In the estimation of many people, all those who for any purpose or in any manner hunt ducks are grouped together and indiscriminately called duck hunters. This is a very superficial way of dealing with an important subject. In point of fact, the objects of duck shooting and its methods of enjoyment are so various, and the disposition and personal characteristics of those who engage in it present such strong contrasts, that a recognition of their differences should suggest the subdivision of this group into distinct and well-defined sections. Such a subdivision would undoubtedly promote fairness and justice, and lead to a better understanding of the general topic. There are those whose only claim to a place among duck hunters is based upon the fact that they shoot ducks for the market. No duck is safe from their pursuit in any place, either by day or night. Not a particle of sportsmanlike spirit enters into this pursuit, and the idea never enters their minds that a duck has any rights that a hunter is bound to respect. The killing they do amounts to bald assassination—to murder for the sake of money. All fair-minded men must agree that duck hunters of this sort should be segregated from all others and placed in a section by themselves. They are the market shooters. There are others claiming a place in the duck-hunting group, who, though not so murderously inclined as the market shooters, have such peculiar traits and such distinctive habits of thought and action, as abundantly justify placing them also in a classification of their own. These are the hunters who rarely miss a duck, but whose deadly aim affords them gratification only in so far as it is a prelude to duck mortality, and who are happy or discontented as their heap of dead is large or small. They have smothered the keen delights of imagination which should be the cheering concomitants of the most reputable grade of duck hunting, and have surrendered its pleasures to actual results and the force of external circumstances. Their stories of inordinate killing are frequently heard, and often enliven the pages of sporting magazines. There can be but little doubt that this contingent give unintentional support to a popular belief, originating in the market shooters’ operations, that duck shooting is a relentlessly bloody affair. These are the dead shots among duck hunters.
The Vindication of the Gentle Huntsmen
The danger that all those who essay to shoot ducks may, by the conduct of these two classes, acquire a general and unmitigated reputation for persistent slaughter, cannot be contemplated without sadness. It is therefore not particularly reassuring to recall the fact that our countrymen seem just now to be especially attracted by the recital of incidents that involve killing,—whether it be the killing of men or any other living thing. It is quite probable that the aggregation of all duck hunters in one general group cannot be at once remedied; and the expectation can hardly be entertained that any sub-classification now proposed will gain the acceptance and notoriety necessary for the immediate exoneration of those included within this group who are not in the least responsible for the sordid and sanguinary behavior of either the market shooter or the dead shot. These innocent ones comprise an undoubted majority of all duck hunters; and their common tastes and enjoyments, as well as their identical conceptions of duty and obligation, have drawn them together in delightful fraternity. By their moderate destruction of duck life they so modify the killing done by those belonging to the classes already described, that the aggregate, when distributed among the entire body of duck hunters, is relieved from the appearance of bloodthirsty carnage; and they in every way exert a wholesome influence in the direction of securing a place for duck hunting among recreations which are rational, exhilarating and only moderately fatal.
The Honorable Order of Serene Duck Hunters It must be frankly confessed that the members of this fraternity cannot claim the ability to kill ducks as often as is required by the highest averages. This, however, does not in the least disturb their serenity. Their compensations are ample. They are saved from the sordid and hardening effects induced by habitual killing, and find pleasure in the cultivation of the more delicate and elevating susceptibilities which ducking environments should invite. Under the influence of these susceptibilities there is developed a pleasing and innocent self-deception, which induces the belief on the part of those with whom it has lodgment, that both abundant shooting skill and a thorough familiarity with all that pertains to the theory of duck hunting are entirely in their possession and control. They are also led to the stimulation of reciprocal credulity which seasons and makes digestible tales of ducking adventure. Nor does bloody activity distract their attention from their obligations to each other as members of their especial brotherhood, or cause them to overlook the rule which requires them to stand solidly together in the promotion and protection, at all hazards, of the shooting reputation of every one of their associates. These may well be called the Serene Duck Hunters.
All that has been thus far written may properly be regarded as merely an introduction to a description, somewhat in detail, of the manner in which these representatives of the best and most attractive type of duck hunters enjoy their favorite recreation. A common and easy illustration of their indulgence of the sentimental enjoyments available to them is presented when members of the fraternity in the comfortable surroundings of camp undertake the discussion of the merits of guns and ammunition. The impressiveness with which guns are put to the shoulder with a view of discovering how they “come up,” the comments on the length and “drop” of the different stocks, the solemn look through the barrel from the opened breech, and the suggestion of slight “pitting,” are intensely interesting and gratifying to all concerned. When these things are supplemented by an exchange of opinions concerning ammunition, a large contribution is added to the entertainment of the party. Such words as Schultz, Blue Ribbon, Dupont, Ballistite and Hazard are rolled like sweet morsels under the tongue. Each of the company declares declares his choice of powder and warmly defends its superiority, each announces the number of drams that a ducking cartridge should contain, and each declares his clear conviction touching the size of shot, and the amount, in ounces and fractions of ounces, that should constitute an effective load. Undoubtedly the enjoyment supplied by such a discussion is keen and exhilarating. That it has the advantage of ease and convenience in its favor, is indicated by the fact that its effects are none the less real and penetrating in the entire absence of any knowledge of the topics discussed. To the serene duck hunter the pretense of knowledge or information is sufficient. The important factors in the affair are that each should have his turn, and should be attentively heard in his exploitation of that which he thinks he knows. There is nothing in all this that can furnish reasonable ground for reproach or criticism.
If under the sanction of harmless self-deception and pretense this duck-hunting contingent, to whom duck killing is not inevitably available, are content to look for enjoyment among the things more or less intimately related to it, it is quite their own affair. At any rate it is sufficient to say that they have joined the serene brotherhood for their pastime, and that any outside dictation or criticism of the mode in which they shall innocently enjoy their privileges of membership savors of gross impertinence. There comes a time, however, when the calm and easy enjoyments of in-door comfort must give way to sterner activities, and when even the serene duck hunter must face the discomfort of severe weather and the responsibility of flying ducks. This exigency brings with it new duties and new objects of endeavor; but the principles which are characteristic of the fraternity are of universal application. Therefore our serene duck hunter should go forth resolved to accomplish the best results within his reach, but doubly resolved that in this new phase of his enjoyment he will betray no ignorance of any detail, and that he will fully avail himself of the rule unreservedly recognized in the brotherhood, which permits him to claim that every duck at which his gun is fired is hit—except in rare cases of conceded missing, when an excuse should be always ready, absolutely excluding any suggestion of bad shooting. And by way of showing his familiarity with the affair in hand it is not at all amiss for him to give some directions as he enters his blind as to the arrangement of the decoys.
How to Take Good and Bad Luck
It is quite likely that his first opportunity to shoot will be presented when a single duck hovers over the decoys, and as it poises itself offers as easy a target as if sitting on a fence. Our hunter’s gun is coolly and gracefully raised, and simultaneously with its discharge the duck falls helplessly into the water. This is a situation that calls for no word to be spoken. Merely a self-satisfied and an almost indifferent expression of countenance should indicate that only the expected has happened, and that duck killing is to be the order of the day. Perhaps after a reasonable wait, another venturesome duck will enter the zone of danger and pass with steady flight over the decoys easily within shooting distance. Again the gun of our serene hunter gives voice, summoning the bird to instant death. To an impartial observer, however, such a course would not seem to be in accordance with the duck’s arrangements. This is plainly indicated by such an acceleration of flight as would naturally follow the noise of the gun’s discharge and the whistling of the shot in the rear of the expected victim. This is the moment when the man behind the gun should rise to the occasion, and under the rule governing the case should without the least delay or hesitation insist that the duck is hit. This may be done by the use of one of several appropriate exclamations—all having the sanction of precedent and long use. One which is quite clear and emphatic is to the effect that the fleeing duck is “lead ballasted,” another easily understood is that it has “got a dose,” and still another of no uncertain meaning, that it is “full of shot.” Whatever particular formula is used, it should at once be followed by a decided command to the guide in attendance to watch the disappearing bird and mark where it falls.
The fact should be here mentioned that the complete enjoyment of this proceeding depends largely upon the tact and intelligence of the guide. If with these he has a due appreciation of his responsibility as an adjunct to the sport, and is also in proper accord with his principal, he will give ready support to the claim that the duck is mortally wounded, at the same time shrewdly and with apparent depression suggesting the improbability of recovering the slain. If as the hours wear away this process becomes so monotonous as to be fatiguing, a restful variety may be introduced by guardedly acknowledging an occasional miss, and bringing into play the excuses and explanations appropriate to such altered conditions. A very useful way of accounting for a shot missed is by the suggestion that through a slightly erroneous calculation of distance the duck was out of range when the shot was fired. A very frequent and rather gratifying pretext for avoiding chagrin in case of a long shot missed is found in the claim that, though the sound of shot striking the bird is distinctly heard, their penetration is ineffective. Sometimes failure is attributed to the towering or turning of the duck at the instant of the gun’s discharge. It is at times useful to impute failure to the probability that the particular cartridge used was stale and weak; and when all these are inadmissible, the small size of the shot and the faulty quality or quantity of powder they contain, may be made to do service; and, in extremecases, their entire construction as well as their constructor may be roundly cursed as causes for a miscarriage of fatal results.