Wild hunting is a most enjoyable but also challenging too. Many have tried but I have never found a satisfactory explanation. Whether it is a relic of Barbarian ancestors to want to kill something, or of atavistic tendency of getting food, or the desire to circumvent the wary, or possibly to exercise an acquired skill with the gun, I do not know; but it must be something imperative that will cause a man to give up the comforts of home, brave possible dangers of sickness by exposure to inclement weather, to brave dangers of accidental mutilation and death.
The true sportsman will do all this and yet in spite of the most he can do, the net results may be— as they frequently are—nil. And yet he has had such an uplift of spirit, such ecstatic pleasure, that all other means of sport dwindle to the vanishing point. Far be it from me to attempt a reason, for as a matter of fact I have done all and more of these things. It is impossible for me to say just what motive possesses me. This, however, I do know, and that is when the season comes on there is an indescribable longing for a certain something that will only be satisfied by fondling my gun and examining the ammunition box.
Then come the days of desire and the nights of dreaming. Has there ever been a duck hunter who has not filled his bag, has made the most beautiful and almost impossible shots, has gloated over the fall of birds as they hovered over the decoys or swung past him on swift wing, who has not had almost as much pleasure in anticipation as realization?
I sincerely believe the half hour before falling asleep has been of greater anticipated joy than the greatest bag ever attained. And then the night after, when tired out and worn to a frazzle by freeze and wet, when the muscles ache from rowing and walking in the swamps, stomach well filled and happy you stretch your body on the downy, how there passes in review the incidents of the day, the missed shot, the accident that caused the loss of the grand old green- head, the folding up of graceful wings, the splash of the fall, the chase of the cripple and the satisfaction of a clean kill at 40 yards; all these are gone over and over until the keeper yells, “All up for breakfast.”
In my humble estimation, and it is not so humble either, being based on forty-five years’ experience behind the gun, there is no sport to equal wild hunting for the duck. Nor is there a greater paradise on earth anywhere to exercise this sport, than the old Illinois and its contributary waters. My experience extends to the Far West, North, and South, but nowhere has the satisfaction been as great as just here where when the bag was full my friends enjoyed my joy and participated because they had the misfortune to stay at home.
I started out to write up a duck hunt; how can I, when all my hunts have been as one. “Whether when as a kid unable to hold out straight the double barrel, I could bring some down by resting the same on the willows; from the first bird killed on the wing to the bag of the limit of green-heads only, it is just one kaleidoscope of hunt, of the days when we killed a hundred a day to those of just two or three, it has just been one grand time of solid enjoyment, selfish perhaps if you please, but pleasure exquisite nevertheless.
“Mark north!” Without moving a muscle excepting those of your eyes you follow the flight of a “bunch.” The voice of the cedar call, now followed by the live hens out in front, you warily attempt to twist your neck around as they circle one, two or three times and then the supremest joy when they finally set their wings and float down, as it were, their yellow legs outstretched, down, down to just over the decoys, you rise up, slip your safety and—how you fondle him, smooth the wet feathers, pat his plump breast, admire the beautiful colors! The cup of happiness if flowing over. The anticipated is realized, coupled perhaps with a slight regret, that he can never give you that exquisite moment again.
Wherein lies greater satisfaction than a beautiful double —perhaps you are in the blind in the midst of a snow-storm, the peak of your cap is pulled down so that you cannot see well, or someday when the flight has been poor you are slightly dozing, you open your eyes and peer through the meshes in the blind, you see a pair of strange birds swimming just on the outer edge of the decoys. Involuntarily you stiffen, your hand begins to reach over toward the stock of your Remington, and as you rise the pair head for the sky. They are 35 or 40-45 yards away, perhaps 50—crack, crack—and you start and stare as if someone had presented you with a fine jewel.
Again you are careless in your observation when suddenly like a streak there passes some teal. Without an instant’s hesitation, it is but one moment to raise the gun, slip the safety, put it against your shoulder, throw the muzzle from 3 to 8 feet ahead, press the trigger and they are yours.
Again, and I will never forget this experience, a pair of mallards came in. I made a clean kill with the first barrel and missed with the second; the drake began to climb straight into the sky immediately over the blind, I slipped in one shell, raised the gun, struck a rotten limb above me, loosened a lot of punk-wood which filled my eyes, rubbed them clear and then sighted on him away up in the blue when at the crack of the gun he “let go all hold” and came tumbling down not twenty yards away.
Then again the sudden change from deep disappointment to gratification; you have fired both barrels into a bunch of small birds that had not any intention of stopping with you. they go sailing on and while you are wondering how it was possible to have missed, a number fall out and you retrieve some beauties.
There is no grander passion from which one can realize so large a percent, of absolute pleasure, recreation and pride of achievement as from that of wild hunting. And after the season is over, you have put gun and paraphernalia away you settle down to business, take it from me, you will be a better man, more energetic in your work and do better in every way from having had a good play. For what is the sport but—to play—“to practice field diversion.” Every one in active business life should play at something if they desire to reach a happy, vigorous old age.