Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. April 11, 1909. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 44(28): 2-S. Also: 4/18, 44(29): 2-S; 4/25, 44(30): 2-S; 5/2, 44(31): 2-S; 5/9, 44(32): 2-S; 5/16, 44(33): 2-S, 3-S; 5/23, 44(34): 2-S, 4-S; 5/30, 44(35): 2-S, 4-S; 6/6, 44(36): 2-S, 4-S; 6/13, 44(37): 2-S, 4-S; 6/20, 44(38): 2-S, 4-S. With sketches.

On the Spring Duck Shoot in Nebraska's Sand Hills

Observations of Nature Between Seasons and the Living Things of the Wild.

I got back from my annual spring duck shoot one week ago, after spending ten of the most glorious days of my long and varied career, at the sod palace of "Billy" Merz in the Cherry county sandhills, along with that prince of all Nebraska sportsmen, Tom McCawley of Seneca, where, in partnership with Harry Uhler, he presides over the general store of that thriving little city. Sime Elwood, also of Seneca, was with us, as well as Dick Bullock, the gold king of Lead, S.D., and Bud Moran, the millionaire cattleman and rancher of Hyannis.

Elwood furnished the team and hunting wagon, a dandy outfit, while Moran was induced to accompany the expedition as commissary and Yellowstone guardian, and he filled the bill all right, eating up about everything that was fit to eat every meal time before any of us could get fairly seated at the table, and depleting bottle after bottle of the golden with a speed and dexterity that left us with all our tongues hanging out before we had been in the hills a half dozen days. And smoke, well if you have ever seen a soap factory in flames, you can form some vague idea of what Bud looked like when he started in on a box of Perfectos.

We left Seneca early Sunday morning filled to the brim with the very best of spirits, as you can possibly judge from the brand mentioned above. It was a long journey up to Merz's place on Swan lake, where the week before McCawley and Elwood had sunk a shooting box in especial honor of my coming, but we did not experience a weary moment, as the day was replete with small excitements and interesting incidents.

Plain and hill were covered with splotches of sodden snow and under the warming rays of the sun formed a glittering, blinding expanse, which was extremely hard upon the eyes. But we had plenty of good cigars, and a big black jug full of - cold water - and with the panorama of fleeting visions, and our jokes and stories, the time slipped away on silvered feet. We passed several good sized lakes on the way, and from every one of them clouds of pintails and mallards, with an occasional bunch of canvasbacks and redheads arose, and bore off in this direction or that over the low hills.

Along about 9 o'clock we were slowly crawling over one of the numerous low ridges which cross and recross the trail to Merz's, when we came suddenly upon a huge gray wolf. He was trotting leisurely along a cattle path; going our way, probably making for his den in the hills after a night's maraud over the pasture lands of the valley. Hearing us approach, he deliberately stopped and half turning 'round, gazed defiantly at us, but the next instant, as Tom was about to swing his famous old hammerless upon him, he was off across the snow covered plain like a scared jack rabbit.

With a quotation from some one of the classics, Tom banged away at him, and although nearly 200 yards away, we saw the snow fly in his wake-Peters shell you know-as with doubled celerity he lengthened out his long gaunt form until all we could discern was a streak of gray against the dull background of white and dun. He soon reached the choppy hills and with a last look behind, was quickly buried from sight.

There has been a mess of wolves around this valley this spring," observed Simon Peter, "and they have killed lots of stock."

"Will they kill cattle?" I asked.

"You bet they will — one of the big kind we just saw-or a horse either. They are as powerful as they are sneakin', and seem to kill stock out of sheer deviltry, as they seldom eat anything but a trifle out of the neck or hams, and are too foxy to return to the same carcass twice, but go off and kill a fresh critter, eat a little more, then go on to another."

"How do they get at them-do they run then down?"

"Seldom. They get close down to the ground on their bellies and crawl slowly and by degrees upon the unsuspecting calf or colt, and when close enough give a run and jump and hamstring the poor animal as deftly as the skilled surgeon could with his knife. They generally hunt in pairs, or used to when they were more plentiful than they are today, and as soon as one hamstrung his victim the other would fly at its throat. Then in a jiffy they pull it down and finish it."

"Has there been any of these wolves killed round here this winter?"

"Yes several, and among them was old Black Snout."

"Old Black Snout-who's Old Black Snout?"

"Well he is, or was rather, the biggest gray wolf ever seen in all these here hills-he's been here for years and there is not a cattleman or rancher within fifty miles who hasn't wasted weeks and months trying to kill him-but they couldn't come it-that is until the last week in February, when Don and George Hanna got him cornered over on Big Creek, and administered the sleep pill. He was a thunderin' big fellow, with a coal black snout and a hide as grizzly white as that snow there. The Hanna boys got $50 for killing him, a reward from the stockmen in these parts."

It was now about noon and we had crossed the last chain of hills separating us from the valley of Swan lake.

The rays of the sun had been growing warmer and warmer and the winds balmier and balmier, as the day advanced, and when we finally struck the head of the valley, the beautiful had almost entirely melted and trickled away. Meagre splotches dotting the universal greenish dun, here and there alone remained to tell of the big snow of the week before.

"Look there-a skunk, by George! Get him, Sandy." and McCawley pointed to the animal as it waddled along in front of us among the bunch grass. Sime pulled up, and, Parker in hand, I jumped out and took after him. he was making for the salvage of low rushes bordering a slender slew a couple of hundred yards in front of us, and, hampered by my heavy coat, I realized that he would reach them before I could get near enough for a good shot, so I halted and let him have it at long range. he brought up instantly at the report of my piece, and his beautiful, bushy tail bristling out to its fulled dimensions, was hoisted as a danger signal over his striped back.

I always was prudential, to a degree, anyway. I went up no further, ut turning on my heel made my way back to the wagon involved in an atmosphere that bore no suspicion of new mown hay or red clover.

But about these polecats. For the benefit of the uninitiated I will say that of all the fur-bearing animals, save the omnipresent muskrat, they abound in the lake regions of the sand hills the most plentiful, and are of considerable revenue to the juvenile trapper. They are especially valuable this season, bringing from $100 to $175, while a muskrat hide is worth from 35 to 45 cents-the biggest price for years.

The skunk is really a pretty animal in his glossy garment of white and black, the proportion of which colors vary with the age and condition of the individual. In many there is but little white fur; in others broad streaks extend the whole length of the body. The adult animal measures something over twenty inches in length and tail, which is his crowning glory, from seven to nine inches. It is very bushy and when the animal is moving looks much larger than it really is. They live in holes in the ground near some rushy lake shore, and subsist upon the young and eggs of all kinds of birds, wounded ducks, gophers, fender grasses, rosebuds and sand cherries. Frequently they make inroads upon the rancher's hennery and create sad havoc with both eggs and fowls. When unmolested they will remain for months and years without giving any symptoms of their presence by the emission of that offensive odor for which they are so execrated. This fact alone proves how ludicrous is the belief that the urine of this animal is the source of its disgusting fetor. If this was so the whole scope of territory it frequents would be rendered almost uninhabitable to creatures of every other species.

Another quarter of a mile and Swan lake, like a great cerulean gem, spread out before us. A flock of pintails arose with their plaintive pipings from off the nearer arm of ice, as we approached, and bore off down the lake, in whose center we could see, bobbing in the sunlight, thousands of canvasbacks and redheads.

"There is our shooting box," exclaimed Tom enthusiastically, pointing out to me a circular contrivance in the center of the lake, "and you bet we will have a great shoot out there before we are many hours older."

Story of the Duck Hunt in the Sand Hills

Flock of canvasback at Swan lake sink box.
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A flock of canvasbacks coming down to our sink box out on Swan lake.


Immeasurably pleased were we when we finally reached the end of our long drive and pulled up in front of Billy Merz' sod house, which we found wide open to receive us. Merz and the ranch boy were there alone, "batching" it, the rest of the family having gone to Brownlee in order that we might have the place all to ourselves.

Merz wasn't long in injecting a lot of enthusiasm into the situation by remarking that he thought we were just in time. Notwithstanding there was still much ice in the lake and all the overflow was frozen solid, the ducks, principally canvasbacks and redheads, had been coming in by the thousands, and our prospects could not have been brighter. McCawley and Elwood, despite the fatigue of our long trip from Seneca, were irrepressibly jubilant and resolved to go right out that afternoon as soon as they had gotten their dinner, which Merz announced would be ready as soon as we got washed and cleaned up a bit.

In a marvelously brief time the old adobe domicillum had assumed that picturesque condition which so delights the ardent sportsman.

Guns and gun cases were stacked in the corner, trunks unstrapped and opened and shooting duds hauled forth and scattered around the room. Shell boxes, pipes and tobacco, cigars, wiping sticks, duck calls and other heterogeneous articles littered shelves and window sills. The warm reds, greens and purples of extra blankets glowed in a confused pile, while valises, overcoats, boots and waders were ranged along the wall.

Outside the cosy lodge was another picture, composed entirely of touches of the sandhill wilderness. To the left was a pyramid of decoys, canvasback, redhead and mallard; here lay a couple of old coyote traps, one of them showing by the long gray hairs still sticking between its jaws that it had done recent good service. Off to the right loomed the barn and windmill, behind which towered a big stack of "cow chips"-the only fuel of the woodless plains-behind a stack of touseled hay, while roaming about, as if perturbed by all this commotion, were two or three big wolf hounds and a priceless cur or two.

Add to these shimmering atmosphere hanging over the background sandhills, with their splotches of soggy snow and tufts of greening cactus; Swan lake, lying like a reflection of the azure heavens above off in front, and the golden coverlet of the March sun spreading over all and the picture is complete.

But we had little time to waste in admiration of our surroundings, and were quickly seated at the long table in the kitchen, and such a dinner as lay before us, redundant as it was with the spoils of plain and lake, is seldom feasted upon outside a well kept rancher's house.

A short rib roast, as was never roasted before, baked potatoes, lettuce, corn pone, sandberry sauce and hot coffee was what we stowed away under our belts, by the cart load, it almost seemed.

The banquet was too much for me-I came near foundering, and after it was over, I stretched out on the blankets for a good smoke. Tom and Sime, and Dick, too, finally caught the fever, could not be swerved from their original resolution, and pulling on their waders, and filling their pockets with those good old Ideal shells, they grabbed their guns, and set out for a jog around the lake.

I have no knowledge how long it was after their departure, but I do know that I was abruptly aroused from a most refreshing slumber by Merz loudly calling me to get my gun and come out doors. I scrambled to my feet, seized my gun, hurriedly inserted a couple of shells and ran out to see what was up.

"Stand still," admonished the ranch man, who stood just without the door, "there is a bunch of geese coming from off the lower flats and they'll pass right over the house."

Sure enough, the next moment I saw the birds, fourteen of them, cleaving the air with measured stroke of wing, coming from the south in a line, and I saw that they would pass directly over us. As they cleared the house they saw us and began to rise and veer off. Then I let them have it-first one barrel and then the other-and although we heard the shot rattle against their sides, spasmodically beat their broad pinions, climbed higher and higher, then with a grand sweep, swung off over the hills back of us.

A cottony bit of down or two, floating almost stationary on the listless breeze, was the only evidence left us of whatever effect my shots had had.

"What size shot?" asked Merz.

"Sixes," I answered.

"Too small, and those birds were higher than they looked, to boot."

It was now getting well along in the afternoon, and as a good many ducks were to be seen flying up and down the lake, I re-entered the house, got a supply of shells, and rejoined Merz and we started for the lake.

"When it warms up a bit more," said Billy, "I think you will have some great sport; there seems to be a good many birds in now, and all that is necessary for good shooting is to stir them up. Down! there comes a flock of white brant-a good sign!"

We dropped together in the low grass, and, glancing up, I caught sight of a long white line against the blue of the background sky.

They were coming swiftly on with their customary garrulous clamor, and were soon over us, probably fifty yards or more high. I straightened up to get a better shot, and leading them well, let go with the first barrel, but didn't get one.

"Lead 'em! lead 'em!" exclaimed Merz.

The birds had now passed over and their broken ranks were welling together again, and, while I felt that they were out of range, I obeyed the old rancher's directions, and pulled the second barrel. My surprise at this more than counterbalanced the chagrin I experienced over my first shot, for with a loud squawk one of the birds dropped out of the line in front of us. He lit with a bounce, rolled down a few feet, then lodged against a clump of bunch grass.

Bill got the goose and we started on for the lake, but meeting McCawley and Sime returning, we gave up our expedition and went back to the lode with them. Tom had five canvasbacks thrown over his shoulder and Sime carried a brace of redheads and a drake mallard.

"We didn't try to shoot," remarked Tom, "we're just on a little prospecting jaunt, and I tell you, we are going to have a day of it tomorrow-it looks awful good."

They had walked entirely around the lake and had seen slathers of birds-mostly canvasbacks and redheads.

The next morning dawned calm and mantled in light cloud. The sunglow interfusing the delicate mist, which always arises from the sandhill marshes, kindled it into a veil of delicate pearl streaming over the brow of day.

We were not long in making up our minds after breakfast. Sime was to row Tom and I out to the sink box, while he and Dick were to go up to the east end of the lake and keep the birds moving, while Moran and Merz were to drive across the country to Horseshoe lake and put the birds up there.

The frescoes of dawn had hardly dissolved when we reached the lake shore, with our sacks of decoys and shell cases. The clouds had melted into the merest lacework, and the whitened tops of the western sandhills were breaking into rosy fire, and the chill gray was brightened into a golden landscape of plain and promontory.

"See the eagle!" and Tom pointed off down over the lower arm of the lake, where one of those huge birds was circling, in all probability in search of a wounded duck.

It was a beautiful outlook. The broad expanse of water was glittering and scintillating like gem-bestudded silver. The sunlight also spread broad and dreamy over the sear grass, stretching away, clear to the base of the darksome hills, here sprinkling itself in mites of rarest topaz among the drooping and withered flags and cane, there striking aisles through the fields of reeds and rushes. The blackbirds were alert with their sweet "koong-ker-ree," and off from the broad bosom of the lake came the chatter of myriads of water fowl.

Sime quickly rowed us out to the box-a commodious structure, solidly staked in fourteen feet of water, and the big stool of decoys out, he "solonged" and rowed back to shore, he and Dick going on up the lake.


It was a pair of pintails, with their long slender necks stretched out to their fullest elongation, they were coming in a hurry straight across the lake. Suddenly they caught sight of the decoys, and making a sharp turn, started to circle the spot.

"If they come in you take 'em both," said Tom, "and if you miss I'll pump it at them."

The spikes had not swung clear around over the shore back of us, but were coming at us again at a rate of speed that was really discouraging. I wasn't in the best position, but just before the birds got over me, I led the drake about three feet, and his mottled body came down into the water just out of reaching distance-as if shot from a gun-dead as a door nail. The hen, with an affrighted squawk, put on a little extra steam and did her best to get out of range, but she failed most lamentably. Mrs. Pintail caught the full charged of chilled sixes well astern and went down slantingly, fully 200 yards away, lighting on a thin sheet of ice lining the north shore.

"Well, Sandy," said Tom, "that was a fine double, and I see you haven't forgotten how to hold that old Parker, But down! Here they come-they are cans!"

A Great Day's Shooting of Canvasback at Swan Lake

I quickly located the approaching birds at Tom's admonition-a soft gray line-probably thirty of them against the whitish clouds, yet like meteors cleaving the air our way.

"Careful now, they will be on to us before you know it," continued McCawley, then he gave three or four sharp, crow-like squawks on his caller, pushing his Parker a little further out through the yellow canes lining our box. Of course I was all ready on the moment.

The flight of the canvasback is something to be marveled at always. No other bird that I know of cuts the trenchant air with half his lightning speed. He is surely the racer of the skies. On any kind of a mission he goes through space anywhere from eighty to one hundred miles an hour. If he has business in view and has to get there on time, he leaves at least two miles a minute behind him, and does it easily at that. If you doubt this statement just shoot at the leader of a flock of canvasback sometimes when they are on a business errand, and be convinced. Shot travels pretty fast, especially out of the end of those matchless Peters shells, and if you are lucky enough to cut out a bird, take close notice and see if it isn't the tenth or eleventh one back of the leader, which you covered, as they flashed by. Generally, it is an old drake, who has commanded many an arctic voyage, you find in the lead of a string of canvasback. But this is not invariably the case, and it is not a rare thing to find some wise old hen acting as the pilot, in fact, a female is most always the leader of a bunch containing a majority of hens. Just why this is, I have never been able to determine.

Geese coming in over hills at Swan lake.
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Geese coming in over the hills at Swan lake.


But, as Tom had warned me, the birds were onto us almost before I could realize it. On they came, straight as a string, and looked as if they must pass high over us. But our decoys and the seductive call McCawley had sounded on the air, did their work effectually. When five hundred yards away, the birds fairly dove down from their onward rush and came in over our stool of counterfeits with a swish of wing that fairly took our breath. I was on my feet and gave them both barrels before Tom had time for further words of caution. Seeing what I had done, he too leaped to his feet and cut loose, bringing down a big drake with his last barrel, as the birds, with electrical velocity, were cutting transversely away across the lake, But, as premature as I had been, I didn't make a bad job of it, as two fine birds, with their white bellies uppermost, were floating shoreward, while a third, a wing-tipped drake, was breasting the white caps, that had suddenly crested the lake, off toward the line of rushes to the southeast.

"You were too quick. Don't shoot-he's too far out now. He'll dive in a moment and that'll be the last of him!" remarked Tom, as he noticed me about to draw on the wounded bird, and, sure enough with his last word, the drake tipped up like a gleam of light, and shot down into the depths like a brick dropped from the sky.

"There he is again," cried McCawley, as the shining rufous hood of the bird appeared close into the line of rushes, which he quickly entered and was gone.

"Look! that crow is after him, just as sure as you live-crows get lots of the crippled ducks," and, as Tom spoke he pointed to a crow that was winnowing above the clump of rushes the drake had entered.

"Better take a shot at him, hadn't I, just to scare him away, we may pick that duck up when we go in ourselves,"

"No, don't shoot," I replied, "I want to see for myself what the crow is going to do!"

In the meantime the sable marauder was almost stationary, up about twenty yards in the air, over one spot in the tules, when suddenly, with a fierce cawing, he opened his black wings to their fullest tension and down he plunged into the rushes. Out came the wounded canvasback, flopping his poor wounded wings in frantic terror and hoarsely, out into the open water, with the crow pecking him in the back with his sharp, short, but powerful beak, and buffeting him rudely with his strong wings.

But he did not get him, that time at least, for once more the canvasback went under the water and we never saw him to our knowledge again. The crow was evidently intensely disappointed, as he kept up a querulous cawing for several minutes after the drake had disappeared and flew backwards and forwards and round and round the spot a score of times, before he could make up his mind that the prize had really escaped him. Then he sailed off toward the shore and lit gingerly on the thin ice, hunching himself into a disconsolate looking bunch of black feathers, as if he meant to keep vigil until the duck would dare show himself again.

"Wow! Knock that redhead down, Sandy, quick! He's your's all right!" This was from McCawley, as a single bird swung right into us despite our upright positions, and in my scare I turned to let go both barrels at the presumptuous bird, but he was darting up and away all the same, until Tom's gun cracked, when he plunked down as if he had banged into a stone wall.

But I didn't like the two misses I had made, and I said so, with more emphasis than gentility, I guess, because Tom, in his customary nice and softening way, said: "Don't worry over a little thing like that, Sandy, you have missed many a duck before, and remember that fellow took you unawares, you were too intent watching Mr. Jim Crow, and weren't ready, but I was, and that makes all the difference in the world, in wild fowl shooting. Still that was quite a long shot, I made after all, don't you think so?" and Tom looked quizzically into my face.

"You bet it was," I responded, "one of the best I ever saw, but that is what you are always doing, Tom, and I don't believe the man lives who can shoot ducks with you."

"Plenty of them."

"No there isn't. I've been shooting twenty years longer than you have, and while I won't take a back seat for many of them, my bonnet is always off to you, you are the best, and when I say that I have in my mind's eye such famous old duck shots as Sam Richmond, Bill Francke, George A. Hoagland and Rev. Jenks, but they are not in it with you. But how did I miss that redhead anyway, Tom, he was right at the end of my gun?"

"That was it-too close and-mark!"

Tom's quick eyes had descried another string of birds, and like the component parts of a nicely balanced piece machinery, down together we went into the sinkbox.

"Now, don't be in a hurry this time-yes, they are canvasback all right-a fine flock. Wait on men, I'll tell you when. They'll come in like Helen Blazes, sweep over and by our decoys, but they'll circle and come back. They always do this, and if you will allow them to, they'll light right among our decoys. Squawk! squawk! squawk!"

On they come, more swiftly than ever, it seemed in response to McCawley's finely modulated call; just like the first flock, so many white and slate colored racers, each one, apparently, striving to get in first, but so evenly are they matched that none seem able to outstrip the others.

It is the climateric of a morning's wild excitement, a blood tingling moment and a most trying one on a restive, nervous gunner like myself.

S-w-i-s-h! They came down and skimmed along over our bobbing decoys with dizzying speed. Then they start off up into space again, as if bound for some haven in the silvery clouds. But they are not. McCawley is a wizard. They have mistaken our decoys for feeding relatives and intend to join in the banquet. They make a sweeping circle, then come back with that same wild rush of wing and gleaming red of iris. I hold my breath. Before I can fairly credit my senses fully two-thirds of those magnificent birds slide into the waters, just without the rim of our decoys, like so many white and gray and rosewood apparitions. The remnant of the flock, as if impelled by some vague intuition of peril, do not come back, but keep on their way to the east and are soon but faint dots against the sky over the distant hills.

"Don't be in a hurry," whispered McCawley, "they are unsuspicious and are not going to fly. Just watch and see what they do."

Shooting Canvasback at Swan Lake

And then for a moment after the flock of canvasback had lit on the waters in front of our box, they sat perfectly still. Then they began to move with the almost imperceptible motion of a thistle down upon the calm water, first to this side and then to that, inspecting their wooden prototypes curiously, half-suspiciously all the time. Finally, as there seemed to be no occasion for alarm, the whole bunch, and there must have been fully three dozen of them, converged slowly together, then timidly began approaching the decoys. Now they would halt and glide off to one side, then back again, as if yet afraid to approach too near. Suddenly, as they bunched well together again, and looked as if they might jump at any second, McCawley whispered:

"We might as well rise now, Sandy, and give it to them."

Together we stood erect, but instead of instantly flying, as we expected, the birds sat motionless on the water, craning their thick necks until we could see the flash of their deep, red eyes, evidently more astonished at us than they had been at the decoys. They did not dally long, however, to satisfy any useless curiosity, but with a loud splashing and a few spasmodic squeaks, arose in a body, and we let them have it.

It seemed as if there was a rain of dead and wounded canvasbacks, for no less than seven birds fell at the reports of our Parkers. Think of that! Seven canvasbacks at one fell swoop, or four fell sweeps, rather, for both Tom and I gave them both barrels. More canvasback than many a wild fowler has killed, in this region, anyway, in a whole season.

This may not be a very edifying or creditable confession, but I do not believe that there is a sportsman in the land, not even excepting the immaculate Ex-President Roosevelt, who would pour both barrels of his gun into a bunch of canvasbacks leaping up into his face, like these did before McCawley and me. This sentiment about the preservation of our game birds is all right enough for discussion, but when it comes to refraining from such a chance as we were thus offered, why the man that could or would do it, isn't there, that's all.

After shooting over the crips-which must be done at the quickest possible moment on these wild and wary birds-we crouched down into our box again, for the air off to the south now seemed fairly full of birds. They seemed to be moving aimlessly in all directions, and Tom said a storm was not far distant. There was no need of this warning. The damp crispness of the increasing winds told us that a change was about to occur. The distant hills were looking darker and darker in the misty air, and glimmering more and more indistinct, until they were entirely shaded in. Over the head of the lake ragged scuds were flying, and afar to the north we could see that the rain was already falling.

"Mark! Sandy, geese," again warned my vigilant companion, who had been standing to better his view of the oncoming storm.

"There are two of them-a pair of Canadas; don't you see them there to the right, low over the water? They are coming straight in and you take the first one and I'll take the last."

Hardly had McCawley delivered these words of advice when the geese, a pair of big Canadas, came flopping nonchalantly in. Tom and I were all ready for them, of course, and when the great birds were close enough for us to see the whites of their eyes, we jumped to our feet. There were two quick reports and two gray birds fell dead among our decoys.

"Mark! down!" it was another bunch of canvasbacks, and they came hurtling down the wind with tremendous velocity. I took the lead, McCawley the rear, according to our positions, and again we both downed our birds. Mine was a hen, while Tom's a big drake. I killed mine dead, however, but the drake was only wing-tipped. McCawley instantly overshot him, as he never gives a wounded canvasback any unnecessary time, and as the birds floated away towards the shore along behind the two Canadas, we again sank in our sink box. We did not have time to more than exchange a remark or two when we saw another big flock coming in, but as they neared the decoys, they veered to the right and swung off almost out of range. We heard the shot rattle against their sides, but they were a lot of tough old birds, and continued on their way toward the hypoborean regions.

We had little time for regret, when still another flock, embracing probably sixty birds, came rushing straight at us. They lowered beautifully, and we waited until they dropped their lead-colored legs to light among the decoys, before we arose, and as in the first instance, then let them have all four barrels. Four birds fell, while a fifth, who had received some stray shot in the fusillade, swerved from the main bunch, as they tore straight away, and flying back of us, across the intervening water, went over the shore and fell on the hillside, fully half a mile away.

"He's all right-I'll get him when we go in to-night," remarked McCawley, confidently. "He's a dead bird, I can tell by the way he fell. Down!"

McCawley's ever restless eyes had discovered a fine bunch of birds circling over the wapato beds across the lake to the north. He brought his caller into requisition, and after a moment's shrill squawking, succeeding in attracting their attention, and they quickly started to come over. They were not long in getting their eyes on the decoys, but shied past just as we thought they were going to come in, and deflected to the left. They made a circle of a mile or more, then came bearing down upon us again. As they approached, Tom gave a running, clucking call; the birds turned and came swiftly on, unsuspectingly toward us. We saw they were extremely timid, however, and agreed to take a long chance. Sure enough, when within, possibly fifty-five yards of our blind, they "dished," with a sibilant swish, and began to go up at the rate of a mile a half minute, and, feeling that they were off and this was our only opportunity, we jumped to our feet and again emptied our guns. To our astonishment, two birds fell, both killed clean.

There was quite a little lull now, but it didn't last long and finally the same old electrifying admonition fell from McCawley's lips, and we squatted.

"It's a pair of mallards, Sandy." said he, and down the lake I saw them coming abreast. The wind was assisting them considerably, and it required but a few moments to bring them in. As they caught sight of the decoys their natural wariness and caution returned to them, and they began to beat upward as if for a better view. Everything seemed satisfactory, and down they came, plump on our faces, the old drake, with green head and velvety neck far outstretched, leading his mottled consort by a foot or two.

"It's an easy double, Sandy," said Tom, "you take them and show me what you can do!"

"All right," I responded, "I'll show you how I always do it," and as the two birds were cupping their wings and dropping their orange pillars, I rose quickly for the shot.

The drake was extremely suspicious-did you ever see one that wasn't?-and in an almost perfectly upright position he was hovering almost stationary over the decoys, with his glossy breastplate and ashen belly, staring me in the face, while the hen was timorously fluttering just behind.

With the most supreme confidence in my own ability to turn the trick, I banged away without hardly aiming, and thinking, of course, that the drake was a good as a dead bird, I swung off and onto the hen, who had wheeled as if on a pivot, and with distraught squawks, was cutting her way through space with all the energy of her sturdy pinions. Bang! went the other barrel, and to my inexpressible disgust and humiliation, I saw both birds making good their escape, the old drake spitefully emitting that aggravating "mamph! mamph! mamph" as he dove around and joined his mate in her mad flight across the lake.

A downy feather or two was being buffeted hither and thither by the stiffening wind out in front of us, but that was all they left behind as evidence of my vaunted skill.

I had scored a beautiful double-miss!

But McCawley, as usual, was more than considerate. he smiled faintly of course, but as a surcease for my chagrin, said:

"Well, sir, Sandy, if I have done that once in my life time, I have done it one thousand times. The best shot on earth don't know when he is going to drop a tough old mallard. They seem to get out of the most impossible situations at times, and you miss, when you think they are dead easy. The fact is, in your case just now, you were too anxious to make a double, so you got neither. You shot under both birds, I could see that plainly, but at that a few pellets whistled through the old drake's tail feathers, but I'll bet you wouldn't repeat in a hundred trials."

I hadn't a word to say. I simply slipped in a couple more shells in a perfunctory sort of way, and squatted down in the box, which I mentally wished, just then, was a few hundred feet deeper.

"Canvasback!" it was the same old startling warning from my watchful comrade.

The birds were coming down the lake from the east, an immense horde of them, and McCawley advised me to be ready for the first chance. A moment later, though, as the birds suddenly lowered, he said in a whisper, "they're going to light; don't shoot!"

The birds had now dropped low over the water, and were slowing up preparatory to sliding into its cooling depths. In another moment they would have settled. What a flock! the like of which I had never seen before, not even in the old days down at fabled Currituck. Every nerve was tingling; every muscle, every fiber quivering with the keenest delight, such as only the old ducker experiences under similar circumstances.

Tom and I crouched like images hewn from stone. Moveless as death, we were waiting until the advance couriers of the approaching myriad had breasted the crest of the restless lake, which they were doing, when suddenly we were startled by two thunderous reports from a shotgun, in the hands of some fiend in human shape, off the near shore. It was the work of a bumpkin trapper of the lower sandhills, who was after muskrats in the shallow waters among the nearer tulles on the south shore, and his blunderbuss and black powder had well done their nefarious work.

The big flock broke, as into a thousand whizzing fragments, and as they darted, like streaks into the upper currents, McCawley and I looked on, only in the most unutterable disgust, never attempting to get in a shot-we were too exasperated for that.

With McCawley in the Sinkbox

Although the sandhills trapper had spoiled a fine shot for us, the birds were so plentiful that we were over our pique in a moment or two.

"There he goes up the lake," remarked Tom, as we caught sight of the muskratter's canvascoat, glancing in and out among the rice and tules like a heron's back, as he crunched through the thin ice along the shore towards the head of the lake, "and see he got a rat, if he did beat us out of a brace of canvasback."

And sure enough dangling from a belt around his waist we could make out, as he stepped into the open a moment, the limp and furry form of the rodent. As he vanished round the first bend, McCawley continued.

"The sandhillers are really making a good thing out of their trapping this year and we shouldn't feel sore if they do beat us out of a shot or two. Since the market in game has been denied them by the law, they do more trapping than ever before, and this spring they are getting twice as much for their pelts as they ever received in the history of the hills. There is such an unusual demand for muskrat skins that the prices now quoted run anywhere from 35 to 48 cents, while a prime mink is worth $4, and skunks from $1.50 to $2 each. Coyote hides are not very profitable, as they are only purchased for ornamental purposes, rugs and the like, and there is no demand for them among the big eastern dealers."

It was well along in the morning by this time and the rose tints had faded entirely from out of the sky, while the distant hills had warmed into bronze and the reeds and canes and rice into gold. The sun had kindled the willows and tule beds into yellow life along the shores of the lake on both dark green sprinkling the dark green [word n.l.] with [word n.l.]there striking a shimmering into the lake, until the whole landscape was one broad illumination. We heard the frequent reports of the guns of Elwood and Bullock, way up the lake and a few moments later the air was filled with the mass of mixed ducks they had jumped from the neighboring bayous. The birds arose in great black masses from half a hundred different points, sailing up into the air singly and in great flocks, then circling round and round as if endeavoring to locate the source of danger before taking their bearings for departure from the country.

"Mark! right in front," excitedly whispered Tom, as a bunch of mallards came coursing the air straight for our blind from the east. "You take the right and I'll take the left end," he continued.

A moment later his gun cracked and a splendid big green head, in the full blazonry of his fall plumage let go and whirling in the air, tumbled dead amidst the decoys. As the rest of the flock lifted themselves aloft and turned to leave they received a dual salute from my old Parker and McCawley's [letters n.l.]ing barrel. Three more birds fell, two as dead as the proverbial mackerel, but the third, an old hen, fluttered down with a broken wing. She squawked affrightedly, as a wounded mallard always does, and began to cut out for the nearest point of the reedy retreat almost burying herself in the water as she scurried along. It was but a second's work to slip in another shell and in another moment her ashen belly was turned skyward and her orange legs worked spasmodically in the empty air.

"Bully!" shouted Tom, "we got four of them; four nice big, fat mallards, and would you believe it, I would rather kill a mallard than a canvasback. They have been my game all my life and I am never as delighted at myself as fully as when in the midst of a big flight of mallards. This canvasback shooting is certainly great sport, but it cannot be depended on, and we have certainly had a rare experience this morning, and I think the evening flight is going to be fully as good.


My warning exclamation caused McCawley to squat with such precipitation that he bumped into me and knocked me over against the side of the sink box, but we recovered ourselves in good shape in time to get a fine crack at a nice bunch of greenwings skimming over the decoys, fairly under our very noses, but so close were they to us and so hurriedly had we scrambled to our feet, that, although our chances were fine, we failed to stop a single feather. The little sport in the box occupied enough time to carry these little feathered bullets out of harm's way.

"That wasn't quite so bully," I remarked with little concealed acerbity. "You know, Tom, if you want to kill green-wing teal you can't fall down, for they won't give you more than an hour to cover them. That's the first time I ever saw you get the duck fever."

"It seems to me you're talking a good deal for an old has been," retorted Tom in kind, "but down, smarty, there comes a lot of birds now, right up the channel to your left."

Sure enough, there they came, a small bunch of widgeon, with their black and grayish speckled breasts glistening like silver sheens against the sun as they came swiftly on over the water from somewhere off on their marshy feeding grounds. McCawley and I were crouching low with our guns protruding through the thin cane surrounding the box, but we were sure ready this time and not an elbow did we crook until the unwary birds had dropped their pale, greenish legs and cupped their wings, when we handed it to them.

Like experienced duckers we had both selected our bird, but as bad luck would have it, and as is the case so often that it is incredible, we both selected the same bird. Our pieces cracked like a single gun and the biggest bird of the bunch, a crested and proud old cock, dove down into the water at the edge of the decoys head foremost, heavier possible by a couple of ounces by the quantity of lead we had poured into him. With that marvelous speed, with which the widgeon is justly noted, the remaining birds wheeled as if upon so many pivots, but at that they were no quicker than we were, and in much less time than it takes to tell it, they got our other barrels. We both got our birds too, surprising as it was, but neither had killed dead and realizing the abbreviated time it requires a wounded duck to put himself beyond the reach of the most penetrating hammerless, we both hastily reloaded and began pounding away at them. One keeled over at the first shot, but notwithstanding we were chagrined to see him clear the deep water and enter the reedy shallows, into which he plunged with little ceremony.

"Well, let him go," philosophically quoth my companion, "he's old and tough and we don't want him, anyway. But great heavens, look! look! there comes a thousand of them."

The sight was one well calculated to make a duck hunter's heart leap, and set his blood tingling, for if there was a single bird approaching there was truly as Tom had ejaculated, a thousand of them. They were coming from the upper lake and within the feathery cloud were canvasback, mallards, redheads, widgeons, bluebill and teal, and from their course we knew they must pass directly over our box. But they began to lower as they got nearer and were making straight for the decoys. The advance guards was actually settling among the wooden counterfeits and we began a fusillade that a duck hunter does not experience many times in a season. Two or three birds fell at the first volley, but so many were there and so great was the momentum and ignorance of the swarm in the rear, that they came on in confused and rapid flight over and by and and all around us. They very air seemed a [word n.l.] of frightened and squawking ducks and as fast as Tom and I could load and shoot the intense excitement was maintained.

Without exaggeration it must have been two minutes before the last frightened and scrambling bird had regained his course and cleared the dangerous crypt in which we were crouched.

"By heavens, Sandy," said Tom, "thought they were going to route us out of here as he turned his flushed and steaming face upon me, but there was no time for congratulations, and I simply replaced "yet, be crips" as I poked my gun out through the reeds and banged away at a splendid big greenhead which despite his shattered wing, was fairly lifting himself through the foamy waters for the reedy shore. McCawley was quickly to my aid, and, although there were no less than five wounded birds striving to escape by divers routes, we turned over every mother's son of them before they were within hailing distance of the longed-for haven of rice and rushes. These, with the seven we had extinguished outright, made a baker's dozen birds we had pulled out of the big flurry, one female canvasback, six mallards, four redheads and two widgeons.

"You take him!"

It was a single bird, a mallard hen, and she had just rounded the decoys on McCawley's side, and while I could have killed her myself, I did not like to shoot over his head. As it was, for him, the shot was an unexpected one, and he was coming up from behind. He turned quickly however, and despite it was a snap chance, he made a dead center, dropping her just inside the outer rim of the decoys.

"Fine! Tim," I exclaimed n admiration, "that was a shot in a thousand!"

Easy, after I got my feet in fact, I like that kind of shooting. It adds a zest to this straightaway business. But look the birds are leaving-see those long lines going over the hills there to the south?"

And sure enough, in veritable clouds the birds were growing dimmer and dimmer out over the glistening prairie and sombre hills, and it was again plain that they were really off for other grounds. But we were satisfied, we had had such a glorious morning's shoot that we welcomed a respite for congratulations and merry bondage.

"Well, sir, the first bird I"-

Tom's jubilant outburst was cut short by a swish and a splash. A brace of canvasback, like feathered ghosts, had plumped themselves right down in the middle of our decoys, coming whence, as they often do, neither of us had the slightest suspicion.

Unsportsmanlike, I pushed my piece out through the thin blind, with the whispered admonition that I'd pot them both with a single barrel, and banged away. Instead of gently reclining on the water's surface, as I had implicitly anticipated, both birds leaped from the cooling depths as from a springboard, and like a pair of white streaks shot away toward the open lake. With an exclamation that wouldn't look well in a great family journal, I cut loose my second barrel, while Tom gave them both of his, and although we saw that one of the birds was laggy and hard hit, they both got away, continuing on across the lake, then out over the hay fields and the low sandhills until they were specks against the distant background sky.

"Hello, there's Sime and Dick," and sure enough there they were, sloshing along the shore retrieving our ducks. They had rounded the reedy bend unexpectantly, and at once began to gather our kill. Reaching the point where the boat had been pulled into the woods, Sime climbed in while Dick went on down the shore, picking up the dead.

Elwood was soon alongside the box, and after the usual exchange of greetings, he said:

"Well, do you want them all, or will you go in and get a bite of grub? Cracky, I never saw anything like the shooting you fellows did when that great mass of birds got in motion. Dick, I saw the whole show from a hay rack off there, and I tell you, it was as good as being with you. At that, we didn't do so bad this morning along the shore. We got something like a dozen mallards and a half dozen other birds. But get in-they've all cleared out for Mother Lake. We'll go to the house an' eat, 'bout 4 o'clock, we'll come out again, and you bet those birds will all be back this evening. Say do you know most of your birds are canvasback. Steady, now, take the seat in the Stern, Sandy, and we're off.

A March Sunset on Swan Lake

Instead of the storm, which we had all been expecting, brewing over our particular neighborhood, it passed around off to the north, and the afternoon was but a pleasant mixture of sunshine and shadow, the air being aromatic with the sweets of marsh and plain extracted by the falling moisture to the north.

We all reached the Merz sod palace together - Tom, Sime, Dick and myself, and Moran and Billy, who had been scouring the country, keeping the birds moving wherever they could find them.

It did not take Merz and myself long to get dinner, and it was a sumptuous one, too, don't you doubt it, and after a good healthful snack at the resistless old Yellowstone bottle all around, we fell to like so many haymakers, and when we got through the table looked as if a cyclone had struck it. As a sample of the destructive havoc committed individually on the good things we had served, it is only necessary to say that Bud Moran alone, ate two white geese and three canvasback, a slab of corn bread as big as the top of a poker table, fourteen baked potatoes, five onions, a can of stewed tomatoes and a gallon of coffee, and when he arose from the table, he exclaimed, as he stretched his muscular arms above his head:

"Well, I'll be condemned if I am a bit hungry!"

The bulk of the afternoon was spent lounging about the lodge, but as the sun began to lower toward the rim of the western sandhills, we hastily adopted our plans for the evening shoot. McCawley and Bullock were relegated to the sink box, Elwood and I to the reedy fields a mile up the lake, while Moran and Merz were again to ride the country and keep the birds in circulation.

After Elwood had rowed Dick and Tom out to the sink box, he returned to the shore, and, after hiding the boat, he and I started up the lake. The whole marshy shore resembled a network of jewels, more than anything else, with its flags, rice and reeds, its splotches of gleaming water, pyramidal muskrat houses, and crypts of bedraggled yet revivifying vegetation. We reached a point where the brown earth stuck its nose out into the wild maize for fully a hundred yards, as if determined to penetrate the heart of the lake itself, and the long strips of crystal water, called Merganzer Heaven, on each side, looked entrancingly beautiful, with the gentle evening breeze playing over its gloss and the slanting sunlight kissing it into riant smiles.

Sime and I stopped in admiration, and as we gazed off over the broad expanse, I thought what a magnificent wilderness of shining water, glittering shore, waving cane, tulle and grass, the whole scope within my vision made; even off to the distant haze, shrouding the long, lonely line of sandhills, so imposing in their sweep of grandeur, so melancholy, so silent in all its encompassing details.

Sunset on Swan lake!

A thrilling picture, indeed, and I endured no sense of loneliness as we stood together enthralled, and feasted our eyes on its manifold beauties. We were real sportsmen, Sime, Elwood and I and the whistle of the mallard's wing and the tinkling call of the yellowleg was melody to our souls. We needed no stupendous Niagara, no Yosemite, with its beetling crags, inaccessible peaks and yawning canyons, to stir the red blood in our veins. We were outdoors in the freshening winds and soothing sunshine, and that was all we craved. Far to the east, through the elusive haze, loomed the rounded hills, stepping stones to the tableland beyond, while between stretched the network of glittering gems-dew drops on the leaf of a rose-fragments of the sprawling lake, scintillating within their fetters of reed, rice and flag; to the south, through a rift in the rolling plains, twisted the legendary Big Creek, dim artery to the core of all that wild region, with its gloomy waste and gruesome shades-hidden habitat of the coyote, the skunk and the badger.

Finally we started on, and after trudging a quarter of a mile further up the lake, we selected our blinds, about 300 yards apart, and waited for the sport we felt certain was to come. The whole picture was soft and rich, steeped as it was, in the mellow charm of the yellow sunset.

On the sky, the light was now shattered into a thousand tints, with everything above the horizon as plain as midday. All about us, over the marsh, rested a pallid glow, which intensified the brilliant colors in the air, and at the same time throwing a weird gloom over the sombre shades. From the departed sun rosy light radiated into the zenith, while the upper sky to the east was changed by the contrast to deep orange, with purpling borders. North and south the clear, blue shaded into delicate olive tints, shifting into pink toward the center of the great dome. On the one side lay strange studies of rich umber, darkening with every passing moment, on the other burned fleecy streams of lemon-colored vapor, and over this grand stage soon poured the troupe of actors which had drawn us from home into the distant sandhill wilds.

The evening flight was on.

The ducks were coming in to roost, and they seemed to come out of space and from all directions. With a rushing, hissing sound, as if rending with their speed they canopy of heaven, down came flock after flock of canvasback and redheads, out of the face of the night. Dense masses of blackjacks, with wings set in rigid curves, came winding swiftly down, with long lines of mallards, whose stiffened pinions made the air swish beneath them, sweeping curves of widgeon and wisps of greenwing, ruddies and bluebills, riding down the darkening air. Geese were trooping past, too, but most of them high in the air, sounding their far reaching trumpets as they sailed on and were lost to view in the deeper shadows beyond.

Neither one of us got a shot for more than half an hour after we had settled in our blinds, but at last I heard the clangor of a mob of white geese behind me. I quickly made out the snowy triangle clearing the dividing hills and coming straight on toward us. I waited in breathless suspense and was overjoyed to see that the big flock was going to pass right between our blinds. And they did so, closer to me than to Sime. There was a sturdy old gander at the head of the harrow, calling loudly to his followers to come on. Within sixty yards of me I broke his neck with my first barrel, and then, as the flock scrambled up into the nether spaces, I missed with my second. After this there was another long interval of inactivity, during which the moving birds of all kinds kept well out of our way. We could not attract them even by the most vigorous use of the caller, and I was rapidly becoming inpatient when a bunch of canvasback, like fabled racers of the upper regions, came pouncing down upon me from the sky. The first premonition I had of their proximity was the sharp whistle and swish of their wings, as they dished down and flashed over the open pool in front of me. In my eagerness I arose too soon, and the birds swerved and went off straight over Sime's blind and he got three birds with his two barrels. I stood up to stretch my limbs, when I saw the birds turn way off, a quarter of a mile or so, swing around and again head in our direction. I had just time to get down in good position again, at such tremendous velocity does the hungry canvasback fly, when they were upon me again, but not in real good shooting distance. But I meant to throw away no more chances and jumped up and gave them two loads, as they hurtled past me like a charge of canister, into their very midst.

On they went, every mother's son of them, to my keen disappointment, but the next instant I saw one fall behind, farther and farther, sagging and wobbling then let go and plunge to the surface of the lake out a half a mile or more.

In the meantime, Sime had been getting his work, too, and every whip stitch I heard the report of the boys' guns down the lake, from the sink box, and I felt they were having fine sport.

As the shadows became thicker, so did the birds, canvasback, mallard and redhead, and for a brief spell I kept my gun so hot that frequently I had to thrust the barrels in the water at my feet to cool them. But it was the toughest kind of shooting, in the deceiving light, and I am afraid that my reputation as a crack duck shot must have suffered a bit, judging from the few birds I was enabled to retrieve. Sime, even, did much better than I, notwithstanding he had shot wild fowl but a few times before in his life, as I could tell by hearing his sloshing around among the rice and reeds, after the frequent shots he made.

The gray twilight was now rapidly yielding to the darkness of night. The reedy estuary grew uncanny and mysterious, and the water was shortly a sheet of star-pointed inkiness. Nothing disturbed the quiet of the March night. The silence filled my heart. God seemed nearer in the solemn heavens. Far away was the world, with its sorrows and cares.

The moments pass.

Four or five faint reports come from down the lake, and I see the flash of Sime's gun as he bangs aimlessly into the whirling noise of passing birds above his head.

Then everything is stilled than ever.The purple haze that seemed to have absorbed the last glimmering light from the sunken sun envelopes the whole lake and surrounding landscape of prairie and sandhill. The tall cane stalks stand straight and silent before my face, like black specters in the confusing atmosphere. Everything rising and then sailing away over the tules as silent as a spider's gossamer.

The moments pass.

The last faint flush of the departed day melts into dusk. The bezeep! bezeep! of the night hawk wheeling overhead in erratic flight falls with strange distinctness as I listen. Soon it is lost in the distance and the real hush of early night is upon lake, prairie and hill.

The plaintive wail of the coyote announces that a new life has entered into activity and soon the darkness is resonant with little and mystic voices, yet everything is tomblike, save off in the shallows a little ways, where a congregation of mud hens are wallowing in the low waters. An occasional twitter is also heard, subdued and silvery, as though the little brown marsh hen who voiced it was in awe of some impending calamity.

Only the ever hungry redtail is indifferent to the prevailing lethargy which hushes all animate nature. The fellow is still in his element, and industriously swoops in the dim twilight, from point to point, dipping, poising, undulating over the glinting waters in quest of prey, while the pleasing, earthy odor, pungent of dank flags and rice, steals about you.

The low chuckle of the swamp owl startles you, and for a breath of time his silhouette is seen as he darts, on fluffy wing, against the dim lemon of the low west and then vanishes in the thicker gloom.

And the little prairie wolf still chants his love-song from the side of a distant hill.

A sudden commotion among the tules off to the right, and the sharp, shrill cry of a wounded teal or bluebill, apprise you that a tragedy, for which you are responsible, has been enacted. You think of the sweeping owl, and then of the last wing-tipped greenwing.

The moments pass.

The marsh folk rest, all but the muskrat, amorous little buffoon, and his plaintive whimper comes in from across the open stretch of water like a voice from the lost.

Sime joins me and we tie our birds into two bunches and start through the darkness up the lake. Rounding the point at Merganzer Heaven, Elwood gave a long quavering halloo, which was answered by Tom and Dick out in the box. Ten minutes later Sime is rowing out for the boys, and soon, all together, laden with the spoils of the evening flight, we start for the lodge. All safe and sound at last, we found Merz and Bud awaiting us, with a steaming hot meal on the table, and, after a smile all round at that same old Yellowstone bottle, we fall to and again we do most ample justice to the culinary achievements of our genial host. Following, come pipes, quips, stories and song, and then to bed and righteous and life-restoring slumber, to the soothing whisper of the restless winds and the distant chorus of the hillside coyotes.

One Day Along Big Creek

Interested always in getting all the sport out of a hunt possible, after the grand shoot of the previous day, the ever-provident McCawley, realizing that we had more birds than we could use or give away during the next few days, said we would pass up the wild fowl the next day and for a change drive over on a little exploring expedition along Big Creek.

We were all pretty well fagged that night and retired early. We got a good refreshing sleep and were up at dawn the next morning to the merry jingle of the red-winged blackbirds in the cottonwoods south of the house.

Tom and Sime and I stepped out doors to get a look at the weather, and while the sun had not yet risen, we knew by the rosy hue of the eastern heavens, that we were going to be blessed with a rare March day.

"Gee! Willikins!" ejaculated Sime, "did you ever see so many blackbirds?" and he pointed to the cottonwoods to our left, and sure enough there they were, in countless myriads, and their jangled kon-kon-keree-ee! was fairly deafening. Every tree held its legion of ebony, scarlet-splotched birds, they were perched upon every twig and lined along upon the larger limbs, in a manner that absolutely excluded all sight of the white bark.

"Say, do you know that a blackbird pot pie would go good by way of variety?" It was Host Merz, himself, as he stepped out of the door and dashed a dishpan of suds on the ground. "We often have it in the early spring and the kids like it better than they do ducks, any day. But don't kill any of them this morning, as I have cleaned a half dozen canvasbacks for dinner tonight. Some other day we'll get 'em-they are there every morning about this time."

After breakfast Sime hitched up the team, and we drove over to Big Creek, all of us but Merz, who remained behind to keep house. We took our game and fishing tackle, too, for Merz said that besides trout, the stream was full of chubs, many of which ran as high as two-thirds of a pound in weight, and that they made a great meal. On the reception of this information, Tom ran back into the house, emerging in a few moments with a skillet in one hand, and a shell box in the other, containing bread, potatoes, onions, corn meal pepper and salt and butter.

"If there are any fish in Big Creek, you bet we'll have a mess over there long about 1 o'clock-you can't beat fresh fish on a hunting trip. But will they bite, Billy?"

And he turned to Merz after he had climbed up and taken his seat in the wagon.

"Bite-yes, like rattlesnakes."

"What bait?"

"Oh, any old thing-a piece of bacon rine, is good, but kill a blackbird-they are ravenously fond of bird flesh, and you can catch all you want in a half hour's time. But mind, don't monkey with the trout-the stream is full of them, but we don't meddle with them out her until long in June.

"Oh, no, we won't even look at a trout," quickly chipped in Sime, "wouldn't touch one with a ten foot pole if he jumped up and bit my collar button off-and then they aren't worth anything so early in the spring-they're too cold. Giddap! there!" and Sime swished his long gad through the air and we started at a rattling pace up and over the hills and out onto the road leading to Murphy's and Big Creek.

And what a lovely day we made of it, and what a beautiful, romantic little, tortuous, ice-cold prairie rivulet is Big Creek, cleaving its way through deep gulleys, across the plains of dun verdure, through mile-long plum thickets, tangles of grape, hawthorne and the arid buck brush, all the time singing a song of its own, sweet as angels' lutes.

Rounding the big sandhill we first came in sight of this creek, crawling away before us, through a long stretch of open plain, like a fabulous serpent in the herbage.

"Better get your gun ready," said Elwood to McCawley, who were on the front seat together, "because we are apt to jump a mallard from one of the holes along the creek at any time."

Hardly had Sime gotten through with this warning and a louder quacking, heard among the low willows along the creek in front of us, and then, up through the thin branches, jumped a pair of these birds. The old hen kept up her quacking as they mounted into the air, then ducked down again close over the winding stream, flying perhaps a quarter of a mile, when they plunked down into the water again.

"Wait a minute, Sime, let me out, I'll get that pair of birds, easy," said Tom, who could no more pass up a chance at a mallard than he could forget to eat at meal time, and jumping to the ground, Elwood handed him his gun, he slipped in a couple of shells and crouching low, started off down the stream.

"We'll just wait here," said Simon, "and see what Tom does. It's a bottle of Yellowstone to a cigarette that he gets them both!"

"You're on," said Moran, "I'll bet he don't even get in shooting distance."

Then we all jumped out of the wagon and walked up on the hill where we could get a better view of the killing, if Tom made one.

Where the birds had lighted the creek and run in close to the hills, which made a veritable wall for miles along the north side of the creek, after it had left the open prairie, on which we were standing. McCawley's crouching form had disappeared within the thick willows that lined the south bank at this point, but we knew, from his energetic disposition, that it wouldn't take him long to reach the neighborhood where the birds had gone down and, sure enough, we hadn't long to wait. Without seeing Tom, or even a puff of thin smoke from his Parker, we suddenly saw two birds rise up over the willows and then, one after the other, fold up their wings and drop like stones back into the undergrowth. While the birds were falling came the double report from Tom's gun.

"I win," said Elwood, "but get in, we'll drive up to where Tom is and then we'll let Bud produce." So we all climbed back in the wagon and at a merry pace we bumped over the prairie down the creek, and were soon met by McCawley coming out of the buckbrush with the two mallards, by the neck, in his hand.

"Pretty good shot wasn't it?" he said as he climbed up into the wagon. "You see where I was, it was impossible to set within real good range of the birds. They were on the lookout and jumped before I was halfways ready, but in swinging around over the willows they came within good gunshot and I doubled them up, too easy. But I say boys, the creek is just full of fish along here. Why not let Sam drive down this little draw and unhook the horses and we'll do a little chubbing?"

We all agreed, and taking what impediments of the wagon we though we would need, we got ready for a trial at the fish, while Sime took the horses and wagon away. For bait, Tom drew one of the mallards, and both he and I, as well as Dick and Bud, baited our hooks, crawled through the brush and dropped them over into the dashing brook. Simultaneously, it seemed, we all got a bite. Not only did we get a bite but we all yanked out a fish. Tom's a fine chub, of course, for he is always right, the other three trout about as long as a man's hand. The trout, of course, we threw back into the water and went on in our endeavors to get a mess of chubs. It was hard work, however, because it seemed that only these greedy little trout would bite, but after we had caught twenty-five or thirty of them and thrown them back, they seemed to get next to the situation and cleared out. After that we just simply hauled in the chubs, some of which were of a species that I had never seen before. They greatly resembled a common native brown trout, with scarlet bellies and two streaks of gold along each side, a beautiful fish, handsomer even than the famous speckled beauties, themselves. We were an hour or so at fishing but we had a great time of it, never more fun in our lives. When we had captured what we thought were enough for five, big, strong, healthy men, we crawled back through the brush, up the embankment and out onto the sward of the prairie, where Sime, thoughtful fellow that he always is, had a nice bed of glowing cow chips all ready, with coffee pot on and steaming, frying pan all greased and ready for the ichthyological dainties we had scaled and cleaned for him, and my, oh my, what a meal that was. I will not attempt to describe it, just leave it to your imagination, but even now I can close my eyes and see that never-to-be-forgotten scene on the prairie's top and smell again the delicious odor that filled the air. After we had gotten through our meal and were getting ready to drive on down the creek, Tom said:

"By rights we ought to take some fish home, but I hardly think we can do it, because they are so soft that I don't think they would be in any condition for eating after we have driven all the afternoon with them in the bottom of the wagon, so we will postpone that until some other day."

We made a trip that afternoon almost down to the mouth of Big Creek, where it empties into the Loup. We got out many times and investigated the labyrinth of waters, the pools and bayous along the stream, some of which were deep and rock bottomed and all rimmed with rich vegetation in the shape of the plants and grasses, making an ideal habitat for brook trout, one of the grandest streams, I think, by way of information for Fish Commissioner Will J. O'Brien, that lies out of doors. I think Mr. O'Brien, who is fully resourceful to the situation, would do the nice thing for the ranchers up there, and for the sportsmen who visit the region, by going up himself, make the trip along Big creek and give them a big plant of fingerlings in the fall. Some of the pools, too, it seems, would be large enough, and are always of the proper degree of Fahrenheit, for black bass. However, I am not at all satisfied in this point, as their scope would be too circumscribed for thrift. They are a fish that make long trips on foraging expeditions and seldom confine themselves to small holes or pools. But as to the trout, Big Creek certainly furnishes one of the grandest streams in the state for their propagations.

Along in the afternoon, when we were on our way home by way of Long's lake, we saw a skunk walking leisurely along the bank of the creek opposite to us. Tom and I got out, without our gun, and went over as near the animals as we could without fording the stream, which at this point was waist deep. The skunk looked across at us complacently a few seconds and then walked on down the stream, we following close to him on the opposite shore. Tom finally picked up a clod and threw it across at the little animal. He turned and faced us, twitching his nostrils as if to make out just exactly what we were, by scent, then deliberately walked down the bank, squeezed through the thin willows, entered the water and swam across to our side.

"Well, that's about as close as I want that fellow to get to me, so we'll go back," said Tom, "but isn't he a beaut?"

And he surely was, with his black and white striped coat and bushy tail glistening with the water from which he had just emerged. He came up on the bank, stood still a moment and gazed at us long and searchingly, then waddled off through the grass out onto the prairie.

"Come, get the gun," cried Dick, "and kill it!"

But by this time Tom and I were at the wagon and climbing it, Tom remarked that he has just as leave kill a man as a skunk.

"I don't believe in this wanton killing," he remarked as we drove on. "If we had any use for that skunk, wanted his pelt for a pair of mittens, or his carcass to eat, than it would be a different thing, but just simply to kill because we can; well, I don't believe in that sort of sportsmanship. Again, the skunk, while he is might occasionally visit your hennery, is a very useful animal, and instead of being ruthlessly slain by ranchers and ranchers' boys wherever and whenever they are encountered, they should be rigorously protected. But isn't it funny we never as much as got a whiff of that fellow. The reason is, though, we didn't seriously disturb him."

Here we came in sight of Mrs. Long's neat ranch, house and buildings and the beautiful Long lake east of the place, with its little islands and sandy shores. If there was one duck in this lake there was 100,000 of them, principally mallards, widgeon, spoonbill and bluebills. As we rattled over the prairie, up near the shores, they arose with a thunderous whirring of wings and while we passed along, worked a warp and woof in the sky, sailing round and round, across and back again, and as we left the vicinity over a gentle rise to the east, all settled down in the lake again.

"If the birds grow thin over at Swan lake," remarked Tom, "we can drive over here any morning, or any evening, and kill a wagonload."

In another half hour we pulled up in front of the Merz sod lodge again, and all piling out got ready for supper, which Billy had well underway, anticipating our arrival.

After we had all gorged ourselves, like anacondas we assembled outside the doorway for a smoke and a talk over the incidents of the day, and trifling as they were, they were full of interest and instruction.

As the sun neared the rim of the hills, the heavens suddenly became alive with ducks, flock after flock, high in the air and all traveling northward.

"Those are all old ducks," remarked McCawley, "and the manner in which they are making for the north does not speak very well for ducking weather. I am afraid we are in for some hot weather, and if we are, we won't have much more good shooting."

"I suppose you men have noticed," here broke in Merz, who just came in from the corral, and pointing off to a long line of black dots coursing through the air over the chain of low hills lying to the east of us between Coyote and Horseshoe lakes, "that the flight this evening is across those hills and they are all mallards. I haven't seen a bunch of canvasback or redhead this afternoon."

"Mallards," interrupted Bullock, "why, we've seen less of them than any other kind of bird since we've been here."

"Well, I can't help that, but all of those birds crossing over the hills east there, are mallards, old yellowleg mallards, at that, and it is the biggest flight we've had thus far this spring."

Shooting From the Sandhill's Top

"You say those birds crossing the hills there, in the east," remarked Elwood, in response to Merz' assertion that the big flight over the hills between Coyote and Horseshoe lakes were yellowleg mallards-"well, I wish you would tell me what a yellowleg mallard is?"

"Ask Tom, there; he knows more about mallards, I guess, than any man living, eh, Tom?" laughingly responded our host.

"I don't know about that," replied Tom, "but the yellowleg mallard, according to my notion, is the common mallard we kill mostly around here in the early fall months. You know, of course, that there are two species of mallards, that come into these sandhill waters; in fact, if we want to include the black mallard, anas obscura, there are three."

"Well, I never knew that," interpolated Bullock.

"Well, it's a fact, nevertheless," resumed McCawley, "and it may be that I can prove it to you before I leave, if we have a real cold spell while we are here. There is another mallard that comes in here besides the yellowleg and the black mallard, which I claim is quite distinctive in anatomical construction and coloration of plumage of either of these. He is a trifle larger, with bright orange legs and a darkish bill sloping into a dull orange-they are the first mallards that come in here with the first cold storms of spring, and the last that come, and the longest to remain, in the fall time."

Morning departure of geese from Swan lake.
[Full Size]

The morning departure of the geese from Swan lake.


"That's all new to me," again asserted Bullock, and turning to me he said: "How about it, Sandy?"

"Well," I answered, "I am not absolutely satisfied on this two species theory of Tom's. Yet I have always thought, as he says, that we have two kinds of mallards. I have frequently noticed a considerable discrepancy in the plumage and the hue of the legs of many mallards I have killed, but yet I have never been satisfied as to whether they actually belong to two different families or not. Sometimes I am convinced that they do, then again, I think that they may be the same bird. However, Tom is quite familiar with the subject, he is always observant, and I have the greatest respect for his opinion."

"Much obliged, Sandy," replied Tom, "and I will add, contrary to the authority of many good and well posted wild fowl savants, that I know positively that there are two species of our common mallard, the early bird, with his light yellow legs, and the late bird with the deep red. Lots of men who pretend to be well up in the lore of ornithology claim that the slightest discrepancy in construction and coloration of these birds is due to their age and from the climate of the region they have just come from. But this is all rot. The late bird-the red-legged fellow, is a much bigger and heavier bird than his congener, the yellowleg. He has a larger and more elongated head, with a broader occipital base, and a thicker and shorter neck and wider collar. His legs, too, are also set a trifle farther back, and he cannot leap from the water with the same facility as the yellowleg."

"Well, yallar legs or red legs," interjected Bullock, "I'm going over into those hills tomorrow morning and I'm going to bust a few of those birds, as Sam Richmond would say, that are in the air over there, wide open!"

After a little more discussion as to the two species mallard problem we formulated our plans for an inroad across the northeastern hills in the morning. It was finally settled that we would all go. Tom, Dick, Sime and myself, with Moran as driver. Merz preferred to remain at the lodge and have everything in readiness for us when we got home that night. Accordingly, at the first break of dawn we were up and doing. Swallowing a hasty breakfast of eggs and bacon, toast and coffee, we prepared for our journey. The team was hooked up and we all crawled in the wagon with decoys and luncheon and other necessaries, and started up the little used road along the north shore of Swan lake, where the bedraggled stalks of the wild rice swayed in the warming breeze and the hordes of red-winged blackbirds kept the air tinkling with melody.

Although some people might have considered the scene a dreary one, it was beautiful and exhilarating to us duck hunters. We were kept in an almost continual state of expectancy and excitement, for the calls of thousands of water fowl in the air and out on the blue bosom of the lake were in our ears, mingled with the cries of the circling hawks, the rippling jangle of the blackbirds, the plaint of the winds through the rice and rushes, the twitter of the buffalo birds, and the innumberable voices of a happy, teeming wild life known only in the sandhills. Now the raucous quack of an old hen mallard as she started from her roosting place in the reedy shallows, and went scurrying across the lake, would greet us. Then the startled squeak of a watchful pintail, the "quo-quoock!" of a rising bittern, the "skeaps" of the jacks, as like rosewood streaks jumped from beneath the horses' feet along the wet places, and went twisting away before us, or perhaps, the clatter of the 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 much by the hawks, not even one of these sounds, save that of the perennial breeze, or aught else to break the silence, unless a slinking coyote making for his den, across the bare hills, would emit a yelp or two. None of the songsters of the hills or plains and yet arrived, excepting the redwing blackbird, whose orchestral powers are never ending. The larks, to be sure, were in, and their sweet piccolo was occasionally heard joining the rehearsal of the blackbirds. We finally left the lake and started up the low incline bordering its eastern shores. Reaching the top of this long line of hills, Bud drew up the horses, while we too a look about us.

"I'll tell you what I think," said McCawley, "and that is that two or three of us would have a mighty fine shoot if we lay in the tall grass here and let Bud, and one other of the party, drive on down to the lakes you see off there to the northeast of us, and rouse the birds. That's where we saw them pouring in last night and they'll come over these hills, sure, on their way to Swan lake. They haven't been disturbed yet this morning and when Bud, and whoever goes with him, gets down there they'll make an hour's snort for us and that will equal that that we had in the sink box the other morning."

This plan was immediately adopted, and Tom, Bullock and myself, jumped from the wagon, with some guns and shell cases, while Moran and Sime drove on over to the hills to the northwest in the direction of Horseshoe lake.

"We better get located as quick as possible," advised Tim, "for the rattle of the wagon, as the boys leave the hills is almost sure to start the ducks."

Accordingly each one of us, at once, set out to find a suitable blind for himself. I selected a comfortable blowout near the rounded top of the highest hill at the extreme west end of the line, lay down in the warm sands behind the tall yellow grass, opened my shell case and got ready for the first movement of the birds. Tom took a middle position, about five hundred yards further on. I hadn't more than gotten comfortably settled in my natural blind when I was startled by the crack of a gun.

It was McCawley's piece, and turning to the east, I saw a pin-tail hanging in the air. Then with dangling neck and folded wings it plunged down into the sands of a deep gully that separated our stands. It was a lone bird that had essayed to make the pass, but was only a precursor of the hordes that were to quickly follow. A quarter of an hour later a cloud of black dots arose from the overflow lowlands to the northwest and circling, towering and curvetting,-streaming in long lines, this way and that, and climbing in dark bunches high in the air, they seemed to weave an intangible web in the distant sky. There seemed to be millions of them, and quickly following, we head the indistinct reports of Elwood's Parker.

The birds continued to circle over the one spot for the course of many minutes, and, in the meantime, we heard the repeated report of Sime's piece. Suddenly I made out a dark line cleaving the sunshine which had suddenly broken over the scene, and I saw it was coming straight my way. I crouched low down behind the grass in front of me, 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 moment, almost, like a charge of cavalry in bright uniform, with long green necks and heads gleaming like couched spears, on they came toward me, so low that I could see the white circlets at the base of their necks, the flash of the glistening bands of blue on their whizzing wings, and the delicate curls of shifting green upon their rumps was as clear as the snowy banks on their tails. Leaping to my feet just as this long line of mallards rushed by me, I let them have the right barrel and two drakes, dead as doornails, plunged down into the grass directly in front of me, and as the balance of the flock went on sweeping over the hill for Swan Lake, I cut out the third at a remarkably long range. It was only wounded, however, and with that tenacity for which the bird is so well known it kept on in the air until after the next big dome had been crosses, when it wobbled uncertainly for fifty yards or more, then went out of sight down behind the intervening hill. I knew it was a dead bird all right, but made up my mind to let it go, as I felt, in retrieving, I was apt to spoil many a good shot. I did get up, however, run out and get my two drakes, and had hardly gotten back in my hole in the sands when I saw another bunch of birds approaching. In fact, a dozen bunches, while over the distant lowlands to the north were weaving back and forward in myriads, and for the next hour Tom, Dick and I certainly kept our gun barrels hot. But, strange to say, in all that hour's shooting, in which each man killed the limit, all were mallards but fourteen, one pintail, two redheads and eleven baldpates, not a single canvasback did we see in all that flight, and in fact, during the whole day, nor after that, asa long as I remained in the hills. The night after Tom's and my first great experience in the sink box, these royal birds evidently got up in a mass and left the country. During the following week we succeeded in getting three more.

But the morning in question we had a greater time with the mallards than I ever experienced with any other sort of ducks. Along the clear sky to the north streamed lines of dark dots, while by and over us, and in fact, on all sides, shot small bunches, big flocks and single birds.

It was certainly a grand flight for the brief time it lasted. They seemed to be everywhere-the very air was working with them. But as the warm sun climbed higher in the heavens the last stragglers cleared the hills to the west and the scene became quiet again. But we had filled the prescription thoroughly and were more than content.

After the flight had ceased, Tom and Dick and I soon got together. We spread our birds out on the grass and then lounged around until Moran and Sime came back with the wagon, then we drove off down the hills to the west, until we reached the nice little draw, where we halted and made ready for our luncheon. This over, we all climbed back into the wagon and drove on down to the head of Swan lake, where Sime unhooked the horses and we put in a couple of hours plugging about in the low, wet places for jacks, but the birds were scarce and we did not bag more than fifteen or sixteen, enough, however, as Tom remarked, to grease the pan for dinner. Having our full quota of birds for the day, we concluded to return to the ranch and fool around and enjoy ourselves as best we could until another day should roll around. But that evening as we were all congregated in front of the lodge again, the flight back to the lowlands beyond the hills over Swan lake, from the waters to the west of us, was indeed a reminder of old times.

Host upon host of mallards and widgeon, bluebill and teal had evidently been putting in the day on the numerous lakes, lowlands and wet prairies to the west, and just at sundown they began to steer for their roosting places beyond the hills to the east, while the vast army of wild fowl bound for the lakes farther north, came marching down the western sky, in battalions and brigades. Long lines came widening out and sliding down, as all you old timers have seen them do 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 coming through space, like a tide of fierce wind. Over the rounded bluffs, where the land rolled like the broken billows of some mighty ocean, they hurried on, no longer in infrequent flocks, but continuous streams, swifter than the prairie's gust they scurried in the dim light of the sinking sun, and we enjoyed the spectacle fully as mush as if we had been under them and banging away with our guns.

No pleasanter hours are there than those spent around the genial cow-chip fire in the kitchen stove of a western sandhill sod house, than those spent by a party of duck hunters after a successful day's sport, and a roast canvasback dinner, such as Billy Merz served to us the night in question. We really felt uncommonly good. The arduous sport of the morning, and the afternoon with the catfish in the shallows, and a general loaf about the ranch, supplemented in the early evening with one of my own inimitable Yellowstone cocktails, had given us all an enormous appetite, and when we gathered around Billy's steaming and savory table, we were a jocund crew, indeed. A dozen canvasback, baked with the delicacy of a French chef, richly browned and swimming in ruddy pieces, shirred eggs, crisp potato squares, ground cherry marmalade, old fashioned green tomato pickles and a golden nectar brewed from a mixture of Mocha and Java, was the spread that made our eyes pop out like butternuts. It is needless to mention the fact that we did full justice to the feast. As we arose an hour later, rubbing with luxuriant complacency our distended victualing departments, Merz needed no further testimonial as to the merits of his culinary achievement. That simple, vigorous rubbing of the palm of the hand over the rotund abdomen, was more eloquent than the most perfect knowledge of philology would have enabled even the greatest gastronome in the land to have expressed his extreme approbation of Billy's catering capabilities.

The Morning and Evening Flight at Swan Lake

"Hoopla! Breakfast is now ready in the dining car." That was Rancher Merz's regular cry at the break of day, as he stood at the foot of the low stairs leading to the loft where we hunters slept. He was punctual and methodical about his culinary duties as a $10,000 chef in a big metropolitan hotel, and his matutinal announcement did not vary ten minutes at any time during our stay in the sandhills. On the morning in question the frescoes of dawn had not yet melted into the gold of the rising sun when we were all out in the open air. Soon, however, the crest of the distant sandhills broke into rosey fire and the pearl gray brightened into a mellow landscape of plain and creek and lake.

Then we went into the kitchen again and devoured our breakfast, and how did we enjoy those early morning meals, eating at one sitting fully as much as we do in a whole day at home. Pure air of the prairie, the exercise and-I know not what-keeps you on a sort of famished lookout all the time. The very work of eating too seems to give you additional appetite, and your capacity for bacon, corn pone, German fried potatoes, eggs, toast and coffee, in the early break of day, is something beyond computation.

After the excitement of the first few days were over we generally took things leisurely. Following Tom's advice, we never hurried. After our morning meal we betook ourselves to cigars or pipes, lolling about the lodge in the laziest sort of fashion. We knew the ducks were there in abundance and we could get them whether we went out early or late. On this morning, as the day before, the sunlight spread broad and dreamy over the dun grass of hillside and pasture, here sprinkling itself among the spiked yuccas, there striking a long lane among the reed and cane out into the bosom of the lake. The cluck of the restless black birds came from the cottonwood grove and occasionally the scream of an osprey floated out from over the waters, and once, we thought we heard the weird bravura of a loon, but a moment later we saw a long line of great white birds high in the sunlit sky, cleaving their way to the north.

"Swan," said Tom. "And they are just what we heard!" "Listen!"

And as we stood still, with inclined heads, there came a strange tremolo, a sort of wild, ghostly hoo-hoo-roo-ooo, falling from the cold heights where those great birds were winging their way to their northern breeding grounds.

A few moments later and our plans were quickly formulated and by 8 o'clock we separated, McCawley and myself to try the decoys on the mallard flats at the head of the lake, and Sime and Dick and Moran, for a scouting expedition off among the lakes over the hills to the northwest.

Reaching the tulle beds at the upper end of the lake in the course of a half hour's tramp, Tom and I waded out a couple of hundred yards, threw out our decoys and selected our blinds close together, as it wasn't so much a big kill we desired as the pleasure of each other's companionship. We had just got comfortably fixed when Tom uttered that customary old warning of his:

"Mark, to the west!"

And there they came, a flock of forty or fifty mallards, swiftly into our decoys. They had actually dropped their yellow legs preparatory to lighting when our parkers cracked together, the four barrels blending almost into single explosion. Amidst a flurry of flying feathers and a burst of affrighted squawks that grand column of glistening fowl broke into wild confusion and with swiftly hammering pinions scattered in all directions, merging, again, however, into one body when out of range, and returning whence they came. They left but two birds behind, and one of these, an old hen, was only wing broken at that, and she gave McCawley one of the most ludicrous chases I have ever witnessed in all my ducking experience. As an excuse for our poor work, I must add, that it was our first shot of the morning. We allowed the birds to get too close upon us and were not particularly interested in what execution we did, at that. But that experience steadied us down, however, and what we didn't do to them the next two or three hours was a caution to bull snakes.

But that wounded hen. She fell within a dozen yards of where Tom was standing knee deep in the water and before she could recover from the shock of running her wing into an ounce and an eighth of No. 8 shot, McCawley was after her. The first thing he did was to make a snatch at her with his disengaged hand, but instead of landing successfully, he ran his arm up to the shoulder down into the icy waters and mud of the lake, as Mrs. Mallard frantically splashed and flopped her way out of danger. Tom, nothing daunted, however, dashed heroically after her. I yelled to him to reload and over shoot her, but he had his sandhill Dutch up and ignored my advice. Again he was within reaching distance of the bird, and poising himself for a fell swoop, he made another lightning grab, but again the old lady was too clever for him and went down among the dead flags like a great northern diver. McCawley missing his footing, threw his gun a dozen yards away from him, where it sank in three feet of water. He looked about sort of sheepishly. The bird was gone and so was the gun. But there was no help for it and striding over to where his Parker had disappeared he went down after it, drenching himself pretty well all over in the operation. He was now about as mad as the proverbial hornet, and holding his gun up so the water dripped down the barrels, he again looked about him, and discovered the old hen serenely sailing off through a narrow sluiceway into the tulle beds. With a recklessness that was amazing for a man of Tom's usual caution and quiescence, he was after her. But he hadn't covered half the distance intervening when she dove again and he was compelled to pull up and wait her reappearance. While he did so he prudently slipped into a couple of those good old Peters shells and with his gun half raised in readiness, he peered intently in front of him. Suddenly he caught sight of the two little lines of waves rippling away triangularly from a small object in the open water of the sluiceway. Jerking up his gun he blazed away without taking aim apparently. There was a swirl in the water, a little more commotion and then the bloody wings of the old hen appeared above the surface, followed by her whole body, and splashing forward Tom grabbed her as she rolled over on her back, and he held her tip up by one orange leg. I could see she was dead as a stone.

There was a little exultation in Tom's demeanor as he came sloshing back to the blind. We stood there gazing at each other, quizzically for a moment, when I said, "come on and we will go ashore and dry you out."

This we did, and finally the old mallard killer was in some sort of shape again and we waded back to our hides in the rice and wild cane and shot ducks until we were tired of the sport. In fact, with one exception, it was one of the greatest morning shoots I had had in many years. The first bird to come in after we had gotten into position was a big old mallard drake. He came onto us with a lazy stroke of wing, wagging his long green neck and head from side to side, as if looking for a favorable place to light. he was on my side, and so big and plump and easy-going, that when I glanced along my gun I saw the light dance on his burnished head so plainly that I though it useless to aim ahead, so covering him, I pulled the trigger. Had Swan Lake turned bottomside up I could hardly have been more dumbfounded than I was to see that old cock bound skyward with thumping wings, instead of falling dead into the waters. But there was little time for idle speculation, for McCawley's keen eyes had detected an approaching flock, and with that same old precautionary admonition we bent low below the rice.

"They are red-heads, Sandy! red heads! sure!" excitedly whispered Tom, as the beauty of the approaching birds was revealed to him. "By George, I thought they had all gone with the canvasback, but don't go crazy now, take your time. Yes, they are red-heads, and did you ever see a prettier flock? Be ready now, they'll come like meteors, sweep past like a gale of wind, but you let them have it just when they get opposite to us."

True enough the whole big bunch of white and slate colored coursers came straight into their doom. Swish! they are by us, but four barrels went crashing into the flashing ranks as if by the touch of a button, and five birds, three dead, the others badly wounded, fell back into the flaggy waters before us.

It would be needless to recount all the shooting we did that morning, or the many little incidents and scenes we met with while we were doing it. How we saw a great flock of sandhill cranes wind slowly out of the sapphire sky over the yellow rim of the distant sandhills off to our right and descent until very near the tops of the gleaming yucca plants, when with silent pinions every musical throat suddenly hushed as they drifted softly along a few feet above the dun verdure and then alighted on a sandy patch on the hillside. We longed for a shot at them, but knew it was useless to make a stalk. They stood there like sentinels for many moments, until, in fact, when Tom took a shot at a passing greenwing, they lifted their long grey wings, leaped into the air and flagged their way on out of sight over the sandhills. How, long about 10 o'clock, when most of the birds were flying high, there came a sudden swish of descending wings and all the upper space had seemed clear around us. How McCawley got a shell stuck in his gun and how eloquently he executed, simply because a score of greenheaded mergansers came winging from, the good Lord only knows where, right under our very noses.

"They were only fish duck," I said, "and you certainly wouldn't have taken a shot at them?"

"Wouldn't I," replied Tom, "you bet I would, for they fooled me terribly. I was sure they were canvasbacks, but why my gun refused to work, I can't see, unless this old water-swollen shell wasn't inserted far enough in the barrel. But look out, there comes a bunch of birds, and by George they are spoonbills. That means that the weather is going to warm up."

"Yes, they are spoonbills," I replied, "but they are a wise lot. See! they have turned and are going across the lake; let's go home," and we went.

When we reached the lodge we found that the wagon and the other three hunters were still absent. Tom and I, after a sniff of Yellowstone, took pillows out in front of the lodge and threw ourselves down in the sands for a nap. The sun was bright and warm and the air caressing, and neither of us awoke until Billy called us in to lunch, about 1:30. We were a long time at the table as we were not much inclined to go out again. But an hour later, when the birds began to stir, the old fever returned and we made our way back to our blinds in the cane.

"Don't let's shoot at anything but greenheads," said Tom.

I was agreeable, and I bet him a bottle of Taylor & Williams' best that I would kill more birds than he, and I did-fourteen to his nine. But I have a sneaking suspicion that he only shot about once out of every half dozen chances he had.

He still owes me the Yellowstone.

But the spectacle we saw that evening would have been compensation enough if we hadn't killed a bird. The wild moments we enjoyed just as glorious old Phoebus was dropping behind the purpling hills, shooting golden lances clear among the gilded masses of floating vapor at the zenith; and when the ducks seemed to fill the upper spaces like the infusoria in heated July make the atmosphere over the lake dance to their mournful hum. Most of the birds were evidently new arrivals, on their way from the Loup flats to the tangly breeding grounds around Baffin's bay. But there were hundreds flying this way and that, that had been born right in this region. Thousands that had been feeding off on the fields and in the shallow pools of the agricultural lands further south, all mingling together into one vast and confused horde, making as grand a flight as was ever witnesses and one that I scarcely hope to see again in the future. Jacksnipe and yellowlegs, too, were pitching about in tortuous gyrations; killdeer drifting along with tender cries, and night herons, bittern and thunderpumps, with long necks doubled like a letter "S," and spindled shanks outstretched behind, flapped solemnly over the low flags and cattails, while darting hawks and bullbats filled in the openings.

When we got home in the gloaming, we found Sime and his party there before us, and they had the rear end of the wagon filled with ducks, which Sime said they had killed from pits on the island in Long's lake, where they had shot the whole day, and where he said Tom and myself must go the next day.

Lounging around the blazing fire that evening, what a joyous time we had, between snacks, and with our pipes and our little historical recollections of the day. The hours sped away on rosy pedals, and it was nearly 1 when we finally sought the hay.

A Day in the Hole on Long's Island

Joyously promising was the next morning, and in accordance with our plans, laid the night before, McCawley, Elwood, Bullock and myself, drove over to Long's lake, where on the previous day, Elwood and Bullock had made their great kill. Arriving at the lake, myriads of ducks arose and circled around over the nearby hills. Many passed over the wagon, before we alighted, within easy range, but McCawley would not allow us to take a crack at them, saying that it would drive them off and spoil our shooting later in the morning. As we sat there canvassing the subject of how we would locate ourselves, Sime said that it would be better for him and Dick to drive on up to the Murphy marsh and leave McCawley and I at Long's lake.

"You see," exclaimed Elwood, "there is no shooting to be had around this lake, excepting from a hole in the island out there. That's the only blind, and there is not room here for more than two men. We all agreed that this was the proper thing to do, and jumping down out of the wagon Tom and I unloaded guns shell cases and lunch, and Sime and Bullock continued on their way up the beautiful valley towards the Henry Murphy ranch. Tom and I quickly transported our load from the shore to the island. The water was no more than hip deep and we had no difficulty in wading out. We found the pit a commodious affair, indeed; in fact, the best built pit I had ever shot from. Our decoys out, Tom and I took our positions in the hole. It was yet early morning and the sun had not yet shown itself above the eastern sandhills. We had hardly got settled when Tom exclaimed:

"What is that, a hawk out there, over the hills-no, by George, it's a duck, and it's coming straight in the lake here? If it comes on your side, you take it, if on mine, I'll do the shooting."

It was a lone bird, and a few seconds later we made out that it was a mallard, a splendid old drake. It soon became evident, also that he was going to swing into the decoys on my side. And he did, and I made one of the most grotesque misses of my long and varied career as a wild fowl shooter. The big mallard came simply wobbling through the air, made a couple of circles around the island, wagging his head from side to side, as if he wasn't quite sure that everything was as it should be. The absence of any birds on the lake, one of the best feeding grounds in the country, was probably what puzzled him, but finally he began to lower, and in the thin sunshine which at this moment poured over the hills, he swung down close to the decoys on my side. I saw the light flash on his burnished green hood and it seemed absolutely foolhardy to pull anywhere but dead on to him.

"Better lead him a little bit," said Tom, as I raised my gun, but I paid no heed to this advice. The bird by this time wasn't more than twenty-five yards away from me and hovering in the air, a dozen feet or more above the decoys, for all the world like a sparrow hawk hovers over a mouse out on the prairie, and aiming deliberately at his cream and chestnut breast, I let him have the right barrel. But as on the day before, the old drake, with madly thumping wings, bounded skyward at the crack of my Parker, like a rocket. I was too rattled to resort to my left with the promptitude the exigency of the case demanded, but I finally covered him again, and as he was bearing off over the barren ridge of sand, I again cut loose. But the wary old bird had placed too much space between himself and the blind by this time and I failed to stop him. I did notice, though, that that good old Peters load pushed him on his way considerably faster, and a downy tuft or two of cottony feathers came floating back on the glistening waters.

I had little time to reflect over the cause of this unseemly failure, when a butterball came flashing over the brown tules and again, like the mallard, on my side.

"Take him," said Tom, and I pulled up to the right spot I though ahead of the little tufted beauty's blue bill, and pulled the trigger, fired the right and then the left. But to my deep disgust, at the crank of each barrel, the butterball only dodged a trifle and then every glistening feather shot straight on out over the banks and up into the air as smoothly as a sailer's banner floats the morning breeze. Right here, as a matter of course, being an artistic sort of student, I indulged in a flight of oratory soothing to the vexed spirit, and was glaring suspiciously at the shell I held in my fingers, when like a charge of wild Cossacks, in their weird and picturesque regalia, and with long, green heads and bended necks, gleaming like the couched lances of the wild Bedouins, a grand flock of mallards, some thirty or forty of them, streamed along the water in front of us. They had ducked in over the hills with such speed that we did not discover them until they were fairly upon us. Though I could see six or seven green and brown heads in line as I touched the trigger, but two ducks fell. But when Tom let go he seemed to mow a lane through the wildly scurrying mass of startled fowl. His shot added five to the two already floating on the water. As the rest of the big bunch climbed affrightedly into space, I released my second barrel on a fine old cock who was leading the stampede. He parted from his comrades in wavering flight, hung in the sunlit air for a second, then folding his beautiful sails, fell with a loud splash into the low flags along the farther shore, where I concluded, it would not pay to lose time at this moment to undertake to retrieve him, for the birds were now coming back, it seemed, from all directions. Truly, this bunch of mallards proved but the forerunners of the thousands of birds we had started from the lake when we had first arrived, and hardly had their gray bellies blended with the distant background's hazy curtains than two widgeons, rival messengers to distant relatives probably, came down the east wind with the speed of aerolites.

"There's your chance, Tom," said I, "let's see you make a double with that dilapidated old Parker of yours."

The words had hardly been uttered when the speckled pair of serial sprinters were whizzing by Tom. Bang went his first barrel, but on went the ducks.

"Lead 'em! lead 'em! lead 'em a mile!" I cried, and I could see Tom pull ahead of the now rapidly departing widgeons, and again he cut loose, and the last bird, which was yards in the rear of its mate, went down instantly into the water with a broken wing.

As Tom quietly slipped in a couple of shells I certainly appreciated the secret of his missing, and that his unquestioned dexterity as a quick shot would in this instance, prove as adequate as I had seen ot do often before. But the widgeon were going like the wind, and nerves that feed only a slight tremor when good shots are afforded must have really quaked at the thought of stopping two such lightning flashes as those birds were. But we had no time to talk the matter over, for the little island in the middle of Long lake, now actually seemed the converging point for dark lines, flocks, bunches and strings of wild fowl rushing toward us at different rates of speed, but even the slowest distractingly fast. All reasoning over inconsequential misses was now out of the question, and we crouched and stood there pouring a storm of leaden ball into the scurrying hosts for nearly half an hour. Four barrels would no more than disperse one flock, and the birds would radiate away in different directions, and the air would again darken around us with hissing wings and whirring bodies. We made the best of the big flurry but it ceased as abruptly as it began, and when we had retrieved our birds and had them beautifully spread out on the sands around our blind a careful count developed the fact that we had twenty-four. It was a splendid kill, including as it did, mallards, widgeon, teal and blue bill. All the morning Tom and I stuck to the pit. But we got but little shooting on up to noon, when Bullock and Sime returned with the wagon.

"Get in," said Sime, "and we'll drive over to Big Creek and cook our lunch."

Leaving our shell cases in a haycock nearby, Tom and I loaded in our birds on top of those brought back by Sime and Bullock, got aboard and Sime drove off to the northeast to where the famous trout creek cut its way through the low hills. Sime prepared a nice meal, ducks, roasted over the open fire, baked potatoes, toast and hot coffee. After regaling ourselves we fooled around up and down the creek shore until later in the afternoon, when Sime drove us back to Long lake. He and Bullock, as in the morning, continued on up to the smart weed marsh this side of Murphy's. We jumped a few ducks in wading out to the island but the evening flight did not begin until an unusually late hour. But when it was once fully under way it gave us another thrilling spectacle to enjoy. The sun had dropped well down the sky slope, threateningly near the pearly peaked sandhills, and as the glowing mass, appearing like a big rolling dome, amidst the gilded clouds, with which the west had suddenly become filled, dropped lower and lower, we were delightfully enthralled. At this juncture the birds began to come in, springing out of the skies, arising from the earth, in fact, we little reckoned where they did come from, just as they kept on coming and this they did.

On the clear sky, which now completed the canopy in the eastern heavens, the dying sun's days were rapidly following in the wake of the flying clouds and all over the firmament the light from the struggling west was shattered into a millions fragments, resting like a pallid glow over the darkening lake and prairie. From the now shaking sun strokes of rose and topaz light pointing like beamed arrows from the mouth of the huge quiver, up into the glowing zenith, made a weird spectacle, while the clear heavens along the east changed by the increasing contrast into pale lemon fringed with purple and green. North and south, the jagged scud held sway, while blue archipelagoes dotting the shifting surface line whitescape on a stormy sun, as the last reflected rays of sunshine struck them, floated above about us. Never had I seen a more exquisite moment in the sandhills. Tom and I were more engrossed with the changing scenes about us than we were with the flight of the ducks. We shot occasionally and killed a few more birds, but made no especial effort in this line, as we already had more than we could possibly use. At dark we had the last one retrieved and were waiting out on the shore where Sime and Bullock drove up with the wagon. We were quickly aboard and, as we drove home that evening the last vestige of a cloud had disappeared from the heavens and everything pointed to a pleasant day on the morrow. Elwood and Bullock had fared even better than Tom and I, in that marvelous shooting action of the day, and their pile of birds in the wagon box told well enough that they were duck shooters of the mean calibre. We were boisterous and jocund as we trailed along the local valley road through the last fading light from the east and the coyote began his nocturnal chant, before we had gotten well under way, but Sime's have been a magnificent team and we felt as if we had not ridden more than a mile or two when we drew up in front of Merz's sod lodge door, and found mine beat and Bud awaited us, the former with a broad smile and the latter with the Yellowstone bottle and class of course.

Last Day in the SandhillsSandhills—So, Adios

Never have I enjoyed a day more fully than I did our last one in the sandhills. There was a cool gray light hovering over Swan lake when we emerged from the lodge in the early dawn of the morning, but the open water beyond the rush line stretched away like a sheet of glass. The domes of the distant sandhills at the east end rose indistinctly, as if reared in the air, with dark changing pictures below them. The atmosphere was fresh, almost to chilliness, yet sweet with the first odors of the vernal season. The sod hostelry looked ghostly and the prairie, stretching way behind it, forbidding and glooming. A lone coyote squatted on his haunches on the nearest hill to the east, and yawped and yipped in defiance of our presence. There were no ducks in the air but an osprey was curving around over the lake in extended spirals, evidently watching for an available chance for a duck breakfast.

"We are going to have a fine day," observed McCawley, "when the kiyote sings that tune before daybreak, reconcile yourself to the fact that he is going to hide from the sun all day long."

And true enough, even before we were summoned to breakfast, a drowsy twitter was creeping through the broad valley. The thin vapors in the eastern heavens began to dissolve and the kindle into transparent gray, and the little tuneful wolf on the hillside, with one long look down toward the ranch house, turned tail, and with drooping head, trotted back through the embouchure of the hills, along whose barren crest a yellow tinge was stealing. The farther ridges began to stalk forth from the lingering mist and clouds, of what looked like steam, lifted from the water. The rice and reeds and cane soon stood out boldly, the blackbirds began to stir and "kon-ker-re-e-e," while fusing colors crept everywhere through the air.

As we came forth to make ready for our last trip up the lake there were roses blushing at the zenith and the ruby in the east was turning into gold. The broad waters were quickly a prism of gemmed colors; a stream of topaz poured over the sandhill summits, and as Bud came rumbling up to the lodge door with the wagon, the sun deluging its beautiful lustre, through a vista of clouds and sand ridges, suddenly struck all the world into gladdening light.

Our hurriedly conceived plan was for the whole party to go up to the head of the lake and work through the morning flight, then return, eat dinner, pack up and prepare for departure from the hills. Guns, decoys, shell cases and other duffle loaded into the wagon, we all climbed in-a tight squeeze-and Bud cracked his gad and away we went, old Sport, Dick's English setter, caracoling in an exuberance of delight, ahead of the team, behind, and in fact, on all sides, Dick had kept him penned up for the past few days and he was crazy to get out again.

Around the glistening peninsula we whirled past as fine snipe grounds as can be found in the state, old Sport, on a rolling canter, showing the way, on up over the traveled road through the lower draw and out onto the plain again, then along the cattle path close to the lake's quaking shore-past glimmering banks of besmirched and sodden snow, still lingering on the north side of the low knolls in spite of the sun's fervid rays; past the widening expanse of the overflow; past low, black soggy bog lands, with their gleaming pools and splotches, where the water eddied and sparkled; past fields of stripped cane and bedraggled tulles, close cropped pasture lands, barren slopes, yucca clusters, badger holes, fire guards, mouldy hay stacks and blood-budded beds of wild rose bushes, until we reached the upper end of the lake, where broad expanses of wild rice stretched out into the waters on either hand, offering all sorts of cover for good blinds.

Three geese jump from pond on road to Seneca.
[Full Size]

Three Canadas we jumped from a small puddle en route from the Merz ranch to Seneca.


We had no more than gotten in some sort of shape when the birds began to move. Tom and I were stationed in a little circular pen amidst the reeds what we had occupied days before, while Dick and Elwood hurried on around the distant point above us where they expected to be on the best fly-way as the birds left the lake. Bud drove the wagon on up the draw and soon thereafter the shooting began. Tom and I were watching the wagon as it rumbled on around the head of the lake with Old Sport at heel, and missed a bunch of whizzing redheads which came upon us as if they had dropped from the sky. To be sure, we did shoot and a little puff of slate colored feathers like thistle down floated back from the flock, over us, but that was all, the birds had gotten too far away and we did well even to displace a feather or two. Finally we saw Dick and Sime get out of the wagon with their guns, while Bud drove on up over the hill, where the wagon would be hidden from the flying birds.

Again Tom and I occupied ourselves watching Dick and Sime. True to their instincts they went slashing through the low weeds and water as if searching for an available place to hide-prying into every weedy muskrat runway and bending low as they forced their progress through the miniature forest of cane. Now they crouched so low that the tail of Elwood's long canvas hunting coat dips into the brackish waters. A bunch of mallards beat down upon them from the low hills in the direction of Long's lake. A moment later a couple of puffs of smoke project themselves into the sunshine, then the crack of four of those good old Ideal shells, one after the other, in rapid succession, greeted us. And duck hunter, you must envy them, for four, big, fat birds came whizzing down into the weedy shallows in front of them. There were four single shots, but each was a kill. We saw Sime splash forward and gather the dead birds. Then tossing them in a pile, pulled the reeds down over them to keep off the sun when he and Dick again trudged forward. They were just rounding the curve on the other side of the lake, when they jumped a big flock of feeding green wing teal. There must have been more than 3,000 of them, and we saw both men pour in a raking shot. They killed fully a dozen, and, maybe more, for we could see the birds falling all along the line, so many and so fast that we did not undertake to count the. The flock, after a whirl or two around the lake, were off over the hills and far away. The next moment we saw Sime poke it into a bunch of pintail, fairly scraping the sky, and by Dick's gestulations, we knew that he was expostulating with the enthusiastic sandhiller about his prodigal waste of ammunition. Then as they move on we saw them halt again and Dick knocked down a marsh hawk that had been feasting on the carcass of a dead duck in the tulles, where they found its remains torn into mince-meat. We saw them stoop over it as if examining just what sort of duck it was, then rise and go "sloshing" on again, banging away as they advanced, at anything that happened along, their canvas coats glancing like the backs of a couple of herons as they moved in and out of the rice and rushes. It was our last day in the sandhills and it was plain to be seen that Old Dick and Simon, too, intended to make the most of it, and indeed, on that cursory jaunt around the lake, they had a jolly time and plenty of excitement. But Tom and I were left in the lurch, for during this time, the birds passing up and down the lake, kept well away from us. Finally our friends reached the point they had evidently been aiming for. A jutting nose of weedy shore thrust out into the water almost opposite to where we were, but more than a mile away. We saw them arranging their blind and setting out their decoys, but just here we were called to pay attention to our nearer surroundings. We just had time to kneel upon our bed of dead tulles when a line of geese came over the low western hills.

"Now don't bat an eye!" whispered Tom, as we crouched low behind the waving ribbons of our blinds, the geese came on, announcing their coming with mellow honks.

The outstretched string of great gray birds came swiftly toward us, growing rapidly larger as the flock widened out, for the Canada goose though a slow, cumbersome fellow awing, is an incredulously speedy flyer. On they came, the auh-unk-unk-unk! of the leader sounding clearer and deeper with every utterance, and I found it hard to resist lifting my head for a better look. Yet I did not. In breathless suspense we waited, not an hour, as it seemed to me, but only a few seconds. Wiff! wiff! wiff! that was the heavy sound of those great wings, and together Tom and I jumped to our feet and cut into them.

The scene that then ensued was well calculated to stir a tumult in any one's blood, no matter what their experience had been.

Seldom is so much excitement condensed into a short space of with those big thumping pinions, sheering in wildest consternation, this way and that, in fact, in all directions, to get away from the fatal spot, and to the thrill of a medley of unks-unk-honk-honk-wonk-wonk's your heart beats wildly and you feel almost as if you can rise and fly off after them, in their wake. But my space is limited, and while there are hundreds of little events and happenings that I could yet tell, I must have ere this wearied the reader with my long recountal of an every day story of fall and spring in the legendary sandhills. So with a paragraph or two, I will dismiss the telling, and wait for another glorious outing in the wild marshes of the prairie wilderness, I hope, some time in the glorious days of next October.

Indeed, our last day at Merz's sod lodge was a memorable one. The broad sprawling lake and its tangly environments was literally alive with feathered game, and that lovely spring morning was all too short.

There is nothing to be gained by telling of the birds we killed-that can be guessed at, when I mention that often flocks of mallards would skim along the surface of the water holes and rice beds so close to our blinds that we could almost count the blue bars on their wings. Clear up to noontide, myriads of wild fowl of all species, traveling from the south, swept on without slackening wing, and we had such a morning shoot as few sportsmen are fortunate enough to ever experience. Once, during a brief lull, a jacksnipe came trotting along the boggy strip lying between our blind and the sloping shore, and keeping perfectly quiet we saw the royal little rascal probe into the rich loam with his long soft bill, and we saw him, too, pull out worm after worm and fling it down his marvelous esophagus with a little toss of his jaunty head that was as interesting as it was peculiar and beautiful. After the engulfing of one of these morsels he would stand a few seconds with a look of sublime content in his deep, dark eyes, or, perhaps squat a few seconds or so, in some little tuft of grass, though he generally wore a restless foot and seemed forever up and doing.

But all things, the smiling and the frowning as well, come to an end, as did our vernal outing this year in the Cherry county sandhills, and its memory has been swallowed up amidst the workaday humdrum of life in the city. But this is only for a few months, when it will again break forth, fresh and green, as it does now in moments of leisure and idleness. But men must work and women must weep, though the prairie winds bemoaning, and though care and worry lie at the end of all golden days, we live on in the hope that the chain has not been forever broken and that when along the distant marsh's moist shore to azure bloom of the mimulous begins to vie with the brilliant blue of the wild lobelia, and the arrowy tulles begin to brown, that another happy link will be forged, and when the chill nights in the farther north once more start the vanguard of those great quaking hordes on their southward flight, we may once again find ourselves in the cozy old sod lodge at Billy Merz's, resting like the eye of fate amidst the flaunting banners of October, deep within the shade of the wonderous sandhills.

And now one more clink of the Yellowstone glasses, and it is-adios.