Sandy Griswold. November 24, 1912. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 48(8): 2-S. Includes three pictures. Also: 12/1, 48(9): 2-S, includes a picture; 12/8, 48(10): 2-S; 12/15, 48(11): 2-S; 12/22, 48(12): 2-S; 12/29, 48(13): 2-S; 1/5/1913, 48(14): 2-S; 1/12, 48(15): 2-S.
The Hunters' Lodge Out Among the Sunlit Sand Hills
After a couple of dismal failures, so far as any real shooting was concerned, in the way of a ducking expedition this fall, at last, through the courtesy of the splendid sportsman, the Hon. Charlie Metz, I enjoyed a four days' outing up at his famed ranch in Cherry county, last week, that will occupy a green spot in memory as long as memory endures, now that these felicitations are so rare and far between.
But it was like a sudden [missing] transition back across the misty [missing] vault of over twenty years. The [missing] and I touched elbows in our reedy [missing] grounds seem not so long ago, [missing] years fly; yet during that [missing] bare quarter of a century, how [missing] the old craft have gone out from [missing] no more until we gather [missing] which, as I observed in my [missing] few weeks ago, is the boundary of [missing] hope a more glorious life. For a [missing] old pals, adieu! and joy be with [missing] among the blessed chosen!
[missing] Haven in the Hills.
[missing] earthly haven out at Charlie Metz' [missing] within the sunlit sandhills-a [missing] can meet-a campfire where [missing] healthful are ever roaming the fields [missing] and lowlands, may withdraw in quiet and close commune. Old camaraderie it is not meet that we should live longer apart, and let the fires die away to low and smoldering embers. Let us renew the old love again. Come, let us commune together.
A Congenial Coterie.
But, by way of prejudice, let us see who were there. Of course there was Charlie, himself, with an eye always and alone to the comfort, happiness and contentment of all the others-his exclusive guests-and then comes Jesse James Detright; the venerable, but perpetual youngster, John Dad Weaver; Dr. Lee Van Camp, with never ceasing vigil over the health of the camp; Lee McGreger, that sturdy conqueror of the remotest morass; Ikey Albert Cahn, possibly the worst duck shot in the world; Arthur "Grouse" Metz, the insuppressible bon vivant and assistant host; the historian of unpretentious quantities, and last but not least, old Abner Thomas, the Rembrandt chef, who, for versatility in concocting tilillatory gastronomic feasts, and general adaptability to the wants of his suffering brethren, hasn't an equal on the broad footstool. ANd then those we found there, domiciled like the pets of fortune in a residence of metropolitan pretensions, the ranchman and overseer of the Metz domains, Frank Bowman-big, honest, generous and handsome-his strapping son, Ray, who shoots like a professor, and their good wives, all vying with each other in seeing that Charlie's visitors missed none of the rare things in life.
The Metz Broad Acres.
The Metz ranch is a combination of everything calculated to please and enthuse the sportsmen-a large expanse of hill and plain and dimpled waters of nearly 5,000 acres-the ideal home of a man to the manor born-a sportsman's paradise, a richly endowed game preserve, and a true sanctuary for all the wild things, both furred, finned and feathered, that cling with nature's instinct to the wild places.
That Charlie Metz, in the brief six years he has been there, could metamorphose a spot so wild, so primitive and so without promise, as was the old Anse Newberry grazing plains, with its adobe shacks and crude accessories, and surrounding barrens, into a region of thrift and comfort, of sunshine and smiles; fields of corn, exuberant gardens, grazing pastures, herds of cattle, horses, sheep and hogs; runs of pigeons, kennels of blooded dogs, artificial lakes teeming with gamey fish, and with them wild and domestic water fowl, from the lordly Canada to the lowly ruddie; with its rice and reeds and aquatic growth of many kinds, and all the concomitants of original primeval luxuriance, is something to make one think long and marvel deep. It requires a vast stretch of the ordinary conception to appreciate the elasticity and abundance of the right kind of a man's artifice and resources.
And the Farm Houses.
Besides the big, modernly appointed ranch residence, with its spacious rooms, heating and electric lighting plants; tiled bath rooms, lavatories, closets and all the other up-to-date conveniences, he has several staunchly-built stables, a perfect corral, boat house, with its flotilla of ducking and fishing and motor boats; store house, blacksmith and carpenter shop; wired game cooler, and everything else down to the minutest detail, invented and constructed for mans' comfort, convenience and pleasure.
And, situated as all this miniature little microcosm is, in one of the most attractive sections of all the broad sandhills country, the Metz ranch and shooting lodge is certainly a true atrium for true men.
The lay of all these now fair acres, in both topography and configuration, with the charming Three Springs Lake-Little Otter, in early Sioux nomenclature-with its fields of rice and motes of flag and cane, its perch and bass and crappie, stretching away to the base of old Dunderberg, a lordly sandhill I baptized over twenty-five years ago; cold, trickling streams, the inlets and outlets, to the north, and the broad hay and grazing lands in every other direction, cannot be surpassed, aye equaled between the Rocky range on the west and Appalachians on the east.
The Hunters' Home.
But of all these innumberable good and pleasing features, the duck hunter is overwhelmed, more than by all else, with the Hunting Lodge-first modern quarters of the old Merganzer club, of which Mr. Metz was president twenty years ago. This lodge is a long, perfectly ventilated, one-story building, of Gothic architecture, with broad plaza in front, shadowed on the north by a row of thrifty cottonwoods; with the main apartment taken up as the dormitory, with its eight single, heavy brass bedsteads, burdened with snowy linen and eiderdown comforts, arranged in a row, with individual lockers a the head of each; four on each side, butler's quarters and large dining room in the rear, with real mahogany sideboards, crammed from back board to polished doors with-oh me, oh my, yum! yum! yum!-Great extension table, the perfectly equipped bathroom, just back, and Abner's realm, a cuisine, of Waldorf-Astoria impress, off to the north, and his chambre de snooze just back-I say, without fear of contradiction, that there is nothing along either the legendary Chesapeake in the east, of the Sui Sun marshes on the coast, that holds a candle to it, mauger the unlimited wealth and long educated taste of the pampered sportsmen of these sections. No wonder this niche in the wall of nature is the glory of all Charlie Metz' friends, whose [missing] lies in the entertainment he lavishes [missing] prodigal hand, upon them.
And such a man-and a better one [missing] what will his harvest be-a tuneful harp [missing] wall for all the endless eons to come.
To the Manor Born.
Mr. Metz has his own notions-good [missing] all of them, at that. Life on this ranch [missing]. He loves the outdoors with the ardor of [missing] and next comes his friends. He knows [missing] any one else what he gets out of there [missing] knows just how far to go, and just [missing] and if he was aware that such an eulogy [missing] be put in cold type, he would let out a [missing] discount the most capable coyote that [missing] from the distant slope side every [missing] there on the ranch.
While the main plan was one [missing] elaborate hunting and fishing preserve [missing] playground, under Frank Bowman's [missing] arrangement it has developed into a [missing] ranch of large proportions, a ranch [missing] of every stock man and agriculturist [missing] to be rewarded with an opportunity to [missing] for a few hours; to lave his face [missing] waters of its springs, and to break [missing] and pie, and hocus pocus, hunks [missing] perch, baked duck, all flanked with [missing] salads, hot Mocha and Java, and [missing] bonne bouches the culinary art [missing] perfect barricade about him.
But wait-another week I will endeavor [missing] the events of my four days' stay out [missing] joys I shared under the umber of November [missing]...less skies.
Metz Hunting Ranchin the Sandhills - 1912.
One Day's Shoot Way Up on Metz' Ranch Recently
Sunday morning, early, after doing full justice to one of Abner's daintiest breakfasts, we split up into twos for the day's hunt. Deright and Weaver, in one of Charlie's low ducking scows, pushed off to a favorite reedy point up toward the west end; the Doctor and McGreer to the smartweed beds on the north side, while Frank Bowman and I chose the shallow, rice-bordered slough running like an arm from the body of Three Springs itself out into the dun prairie, which stretched away like a monotonous blanket to the low hills to the east.
As Charlie had announced that we would map out a plan for Arthur and Cahn later in the morning, we hunters left the lodge and made our laborious way to our respective stands, knowing full well that the two aforesaid individuals would be abundantly looked after.
Dandy the Goods.
As Bowman and myself were to shoot out of a blind on the solid ground, and the others from boats, we took "Dandy" along with us, and a magnificent adjunct he proved to be. Dandy is an Irish spaniel, and withal a little headstrong and inclined to have his own way, he is one of the best duck retrievers I have ever shot over, and it will be remembered that I have ever shot over, and it will be remembered that I have put in many a joyous day in a blind out in old Deuel county years and years ago, with Ed. Hamilton, the old boniface at Goose lake, and his matchless Chesapeake, Rex. Without a doubt Rex was one of the best dogs that ever descended from this wonderful breed, a dog with almost human reasoning and intelligence.
Did Not Lose a Bird.
But to get back to our day on the slough out at Metz's, Dandy, I repeat, is a grand dog, and of the big kill we made that day, we lost but one bird, a crip shot in the dark of the evening, and over which Dandy declined to worry himself until the next day, when on returning to the spot, he ran into the thick reeds as if he knew just where he was going, and quickly emerged with a wounded hen-mallard in his mouth.
"There's our bird we lost last night, Sandy. I told you that Dandy would nose it out in the morning. But look, isn't it a whooper-one of the biggest mallards I ever saw." And so it was, balancing the scales at an even four pounds when we got in that night.
Saw the Ducks Drop In.
After Frank and I had put out our decoys and gotten settled comfortably on piles of dead flags in our blind among the thick tules, Bowman remarked that he had noticed an unusual number of birds dropping in along the slough in front of us the evening before, and as we had jumped a couple of hundred when we approached the spot, a few moments before, he said, he felt certain we had secured the point of vantage on the whole lake and that we would have at least a fair day's shooting.
"The birds have not been molested right here," he continued, "for days, and all of those we flushed a bit ago will be coming back, one and two, or more at a time, and we should certainly get our share. Look! there's a bunch now, and yes a half dozen of them. See, off there over old Dunderberg."
I saw. Flock after flock, and all mallards, too, high in the air and bearing off to the north.
The Flight Over the Hill.
"Those are not our birds," proceeded Frank, as we gazed longingly at the streaming lines of dark dots over the big hill. "Those are all northern birds, probably arrivals of last night, and the way they are pouring back toward the polar regions does not augur very well for good ducking weather. I am afraid this wonderful Indian summer is going to linger with us some time yet, and if it does the shooting won't amount to much."
"You can see for yourself that all those birds are traveling, and the fact that they are traveling north makes it plain as print, the weather will continue fair. However, I think we'll have a lot of sport today on those local birds we jumped out of here this morning. All those birds flying off over the hill there are mallards-old yellow-leg mallards."
"Yellow-leg mallards-how do you make that out?" I inquired.
"Simply, because, so far this fall, it has only been the yellow-legs that have come down from the north. The yellow-legs, you know, Sandy, are the birds we always get here in the early fall, in fact clear up till the cold weather sets in in earnest-then the red-legs come. Of course you know we have two kinds of mallards, here at Three Springs, and if we want to include the occasional old black mallard, we have three."
"Oh yes," I replied, "I know that, although there are a lot of so-called authorities who claim that the yellow and red-leg are the same bird."
"Yes, I know there are, but they are wrong," and the old ranchman knew just what he was talking about, too; "the red-leg is a bit bigger than the yellow-leg, with bright, deep, blood orange legs, with a much darker bill always sloping into a dusky yellow-they are the last birds we get here, and we often kill them on the ice."
"Like you, Frank," I again chimed in, "I know the two are materially different. Ever since I was a boy, shooting back on the Chesapeake and later along the Illinois river, I noticed a decided discrepancy in the plumage and hue of the legs of many mallards killed, but in those days I wasn't satisfied whether they belonged to different families or not. But now I know they do. I-"
A Pair of Bluebills.
I had barely time to duck when a pair of bluebills shot across the void, one about five or six feet ahead of the other. I tossed my Parker ahead of the foremost and as he came gyrating down toward the water the crack of Bowman's gun followed, and the rear bird skipped with a splash over the surface stone dead.
"Hello! That's Dad and Deright. They have routed the birds in the west end. Look! The air is full of them. Now for a little fun," and Frank and I again knelt among the flags, while Dandy floundered in with his two birds, carrying both at the same time.
And we did have a little fun. We heard the distant reports of our comrades' guns and saw the dark dots becoming thicker in the northern sky. They circled a few times, and then in small bunches, began to come our way.
The Morning's Bag.
I shall not presume to recount the incidents of the next half hour, but I will say that after the quiet had again settled down over the broad marsh, and the last bird had either settled among the distant rice clumps or disappeared in space off over the gray hills, careful count disclosed twenty-six birds, nine mallards, one redhead and the rest a mixture of widgeon, gadwall, spoonbill and teal.
Then there was a long lull with nothing doing. At noon Frank went into the lodge for lunch, and while he was gone-and it was for more than two hours-I only killed two birds-both mallards.
Bowman back in the blind, we had but two or three long shots until lake along in the afternoon, when the birds began to move spasmodically, and we heard the guns over the lake, where the birds seemed to have concentrated, and seemed to hate to leave.
"They'll beat us out," I remarked, as five shots came to us in quick succession.
"Not on your life," quickly rejoined Frank. "They haven't had the shooting we have, and it is a good bet right now that we have more than the whole party together. But wait-we are not through-we are going to have a good flight in here this evening. And you can bet on it," and he stood up and took a long look at the circling birds off over the big hill toward Raccoon, of the North lake, as it is more familiarly known.
First day's bag out at Charlie Metz's ranch - 1912.
The first day's bag out at Charlie Metz's ranch.
Shooting Mallards by the Light of the Sinking Sun
Inadvertently, I might observe here, that that first evening on the slough, running out from the reedy lake, out on Charlie Metz's fabled ranch in the sandhills, was the most enjoyable one from a shooting standpoint that I have enjoyed for years. It must be remembered that things have changed mightily during the past quarter of a century in our wild fowl shooting, and the hunter who gets even a fair day now in these days, when shooting amounts to almost a craze, is a fortunate man indeed. In the old times, dull days, when the birds refused to fly, were the rarest of all, but now when flood and field, all through the open season fairly swarms with insane gunners, the days when they do fly, in any considerable numbers, is the rarity.
Of course we do have good days yet, when the birds seem as plentiful as they were in those now seemingly mythical days of the past, but as I said before they are the exception, and the shooter who is favored with one considers himself a special favorite with the gods.
However, it couldn't have mattered so very much that evening on the slough, if Frank and I had not had another shot; we had plenty of them in the morning, and enough through the day, to keep us fairly busy, and in the late afternoon and evening we would have found plenty of enjoyment in our small talk, if in nothing else, about the days in the past that we had experienced on river, lake and marsh. But Bowman said they would come, and come they did.
The hours passed.
In the Setting of the Sun.
A purple haze, which seemed to absorb the last purple rays of the November sun, enveloped the marsh and surrounding landscape of pasture, prairie and sandhill. The tall grass blades stood straight and silent, as if cut from gray stone. Everything was still, save off in the slough a little ways, where a small, silent party of belated mudhens were wallowing in the shallows. An occasional twitter was also heard, subdued and silvery, as though the little brown wren who voiced it was in awe of some impending calamity. Only the duck hawk was indifferent to the prevailing lethargy which enthralled all the environments. He was in his element, and industriously swooped from point to point-dipping, poising and rising, then sailing away over the brown tules as quiet as a thistle down on a summer zypher.
Phoebus in His Chariot.
Frank and I stood silently watching the horizon in all directions. We were waiting, and yet the stillness grew oppressive. At last relief came. A murmur of delight among the yellow rice stalks, a whisper of welcome to the light evening breeze from the south. Now it went rollicking among the cattails and dancing over the quiet waters in front of us where our decoys quietly bobbed. All nature seemed to return, and new life leaped into our veins. Phoebus, in his gilded chariot, entered the homestretch through a gate of golden clouds. The shadows lengthened behind us, until that of both of us, ran back toward the distant ranch buildings, like some fabulous giant over the plain.
The hours pass.
And Then the Birds Came.
Crack! goes a gun off to the north. Crack! again and again, and again, and Frank need not have told me, I knew that the evening flight had begun and that the boys off on the lake to the north and west of it were at work on the vanguard.
We saw the long dotted lines creep out against the sky over old Dunderberg to the north, and also along the burning rim in the west. It was the ducks about to pour in to roost. They had spent the lazy day in outlying ponds, and adjacent sloughs or off in the fields, knowing too well the insecurity of the open lake. The long lines came widening out and sliding down, and out of the nebulous mist of the hills they rose in great bunches, hanging for a moment against the rosy clouds, then bearing down toward the glistening and inviting waters of Three Springs.
It Was Bowman's Gun.
That was Bowman's gun, right over my head, it sounded, so sudden was the explosion, and looking around to my left and up over the reeds I saw a mallard hanging in the air, with dangling neck and folded wings plunge down into the mire amidst the bordering tules, and at the word Dandy was off like a big brown cockle-burr after it.
It was a lone bird, undoubtedly one of our friends of the early morning, who had at last come back to look things over. He was a welcome caller, for we had not been occupied now for hours, and I was growing doubtful about Frank's prediction of a busy evening. The mallard, happily, was but the precursor of many more, and what we did the next hour was a repetition of many an evening I had had on these same waters a quarter of a century before.
Dandy had barely carried the dead mallard to the clump of flags and reeds where we were now crouching, when another series of faint reports came to us on the languorous air from way over the lake where we felt the Dr. and Greer, and Weaver and Deright were opening up hostilities in earnest.
And we were right.
Coming Down the Lake.
A moment later a cloud of black dots arose from the reedy patches off in the distant lake, and circling and towering, and curvetting, streamed away in long lines this way and that, and climbing in dark bunches high into the air, they wove into an intangible web in the sky, and bore off, that is the most of them, over the big hill in the direction of the north lake.
Then we heard the guns of Dr. and Dad and the rest of them again, and we saw a dark line clearing the low sunshine over the expanse of rice, coming straight as a plummet, our way. Bowman and I got down as low as we could, and so did Dandy, and then, in eager expectation, waited.
But not long. It does not take a flock of mallards many moments to cover such a distance, and quickly the black dots merged in to shapes, and the next instant, like a charge of cavalry in bright uniform, with long white banded necks and green heads gleaming like couched lances, they sped toward us.
"They are going to pass on my side," whispered Bowman. "I'll take the tail-end birds-you shoot first."
A Fine Flock This Time.
On they came so low down that we could see the snowy circlets at the base of their necks, the flashes of the glistening bands of blue, and green and sheeny velvet, on their whizzing wings, and the delicate curls of shining emerald on their rumps, were as clear and vivid as the white bands on their rounded tails.
Leaping up just as the short line of these glorious birds swept by me, I let them have the right barrel, and two birds-both greenheads, I saw that, even in the delirious excitement of the second-fell dead as doornails, plunking down into the mucky waters among the weeds on beyond me. And then came three quick shots from Bowman's Winchester, and three more-yes, clean kills every one of them, went down a little on beyond where my pair had fallen, and then as the distraught flock, sadly serried, went hurtling like canister, on out over the dun hay field, not to be outdone, I gave them my left, without any serious intention, however, but nevertheless, even at that long range, I made another lag, then sail away toward the low hills to our east.
Dandy Sees It, Too.
It was only wounded, however, but with that tenacity for which the mallard is so well known, it kept in the air until it came to the low range of hills, which it was unable to cross, however, and wobbling on a few yards more, it fell and we saw it bounce and roll after it had struck the ground.
Dandy had also been watching the bird, don't forget that, and when it went down, he took up the flying, sailing out over the rushes and across the broad pasture like a brown streak shot from a gun.
At this juncture we saw another bunch of birds approaching, and took our eyes off the dog, in fact there was a number of small clusters of birds in the air steering, evidently, toward the slough, while over the distant lake to the north, they were weaving backward and forward in myriads, and for the next half hour, Frank Bowman and I had one of the finest duck shoots that ever befell to the lot of good sportsmen.
In the Rosy Skies.
Along the clear sky to the west, streamed lines of dark dots, while by us and over us, and all about us, shot small bunches, big flocks and single birds. As we crouched down among the rushes close together now, to avoid cross shooting, a drake redhead, resplendent in white and gray, with rufous hood and golden eyes, came whizzing past from off over the prairie. As I whirled my Parker toward this choice fellow, a big cock widgeon, bound to reach Saskatchewan, probably, before the sun went down, came shooting from Frank's direction, and when passing each other, out over the middle of the slough, our guns made a single report, and both birds went down, the redhead on Frank's side and the widgeon on mine.
At this instant in came Dandy with a mallard hen still alive in his mouth.
"Good doggie," said Frank, giving him an affectionate pat on his wooly head, and at the same time taking the bird from his mouth, and pointing with it out in to the slough, he said:
And as Dandy splashed away, Bowman cracked the head of the wounded hen over his gun barrel, tossed her on the growing pile behind us, and turned just in time to get ready for another bunch of mallards which came speeding toward us from the sunlit hills.
The King of the Marsh and His Untimely End
Frank and I had hardly gotten into good position again when they were onto us, a bunch of seven mallards, with a couple of greenwing teal trailing close behind. But this you have all seen many times, mallards and teal together, and there seems to be a closer propinquity between these two species, despite the disparity in their size and looks, than any other of the wild fowl family.
The bunch came right on down the slough from off over the main lake, and dipping down pretty low over the water-now almost blue black in the slanting rays of the sinking sun-they skimmed along the north shore until directly opposite us when, for some unaccountable reason, unless they just caught sight of our bobbing decoys for the first time, they turned and came squarely at us, the two little greenwings elevating themselves above the flock and trying to beat them in. And they did beat them in, too, but neither Bowman nor I paid much attention to them, for we were both bent on making a double on the mallards, something we each knew instinctively.
A Double on Mallards.
"You take the left hand birds, Sandy, and I'll take the right," whispered Frank, and the next instant, his gun cracked and a mallard fell; mine followed suit, but I failed, much to my chagrin, to stop my bird. Bang! again Frank's gun cracked, and he had his double, all right, and again I missed. Now what do you know about that, and the birds right on top of me, too?
Bowman laughed and while I did not feel a bit that way, I joined him, and was rising to my feet when he exclaimed:
"Down, if those two fool teal ain't coming back, I'm a liar!"
Right back into us from out on the prairie, where the impetuosity of their flight had carried them, with the remaining five mallards, when we had shot into them.
And One on Teal.
"You take 'em," continued Bowman, evidently charitable bent on giving me this early opportunity to redeem myself. But again I failed, not so ingloriously as I had on the big birds, but with such lightning velocity did those two little emerald-pinioned spirits come on into and over me, that I shot way behind with my first barrel, but got my bird with the second, and Frank got the other one, after it had nearly reached the opposite side of the slough, a very long shot.
"You weren't quick enough, Sandy," observed the big ranchman, "and it was the same with the mallards. You should have shot when they were out about there," and he pointed with his still smoking gun out into space, say about over the fartherest decoys. "Those birds were all comin' like bats out of Hades, and anyone was liable to miss!"
"But you," I added, with some little acerbity.
"No, I would miss birds comin' that way just as often as you or any other shot, only I was thoroughly fixed for them this time, and couldn't have missed had I tried. But the teal-that was only a scratch-one of those long-expected shot we all make just so often in our shooting. I'll bet odds I couldn't make that same shot once in ten trials, under the same circumstances.
A Grand Duck Shot.
But I was onto Bowman, for he is not only one of the most congenial and companionable men I ever sat in a blind with, but he is one of the best duck shots it has been my lot to meet, and I guess I have met all of them in this neck of this little sphere of ours, anyway. I used to regard Bill Francke as about the best wild fowl shot I ever hunted with, and for that matter I think that way still, but Bowman is a dead ringer for him, and they shoot much alike; always quiet and collected, never flurried, and when they shoot you can bet your life the bird is within
And following his glance, there they were coming killing distance-something that is not the case with a large majority of gunners from the city, who are always too impetuous, in too much of a hurry, and do not time or distance their birds right. With men like Bowman and Francke, confidence and time is the one integral quantity in their make up, consequently they possess a vast advantage over the ordinary man who goes duck shooting, although this man may often be a better wing shot than either of them, but lacks the proper balancing power at the climaxes. Like Francke, Bowman also kills his birds dead-as superfluous as the expression may be, but it conveys my meaning better than if I adhered rigidly to the proper form of speech-cuts them like lumps of lead right out of the air, and when they come down they come down to stay, straight down until they hit the water or terra firma, as the case may be-no slanting off for two or three hundred yards, or no swimming or crawling away with broken wing or perforated body when they hit a landing place-nine times out of ten they are stone dead before they light.
Those are the real duck shots-the men who generally make a bag where others, even more enthusiastic and really just as skilled, in all but the one quantity of patience, fail.
A Bunch of Bluewings.
"Hello! There comes another bunch of teal-this must be their day," and Bowman motioned me down.
Like the birds before them this bunch, which contained a dozen or more, came right in down the slough from the main lake, but acted much better, for instead of turning and coming straight at us they kept right on down over the middle of the channel, as if they had business out on the prairie and didn't intend to stop.
However, they came close enough, and when just properly located, we let them have it without preconcerted understanding, however, and had the satisfaction of knocking down five birds. Frank got in still another shot as the little feathered apparitions were streaking it for the zenith, but they had gotten up too high and he did not displace a feather.
"Bluewings!" exclaimed Bowman, as Dandy splashed out into the slough where our kill was gently floating away on the ripples, for kill it was, not a bird making a kick after they had hit the water.
"Bluewings! Are you sure of that," I returned, questioningly; "isn't it too late for them?"
"Early or late, those are bluewings," continued Bowman, who seldom makes a mistake. "Look at that farthest bird, floating belly up, don't you see how brightly it is mottled, and there, on that wing sticking up, is the light blue bar as plain as the nose on your face."
"Correct you are," I quickly responded. "I should have recognized them at once, even on the wing, but Charlie told me that the bluewings had all gone."
"Well, Charlie meant that the great flocks we had here in September were gone, for if I am not mistaken he brought in a bluewing himself, yesterday."
The King of the Marsh.
"Wow!" and without a second's time for warning, Frank swung his gun round to the left, then up over us, and kerplunk! an old greenhead, in the most brilliant of his early winter plumage, fell not two yards from where we were standing, right at our feet, hitting the ooze in the tules with a load splashing, and sending the moist globules up fairly into our faces.
Where the bird came from neither of us could tell, although we were both on our feet and watching closely all about us. But that is nothing new to you old ducking comrades, I wot you, for many's the time you have been scanning lake and air out over your decoys for long, trying moments without being rewarded with the sight of even a floating feather, and then you turn your head for a moment to rest your eyes, and then back to their vigil, and there among your decoys, swimming serenely and unafraid, is a mallard or two, or a redhead, or widgeon, or mayhap a whole flock of them, as if they had dropped noiselessly from space or come up from the depths-one of the most delightful little episodes that could befall the wary old wild fowler.
"He's a beaut," remarked Frank, glancing again, but unconcernedly, at the beautiful drake in the curling tendrils of the low tules, as he slipped in a couple of more shells and turned for a survey out over the lake.
On the King's Death.
But I looked and my fascinated gaze lingered. I could not help but think that such a superb creature ought to be held sacred from the hand of man, a sentiment rapidly creeping, in these days of our rapidly vanishing game, into the heart of many another veteran of the ducking marsh. I kept my eyes riveted on the fallen mallard, and it was really with peculiar emotions I studied his peerless form.
There he lay, at my very feet, lay there in a tangle of dun and green marsh blades, in all his wild and exquisitely delicate beauty. He was still gasping, and convulsing his shining green head and graceful neck spasmodically, until a final heaving of his dark chestnut breast, his limp and relaxed form told me that the last breath had left his body.
There he lay, the king of the wild lake, with its lacustral borders, so lately cleaving the shimmering air in the glory of his strength of heart and speed of iridescent banded wing, his wariness, cunning and caution had availed him naught-there he lay with a gory splotch on his white velvet bosom-dead! Imperial-if such a small object as a wild duck can be imperial-and beautiful as a dream to the last; his bright, bead black eyes still upon me, flashing defiance, even through the mist of death!
Then the rare melody of beating wings greeted me, and where, or, where, had gone all those tender feelings for the dead king of the morass? As I lifted my eyes I beheld a grand bunch of his wild kindred curving in the air, over us, but too high for a shot!
Then a big, brown hawk arose with a flourish from the thick cane across the slough and swept on and down around so close to where we were crouching that we caught the flash of his savage, yellow eyes, and as he swept on off across the yellow lowland, the mallards, too, veered away, and as if in irony of the sentiments so lately working in my heart, we were along again with the dead mallard!
The Passing of One Golden Day on the Shores of Three Springs
Notice how the rice tops are moving? It means that we are going to have a little breeze, was the observation from Bowman that brought me out of my trance over the dead mallard, and as he spoke a soft murmur of delight ran through the rice stalks, like a whisper of welcome to the light evening breeze that came creeping up from the south.
It gained volume fast and was soon rollicking among the cattails, and dancing over the quiet slough where our decoys increased their bobbing. All nature seemed to stir afresh and a new life began to leap through our veins. Phoebus was now lashing his scintillating steeds and his iridescent chariot appeared to fairly bound downward through the glittering rents in the luminous clouds. It was a wondrous sunset.
And the hours passed.
Coming in to Roost.
Long dotted lines came whirling over the streaming crest of old Dunderberg and rose against the coppery sky. It was the ducks coming in to roost. After a day's feasting off in the sunny fields and teeming freshets they were eager to get back to the welcome covert of Three Springs. On they came, the long flights stretching out, and slanting downwards as they cleared the big hill, hanging seemingly motionless a moment against the rosy sky before settling down into the rippling weed encumbered waters for the night.
Over the low chain of chop hills to the west, where the land rolls into a vast expanse of prairie, they also came, not in pairs or small bunches, but in great busting, flurrying flocks; and swifter than the now stiffened wind itself, they rode in on the last beams of the setting sun [missing] myriads.
[missing] with convergent strings [missing] once, from afar away, the [missing] flock of Canada goose came [missing] a glimpse of the cleaving [missing] whizzing ducks everywhere, [missing] exasperating way to keep out of harm's way from the clump of tules in which I and Frank patiently crouched.
Jacksnipe were pitching about in tortuous flight, in the shadows all about, sounding that thrilling skeap at every twist and turn of their puzzling convolutions. A yellowleg or two drifted by with a tender tinkling call or two, while horned larks, in veritable whirlwinds, sifted off over the marsh and back again, with their insect-like twitterings, as if they could not make up their minds where they wanted to go before the darkness overtook them.
Sunset on Three Springs.
A thrilling sight, indeed, the sunset movement of the birds over that old legendary lake in the sand hills, with the dropping behind the rim of the uplands of the big red disk, the birds became less cautious, and Frank and I, for a few moments, had our hands full. Our gun barrels became heated from rapid firing, but the havoc we made among the birds was inconsequential. It was not like shooting in the certain light of the daytime.
The hours pass.
The last faint flush of sunset melted into dusk, and the bezeek-bezeep! of the nighthawk, wheeling over distance and the hush of early night lay over the head in reticulated flight, fell with a strange distinctness, as we listened. It was soon lost in the slough, the marsh, prairie, and hill, and one of the most enchanting days I ever spent in the open was done.
The Coyote Wails.
The plaintive wail of a coyote, way off across the darkened lake from the shrouded slope of old Dunderberg, tells us plainly that a new life has entered into activity, and shortly the shadows are resonant with little and mysterious voices. From the damp coverts in front of us and on either side, come curious noises, quirks and trills of the hardiest of insects that have defied the frosts and the rhythmic croon of laggard crickets, while a pleasing earthy odor, pungent of dank flags and rice and tules, steals about us.
We linger in silence.
The low concatenated whine of a swamp owl startles us, and for a fleeting breath of time his silhouette is seen as he darts, like a bat, against the dim lemon of the west, on velvet wing and vanishes in the thicker gloom. Now it is the little frowsy prairie wolf chanting his love song off on the gloomy plain, than again the quavering whine of the scurrying owl.
A Tragedy in the Dark.
A sudden commotion among the floating flags out on the slough in front of us, where for a half hour we have been listening to the ducks plunk, with a splash, as they settled in the darkness for the night, and Frank exclaimed in a soft whisper:
Never a word gave I in reply, as the sharp, shrill tones of a teal, widgeon or bluebill, in agony apprised us that a tragedy has been enacted. We think of the scurrying owl and then of that last bluebill I had wing-tipped that had fluttered away in that direction and for which Dandy had made a futile effort to retrieve.
The hours pass.
The marshfolk rest, all but the mushrat, who is ever on the go, and as he winnowed along the channel in front of us, his whimpering plaint came to us like that of some lost child.
Home in the Silvery Starlight.
Then as the chiller night winds begin to blow, we turn our backs upon the silvery glancing of the pale starlight on the rippling waters of the slough, and shouldering our spoils, trudge off across the dark hayfield, musing as we go, and guided by the twinkling lights in the windows, soon find ourselves in the warmth and light and good cheer of Charlie Metz's famous old hunting lodge.
And after one of the most glorious banquets that has ever been faithful old Abner's delight to serve, maybe we didn't have happy time that night about the old baseburner, with our quips and stories and songs. The Metz hunting lodge never was more resplendent, never so fragrant with the aroma of the true spirit of sportsmanship. With stomachs distended with baked teal, with oyster dressing and garnished with wild cress; planked ring perch with caper sauce and the various condiments; gorgeously browned German fried potatoes, Brussels sprouts, swimming in their rich juices, Walfdorf salad, currant jelly, Moca and Java and apple pie, only as Abner knows how to bake, with Rochfort cheese and wafers, it was a joyous band, indeed, that surrounded that roaring old stove.
Charlie Tells of the Day.
In the first place Charlie recounted what had happened under his personal supervision during the day, how, after we hunters had all radiated off to our respective shooting points, he piloted Abbie Cahn to his blind in the top of a hay stack a quarter of a mile from water, and left him there snuggled down in a hole in the top of the stack, with his two dozen decoys all sitting around the rim of the hole, within reach of his hand, with instructions to be patient and stick it out if he had to stay there till dark, that all he required was patience, for the birds would surely be there for their daily hay.
"I told him to reach out and shake a decoy or two in the air," remarked Charlie, "whenever he saw a bunch of birds off over the lake, and that when they turned his way to duck down and wait until they lit around the rim of his hole, then jump up and pull the trigger, sweeping his gun around the circle as he did so, and he might get them all. I told him that the year before Rudolph B.S. Gerber occupied that same stack, and a flock of fourteen mallards came in and lit around the hole in the top, and by swinging his gun around the circle, he killed them all, but one, and it fell dead from fright after it had gotten nearly back to the lake."
"Well, we left him there, all right, with the decoys lined up all around him like a cordon of soldiers, and then Arty and I went on down to my own private mallard pond about a quarter of a mile to the west. After we had got all settled in our blind, we saw Abbie poke his head up out of the hole every minute or so, and after peering our way to see if we were still there, take a sweeping look off over the lake. Once or twice we saw him, as a string of ducks streamed over the marsh, a mile away, get up and wave a decoy in each hand, and Arty says: "Listen! Charlie; doggone me if I don't think he's calling those ducks with his mouth."
Abbie Had a Great Day.
"Coarse!" ejaculated Abbie from his seat at the pinochle table, "just let me tell you gentleman-"
"Now you just keep still, Mr. Cahn," ordered Charlie, "when I get through you can have the floor and tell us all about it. I will say, however, you were game and stuck to that hole, without a bite to eat-I don't know what you had to drink-all day, till plumb dark, and never fired your gun off. But, say fellows, it was too good to tell, but the truth will not down. Just about sunset-and did you ever see a more splendid sunset in your life-Arty and I, with the eight or nine birds we had killed, left the lake and came into the lodge, we soon saw Abbie trailing after us through the gloaming, with that whole load of two dozen decoys over his shoulders. When he reached the porch, Arty, Abner and I were there to greet him, and my first interrogatory was:
"Why, Abbie, what did you bring in those decoys for? Aren't you going to shoot there tomorrow?"
"'You bet I am,' he replied with fervor, 'If the birds had only come in a little closer today you bet I'd beaten B.S. Gerber's famous shot."
"'One flock did start to come to the stack, but I was so excited I forgot to wave one of the decoys at them, and they turned and went the other way. Where do you suppose they all went for their hay today?'
"That would be hard to say," replied Arty. "You know you can't tell just where a duck will feed, day after day, and sometimes, when they are suspicious, they go to the cornfields and fill themselves with fodder."
Shot It Through the Lip.
"Oh, get out," cried Abbie, through whose skull a ray of light had begun to penetrate, "and you can bet I'll get even with you and Charlie good and plenty before this hunt is over." and as he sat his gun down, Abner held a big mallard drake up before his face, with the question:
"What do you think of this, Mister Cahn?"
"Oh, a turkey," quickly responded Albert. "Are we going to have it for dinner?"
"Turkey for dinner-why, man alive, this heyar's a mallard duck, and Arty shot it this afternoon-take it and look at it, so you'll know what they look like tomorrow when you go out."
"Abbie took the proffered duck in his hands, held it up by one foot, whirled it around and examined it critically, and while thus engaged several drops of blood exuded from its nostrils, dripped down and dropped to the ground from the end of its beak.
"'Oh, look,' cried Abbie, as he pointed to the bird's bloody bill, "look where he shot it-right through the upper lip!'"
"As he said this, Doc Van Camp, Greer, Weaver and Deright came up, and I thought they would go crazy when they heard Abbie say that Artie had shot the mallard through the upper lip. Now Mr. Cahn, you have the floor," and Mr. Metz arose, stretched himself as if rid of a disagreeable burden, lit a Perfecto, and then sat down again and waited for Abbie to begin.
Our Evening Joust in the Lodge After the Day's Hunt Was Over
Abbie did not wait for a second invitation, and Charlie had hardly sank into his chair, before he was in the middle of the floor, true forensic pose, and lifting one it on high he exclaimed:
"Gentlemen! What Mr. Metz has seen proper to tell, is largely true, but I balk on calling a duck a turkey and the intimation that I said Arty had shot it through the lip. But I have my alibi, all right. In the first place this is the first duck hunt I was ever on in my life, and thinking that I was in the hands of my friends, I simply did what I was told to do, never dreaming that I was being framed for the edification of as fine a munch of mutts as I ever met in my life, and that goes as she lays for all of you. Tomorrow, I shall go forth, fully panoplied for the fray, and hunt ducks after my own fashion, how and where and when I please, and if I don't bring in more dead birds than Charlie and Arty together, I'll make all your shirts for nothing for the next ten years. And [n.l.] me assure too, that I'll not shoot any of them through the lip.
"But I'd like to propound a question to out grand old host, here, Mr. Charles Metz, and I hope he'll be as candid in responding, as I have, to the mass of [n.l.] he has just perpetrated at my expense.
"You know my cot is right along side of Mr. Metz's and I am thoroughly qualified to interrogate the gentleman, with the hope that it will help us all."
"Well, what is it? Don't stand there all night- out with," and Charlie arose facing the mildly irate Mr. Cahn.
"Well, sir," began Abbie, placing the index finger of his right hand in juxtaposition with his nasal promontory, "I will say you must feel quite exhausted from you last night's performance!"
"How's that?" returned Charlie, taking a step in Abbie's direction.
"Why, those sounds that, more than human, echoed through the otherwise quiet and respectable precincts of this cosy hunting lodge, after we had all retired for the night! Those unearthly snorts, fit to wake the dead, let alone a lot of decent but jaded duck hunters."
"Rats!" ejaculated Charlie, and down he flopped again.
"Rats! No, they weren't rats, nor mastodons, either; it was nothing but that nose of yours. There! look at poor old Dad Weaver; looks yet as if he was all but dippy from want of sleep. It was really villainous, and I-really-I don't think, with my delicate and refined nerves, I can stand another night of it. I'm afraid I'll break down, and just think of it, our trip has just begun. What will you do when the air and the exercise out here, backed up with a few more of Old Abner's meals, make you stronger and heartier. Oh, Lord, I dread to think of it."
"Well, you know the way to Cody, don't you?"
"You bet I do, and when I go home I expect to go via that route, but just now I am interested in some remedy that will spare us another explosion like that we were compelled to endure last night. Say, Dr. Van Camp, can't you roll a pill that'll do this fellow some good?" and Abbie turned imploringly to the Dr. who had just melted double pinochle, and was feeling especially charitable.
"I might," added the Dr., "but I move we let each other's little peculiarities alone, and confine ourselves to duck shooting, pinochle, penny ante and other innocent divertissements!"
"Little peculiarities!" returned Mr. Cahn in evident disgust. "Little! Well, here's impudence for you! Little peculiarities. Well, I never heard such full, deep-chested, air-shaking, sleep murdering snorts, gurgles and roars, styled little peculiarities before. Why, gentlemen," raising both hands as if for a harangue, over the price of suspenders, "this man Metz ascends the scale regularly, from the double bass to the biggest bull frog that ever plunked into Three Springs to a height where he is in imminent danger of choking to death. There is no use hollering at him; it only breaks the diabolical sound into numerous particles and distributes them over a wider surface, splintering, as it were, one monotonous note into counter, tenor and treble; the scale then proceeding with more criminal vehemence than before. I'll match him against any boiler factory in America, and winner take all, and the sooner the quicker."
"But how about the ducks, Abbie?" interpolated Arty.
"Ducks!" and Abbie grew wrathy. "Show me a duck I have missed, will you?"
"Where's the duck you've shot?" from Dad.
"Shot!" and Mr. Cahn became frenzied. "How the double deuce can you shoot a duck when you don't see any?"
"Oh, that's so, Abbie was buried in the hay, you know; all the rest of us got birds," said Greer.
"Yes, you did-I believe Sandy and Bowman killed every bird that was brought in here today. All these big tales you tell about shooting ducks in the sandhills is rot, and ought to be denounced and scouted at by all decent men! You talk about ducks as if they grew on every bush in the neighborhood, and it don't have to be any bigger than Dad Weaver's conscience, at that-and if you can find anything smaller than Dad's conscience, I would like to see it, that's all."
"The only reason that you didn't get as many ducks as the rest of us, Abbie," remarked the Dr. with a grim smile, "at least that's what Arty says"-
"What does Art say?" Cahn snapped an interruption.
"Why, that you did not shake your decoys hard enough when you saw a flock flying over the lake. He says"-
"Oh, never mind what he says-his jaw is the only thing about him that is even reasonably alive, and he does certainly work that to the Queen's taste. I have wondered ever since we started why Charlie brought him along. Killing ducks is as much beyond him as his brothers nasal accomplishments are beyond the wildest endeavors of the best regulated boiled factory in America. But to change the subject, Dr. Van Camp, what have you got to show for your day's work-you and Greer there have been out all day, and I haven't seen you show yet."
"Oh, we did all right," replied the Dr. "We were over on the north side, you know, and didn't get located in time to get the cream of what little morning flight there was, but at that, we got nineteen birds, including eight mallards. That wasn't so bad, was it?"
"No, that was all right, and you Dad, what'd you and Deright do?"
"Fine!" quickly responded Dad; "we were in a favorite old hole of ours, and as long as the birds came at all, we did first rate. Let's see, how many did we get J?"
"Oh, somewhere's along fourteen of fifteen," replied Deright, "but we only got one mallard. Most of our birds were widgeon-but I did get one cock redhead"-
"A redhead," interrupted Charlie; "well that is the first one this fall. Was there a flock of them?"
"Yes, quite a big one, perhaps thirty-five birds or more. They came from down the slough where Frank and Sandy were, and I believe they got a shot at them-didn't you?" and he turned to Frank, who had been quietly enjoying the conversation.
"Yes, we did, both of us-a long one, however, and we didn't get a feather," remarked Frank.
"It wasn't the same flock, don't you think?"
"I don't think anything about it-I know it. When they turned out to the west, after passing us, we saw them go on up the lake, and over the point where you and Dad were. We heard your shots and saw that one bird fall, a long ways to the south of you, and I remarked to Sandy that you would lose it."
"Well, we didn't, but he gave Dad and I about a half hour's chase before we got a chance to overshoot him, How about you? Why didn't you get any?"
"Well, in the first place, we didn't have a chance-too far away, and we simply banged away at them for spite. It was a fine flock, and when they came over the big hill from the north lake, they were headed right for us, and we thought we were going to get a dandy shot, and we would have, if it hadn't been for a shot fired way down the lake somewhere, that settled it. The birds had just caught sight of our decoys dancing in the sunlight, and were slanting down right toward them, when that shot came. It sent the birds like a rocket up into the air, and instead of coming right on in a straight line, they turned out over the lake in your direction, and thinking that we might cut one out, Sandy and I both jumped to our feet and gave it to them, but no good. It only made them git the faster."
"We were much disappointed, because we saw they were redheads and we wanted a couple badly!" I added.
"That is something that always struck me as peculiar," here broke in Charlie. "I never have known a hunter who was not overly anxious to kill a redhead, and to my notion they are not in it 'longside an old mallard. Why is that?" and Mr. Metz turned an inquiring look in my direction.
"It is because, in the first place," I answered, "that the redhead is rated as only second to the canvasback in gastronomic desirability, not only by those who know how to eat, but in all the markets, where there are markets in these days, throughout the world. And at that, like you, Charlie, I don't think they have a single quality the mallard does not possess, and yet I must confess I would pass up a mallard these days to get a good crack at a redhead, especially a fine old rosewood hooded cock like that one Dad and Deright brought in. Why? Because the redhead today is a much scarcer bird than he was even ten years ago, and is becoming scarcer and scarcer each year, and ere long the sight of one will be a rare thing indeed. I regret to say it, but I think the redhead is about the next species of wild fowl to vanish absolutely from the fact that where they do exist in any considerable numbers they are the easiest bird bagged of all. While apparently as wary and alert as any of their congeners, they are absolutely devoid of any perspicacity and cunning, decoy like tame chickens, and after shot at, often return to your stool two or three times. I remember one spring, when shooting with Stockton Heth over a small pond, one cold day in March, up near River Sioux, we got in eight barrels with our double-barrel Parkers into one flock, that insisted on coming back to see what was up, until we had knocked down no less than eleven birds out of the bunch.
"But to go a little further, the redhead always has been a superlative favorite with all the wild fowl shooters I have ever know, and they are yet, I am thoroughly satisfied. Back on the old Chesapeake, years and years ago, it was the redheads we all prattled about, and it was the same up at English lake, and along the Illinois and Kankakee rivers, where I did much shooting thirty years ago-always redheads, even before the lordly old canvasback, but don't think the latter were ever belittled or given the go-by. We all know, I will add, that there isn't a grander bird in the universe than the redhead, nor a more beautiful one before he is prepared for the dripping pan or broiler. But proceed, Dad, let us hear about you kill this morning."
"Oh, there isn't much more to tell," resumed Weaver. "We saw the birds even before you and Frank shot at them, but when you did shoot, and turned them our way, Jim said, 'well we're goin' to get a crack at them ourselves.' And so we did, but they were a trifle high, and that old drake was the best we could do. And we weren't any too sure of him, for, as Frank remarked, he fell nearly a quarter of a mile to the south of us, and when we jumped him again, we saw he was only wing broken, and of all the chases you ever heard of, that bird led us. I think it was fully an hour before we got him cornered in a clump of flags, and I got a final shot at him when Jim poked him out. But say, Sandy, we got that mud hen for you all right, and Abner is going to fix it up for your especial dinner tomorrow night."
The Mudhen, a Bird That Has Been Unappreciated by Gunners
Apropos of Dad's remark that they had killed a mudhen for me, will be a brief explanation. The first evening we were at Metz's we were discussing the edible qualities of the different kinds of ducks, when Dr. Van Camp said he would like to know once and for all whether a mudhen was a good table bird or not.
The Dr. Wants to Know.
"You see," continued the Dr. "I know that there are few gunners who go out on the grounds convenient to Omaha these days, but what make just about as much of an effort to kill mudhens as they do anything else, and that they take them home just as they do mallards, bluewing teal, widgeon or any of the other ducks. [n.l.] true, too, and they tell me-that is several parties [n.l.]-that they are just as good eating as the general run of wild fowl. Now what I'd like to know [n.l.] there are any of you fellows that know anything about it-have you ever tried them?"
To a man they acknowledged that they had not-all but myself, and I said I had eaten a mouthful of fried mudhen up at Cut-Off lake years ago, and found it both tough, strong and unpalatable. I added, however, that the bird had been cooked by an amateur who was just as apt to have spoiled a canvasback, and I took my experience as no criterion. I also added that for several years it had been my intention to demonstrate one thing, to kill a mess of mudhens and have them properly served, and satisfy myself on this very question. However, up-to-date, I had failed to carry out [n.l.] plans, and was was much in the dark as ever.
What the Hunters Say.
I will say, however, that I have been told by many of the sportsmen who do the bulk of their shooting in the ducking seasons up about Cut-Off [n.l.] over at Manawa and at other nearby points, that they had discovered that it was all poppy cock about the mudhen not being fit for the table, that they [n.l.] no opportunity to bag them, and would rather have them on their own table than several species of the commoner ducks."
"I've been told the same thing, many a time," interrupted Charlie Metz, "but you can all have your mudhens-a mallard's good enough for me."
"Ever try one, Charlie?" asked the Dr.
"No, I never did," proceeded Mr. Metz; "but I have been hunting ducks a good many years, and I have found that the almost universal opinion is that the mudhen is a sort of a harmless nuisance, unfit for either sport or food, and I've been satisfied to let it go at that."
"I must say," I remarked, "that I have always understood the thing about as Charlie has, but I intend to demonstrate the thing to a certainty this trip, if possible. If any of you men happen to get a chance at a mudhen while we are here, do not pass it up, get me one, or three or four, for that matter, if you can, and I'll have Abner fix them up nicely and we will see what we will see; for my own part I can't see why a mudhen shouldn't be as good a table bird as many others we consider excellent."
"That is just the way I feel about it," put in Greer; "and now we must not forget, if any of us get a chance, we want to kill Sandy his bird, and if anybody can make it fit to eat old Abner can. This is a nice question to settle right here, and I hope we are able to do it."
The Mudhens Gone South.
"Well," again interpolated our grand old host, "that's doubtful, for the mudhens have been gone for ten days, and I don't think there is one on the lake. Seen any lately, Frank?" and Metz turned to Bowman, who was watching the progress of the pinochle game.
"Yes, I saw three or four yesterday, but they were high up and looked as if they were traveling. I hardly think there is a bird on the lake."
But as good fortune would have it, both Metz and Bowman were mistaken, for while they had about all disappeared more than a week earlier, two belated individuals came bobbing late that afternoon out of the reeds near Weaver and Deright's blind, and they succeeded in potting one of them, and, after Dad had informed us of this good luck, I requested Abner to take charge of it in the morning, dress it nicely and prepare it for my dinner the next evening. ALl of which he promised to do.
Dad and His Kill.
"We didn't take any chance with them," and Dad reverted to the kill, "and Deright and I let them have it on the water. I killed mine in his tracks, but after much spluttering and floundering, Jim's managed to get into the air and flew back into the marsh, where we saw it fall, dead as a door nail. But it was where the mud was deep, and we made no effort to retrieve it. But you've got one, Sandy, anyway, and that will make a meal, and the rest of us can look on while you are eating it," and Dad chuckled with glee, winking knowingly at the bunch.
"All right Dad, but I'm willing to bet a penny or two that Abner fixes this bird up so the most of you won't know it from a teal."
"Hope you're right, Sandy," continued Mr. Metz, "but I am too good a liver myself to have any very fervent hopes. It might be if a fellow was starving, he could shut his eyes, fix his thoughts on the hereafter, and imagine himself Elijah, not being fed by the ravens, but feeding himself on a mudhen. However, I am in with you on demonstrating the thing, and Abner, I want you to do your best on this bird."
"You bet I will, boss; fix it up so you won't know him from our September bluewings," and Abner put a fresh coal in the bowl of the miniature cesspool he calls a pipe
"By the way, Abner," I requested, "bring the bird in. I want to take a look at him."
A Fine Young Hen.
It required but a few moments for the agile old cook to go out to the cold storage and bring the bird in. It proved to be a young hen, of this year's clutch, and as fat and glossy as a young woodduck.
I hefted it by one leg, whirled it round and round where all could get a good look at it, and then said, "that suits me-that bird could not be anything but good, especially dished up by the Honorable Mr. Thomas.
"Everything settled so far as cooking Sandy's bird for him, how many are there here that know anything particularly about the mudhen, anyway?" eagerly interpolated old Dad, "not many of us, I'll warrant, but of course, Sandy knows all about them. It is his business, and it would be interesting to have him tell us something definite about the bird. Funny that he has never tried them. How about it, old man?"
"Well, I'll tell you Dad, it has always been such an easy trick to get all the choice ducks that I have ever wanted, that I never let myself bother a moment over this mudhen question, but I can't say just how my experiment is going to pan out, but one way or the other, I'll not be disappointed.
"While I have always admired the bird for his many and ludicrous ways, I am as incompetent as any of you to sit in judgement on his gastronomic qualities. I know that nowadays they are quite highly prized by many hunters and are taken home, just like the other ducks, and eaten and enjoyed. They claim they taste much like our commoner ducks, but unless handled just right, are apt to be strong and rank, which is all very reasonable. But I can see no reason why they are not as good as a majority of our wild fowl. They are both gramnivorous and herbaceous, like most wild fowl, and I can think of no reason why their flesh should be any less toothsome than most of their congeners."
About This Queer Bird.
Then, at the request of the whole party, I went on to say, that while the mudhen, or more properly, the coot, is familiar to all duck hunters, they know less about the bird than they do most other wild fowl, because they have not been considered valuable, or even suitable for table purposes. They are peculiar in their habits, and do their traveling absolutely and wholly in the night time. No sportsman ever saw a body of coot come into or go out on any waters in the day time. While they are widely distributed, they are particularly plentiful here in our own state, and in this latitude are much more plentiful in the autumn than they are in the spring. They are a beautiful, graceful bird, with dense plumage of a dark blue and light, slatey color, and congregate together in countless thousands. They are always easily identified by their white, sharp beaks, and their bobbing, hitchy gait in the water. They are much averse to taking wing, and will slink away and hide in the reeds and marshes always in preference to taking to the air, when this is possible. It is only when you paddle near them in your boat, and begin to splatter the shot about them, that they will go to the seemingly laborious effort of getting up off the water and flying away. And then they seldom go more than a few hundred yards. They are great swimmers, good divers, and really expert flyers, when once fairly on the wing. They are well constructed for all three of there accomplishments, their legs being long, like those of the gallinule or rail family, and set well back, feet broad, not so much webbed as a duck's, and they carry their legs stretched out behind them like the herons and crane, when on the wing. As I said before, they are both fond of seeds and grain, as well as the larvae of aquatic creatures, of tender grass tendrils, nut grass, flag roots and calamus, which they get by diving and pulling it up with their strong, pointed bills from the muddy bottom. They will lie idle for hours, in a huge flotilla covering acres, in the warm sunshine, in the middle of some broad, open lake, and never seem overly energetic about anything.
The Mudhens We See.
They are fond of loafing and dozing on muskrat houses, and in early March I have seen them squatted on the ice, lying on one side, like an old hen in the dust, in order that they can pull their green tinted legs up well among their belly feathers, or else trotting and hopping around on the ice, on one foot, in a circle, like sandhill cranes at play, to keep their blood in circulation. They seldom come north before the lakes are open, but occasionally make a mistake and do so. When the mudhens come in the spring, you can always count on sultry weather, and in the fall they only remain as long as the waters are tepid and languorous.
The ducks have little to do with them, and they seldom mingle, either feeding or at rest on the same waters. Some hunters think they make good decoys, but they do not, that is only as an attraction generally to the vast body of birds passing in the air. When bobbing about close roundabout your decoys, you need not expect the ducks to come in. They seem to understand the fool nature of the coots and will not trust themselves in their company. The mudhens, however, will come to the ducks, but seldom to your decoys. They're thoroughly independent, and go when and where they please.
They make an easy mark when on the wing, and yet it is funny how often the best shots miss them. They fly about as swiftly as a spoonbill, in a regular and steady manner, and seldom slacken or increase their speed, no matter what the provocation. They cut a comical figure rising from the water, and it is difficult for them to get under way. They open up by smacking the water with their wings, and immediately their feet get to going like small [n.l.] wheelers, and after skimming or fussing along on the surface for many yards, they lift clear and off they go. Next Sunday we will see how our broiled mudhen was.
Another Day of Pleasures Out Upon the Metz' Ducking Lake
Nothing daunted, like all good duck hunters, that we were, we were up long before daybreak the next morning. After a most substantial breakfast of little pig sausage, fried only as old Abner knows how, well browned German fried potatoes, soft boiled eggs, flannel cakes and maple syrup, with strong golden coffee, I strolled out north of the lodge and down to the lake shore for a survey of the condition of things. While another matchless Indian summer day was inevitable, there [missing] a cool, gray light over the lake, which lay [missing] in its rufous borders, like a sheet of glass. [missing] far clumps of cane and rice rose indistinctly as [missing] in the air, with dark pictures flung in the [missing] waters all about them. The atmosphere, despite [missing] temperature, was fresh, really to chilliness, [missing] sweet with the multifarious odors of the dank and moldering vegetation. Old Dunderberg looked [missing] in the matutinal gloom, and from its shadows [missing] the faint madrigal of a lingering coyote. A [missing] angling for his perch breakfast off in the weedy [missing] way up to the west end, was sending forth his [missing] hoos like an Indian signaling to his fellows [missing] the hills, and awakening a hundred quavering [missing] A hawk was sailing over the distant shal [missing] drowsy twitter was creeping over the prairies, [missing] always comes, whence I never can tell you, [missing] the first pearl of dawn, although the largest stars [missing] still blinking dimly through the sombre tints of [missing].
Sunrise in the Sandhills.
[missing], however, the ash color of the east began to [missing] into semi-transparent lavender, then kindle into [missing] yellow. Points and capes began to creep out [missing] massed shore lines, and a streak of mist to [missing] along the lake. The hills stood out more clearly [missing] twitter of the broad hay lands increased into [missing] swelling occasionally into the clear piccolo [missing] indomitable lark. The waters showed [missing] though still sober tints; here a space of marble [missing] of polished black.
[missing] the cheeks of the thin clouds at the zenith [missing] into rose, then burn into gold. Gemmed colors [missing] emerald, topaz and amethyst-glanced [missing] bosom of Three Springs, and gold ran along [missing] of the hills. The east gleamed with royal [missing] and imperial purples. At last, through a [missing] the low sandhills in the background, striking [missing] landscape into gladdening light, poured the [missing] the risen sun.
The Stir at Dawn.
[missing] scene was now astir all about the ranch house, [missing] boys came hurrying onto the stage. Old [missing] opened with a yawn like a cavern, while [missing] swollen as if the diabolical tirade he [missing] subjected to at the breakfast table, had [missing] for good. Frank and Ray were busy with [missing] Charlie was bustling about delivering his [missing] Abner for the day, while the Dr., Greer, [missing] and Arty were discussing their plans for the [missing].
[missing] was finally agreed upon, and we split up [missing] on the previous day, and soon we were [missing] be off. The Dr. and Greer were again to try [missing] waters to the west. Weaver and J.J., their [missing] and on Otter Point, Art and Abbie to the [missing] Arty insisted the Cahn should take [missing] this morning, instead of his gun - Bowmen [missing] myself to the slough, and Charlie, with [missing] pal, to his own, private mallard hole on [missing] the pasture.
The Outlook Not Good.
[missing] over to the rushes," said Frank to me, [missing] all ready for the get away, "and I will [missing] the landing and push one of the boats [missing] not think we will linger long on the [missing] that out yesterday, and there'll be few birds bold enough to come back there today. Did you see any birds in the air while you were out reconnoitering this morning?"
"No, not a bird, but there comes a big flock over the hill now-see them?" and I pointed off to the north.
"Yes, I see them, and they are mallards, too, but I am leery of the day-I don't think we will do much."
"Oh, I can't tell you, but some how or other it don't feel very ducky to me-but, by George, there comes another flock. It may all be a mistake, but we're wasting time. I will be with you in less than an hour, and off he strode down toward the landing, while I trudged off for our hide in the tules, where we had had such a glorious shoot the day before.
Cries of the Circling Hawk.
Reaching the shores of the slough, the scene was quiet, soothing and delightful. Faint cries from the circling hawk touched my ear, a kingfisher, with his purple back gleaming in the sunlight, rattled away up the straggling waters to the lake at my approach, and five or six greenwings steered out from a little hollow in the borders on the other side and pushing through a broad field of dead lily-pads, made their way diagonally toward the mouth of the slough.
A quarter of an hour later I heard two quick reports from Frank's gun, and saw a bunch of bluewings shoot up into the air from the point were I felt he had about reached with the boat, and go n hurtling down the lake. Soon after I was electrified by a pair of mallards springing from the cane just out of reach below me and sail off to the north. I said to myself that they would go over Frank and that he might get a shot, and no sooner had I indulged in this mental declaration, than crack went his gun and one of the birds began to gyrate downward, and crack it went again, and the second one followed.
"Good," I cried, although Frank was too far away to hear me, but I was so elated at seeing such a grand double, that I simple had to let off a little steam.
On the Lonely Lake Shore.
Then for nearly an hour I was left to myself, all sounds seemed to hush as if some one had pushed the button that controlled the universe, and I stood as still myself as any of my surroundings, and thought and pondered over diverse and mystic things. The loon had long since locked his weird throat, the hawk had sailed away beyond the realms of vision, the larks were busy with their seed gathering, not another duck hove in sight, and not the faintest report of a gun came from the points where I knew my comrades waited and watched.
I thought of the vast expanse of that sea-like sandhills wilderness, really but little changed since its creation, and of the wild freedom of that savage life known there when the befeathered Sioux were the sovereigns of the land.
How About It, Anyway?
I asked myself if man had gained greater happiness with his boasted civilization, with his well builded ranch houses and sprawling herds of cattle? I asked myself if all the trophies won by this civilization, its treasures and science, its enchanted realms of painting, poetry, sculpture, music, eloquence; its elegancies and luxuries, outweigh its sufferings, cares and crimes; the daily anxieties, toils and battles for its miscalled prizes, its galling conventionalities, its scourging necessities, its malignant rivalries, its treacherous smiles-real ability failing where grinning trickery succeeds; mere poverty despised and mere gold adored; genius trampled beneath the hoofs of pompous dullness; frank honesty supplanted by wary villainy; right trottled by the ruffian hand of power. They wailing winds, oh earth, are but the echoes of our sighs, thy very throes of the emblems of our agonies. Then I thought, that I, at least, for one, was sick of the strifes and battles of the world, and that I would fain go back and live in the days of the sandhills' beginning, a tranquil realm of happiness, where pretension did not trample on merit, where genius was not a jest, goodness not a seeming and devotion nat a sham. There in the light-and then a wild cry-
Wakened From My Trance.
"Shoot! Sandy, shoot! What the hell's the matter with you? They were right over you," and Bowman arose from a crouching position in his boat out in the selvedge of the rushes, and as the vision broke upon me, I also was a bunch of at least twenty mallards whirling like rockets off into the sky beyond me. I had been in a trance. Frank had actually pushed his boat within a hundred yards of where I stood, and that magnificent flock of mallards had passed not twenty feet over my head.
It is needless to repeat here what I said then, but I can assure you that the words were in rude dissonance with the sentiments that had been muddling my fool brain.
"I was thinking," I said, as Frank joined me.
"I should say you was," he replied, "and it cost you a couple of mallards. Honestly, they were so close I thought they would knock your hat off. But I must apologize, Sandy, I could have been here an hour or so ago, but when I jumped those bluewings, it was such a likely place, I pulled into the tules and waited for them. I thought they would come back, sure. However, I got four of them, and made a dandy double on mallards."
"Yes, I saw that shot, it was great, and I must say, you haven't done so bad."
"No, fair enough, considerin' but there is no use staying here; that flock that just went over has been the only birds that has passed over the slew in two hours, so we'll git."
Over on the North Shore.
An hour later, long about 10 o'clock, found us well anchored on a sort of a reedy island way over almost against the north shore, and with our decoys out, we were just getting comfortably settled when the rare melody of beating wings greeted us, and looking upward with one accord, we saw a fine bunch of grand old mallards curving in the air, but too high for a shot. Then, that same old hawk, or at least I thought it was the same one I had seen dipping over the lake in the early morning, arose with a flourish from around the shoulder of the island and swept so close to us that we caught the defiant flash of his wild eyeball, and as, with swiftly flaying wings, he skimmed away across the blue expanse, Bowman said:
"It was all I could do to keep from letting him have it, but like you, I don't believe in wantonly killing any bird, not even a hawk, and then there is always a likelihood of spoiling a chance at a duck. There, did you hear that?"
Reports From Down the Lake.
I certainly did, the distant report of a gun, then another and another, and almost instantly thereafter discovered a walloping big flock of birds cross over about where we thought the Dr. and Greer were located. They were coming swiftly up the lake and we had no more than fair time to get in good position among the reeds, than they were upon us. They were considerably higher than we thought, but with our four barrels succeeded in cutting out a pair, one falling out on the open water in front of us, and the other slanting wing-tipped down on Frank's side.
The Birds in Motion.
I waded out straight to the open, but Frank had a great flounder in the rushes and low water after the other. Both back in the boat once more we stood up to get a better view of the birds curvetting against the distant sky, when Bowman exclaimed:
"Down!" and down it was, and following the direction in which Frank was looking, I saw a wisp of birds, like aerial racers, coming across the lake from away over the ranch house. In fact, there were a few birds in sight, but far off, in almost every direction; a majority of them were circling around over the west end, while singles and pairs were flying aimlessly across and back the northern side of the lake and over the glinting hills separating us from Raccoon lake. Doc and Lee and Dad and J.J. and even Charlie, way over on the east shore, had been spasmodically at work since those first shots set the fowl awing and the crack, crack, crack of their pieces made us fancy that after all we were going to have another great day of it. We were both watching a flock that looked as if they might come our way, but they suddenly switched around, and Bowman said:
"They are decoying into Dad and Deright!"
Then as they passed over the point where these two were crouched, two puffs of thin bluish smoke shot like shafts into the air, followed by two reports in quick succession, and, we saw two birds let go.
A Wisp of Greenwings.
"That was a cinch," I remarked, and was about to follow this up with further remarks, when Frank motioned for silence, and the next moment I saw a long line of birds whizzing down upon us from off over the hills to the north. On they came straight for us, and I quickly saw they were greenwings. They had barely cleared the shore, when instead of coming straight on, they suddenly swerved as if to go around us. They had not detected us, and this switch was but a whim of their erratic natures. But it was a lucky thing for us that they did not come straight at us in aline, for we wouldn't have possibly killed more than a bird or two, and might have missed altogether, for a line of incoming teal make about as elusive a wing shot as I know of. As it was, this bunch of birds curved around just right, giving us both a raking shot from crescent end to crescent end, right through the main group, and we didn't do a thing to them. Must I confess it? Well, we only knocked down nine, a good bag for a whole day's shooting, for many a gunner, especially in these times. I thought for a second it was hailing greenwings and as the dead and crippled came down amidst a cloud of flying feathers, and into the waters to our right, I thought we had killed the whole lot. I let out a yelp of excitement and as I did so the remainder of the flock flew together, going up into the ethereal like a sleigh runner, and then with another of those incomprehensible convolutions for which anas crecca is so justly famous and alone capable, swooped right back toward us again, I sounded softly that little jerky whistle that is so seductive to them, and down they dove toward the waters, as if determined to find out what had become of their missing mates. But they wasted no time in their investigation, nor did we in preparing for them, and as they turn-tabled around our blind, we gave them another dose of chilled shot, but in direct contradistinction to our first broadside, we only dropped one lone bird, an anomaly that we could not understand, but which has happened to every old wild fowler many and many a time in his career.
"Well, I'll be damned!" I piously ejaculated, and as Frank laughed, I felt like giving him a load, but then the thoughts of those fourteen greenwings we were sure of, alleviated all pique and disappointment, and I contented myself by watching the rest of those fool birds, like tiny mottled streaks, scud off over the lake, out across the lacustral borders, and over the fields toward Clear lake, and at the rate they were going, I don't believe they pulled up till dark.
A Bit of Moralizing.
Were those fourteen dead birds strewn alone there in the rippling waters, the fruits of my emotions, my moralizing and sentiment over the sorry condition of the modern world as compared with that of the primal age? It certainly must have been the case. Fourteen teal with four shots. Monstrous! you say. But just wait a minute, think carefully over the long list of your sportsmen friends and convince yourself if you can, that any one of them, among the whole number, would have refrained from taking those shots, especially the first two ones, with which we grassed thirteen of those fourteen birds. No, no, don't give me any of your mockish guff, for you know there are few mellowing influences and little mercy in a duck hunter's blind when the birds are flying thick. All refinement of thought is left for indulgence after the shooting is over, with about every man who loves the sport. I've seen them all in the field and shot with them, too, ministers of the gospel, lawyers, doctors, merchants and capitalists, and I've found them all alike, all swayed by the same desires, the same impulses, all made out of the same kind of stuff. Slaughter, till stayed, nowadays, by the mandates of the law, is ever the dominant attribute of the gunner crouching in rice, willows or reeds, let it be on the Chesapeake's legendary shores, within Koshkonong's rushy domain, or along the flag-draped borders of the lonely marsh in the sandhills.
End of the Shooting.
But one good thing, that about ended our shooting for the day, for shortly the flurry was all over, and every bird on the lake seemed to have bidden us a final adieu, for not another feather did we see till well along in the shank of the afternoon, when a lone redbreast merganzer essayed to dart by us, but, both shooting together, we dropped him to rot in the mud and the mire amidst the dense rice behind. And then, just before dusk, we saw a butcher bird, a shrike, and the tiniest lf all the hawk family, fly over us with a horned lark in his talons, and on across the lake, clear over the big pasture to the cottonwoods lining the west side of the lodge, where, no doubt, perched on one of the big limbs, he made his supper off his luckless victims.
All seated at the dinner table that night, under the brilliant electric lights, a hush fell over the group, as old Abner, as a prelude to the evening banquet, brought in my mudhen, browned like a berry, and entrancingly garnished with wild cress, on Charlie's most valuable Havilland china platter, and with great pomp, sat it down before me.
Story of the Baked Mudhen.
The boys were all on the qui vive, and pulling back from the table, squared off to watch me tackle the smoking, and what proved to be a most savory dish, before me. The bird had been admirably prepared, enticingly garnished, and with all the gastrovascular ability of a finished Parisian chef, would have been a dish fit for the gods. True to Mr. Metz's instructions, Abner had fairly outdone himself, and stood by with sparkling and quizzical eyes, watching my every move, and awaiting the denouement, as I made ready to manipulate the carver. With the fork I pulled the steaming bird round, facing me end-wise, and then sliced a good liberal mouthful off the breast, and stuck it into the orifice where it would do the most good. My teeth had hardly closed down on the rich, red meat, and its succulency began to percolate down my esophagus, when I realized that, truly, old ABner had prepared for me such another marceau as I had rarely tasted before. Of course, Abner had seasoned the fowl up highly, and among the many spicey flavors distinguishable to my refined gullet, I detected faintly the fruit of that far famed capparidaceous tree of far away Jamaica, commingling with the better known local savors calculated to tickle the epicurean pallet, and only known to a finished student of the culinary art. It was really a most delectable dish, and turning to the bunch, after I had thoroughly Fletcherized and swallowed that initiatory mouthful, exclaimed:
"Well, if there ever was a better bird than that, you'll have to show me."
They all began to laugh about the table, no doubt laboring under the idea that I was attempting to fool them, but I quickly dispelled any such illusion.
"Pull up you chairs, gentlemen," I continued with a suggestion of authority, "and I'll let you all decide for yourselves. While I would like to keep this whole bird to myself, I cannot miss the opportunity of lifting a cloud from you dull brains. Here, Charley, is a piece for you, and I forked to his plate a luscious slice of the ruddy breast, and here, Dad, and you, too, Dr., and Deright, Greer, Cahn and Arty, here is at least a good sample for all of you," and I helped each one in turn as rapidly as I could carve off the most luscious portions.
"Fine!" was the universal verdict, after each man had eaten his portion. "better, added old Dad, than many a duck that I have eaten right here at this very table, too-what do you say, Charlie?" and the Ak-Sar-Ben chief turned to our host.
Our Host Qualifies.
"Well, it is so good I don't know how it could be much better, but still old Abner has so disguised its real qualities, and given it such a zest with his spices and flavors, that it has lost all its gamey characteristics, and we can't tell whether we are eating mudhen or Chinese pheasant-nevertheless it is excellent, and removes a doubt I have long labored under, and that is about the table qualities of the mudhen. Of course, I must confess, that I shall always prefer a good, old, fat mallard, canvasback, redhead or teal, for you that need none of hocus pocus of the French gastronomic artist to make them preferable to any other game birds in the world. But if I can't get a duck, when I feel wildfowlish, and a mudhen is handy, don't you think that I will pass it up. It is really an excellent dish."
And such was the verdict of every one of us, a unanimity of opinion that must have a far-reaching influence on all our local sportsmen who read this, that the mudhen is actually a good table bird, much better than many that are considered exceptionally so.
With this episode over, and the well cleaned bones of old Dad's Fulica Linnaeous piled in an inglorious heap in the center of the tangled cress on Charlie's big Havilland china platter, removed by Abner, who had swollen up like a hot water bag, we all fel [missing] and the glorious dinner that was awaiting us [missing] the way of many another famous meal to that [missing] old hunting lodge.