Page images


[ocr errors]

In some shape or form he recognises them still lingers in their sporting that he only shoots inside it by favour, phraseology. The ruffed grouse with even if that favour till quite lately them is still the pheasant. The quail is could be had for the asking ; whereas no quail but still a partridge, nay, more on a mountain or a prairie, though than that, he is distinguished like his it might be just as much private English prototype by the significant property, he would have no such title of “bird.” By a sort of tacit feeling. The quail, therefore, being confession he thus takes precedence of the only indigenous game-bird of the all other feathered fowl. Your inclosed portions of older America, Southerner knows nothing about occupies à peculiar position.

“bevies of quail." The expression is The home of the quail, so far as no doubt the orthodox one, but he the east of the Mississippi is con- talks as autumn approaches with a cerned, lies mostly in the old Slave- truly British proprietory pride of his States. Though found here and there

coveys of birds." in the Northern and North-eastern The Virginian quail is regarded by States, and till recently in Western naturalists as standing so completely Canada, it is only from Maryland midway between the quail and the southwards that the birds are numer- partridge families that he may be ous enough to be a leading item in the classed with either. In size he is sportsman's calendar. Small farms and much larger than his European nameclean farming, acting in concert with sake, though barely two-thirds the harder winters and a much denser weight of an English partridge ; his population, have almost extirpated habits and arrangements, domestic the quail from the regions north of and otherwise, are for general purthe Susquehanna River. The harvest, poses of description those of the moreover, in the North is late, and latter. I venture to think, however, no great growth of weeds has time if it be not sacrilege to say so, that before the early frosts to spring up the pursuit of the English bird is on the clean stubbles as a covert somewhat tame after a long devotion for the birds in autumn, Through- to the dashing little Virginian. The out all the South, on the other continuous tramp of turnip-fields in hand, the grain is cut late in June or line, unenlivened by the inspiring early in July The long ensuing companionship of the pointer or the period of heat and showers covers setter, hangs a bit heavy after the the stubbles with a growth of annual exhilarating variety of quail-shooting ; weeds, which by the autumn are knee the want of variety not only in the high, a sea of green from fence to fence. nature of the covert from which the After the first two or three night game spring, but also comparatively frosts these become brown and brittle, speaking in the nature of the shot and invite the now fairly grown afforded, is in striking contrast to the coveys to come out and feed on the conditions of American quail-shooting. seed which bursts from them. These Both the partridge and the grouse pass vast fields of “rag-weed” that, like rapidly from the stage in which they a russet carpet, cover the stubbles of are easily killed to that in which they the Southern States in later autumn become unapproachable. The Virfrom Maryland to Georgia, are pretty ginian quail is never easy to kill, but much to the American sportsman he lies to dogs from the first day of what the turnips are to his English the season to the last. In most parts cousin.

of England the pointer and the setter In Virginia, as indeed in other have been abandoned as useless. In Southern States, the clinging of the some they are tolerated for a short earlier English settlers to the names time as pleasing and ornamental, if and forms of the life they left behind not necessary, adjuncts. Here and



[ocr errors]

there in rough corners they are still quarters, and very often the genuine friend of the sportsman. pleasantly low temperature. EnthuBut in hunting the Virginian quail siasm may be, and is, much more than dogs are an absolute necessity. To proof against such conditions, but the attempt the sport without them would conditions taken by themselves are not not merely rob it of one of its great desirable. Now quail-shooting, while charms, but it would make ordinary it demands all the exertion that the success impossible. Memories of quail- most muscular sportsman can desire shooting are inseparably bound up and the maximum of skill, is generally with the feats and performances of carried on in circumstances of scenery departed canine favourites. But and climate that are in themselves a even in the halcyon days of the joy. For the bird waits to mature pointer and the ragged stubbles the till the crisp frosty nights of October surface of the country was hardly so have laid their hand upon the greenfavourable for producing perfection ery of the Southern summer: till the of sport as that of those regions gorgeous colouring of autumn where the Virginian quail can be most colouring that in

colouring that in those altitudes pleasantly pursued to-day. Nor has baffles the powers of either pen or our bird that fertility of resource,


- is creeping southward from that bullet-swiftness of flight, that the Potomac river over field and forest. readiness to seek any


every Though by the law of most districts sort of covert which calls out the the birds are available for the sportshighest qualities in the dogs and man by the middle of October, it is demands the greatest smartness with the month of November that is esthe gun. With the big-game hunter who pecially dear to him. A few wet days affects to despise English sports we and a few more frosts have stripped have no sympathy whatever. The the weeds and denuded the thickets comparison into which we have some- not of all their leaves, but of their what unwittingly dropped is between abundant luxuriance. Scent, that two distinctly domestic sports. Quail- important factor in quail - shooting, shooting in the older states has no lies strong upon the moist, cool upconnection whatever with the camp lands. The woods, if they have lost fire and the bivouac. As the sports- that splendour whose mere contemplaman fires his last shot against a back- tion a week or two earlier would atone ground of purple sunset sky, he can for an inferior bag, are no longer probably see the lights beginning to harbours of safe refuge for the frighttwinkle from some substantial man- ened coveys, but are bare enough of sion where he is domiciled. He will leaves to make the sportsman's chance possibly even discuss his well-earned among them at least equal to that of supper beneath the portraits of grim the birds. With November too in old gentlemen in wigs and ruffles, who Virginia comes the Indian summer. shot partridges (not quail if you Nowhere, perhaps, in America does please with flint fowling-pieces on that period of balmy peace linger so these self-same stubbles a century ago. long and so lovingly as in the Old

The prairie-chicken, or pinnated Dominion. Winds and rains and grouse, calls the sportsman out in early frosts, that have seemed to threaten August, when the thermometer may winter and caused good folks to hurry be standing at ninety-two degrees in the about their Christmas firewood, passshade, and the mosquitoes springing away like an ugly dream and are forfrom the prairie grass hover in swarms gotten in the great lull that follows. around his neck and ears. Duck- Earth, having matured her fruits, shooting, for the majority of Eastern seems to relapse into a profound sportsmen at any rate, means the repose before facing the storms of opposite extreme; inaction, cramped winter. The very winds sleep. The red and golden leaves still upon the

dwells. It is there you count upon trees, that one rude blast would dissi- finding birds ; elsewhere you may or pate, trace themselves unmoved by may not find them, but the dark even a ripple of air against the blue brittle “rag-weed” is an almost cerand cloudless sky. For days and weeks tain “ draw.” The spirits of the most the atmosphere is fresh and balmy, but exhausted sportsman rise as he clamso still that the thin columns of smoke bers over the rickety snake-fence that which rise up from homestead or divides the happy hunting - ground tobacco-house form moveless clouds from the bare stretch of sprouting in mid-air far and wide upon the wheat over which he has just tramped ; landscape. The silence is so great that the most weary dog bounds forward even the acorns and chestnuts falling then with renewed vigour, and sweeps from the forest trees upon the leafy backwards and forwards over the ground make sharp and loud re- brown expanse with the energy of ports, while at night the sky twinkles early morning. If quail-shooting with a myriad stars and a brilliant requires experience in the man, it is moon streaming over woods and fields astonishing what difference it makes wraps the land in a light paler and in the dog. The partridges in a tursofter than but almost as clear as the nip-field are as likely to be in one light of day.

part as another. There is nothing for Such very

often is the November, or it but for both men and dogs to go a greater part of the November, to methodically to work. But the which the Virginian quail - shooter Southern stubbles, though uniform looks forward, and December not unfre- enough to the eye of the novice, have quently is scarcely less enjoyable. The their likely and unlikely spots that at surface of the country and the growth once strike not only the eye of the that covers it are admirably adapted experienced sportsman but of his exfor shooting over with dogs-woodland perienced canine assistants also. A and stubble, bare pastures and waving good quail-pointer of many seasons, is, sedge - fields alternate upon

to my thinking, an animal whose lands. In the valleys more stub- sagacity in matters of fertility and cunbles and fields of stripped corn-stalks, ning is unmatched. The brown unduthreaded this way and that by run- lating weed-covered field, which, I have ning streams or transverse drains over- said, to the sportsman not conversant grown with brush, afford not only re- in this especial art has such a uniform fuge for the scattered birds but often a appearance, to an old dog like this feeding ground for the coveys. The presents a much more diversified piccharm of the quail is his absolute ture. His younger kennel-companions, unconventionality. It is true you will or dogs broken in other countries, will generally find your covey among the be ranging far and wide in the most dark “rag-weed” that clothes the orthodox manner, trusting entirely to wheat stubbles knee-deep, or among their noses and their legs; but our the straw-coloured “hens’-nest grass old friend will have trotted leisurely that mats itself over the thin stalks to some richer and darker streak of the oat fields; but the exceptions among the weeds, to the

side are numerous, and the influence of the of some ravine or to the banks of some weather, time of day, and period of watercourse, and be rigidly and imthe season on the habits of the bird movably fixed, with straining eyes himself are so great, and his choice of and quivering nostrils, before a frightcover so varied, that there is the ened and huddling covey ere the greatest scope for experience and puppies and the strangers have made judgment in his pursuit. In planning a single turn apiece. a campaign for the day, it is upon In what the Northern sportsmen wheat-stubbles that the mind chiefly call a “bevy of quail," Southerners a


the up

[ocr errors]

covey of birds,” and Negros a “flock” have just time to throw the gun up or "gang of partridges," there will and stop his flight for ever before a generally be as they first rise from the big poplar trunk hides him from sight, weedy stubble or brushy watercourse another springs behind you (which from fifteen to twenty birds, and, but must almost have been trodden up) for their smaller size and greater and laughs the hasty crack of your quickness in getting away, they might left barrel to scorn as he whizzes be a covey of English partridges through the tree-tops and soars back springing from a turnip-field.

into the stubble you drove him from. It is not, however, in the first So ten or fifteen birds may go away “flush ” that the cream of quail-shoot- in the space of a minute or two, giving lies. It is when once disturbed ing every kind and variety of difficult that the independent habits, which shot and few easy ones.

These are make their pursuit so fascinating and moments to flush the cheek of the so different from that of other game oldest sportsman and try the nerves of birds, develop. The covey will most the steadiest dog. The birds thoroughly likely break at once into two or three scattered, as they now will be, may be divisions. Their flight is short, seldom picked up in any sort of covert. You more than a quarter of a mile ; and if will have marked some if you are a there are

woods near the different good marker—a branch of quail-shootbands will make straight for them and ing, by the way, which is highly imdrop upon the leaf-strewn ground just portant. One will have dropped at inside the friendly covert. No wild the edge of wood where a pile of brush ranging and racing of dogs is permis- is heaped up; two or three have gone sible now when you enter the wood. back and are lying perhaps fifty yards The birds are scattered in ones and apart in the stubble from which they twos and threes over perhaps an acre were first driven; others cleared the or so of ground. Around you are the wood, disappearing over the maize tall straight stems of oaks and chest- stalks beyond, and will probably be nuts, just thick enough to give smart- found by Ponto in the alder scrub that

to the shooting. Under your lines the brook at the foot of the hill. feet is a clean carpet of leaves, on Beyond the brook, perhaps, and which the little feathery balls lie clothing the slopes of the little hill huddled. Mark the good quail-pointer whose feet it washes, there is a dense now as he daintily and cautiously wood of second-growth pines, almost picks his way over the dry rustling the only kind of covert in these quailleaves. The birds are squatting where countries that really baffles the sportsthey fell, and the

of scent

Charming as these young pine round each is exceedingly limited. woods are to the eye—their vivid Sometimes indeed they spring from green contrasting with the red soil, the ground before the keenest nose the golden leaves of the deciduous could possibly have got a whiff trees, and the vivid blue of the distant of the delicious aroma, and dash mountains, warm, too, as they look through the tall stems; to right or later on when the rest of nature is left, or straight away with lightning more lifeless and autumn's glories are speed. There is very little drawing, done-yet the fewer of them that

, or what the Americans call “ trailing,' stretch themselves across the sportsup to birds on these occasions. Pon- man's path the better he will be to and Fan drop suddenly in the pleased. They are the product of middle of their course, without lands that have been worn out by moment's warning, into the rigid atti- cultivation years ago, allowed by tude of statues, their quivering noses nature thus to recover their vigour not three feet from the cause of their and a portion at least of their fertility. paralysis. As one bird rises, and you The quail-shooter's vocation accustoms






him to shoot with equal readiness lukewarm and unskilful sportsman it alike in the open and in any kind of is not a popular bird. The covert where a twinkle of wings can

ventional person

who likes being be seen.

“He who can kill Virginian marched about in a line and to have quail well,” says the immortal Frank plenty of time for his shots, and Forrester, “can kill anything." A cares nothing for the working of dogs, covey, however, that is

fortunate in all probability would not take to enough to get into a ten-acre wood of quail-shooting.

quail-shooting. But to me it seems, if scrub pines may generally defy even a long devotion to its pursuit has not the quail-shooter.

made me over partial, that this dashThe pluck, the grace, the versatility, ing little bird, taken with its surthe varied scenes through which it roundings, affords from the sportsleads you, the extraordinary variety man's point of view a combination of of shooting that it affords, makes the excellence not to be matched on the Virginian quail an especial object of American game list, and not easily, I enthusiasm to most men who have fancy, on any other. consistently pursued it. With the



Take, dear Lady, take these flowers
Children born of sun and showers.
Summer sun and winter snow
Crushed the rock from which they grow ;
Strength of immemorial chalk
Fed the fibres of their stalk ;
Lightning, hurricane and storm
Shaped their pliancy of form;
Gleam and gloom with varying sway
Stained their petals ashen gray,
Which, like loving hearts, enfold
In their midst one spot of gold.
Fearless head and steady foot
Tracked the cradle of their root.
Now a link in friendship's chain
From the mountain to the main.

Nurslings of the central sea,
Such as late I gave to thee,
Lull the senses, charm the eye,
Bloom and wither, breathe and die.
These, by sterner process made,
Slow engendered, slowly fade.
And they bring where'er they fare
Just a whiff of Alpine air.

Lady, take these simple flowers,
Emblem meet of sun and showers.


Davos-PLATZ, August, 1886.

« PreviousContinue »