties, one moonlight night in the hills, back of Raccoon lake, up north of Anse Newberry's."

"Dancing party?"

"Yes. They are great dancers, especially on warm moonlight nights, when it is too bright for the prairie owl and the coyote is not abroad."

"Don't go, Pop, tell me about them; you've got me interested now and I want to know about them," and Babe grabbed hold of the tail of my hunting coat and pulled me back as I attempted to rise.

"Well,-but we don't want to stay here too long, for see, the birds are moving pretty lively off there over lower Hackberry, and they'll soon be crossing these hills. These jumping mice, dear, are found all over the world almost and in Europe, Asia and Africa; they are called jerboas, and in these countries, they are somewhat larger than our jumping mouse of these sandhills. They have attracted much attention to those given to observing our smaller animals. The mouse, or mice, that made these tracks can be taken as a type of this whole group as it exists everywhere. It is about two or three inches long, and has a tail fully two inches longer than the body. Its four legs are but a half an inch in length; the hind legs two inches. When about to spring it raises its body by means of the hinder extremeties and supports itself at the same time upon the base of its tail, while the fore feet are so closely pressed to its breast as to be scarcely visible. It then leaps into the air and alights on its four feet, but instantaneously erecting itself it makes another spring and so on in such rapid succession as to appear as flying rather than running. It is gregarious-that is living in colonies like prairie dogs-and builds its castle under there yucca clumps with its sharp little teeth and nails.

"When not in motion this mouse might very readily be mistaken for the common field mouse, as its general aspect is very similar. But to be disabused of this idea all you have to do is to attempt to capture one of them. The force and celerity of its leaps will soon carry it out of harm's way, and you will be astonished at seeing so small a creature, with such little effort, eluding you by covering five or six feet of ground at every spring. When he is pursued by one or two persons and is permitted to advance in one direction, its movements look more like those of a bird than they do of an animal, so high does not move exclusively in this manner, though, Gerard, for if he did he couldn't weave such a net-work of tracks and trails as these roundabout us here. He is capable of running on all his feet with considerable speed, and it is enough to excite the wonder of anyone or puzzle them to capture it."

"Do they come out of their castles in the winter time, too?"

"No. When the cool weather comes on, and when the frost suggests an arctic wave they go into their winter quarters, where they lie in a torpid state until the last of April or first of May. They are dug up sometimes in the winter from a depth of two or three feet. I have been told, and are found in a ball of some substance like clay about an inch thick and so coiled into a globular form as to conceal the figure of the animal entirely. But I have never seen an instance of the kind and take little stock in it."

"Nor, I. I don't see how they could curl up in this shell of mud, then block up their holes, and bury themselves down in the sand two and three feet."

"No, they couldn't. But all the nests I have ever seen were made of long, flexible strands of grass, and so neatly interwoven that no trace of an opening could be found, and how the little fellow contrives to make even such a snuggery as this is almost as great a mystery as the clay shell. But we'll come out some day, if we can take the time, and dig one of the little rascals out and look over his fortress at our leisure. See here, the trail leads right up to this clump of soap weed then round it, back and forth, several times, and finally disappears underneath this big spike-like leaf, and if a coyote essayed to follow he'd certainly get his nose well pricked. They are wonderfully ingenious in constructing their houses, Babe, and do so with the one idea of safety from their foes, coyotes, skunks, coons, hawks, owls and snakes. The interior is a perfect maze of corridors, chambers, rooms, halls, passageways, and galleries, but we'll come out, perhaps tomorrow, and look over one together."

"But it will be a shame to spoil their home," and the boy looked, deprecatingly, up into my face.

"Yes, that's so, but we can't et any little sentiment of that kind interfere with us if we want to learn the mysteries of nature. And then, the family we rout will soon find other lodgings. What about that dancing party? Well, Bill and I were coming into camp one bright, moonlit evening, as a day's mallard shoot up Hay creek, and as we were resting by the wayside in the hills, where the moonlight poured down in a yellow flood, we saw, off about fifteen yards from where we were reclining, some dozen or so of these jumping mice in one of their nocturnal frolics. They were as funny as they were interesting, and seemed to be going through the evolutions of some sort of a quadrille, whirling around in a circle on their long hind legs, crossing and recrossing on all fours, and occasionally leaping high into the moonlit air and over each other like frogs in a mill-pond, and all the time keeping time to their comical caperings with fine little squeaks and squeals. Bill and I watched them closely for quite a long time, in fact, until all of a sudden, as if they had become aware of some dangerous presence or caught a taint in the air that told them of some lurking foe-a prowling coyote or hovering nightbird maybe, or it might have been Bill and myself-they vanished like snuffing out a candle. Anyway, there was a sudden, an unusual loud chorus of their tiny voices, a wild scampering, jumping and scrambling, and, as if by magic, every little cavorting rodent disappeared as thoroughly as if they had been absorbed in the moonshine. The Barrister and I lingered and watched, loth to leave a scene so weird, but the little furry fairies did not come forth again, or emit even the slightest sound to indicate whence they had gone, and feeling as though we had witnessed a revelry of the little gnomes which the Rosierucians told us of 100 years ago, we gathered up our tired forms and our load of dead ducks and labored on down to our camp back of Newberry's old sod home. But we will learn more about the jumping mice, Gerard, before we go home, so lets hurry on now up into the pass, the birds will soon be moving in earnest, and we do not want to miss any of the flight."

A few moments later and we were toiling up the famous old pass and finally all out of breath and puffing like steam engines, we reached the top of the range and the picture that burst upon us was even more entrancing than ever. The broken country to the north and west, with its sandhills rolling like the waves of a golden sea, clear to the reedy shores of Trout lake, and the placid stretch of blue water to the south. Clear lake and its outlying companions, never looked more picturesque than it did then in the waning light of that October afternoon. But the lad and I were not given much time to admire the grand but lonely scene for we had hardly caught our breath, when there was a confused stir over Trout lake, and we saw the birds arising in clouds, and a few minutes subsequent they were streaming our way, and the evening's shoot was on.

But why enumerate the events of that night. They were pretty much the same as those of our previous great experience up there, and it will be sufficient to add that we killed all the birds we could carry and more, too. We went through the same trials of chasing cripples, the ecstasy of knocking one with each barrel out of this or that whizzing bunch, time and time again; got a shot, but they were too high, at a flock of five passing Canadas, and then as the sun, like a ball of fire, sank behind the dark rim of the distant western hills, we were treated to a veritable serenade by the coyotes, their greeting to the dawn of night. Off on a neighboring hillside, say a quarter of a mile away, we saw two of these little frowsy nomads of the plains, and while one busied himself digging at some object in the sand, like a dog digs at the entrance of a rabbit's burrow, the other squatted on his haunches, and gave us samples of all the latest songs he had learned, and though chill and creepy and weird as all our surroundings were growing, Gerard and I enjoyed it beyond measure.

And such was our daily life in the sandhills, and while I have said nothing of the badger we saw; the autumn thunder storm we were caught in; the big pelican's battle with the redtail hawk; the midnight intrusion of a skunk; the blue-gilled sunfish and the sport they gave us on Dewey lake; the cowboy's story of the haunted ranch; about our numerous haps and mishaps, and our happy hours at Stilwell's; nor our experience, in the Niobrara valley. I have told you enough to give you an idea of the glories and benefits and profits of a two weeks' sojourn in the heart of the tenebrious, but always interesting sandhills. There, often have I thought, I would live always, in that fresh, free region, that lonely but tranquil realm of content, where honor's measure is not taken by success; where pretension does not trod on merit; where genius is not a jest, goodness not a seeming and devotion not a sham.

If the reader, who has followed our little party through the devious ways of last fall's hunt, should miss the customary budget of familiar scenes and sounds and colors that so regularly appear in this department, they can probably guess the cause, and with ears to the ground they may catch the faint report of those good old guns of ours, and, in fancy, see a dead grass garbed figure crouching in the tules, or in the sands of the pass, out in the gloomy hills whose glories have so often been depicted here, and over which the wild duck flies!