GAME AND ITS PROTECTION

By the ancient law of 1 and 2 William IV., chap. 32, under the
designation of game, were included “hares, pheasants, partridges,
grouse, heath or moor game, black game, and bustards.”

Hunting and hawking date back to the earliest days of knight-errantry,
when parties of cavaliers and ladies fair, mounted on their mettlesome
steeds caparisoned with all the skill of the cunning artificers of those
days, pursued certain birds of the air with the falcon, and followed the
royal stag through the well preserved and extensive forests with packs
of hounds. The term game, therefore, had an early significance and
positive application, but was confined to the creatures pursued in one
or the other of these two modes.

The gun was first used for the shooting of feathered game in the early
part of the eighteenth century; it soon became the favorite implement of
the sportsman, and was brought into use, not only against the birds,
but the beasts, of game. The huntsman no longer depends upon his brave
dog and cloth-yard shaft, but upon his own powers of endurance and of
marksmanship. Instead of watching the savage falcon strike his prey far
up in the heavens, he follows his high-bred setters, till their
wonderful natural instinct betrays to him the presence of the game.

Where he once rode after the yelping pack, sounding the merry notes of
his bugle horn, he now climbs and crawls laboriously, until he brings
the wary stag within range of the deadly rifle. No more brilliant
parties of lovely dames and gallant men, chatting merrily on the
incidents of the day, ride gaily decked steeds; no more the luxury of
the beautiful faces and pleasant companionship of the gentler sex is to
be enjoyed; the ladies of modern times–except in England, where they
occasionally follow foxes, which are rather vermin than game–preferring
the excitement of ball-room flirtations to outdoor sports and pleasures,
take no part in the pursuits of the chase.

Together with the change in the mode of capturing game, comes a
necessity for a change in its former restricted meaning. Who would think
of not including among game birds, the gamest of them all–the
magnificent woodcock; nor the stylish English snipe, nor even possibly
the brave little quail–unless he can be scientifically proved to be a
partridge–which is at least doubtful! Migratory birds were not included
in the sacred list, and the quail in England, as the woodcock and snipe
of both England and America, are migratory, although the mere temporary
character of their residence does not, in our view, at all alter the
nature of their claims. The larger European woodcock is by no means so
delicious or highly flavored a bird as our yellow-breasted, round-eyed
beauty, and is much scarcer; while the foreign quail, on the other hand,
is smaller than ours, and in southern Europe is found in vast flocks;
but both are entitled to high rank among modern sportsmen.

The term Game Birds, therefore, should be, and has been by general
consent, greatly extended in its application, and applied to all the
numerous species which, whether migratory or not, are killed not alone
for the market, but for sport; and which are followed on the stubble
fields, in brown November, with the strong-limbed and keen-nosed setter,
or shot from blind in scorching August; slain from battery in freezing
December, or chased in a boat, or misled by decoys. All wild birds that
furnish sport as well as profit are therefore game; and the gentle
dowitchers along our sea-coast, lured to the deceitful stools, are as
much entitled to the name as the stately ruffed grouse of our wild
woods, or the royal turkey of the far west.

To constitute a legitimate object of true sport, the bird must be
habitually shot on the wing, and the greater the skill required in its
capture, the higher its rank. The turkey, therefore, although frequently
killed on the wing, is more a game bird by sufferance than by right, and
partly from his gastronomic as well as from his other qualities. Under
this classification, then, we must include, not merely the ruffed and
pinnated grouse, which, although the only species in our country coming
within the ancient definition, furnish far less sport than many other
varieties, but woodcock, snipe, quail, geese, ducks, bay birds, plover,
and rail; without regard to the fact that all, except the quail, are
migratory, and most were unknown to our British ancestry. It has been
even supposed that the quail, in parts of our country free from deep
rivers and impassable barriers, are also in a measure migratory; but
this has no other foundation than their habit of wandering from place to
place in search of food, and collecting late in the season, as they will
do where they are numerous and undisturbed in large packs.

To the protection of this vast variety of game it is the sportsman’s
duty to address himself, in spite of the opposition of the market-man
and restaurateur, the mean-spirited poaching of the pot-hunter, and the
lukewarmness of the farmer. The latter can be enlisted in the cause; he
has indirectly the objects of the sportsman at heart; and with proper
enlightenment will assist, not merely to preserve his fields from
ruthless injury, but to save from destruction his friends the
song-birds.

As the true sportsman turns his attention only to legitimate sport,
destroying those birds that are but little if at all useful to the
farmer; and as at the same time, out of gratitude for the kindness with
which the latter generally receives him, he is careful never to invade
the high grass or the ripening grain–so also, from his innate love of
nature, and of everything that makes nature more beautiful, he spares
and defends the warblers of the woods and the innocent worm-devourers
that stand guardian over the trees and crops. The smaller birds destroy
immense numbers of worms; cedar-birds have been known to eat hundreds of
caterpillars, and in this city have cleared the public squares in a
morning’s visit of the disgusting measuring-worms, that were hanging by
thousands pendent from the branches. And who has not heard the
“woodpecker tapping” all day long in pursuit of his prey?

With the barbarous and senseless destruction of our small birds, the
ravages of the worms have augmented, until we hear from all the
densely-settled portions of the country loud complaints of their
attacks. Peach-trees perish; cherries are no longer the beautiful fruit
they once were; apples are disfigured, and plums have almost ceased to
exist. Worms appear upon every vegetable thing; the borers dig their way
beneath the bark of the trunk and cut long alleys through the wood;
weevils pierce the grain and eat out its pith; the leaf-eaters of
various sorts punch out the delicate membrane by individual effort; or
collecting in bodies, throw their nets, like a spider-web, over the
branches, and by combined attacks deliberately devour every leaf. While
these species are at work openly and in full sight, others are at the
roots digging and destroying and multiplying; until the tree that at
first gave evidence of hardiness and promise of long utility to man,
pauses in its growth, becomes delicate, fades, and finally dies.

The destruction of these vermicular pests is a question of life or death
to the farmer. He may attempt it either with his own labor, by tarring
his trees, fastening obstructions on the trunks, or by killing
individuals; or he may have it done for him, free of expense, by
innumerable flocks of the denizens of the air. The increase of worms
must be stopped; the means of doing so is a question of serious public
concern, and none have yet been invented so effectual as the natural
course–the restoration of the equipoise of nature. It is true that the
robin, as we call him, now and then steals a cherry, and has been blamed
as though he were nothing more than a cherry-thief; but surely we can
spare him a little fruit for his dessert, when we remember that his meal
has been composed mainly of the deadly enemies of that very fruit!
Swallows are accused of breeding lice, which, if true, would not be a
serious charge, considering that their nests are generally in the
loftiest and least accessible corner they can find; but when we consider
how many millions of noxious flies and poisonous mosquitoes they
destroy, how they hover over the swamps and meadows for this especial
purpose, and how much annoyance their labors save to human kind, we owe
them gratitude instead of abuse.

Every tribe of birds has its allotted part to play; and if destroyed,
not only will its pleasant songs and bright feathers, gleaming amid the
green leaves, be missed, but some species of bug or insect, some
disgusting caterpillar or injurious fly, will escape well merited
destruction, and increasingly visit upon man the punishment of his
cruelty and folly.

The beautiful blue-birds, the numerous woodpeckers, the tiny wrens, the
graceful swallows and noisy martins, are sacred to the sportsman, and
constitute one great division of the creatures that he desires to
protect. It is true that enthusiastic foreigners, with cast-iron guns,
are seen peering into trees and lurking through the woods, proud of a
dirty bag half filled with robins, thrushes, and woodpeckers; but let no
ignorant reader confound such persons with sportsmen. Their satisfaction
in slaying one beautiful little warbler, as full of melody as it is bare
of meat, with a deadly charge of No. 4 shot; or in chasing from tree to
tree the agile red squirrel, who, with bushy tail erect, leaps from one
limb to another, emulating the very birds themselves with his agility,
is as unsportsmanlike as to kill a cheeping quail, that, struggling from
the thick weeds in September before the pointer’s nose, with feeble
wings, skirts the low brush; or to murder the brooding woodcock, that
flutters up before the dog in June, and, with holy maternal instinct,
endeavours to lead the pursuer from her infant brood.

From such acts the veritable sportsman turns with horror; they are
cruelty–the slaughter of what is useless for food, or what, by its
death, will produce misery to others; and no persons in the community
have done more to repress this wantonness of destruction than the
Sportsmen’s Clubs. It was at their request that the killing of
song-birds was prohibited altogether; and they are the most earnest to
restrict the times of lawful sport to such periods as will not, by any
possibility, permit its being followed during the season of incubation.

Not alone by obtaining the passage of appropriate laws and their
vigorous enforcement, have these clubs effected a great reform; but by
their personal example and social influence, often, too, at considerable
loss to themselves. For while the poacher, taking the chance of a legal
conviction as an accident of business, and but a slight reduction of his
unlawful profits, anticipates the appointed time, true sportsmen,
restrained by a feeling of honor and self-respect, although they know
that the birds are being killed daily in defiance of the statute, wait
till the lawful day arrives, and thus often, especially in woodcock
shooting, sacrifice their entire season’s sport for a principle.

This honorable spirit, if encouraged and extended, is the best
protection for song-birds and game that can be had. The laws are only
necessary to deter those who are dead to honor and decency, and to fix
the proper times–which ought to be uniform throughout our entire
country. But to enforce them requires the assistance of public opinion.
Every encouragement should be given to sportsmen’s associations. The
absurd prejudice that has originated from confounding them with a very
different class of the community should be overcome, and their efforts
to have good laws passed, and to make them effectual, should be
sustained. The vulgar idea, that confounds laws for the protection of
the wild creatures of wood, meadow, lake, and stream, with the monstrous
game-laws of olden time–that made killing a hare more criminal than
killing a man–should be corrected.

In this country, where every man is expected to be a sort of
volunteer-policeman, all should unite in enforcing the laws; and then,
in spite of the irrepressible obstinacy of the German enthusiast, and
the mean cunning of the sneaking poacher, our cities would soon be rid
of the disgusting worms that make their trees hideous, our farms
protected from the devastations of the curculio, the weevil, the borer,
and the army-worm; the country would once more be populated with its
native feathered game, and our fields would resound with the glad songs
of the little birds that there build their homes.

So long as the ignorant of our _nouveaux riches_, imagining themselves
to be epicures, will pay for unseasonable game an extravagant price, so
long will unscrupulous market-men purchase, and loafing, disreputable,
tavern-haunting poachers shoot or otherwise kill their prey. It must be
made a disgrace, and if necessary punished as a crime, for any modern
Lucullus to insult his guests by presenting to them game out of season;
and eating-house keepers should not only be taught–by persistent
espionage, if necessary–that illegal profits will not equal legal
punishments; but their customers should also discourage, by withdrawing
their patronage, conduct that is so injurious to the public interests.
Woodcock would not be shot in spring, nor quail in summer, unless the
demand for them were sufficiently great to pay both the expense of
capture and the danger of exposure; and, with a diminution of
purchasers, will be an increased diminution of the number of birds
improperly killed.

Birds and fish, except in their proper seasons, are always tasteless,
and often unhealthy food. A setting quail or a spawning trout is
absolutely unfit to eat, and to do without them is no sacrifice; but for
the sportsman to restrain his ardor as the close-time draws towards an
end, and when others less scrupulous are filling their bags daily, or
when in the wilder sections of country there is no one to complain or
object, requires the heroism of self-denial. Nevertheless, the effect of
example should not be forgotten, and the duty of the true sportsman is
clear and unmistakable: he must abide by the law; or, where there is no
law, must govern himself by analogous rules.

In the wilderness, it is true, where birds are abundant to excess, he
may without blame supply his pot with cheeping grouse or wood-duck
flappers, if he can offer hunger as an excuse; but not even there,
unless driven by extremity, can he slay the parent of a brood that will
starve without parental care. In the settled regions, no matter how
great the provocation, the true sportsman will never forget the
chivalric motto, _noblesse oblige_.

The close-times of the present statutes are not altogether correct; and
in so extensive a locality as the United States, where diverse interests
are to be considered, it is nearly impracticable to make the laws
perfect. For instance, where quail are abundant, as in the South, there
is no objection to killing them during the entire month of January; but,
as at that period they are often lean and tough, and have to contend, in
the Northern States, against dangers of the elements and rapacious
vermin, with not too favorable a chance for life–it is undesirable,
where they are in the least scarce, to continue the pursuit after
December.

If it were possible to make a uniform law for the entire Union, and to
enforce it everywhere, English snipe and ducks should not be killed at
all during the spring. The latter at the time of their flight northward
are poor and fishy; but if they can be slain in New Jersey, it is hardly
worth while to protect them in New York. For every duck or snipe that
passes towards the hatching-grounds of British America in the early part
of the year, four or five return in the fall and winter. Could proper
protection, therefore, be enforced, the sport in the latter season would
be four times as great as in the former.

As matters stand, however, the seasons for killing game birds should be:
For woodcock, from July fourth to December thirty-first; for ruffed and
pin nated grouse, from September first–and quail from November
first–to the same period, both days inclusive; for wood-duck from
August first till they migrate southward. It is desirable to fix upon
anniversaries or days that are easily remembered. Woodcock are often
young and weak in early summer, and the three days gained between the
first and the fourth of July are quite an advantage. Although the first
brood of quail may be fully grown in October, a vast number of the birds
are too small, and the brush is too dense and thick before the first of
the ensuing month; whereas it is simply monstrous to slay pinnated
grouse, put up by the panting, overheated pointer from the high grass of
the western prairie, in the month of August, ere they can half fly. But
the migratory birds of the coast–the waterfowl and snipe, the waders
and plovers–may continue to be shot when they can be found, till their
rapidly diminishing numbers shall compel a more sensible and considerate
treatment.

The bay-snipe lead the advancing army of the game birds that have sought
the cool and secluded marshes of Hudson’s Bay and the Northern Ocean to
raise their young, and are hastening south from approaching cold and
darkness to more congenial climes. Next come the beautiful wood-duck,
and, almost simultaneously, the English snipe; then the swift but
diminutive teal; after him the broad-bill or the blue-bill of the west;
and then a host of other ducks, till the hardy canvas-backs and geese
bring up the rear. From July, when the yellow-legs and dowitchers
abound; throughout August, in which month the larger bay-birds are
continuously streaming by; during September, when the English snipe are
on the meadows and the wood-ducks in the lily-pad marshes of the
fresh-water lakes; in October, when the teal and blue-bills are abundant
in the great west; all through the fall and into winter, when the geese
and canvas-backs arrive, the bayman finds his sport in perfection.

Many of the upland birds are disappearing; the quail is being killed
with merciless energy, and his loved haunts of dense brush are cleared
away from year to year; the woodcock can hardly rest in peace long
enough to rear her young, and finds many of her favorite secluded spots
drained by the enterprising farmer; the ruffed grouse disappears with
the receding forest, and the prairie chicken with the cultivation of the
open land. But although innumerable ducks, snipe, and plovers are killed
every season, and by unjustifiable measures are driven from certain
localities, their vast flights throughout the whole country–amounting
to myriads in the west–are apparently as innumerable as ever.

From the first of August to the last of December they stretch athwart
the sky from the Atlantic to the Pacific; and although in localities
they may appear scarce, still constitute countless hosts. Were it
possible to stand on some peak of the Rocky Mountains, and take in at a
glance the vast stretch of heavens from ocean to ocean, with the moving
myriads of migratory flocks, the mind would be astonished; and it would
seem impossible ever to reduce their numbers. This is to a certain
degree true; for so long as the lagoons of the South shall remain
undisturbed, and the shores of the bays and rivers unoccupied to any
great extent, this abundance of the migratory birds will continue. But
when the Southern shores shall be frequented with gunners as plenteously
as those of Long Island and New Jersey, the last days of the bay-fowl
will have arrived.

At present we suffer more from improper modes of pursuit than from
absolute scarcity of game. The habit of using “batteries” in the South
Bay of Long Island, and locating them on the feeding or sanding-grounds,
has resulted in frightening away the birds. Where, a few years ago, ten
ducks stopped in the water adjoining that famous sand-pit, there can
hardly be found one at present. After being disturbed on their
feeding-grounds by murderous discharges from an unseen foe in their
midst, they become alarmed and leave the locality altogether. To be
sure, for a year or so, the number killed from that ingenious mode of
ambush will be enormous; but it is at a terrible sacrifice of the
supply, and will eventuate in ruin to those engaged in it. At present on
Long Island it is hardly possible to obtain a decent day’s sport without
using a “battery;” but in the South, along the Chesapeake and Potomac,
where the use of these inventions has never been allowed, the ducks are
as abundant as ever.

There is no meaner mode of shooting than from a battery. In attaining
destructiveness, every idea of beauty, comfort, or sportsmanship is
sacrificed. The shooter lies on his back in a species of coffin sunk to
the level of the water, with his decoys near by; and whenever a flock
approaches, he rises to a sitting posture and fires. He cannot leave his
battery nor move it, nor hardly turn round in it, and is unable to
retrieve his ducks without the aid of an assistant. It is an invention
suited solely to the market-gunner, and utterly unfitted to the
sportsman. Bad weather prevents its use altogether; and in a moderate
breeze the water is apt to break over the narrow rim and destroy the
comfort, if not absolutely endanger the safety, of the sportsman.

When ducks are scarce the confinement is wearisome; and when they are
abundant the excitement, united to the awkwardness of position, often
leads to terrible accidents. “Cribbed, cabined, and confined,” the
duck-shooter lies for weary hours exposed to the cold winds of winter,
unable to keep his blood in circulation by exercise, and is hardly
remunerated by the sport; although, if money be his object, he may be
paid by the commercial value of his game. It is this ignoble mode of
warfare that, more than anything else, has brought discredit upon
wild-fowl shooting; for the upland shooter, accustomed to the free
motion and active exertion of his favorite pursuit, naturally feels
disgusted at being thrust into a box scarcely large enough to contain
his body, and which cramps his every motion.

At the South, where the sportsman shoots from behind a blind, and calls
to his aid the courage and intelligence of his faithful “retriever” to
recover his game, the walk to and from the stand warms his blood, and he
can move around at will. In the West, where duck-shooting is to be had
in perfection, the sportsman pushes his light and narrow boat through
the weeds and lilies of the marshes, and has many a long chase after
wounded birds that will bring into play his muscles, and send the
circulation through his veins. Even in shooting through the “sneak
boxes” of Barnegat Bay, there is much exercise and a certain amount of
liberty of motion; but in the battery, a man is a mere death-dealing
machine, expected to mind neither cold nor cramp, and to demand neither
comfort nor pleasure.

One of the most necessary reforms in the game-laws would be the absolute
prohibition of the use of a battery. At the South this was done by the
good sense of the people; and many a stranger from Long Island, who was
unaware of the customs of the country, and had brought with him his
battery to teach the natives “New York tricks,” has been warned to move
his quarters by the whistle of a rifle-ball skipping across the water.
It is surprising that the gunners of the great South Bay did not long
ago discover that their interest lay in discontinuing the use of this
machine. For the first few years, perhaps, after its prohibition, they
might not have as good success; but in time the birds would resume their
old habits and renew their visits to what should be the paradise of
both ducks and sportsmen. They all know and regret the diminution of
wild fowl, and most of them are satisfied from what cause it arises; but
as the immediate losses from a change would fall upon themselves heavily
at first, they shrink from decided action.

If, however, the birds are to be retained, and prevented from gradually
withdrawing, year after year, until they shall desert us _in toto_, the
use of the battery must be prevented. When that is done, we shall soon
again have such days as we once had in and about old Raccoon Beach, when
sportsmen innumerable collected to welcome the advent of their prey;
when the tale and song filled up the long evenings, and the ducks
quacked their hosannas at early dawn; when every point was occupied by a
happy sportsman, and every boat came home loaded with game.

The use of pivot-guns is another reprehensible practice that has been so
earnestly condemned, even among market-gunners, that it has been in a
great measure abandoned. Still, however, in some quiet bay of one of the
great lakes of the West, where there is no one to observe the iniquity,
or of a moonlight night on the Chesapeake, the poaching murderer,
sculling his boat down upon an unsuspicious flock crowded together and
feeding or asleep, will discharge a pound or two of coarse shot from his
diminutive cannon; and wounding hundreds, will kill scores of ducks at
the one fatal discharge. The noise, however, reverberating over land and
water, scatters the tidings of the guilty act far and wide; and often
brings upon the criminal detection and punishment. To avoid this the
pivot-shooter will sometimes, as soon as he has fired, throw his gun
overboard with a buoy attached to it, and if pursued, pretend he has
used nothing but his small fowling-piece. The practice of
pivot-shooting, however, has almost ceased, never having been
extensively adopted; and has nothing whatever sportsmanlike about it,
being a mixture of cruelty and theft.




Another mode of pursuing ducks, which is at the same time attractive,
exciting, and injurious, is by the use of a sail-boat. Not only is there
the excitement of the pursuit, the rushing down wind with bellying sail
and hissing water–the crested waves parting at the prow and lengthening
out behind in two long lines of foam–but there is the free motion and
the pleasant breeze to stimulate the sportsman. This is really a
delightful sport, combining the excitement of shooting with the
exhilaration of sailing; but as it disturbs the flocks upon their
feeding-grounds, as it gives them no rest during the noontide hours,
when it appears that ducks–like all other sensible people–love to
indulge in a quiet nap, it eventually drives them away; and not only
makes them shy of the locality, but injures the sport of the
point-shooter, who depends upon their regular flights for his success.
It is not often very remunerative, but is uncommonly attractive, and is
only condemned with great reluctance on proof of its injurious results.

Every one–whether the gentleman who, in search of health or pleasure,
visits the muddy bays or sand-spits of our coast, or the market-gunner
who has learnt naught of useful labor for many years but to handle
skilfully his heavy double-barrel–every one, we say, who pursues
wild-fowl, whether for sport or business, is interested in enforcing
upon his friends and neighbors the necessity of discontinuing the use of
the battery and pivot-gun. Although the results of the day’s shooting
may be diminished for a time, they will both gain in the long run; and
we shall once more see the crowds of geese, brant, and ducks stretching
in interminable lines across the sky; and have them flying by the points
where we hide, or dropping to our stools near by, as plenteously every
day as we can now kill them, in exceptional cases, from the battery.
When their feeding-grounds are undisturbed, their multitudinous hosts
will again cover the waters of our bays, and hold their noisy
consultations over the many theories and crotchets which are disputed in
duck philosophy. Then the true sportsman will visit his favorite tavern,
located conveniently at the edge of the salt meadows, certain, in the
proper season, of having fair sport; and the willing bay-man will again
reap rich and permanent harvests, either for his patron or himself.

Now a good bag is so rare that gentlemen seldom go to Long Island for
duck-shooting, and the inhabitants lose a valuable custom in
consequence; and although, by selecting a propitious occasion, the
market-man sometimes still kills a great number, he experiences a vast
majority of poor days. It is, therefore, the manifest interest of both
classes to repress these unjustifiable and murderous modes of shooting,
and to encourage, by all possible means, the return of wild-fowl to
their former favorite haunts–the bays, lagoons, and inlets of our own
beloved coast.

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