The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: Hunting

Iced Duck

We had to smash a channel from decoy to decoy… Jim’s teeth were chattering and I was cold beyond all shivering.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 5, 1938.

“I’m open,” said Jimmie Frise, “this week-end for a final go at the ducks.”

“Take some of your thicker-skinned friends,” I replied.

“I can’t get over your indifference to duck shooting,” said Jim. “It is, in the opinion of the greatest sportsmen in the world, the cream of all outdoor sports.”

“Duck shooting,” I informed him, “is sheer bravado. Only men who get a kick out of showing how tough they are go duck shooting.”

“Isn’t it funny,” mused Jim, “how a man can outfit himself with opinions in defence of his own ignorance?”

“Duck shooting,” I went on, “is the last survival of the hair shirt instinct in humanity. In past ages men wore hair shirts to show what they thought was their piety. It was only the desire to show how tough they were. Duck shooting is the same. You love to suffer, in order to demonstrate the vigor of your character.”

“Can’t you grasp,” pleaded Jim, “the delight there is in doing something entirely different from your normal life? Can’t you imagine any joy in entering a world as strange and different from the everyday world as it is possible to enter?”

“I don’t like being cold,” I stated. “I don’t like being wet or sleety. I don’t like to have to sit like a frozen dummy for hours on end in an icy bog, with a wind whistling amongst rushes.”

“The first delight of duck shooting,” interrupted Jimmie, “is the getting up at 4.30 a.m. You think of it with horror. As a matter of fact, it is the strangest and most delightful sensation imaginable. Your whole being is astonished. Your body, your mind, your secret spirit, tingles with a queer, a fascinating, joy, just to be up in this mysterious and unearthly hour.”

“Maybe my nervous system,” I suggested, “is too close to the surface of me.”

“Then,” went on Jim, “the going out, after good hot breakfast, into the stormy night, the chill, the stars, the wind. The walking and the rowing out to the duck blinds. The setting out of the decoys, in the darkness and the little waves, seems to wake in your deep heart some age old cunning, and it gives you the same lovely tingle as hearing, softly, the tune your mother used to sing to you when you were in her arms, a child.”

“What a queer comparison to make,” I protested.

“It’s true enough,” declared Jim. “Most of the deepest feelings in us are queer. And rightly so, because all our deepest feelings are the ones that have survived from time immemorial in us, handed down to us from our fathers, generation after generation across uncounted ages. Yet in the past few hundred years we have been trying to squelch these ancient things in us in order to be, as they say, civilized. So what we say and do and think, as civilized beings, seems plain and open. But whenever the deep, ancient things in us stir we find them strange.”

“We’ll be a better race,” I stated, “when we have succeeded in squelching those ancient things entirely. The day will come when nobody will go duck shooting, partly because it is idle to kill wild ducks when it is so easy to kill tame ducks. And partly because it is silly to go out and expose yourself to cold and discomfort and possible danger of pneumonia.”

Two Philosophies of Life

“I see,” retorted Jim. “So you’re one of the new pacifists. It is not because war Is evil that you would put an end to war. But because it is silly and expensive and uncomfortable.”

“Precisely,” I cried.

“Then in time to come,” suggested Jim, “there will be no more fishing, eh? Or golf or any amusements except the indoor amusements?”

“Even the indoor amusements,” I informed him, “will have to be pretty intelligent to get by. Playing bridge will prove to be silly, sitting up stiff in an uncomfortable chair, having to keep your mind alert…it won’t go. Mankind is moving definitely towards the understanding, of life that they arrived at centuries ago in India and China. And that is, that life, at its perfection, is simply sitting perfectly still, doing nothing, feeling nothing.”

“How about the Germans?” demanded Jim. “They don’t believe in any such perfection. All the trouble the Germans have been to the rest of the world in the last 50 years is because they believe so utterly in action, in discipline, in suffering, in exposing themselves to hardship, in living and dying dangerously.”

“Sparta,” I replied, “believed that, too. But what is Sparta? Just a word. A printed word. Nothing else of it remains. No statuary or vases, no literature, no philosophy or laws. Sparta terrified the whole Greek world in its time. But it was the rest of Greece, the terrified part, that handed down to us anything that we value of Greek civilization.”

“Puh,” said Jim, “this is all recent stuff, this Greek and Roman business. Just the other day. What I am talking about is the stuff that is in human nature for the past fifty million years. Because the Greeks or the Romans had certain experiences are we to be guided by them? Because they succeeded or failed. just within the past couple of thousand years, are we going to base our whole system of life on their experience?”

“What other experience is recorded?” I demanded indignantly.

“Recorded?” cried Jim. “You mean on paper? My dear boy, that counts out all the most valuable experience of all, because writing is only a recent invention. How about the records of human experience written in our very souls? In our minds and hearts and instincts. That’s where you want to look for records.”

“You,” I exclaimed, “are striking at the roots of civilization. Our entire world depends upon the written experience of humanity.”

“Therefore,” triumphed Jim, “if, in the past couple of thousand years, everything mankind has done has been in error, your whole world is founded on error.”

“But error couldn’t survive for two thousand years,” I protested.

“Oh, couldn’t it?” inquired Jim, sweetly. “Then how long do you say error can survive? Take a look around you at the world, before you answer.”

“Look,” I said, irritated, “what has this got to do with duck shooting?”

“Everything,” said Jim. “Because you can choose between two philosophies of life. You can either sit at home this week-end, doing nothing, feeling nothing, sagged in a chair like Buddha himself, believing in your numbed and all but lifeless mind that you are at that moment achieving the perfection of life. Or else you can come duck shooting with me, and feel cold and wind, and be aware of your skin and your eyes and your ears; filled with mystery of time and space, of stars and shadows and, as dawn begins to break, of swift flying little squads of wild ducks, swishing past, while you sit, controlling even your cold shudders, motionless as a stump, and the squad of ducks, seeing your decoys dim in the reeds, bank and turn and wheel and come, wings set and rigid, coasting down into range of your gun.”

Swell Day for Ducks

“You make a very unfair comparison,” I declared. “If I stay home, there are a hundred little things I can do. I can paste all this past summer’s fishing snapshots in my album. I can rearrange my book shelves, and index the latest acquisitions to my collection of early Canadian and American angling literature.”

“Very worthy, very worthy,” agreed Jim. “Pottering about with a paste pot, sighing over yesterday, thumbing through old withered pages of books written by men who were men of action, who, a hundred years ago, fished all our noblest waters when they were wild, and shot ducks and passenger pigeons and wild turkeys…. You think you are civilized. You are only debilitated, like our lakes and woods.”

“I like comfort,” I stated. “And so did cave men. I’m the natural man, not you.”

“You’re just getting a little feeble,” retorted Jim.

“Do you mean to insinuate,” I demanded, that I couldn’t sit out in a bog as easy as you? Do you suggest that you are more fit to stand a little wind and weather…”

Well, you know how it goes? Somebody is always trapping us by the old personality method. At any rate, with a gun borrowed from my brother, and in hip rubber boots borrowed from the garage man, and in woollen shirts and leather vests and canvas hunting coats and great clumsy slicker borrowed from my son, I waited in the cold rain for Jim to hack into my side drive to pick up my dunnage bags and valises full of spare woollens, and shell boxes and all the equipment a normal man can think of taking with him at this time of year on a most unnatural undertaking. Including a hot water bottle.

“A swell day for ducks,” gloated Jim, shoving open the car door heartily.

“And for the flu,” I agreed. “It smells as if it were going to snow.”

Thus, for a period of three hours, along deserted highways amid a forsaken world, we drove, the rain flooding and volleying eternally, and the short afternoon waning to an unpleasant and mischievous darkness, out of which raced glaring lights of unhappy vehicles, and the dim, unfriendly lights of towns and villages wrapped in November gloom.

Jim professed to love it all, the feeling of strong and virile isolation from a timid and withdrawn world. He talked about the arts of wing shooting, of leading a duck so many feet per yard of distance per angle of flight. He raved about the flavor of wild duck, believing that a split teal, broiled in a wire broiler over charcoal, cooked merely to a perfection that still permitted the juices to run, and served with boiled wild rice, boiled celery served only with butter, and hot dry toast, to be the supremest wild flavor the human palate could appreciate.

We came at length, at what seemed midnight but was merely 8 p.m., to a village at which we turned east and took a rain-sodden country road. This we followed with caution for six miles to a farmhouse where everybody had gone to bed but a jovial elderly man, our host, who fed us rather sketchily on some overdone cold meat of some description, a lot of big loose bread, butter so salty it stung and hard stewed crab-apples in pink sweet water.

Jim and Jake talked loudly of the morrow, and the wind increased and the rain quit, and when we stepped out before going up to bed, the air had got so cold it pinched our cheeks.

“Will they ever be flying in the morning?” cried Jim mightily.

“Will they ever,” agreed Jake, heartily.

And he led us up a creaky stairs to a gloomy slope-ceilinged room with two unmatched beds between barren walls. So damply, strangely, uneasily into bed and the lamp blown.

But almost immediately, the lamp was relit, and there, shadowed monstrously on the walls, was Jake, whispering us that he had the kettle on, and we dressed. In damp wool, in scrapy, frigid canvas, we dressed, and, rubber boots clumping and flapping, we went down to a breakfast of coffee-colored tea, thick, dry-fried bacon, two eggs fried stiff and turned over, thoroughly saturated with bacon grease. Then, wiping mouths hastily, off into the night, at 18 minutes to 5.

Jake showed us the boat and shoved us off from shore, with a husky but hearty good-by, good luck. We had to tramp away a thin shell of ice that held the boat to the frozen mud shore.

“She’s freezing,” I shivered.

“The wind will get up before daylight,” shuddered Jim.

With frequent peerings and bendings low, Jim steered a zig-zag course across the sullen water, and we came at last to a sort of promontory of swamp and bulrushes jutting out.

“Drop out the decoys,” muttered Jim.

I fumbled amidst the potato sacks full of damp decoys, unwound the stiff cord, and dropped them overboard at Jim’s direction. Twenty. “Bluebills, all,” said Jim. “But whistlers will come into them.”

Then with a powerful drive of oars, Jim thrust the punt into the point of bulrushes, ice crunching sharply and startlingly under the bow.

Waiting for the Sunrise

“Lovely,” I murmured. “Do we sit on the ice?”

“We sit in the boat,” said Jim, and with the oar, he cracked the thin ice ahead and handed the punt inward with grips of the tall bulrushes. When we had battled our way six feet in, Jim began cutting bulrushes and sticking them upright along the gunwales of the punt.

“Now,” said Jim, “for daylight. We’re at exactly the right time.”

Dawn is praised by poets. But poets are seldom out in November. Through the spaces in the rushes, we gazed out at blackness. The wind had fallen completely. But it was bitter cold.

“Don’t stamp your feet,” hissed Jim. “Squeeze them with your hand.”

And a little later:

“Don’t cough.”

And, just as a faint and sickly pallor became visible on the sky, he said: “Now you have to sit really still.”

I could barely see the decoys, immobile in the glassy water, a few yards out from the rushes. Far off, a gun barked, again and again. Quite close, two guns banged the sun and frigid air. We strained our eyes out into the sky above our decoys. But nothing passed.

It seemed hours for the dawn to break through. The sky was leaden. The air was icy. Not a breath moved the driest rush tip.

“She sure is cold,” whispered Jim.

“Ssssshhh,” I warned fiercely, massaging my feet through the rubber boots.

Seven o’clock came and went. Daylight, ghostly and wan, came. Our decoys lay inert and motionless on the queerly still water, but now we had to keep low, for fear of being seen.

“On a day like this,” whispered Jim, “they may fly a little late….”

“Whisht,” I warned, both hands inside my innermost garment.

Eight o’clock, like an invalid in a chair, rolled slowly in. Passed, and at 8.30, Jim stirred noisily.

“Well,” he said in a profane voice amid the silence, “I guess there’s no use sitting here any longer. We’ll pray for wind tonight, for the evening shoot.”

We stood up in the punt, and she did not wobble.

“Ho, ho,” said Jim, rocking the boat. But she did not rock.

“Frozen in,” I suggested,

So with the oars, we cracked the thin shell of ice around the punt, and, with Jim in the bow like George Washington, we broke a narrow passage out of the rushes. For 20 feet out, a lovely thin sheet of ice had frozen in the three hours of dawn.

Our decoys were fast in it. We had to smash a channel from decoy to decoy, Jim making the passage. I picking up the wooden beasts and winding the stiffening cord around them, after chipping off the fringe of ice.

Jim’s teeth were chattering and I had reached the stage of cold that is beyond all shivering.

“I think,” I said, carefully, “that my circulation has stopped.”

“We’ll be back in by the fire in 15 minutes,” clicked Jimmie.

So like two Buddhas, we sat by the fire until 4 p.m., and then, no wind having risen and the sheet ice being 40 feet out from the muddy shore, we packed up roughly, and in the dark, drove home slowly, on a slippery pavement.


Editor’s Note: This story appeared in The Best of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise (1977).

Blank!

With one accusatory stare that swung around the three of us who remained, he fastened his dark and furious gaze on me

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 11, 1933

“One of my country friends,” said Jimmie Frise, “has invited us to go jack rabbit hunting.”

“They are getting very plentiful,” I said.

“And big!” cried Jimmie. “I’ve seen them myself over twelve pounds, and I hear they go up to eighteen pounds.”

“It is almost big game hunting,” I admitted. “But as time goes on, I suppose they will get them bigger and bigger. We may expect any day to hear of a thirty-pound jack rabbit.”

“Or fifty or even a hundred,” said Jim, “because you know the way nature goes kind of nutty over these transplanted creatures.”

“Look at the starlings,” I agreed.

“Yes,” said Jim, “and they took English trout down and put them in the streams of New Zealand, so that a little fish that might go as big as five pounds in its natural home develops in those New Zealand waters to twenty-five and thirty pounds.”

“Well, these jack rabbits are the European hare, transplanted to Canada,” I said.

“In time, we might look for hundred-pound jack rabbits,” said Jim.

“I would rather shoot a hundred-pound jack rabbit,” I announced, “than capture Quebec.”

“When can we go?” said Jim. “It’s only a few miles west of the city.”

“What are we doing this afternoon?” I asked.

So Jim lent me his spare shotgun and we went out twenty miles and down the third line and got to the farm of Jimmie’s friends just in time for noon dinner.

The farmer had invited a few friends in for dinner to go jack hunting after, so that, counting Jimmie and me, fifteen of us sat down to table.

The way we city sports go jack hunting, rushing out, poor lean hungry mortals, from the nerve-racked city to chase nerve-racked animals across the country fields, is not hunting at all.

Hunting in the time of King Henry the Eighth had some pomp and beauty about it. And there are still vestiges of the old art of hunting to be found in the country, even as near as twenty miles from Toronto.

Fifteen of us at table, with roast lamb and mint sauce, all the kinds of vegetables there are, including parsnips, and one kind of pie, but it was pumpkin. And they cut a pumpkin pie in four. And as fast as one pie plate was bared, the ladies rushed a new one from the kitchen.

And there was chocolate cake and mocha cake, and home-made pickles in large chunks with that lovely briney flavor, and we finished off with crab apples and thick cream and large quantities of dark brown tea with an aroma city tea never has.

Then we all leaned back in our chairs and put our feet up on the rungs of the chair next to us and looked at one another.

But after the table had been cleared and the ladies stood around looking comfortably at us all sagging back from the table with our eyelids heavy, and nobody even trying to be the life of the party, our host, with a sudden burst of determination, shoved back his chair and said:

“Well, how about a little jack rabbit hunting?”

And heavily, all fifteen of us rose to our feet, patted the collie dog and the two cats, thanked the ladies personally for such a meal, dawdled with our hats and coats, let everybody go ahead of us out the door, and finally, with a sense of great accomplishment, got out into the open air.

Mark you, this was noon dinner, BEFORE we went jack rabbit hunting.

Getting Bigger Every Year

I felt like Henry the Eighth when I waddled out with the rest of the gang into the barnyard where the cars were parked.

With our shotguns, we squeezed ourselves into cars and away we went down a couple of side roads to a vista of plowed fields interspersed with areas glimmering green with fall wheat.

“Ideal country,” explained the farmer neighbor in whose car I was riding. “These big jacks have no burrows. They just spend the winter out in the open, cuddling down in furrows of a plowed field, handy to a fall wheat field.”

“They grow big,” I remarked huskily.

“Huge,” said the farmer. “They are getting bigger every year, too. I saw my first jack about ten years ago. He was about six pounds. Nowadays, I see lots of twelve and fourteen pounders, and they are getting even bigger.”

“Soon be classed as dangerous game,” I remarked, sleepily.

“You have to be careful even now,” said the farmer. “If you shoot a big one, don’t just rush in and grab it as if it was a bunny. It can give you a nasty kick. And I suspect they bite too.”

“My, my,” said I, waking a little.

All too soon we reached our starting point. The cars all pulled on to the side of the country road, and we piled out. Ahead of us spread a lovely misty prospect of fenced fields, pastures, plowed areas with wood lots scattered away in the distance.

The farmer who was our host scattered us in a long line down the road, with about three of us to a field. And at a signal, we started to advance. Jimmie was in the next field to me.

The fences were nearly all wire, and each fence had a strand of barbed wire along the top. Long-legged men can step up to the middle strand of wire and swing their leg over the barbed with grace and ease. But a short-legged man finds it not only difficult but entirely outside the realm of grace. He has to climb to the top strand, balancing carefully, and then, by a series of uncertain and waggling movements, shift himself over the top barbed strand, and leaning far out, lower himself to the ground. With an eight-pound shotgun, it is quite a feat.

We had gone only three fences when I heard a sudden shot and, looking to the west, beheld Jimmie crouched forward, blazing ahead of him. Bounding away was a large fawn-colored animal about the size of a collie dog. On the third shot it rolled over. And the line of us halted while Jimmie picked it up, tied a strong cord to its four legs and hoisted it heavily over his shoulders.

There was much applause and congratulatory shouting.

“Fifteen pounds,” shouted Jimmie.

Slowing Up the Line

On we went. Far to the east and west, the long skirmish line extended, and in about every second field, we would jump a hare and away it would streak, amidst a bombardment of guns.

The fences were getting more numerous and my dinner continued to embarrass me, so that the line of march had to slow up to my speed. But the rabbits continued to fall. Jimmie got another and bigger one, and I was glad to see, that with the animals’ huge forms slung over his shoulders, it was Jimmie who was now slowing up the line. By the time we had gone a mile, and climbed about twenty fences, four others had jacks slung over their shoulders, and I was carrying my hunting coat over my arm.

It was this fact which caused me to miss a very large jack that leaped up not fifteen feet in front of me in a plowed field. It was heavy going. A plowed field is not meant for amateurs.

There was a splutter of dust, something huge and buff-colored slithered out almost under my feet. I had my gun over one shoulder and my coat hung over the other arm. Before I could come to any decision as to what to do, the jack rabbit had bounded ahead across the furrows and had vanished in the shrubbery along a fence.

And there I was standing, with gun over one shoulder and coat over my arm.

“What’s the idea!” they all shouted. “How about coming hunting with us some time? Did you expect it to hobble away?”

“It was about twenty pounds!” I shouted back. “I was observing it, that’s what I was doing.”

Two fields farther on, another got up ahead of me. I threw my coat down and swung my gun into action, but it appears the rabbit had turned to the left after it had gone a few yards, so that my shots, fired straight to the front, appeared particularly ineffective to my comrades.

Jimmie climbed a couple of fences and came over to me.

“Here,” he said, “let me carry your coat.”

“You’ve got two jacks to carry,” I said, but he took the coat anyway.

“Now,” said Jim, “get busy and knock the next one down.”

It was one of those misty autumn days. The sky was overcast. We came, after a couple of fields, to a wood lot, around the margins of which were scattered patches of small brush.

“Watch yourself along here,” said Jimmie, as he left me to take through the middle of the wood lot. “There’s like to be a twenty-pounder around here. If you see one, it will be a big one.”

Unencumbered by any coat, with my gun carried at the charge, I walked carefully up the side of the woodlot. In the distance were spread away my companions, most of them watching me, I felt sure. I lost that Henry the Eighth feeling.

Halfway along the edge of the wood lot, while I had almost given up my fear that there might be a jack rabbit hereabouts, there was suddenly a terrific crash in the bushes beside me.

There, plunging through the underbrush was a huge tawny shape, the biggest jack rabbit ever seen or imagined.

It would not be twenty pounds, or fifty pounds, or even a hundred pounds. It would be hundreds of pounds!

With terrific leaps and plunges, half hidden in the brush, this monstrous rabbit was fast vanishing, while from all sides, as I raised my gun, came wild shouts and cries.

“Bang!” I let go. “Bang!”

Both barrels, dead on.

And amidst a ghastly silence, the monster jack rabbit lay still. And from all across the fields came running my companions.

“Boys,” I cried triumphantly, rooted to the spot, the gun shaking in my hands, so great was the thrill of it all, “I have got the biggest dang-busted jack rabbit ever seen!”

As they arrived, they all plunged past me into the brush to view the world record monster I had slain.

I could hear mumbling and excited chatter.

I strode into the brush to stand over my kill.

There on the ground lay a year-old Jersey calf.

The farmers were all bent down over it. More of them came charging into our midst.

I began to feel like King Charles the First.

The calf was breathing heavily, its sleek fawn sides heaving. It rolled its eye back at me.

“Look out for Bill Bowser,” said somebody. And about ten of the boys got up hastily and vanished into the surrounding brush.

A large stranger in overalls appeared from nowhere and stood looking at the calf, and with one accusatory state that swung around the three of us who remained, he fastened his dark and furious gaze on me.

“That,” he said, “is my prize Jersey.”

“I thought,” I squeaked, “it was an extra large jack!”

At that moment, the little Jersey got up, hind end first and stood blinking its eyes.

“She ain’t hurt, Bill,” said one of my friends.

Bill Bowser stepped up and felt the calf all over very carefully.

“He missed her,” said my friend, as Jimmie came into view through the brush. “The sound of the gun scared her so bad she just fell down.”

Bill continued to feel carefully along the calf’s flanks and down her legs.

“From where I was,” said Bill Bowser darkly, “up near my barn there, it looked as if he was less than ten feet from her when he let fly both barrels.”

“Even so, he wouldn’t have hurt her,” said Jimmie. “He is shooting blanks.”

“Blanks!” we all said.

“Yes,” said Jim. “I lent him the gun and I had a box of blanks left over from a regatta we had this summer. I figured no man should have live shells on his first jack rabbit hunt.”

Bill Bowser turned his back and led the Jersey away.

“You fellows keep off my property from now on,” he yelled back at us. “Wasting time shooting jack rabbits, instead of earning your daily bread.”

And pie and cake and crab apples with cream, I thought.

Gradually the others came out of hiding in the brush and we formed line again after carefully skipping Bill Bowser’s fields.

“Jimmie,” I said, as we started skirmishing again, that blank cartridge business was pretty low.”

“The joke of it is,” said Jim, “they weren’t blank. I just said that to disarm the guy. You missed, that’s all!”

“I couldn’t have missed at that range!” I cried.

“Wait and see,” said Jim, moving away from me.

We jumped two more jacks out on the flanks. Then we jumped another between Jim and me.

“Take it!” shouted Jimmie.

As I swung the gun up, I thought of the long two-mile hike back to the cars. I thought of that great big fifteen or twenty-pound buff streak hung like a millstone around my neck. I thought how sad it would be to deprive this harmless fleeing creature of its life. And anyway the barrels were waving all over in front of my eyes.

“Bang!” went Jim’s gun.

Down went the jack.

So I don’t know whether I was shooting blanks or not.

Planning is the Secret

“No cat,” yelled Wang, letting the billet of stove wood fly, “is going to eat my eggs!”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, November 8, 1947

“It’s a brain wave!” shouted Jimmie Frise.

“Good planning,” I yelled back, “is the secret of everything!”

We were in the back of a rented truck which was joggling us terribly over the backwoods tote road that led into our log hunting cabin.

With our duffle bags, rifles and hunting gear, we were being bounced and thudded through the dusk on the last 10 minutes of the 15-mile journey from the ultimate village.

“Boy,” exulted Jim, “I bet this is going to be the best hunting trip of our entire lives. Something tells me.”

“Organization,” I bellowed, “pays off. When I think back over all the hunting trips we’ve been on, haphazard, unplanned, disorganized …”

“Of course,” interjected Jimmie, “part of the charm, the attraction, of outdoor sport, is its uncertainty. I don’t go for these highly organized hunting camps where the deer are practically tied up to trees by the guides, beforehand.”

“I was thinking of the cook,” I shouted. “The Chinese cook. Why didn’t we think of that years ago?”

“Ah, that,” cried Jim happily, “was good old Skipper’s idea.”

Skipper is the newly-elected captain of our small hunting party. For years, he has been the chief complainer about lack of organization in our annual excursion. And one of the first things he did, on taking over command of the party, was to engage Wang, a Chinese friend of his from a city restaurant where Skipper eats chicken chow mein.

Wang, with Skipper and the rest of our party, was already in at the hunting cabin. Jim and I had been detained to the last by Jimmie not having his cartoon done.

“When I think,” I joggled “of all the years we’ve gone into the bush with a dozen great big cartons of canned goods …”

“So we were all half sick, about the third day,” agreed Jim, “with greasy food.”

“Aw,” I reminded, “and think of the mess the cabin was always in! And the delay in getting going in the morning, because of having to get breakfast.”

“And all the quarreling and bickering,” said Jim, “as to whose turn it was to wash up dishes or get the dinner.”

“I don’t see how we put up with it,” I submitted. “Every hunting party should hire a cook. It’s a very small outlay, divided among six men. Yet, it makes all the difference. Wang will get up early and have breakfast on the table before daybreak, so we’re all out in the bush by the time we’re able to see.”

“And,” contributed Jim, “he’ll have our lunch sandwiches packed up for us to put in our pockets. And when we come in at the end of the day, think of finding a real meal all ready and steaming!

“Wow!” I yelled.

So we sat, balancing as best we could on the cartons and boxes of supplies which we were contributing. To be on the last leg of the November hunting trip journey is exhilarating. To those of us who are still uncivilized enough to respond to the autumnal desire to go forth and hunt, the smells of the wilderness, the chill of the frosty air, seem to waken very ancient memories that we have inherited. It may be November was the month when all our ancestors went forth to fill their caves with meat and furs against the oncoming winter. There is a sort of joyous desperation in the spirit of a man who goes hunting in the fall.

But added to this, to know that, for the first time, we were going on a properly organized hunting party with a cook, filled our cup to overflowing.

I leaned out the back of the truck to peer into the misty dusk and see how near we were to the cabin. Our cabin is on a small lake in a very remote and uninhabited neighborhood. We are 15 miles over a vicious rock and corduroy tote road from the nearest village. No other hunting camps are within six or seven miles of us, separated from us by impenetrable bogs and swamps.

And tomorrow, the season opened!

“I can see the cabin lights,” I shouted to Jimmie. “Across on the point.”

Jim came and leaned out too, sharing that indescribable tumult of feeling that rises in a man at the sight of his wilderness destination.

The rest of the gang had heard the sound of our truck and were all out with lanterns to give us a royal welcome. They had come in the night before so as to get the camp settled and to do a little spying out of the land in advance of opening day.

Old Skipper superintended the unloading of the supplies and duffle and he gave Elmer, the truck driver from the village, his last and final instructions.

“Now, remember, Elmer,” said Skipper in the lantern light,” you come in every third day. That’ll be Wednesday. Then Saturday. Unless, of course, there are any important messages for us, or emergencies.”

Elmer drove off into the night; and with our duffle, Jim and I staggered into the old familiar cabin.

Just the standard log hunting shack, it is, with sets of double bunks on either side of the single room. In the middle is a large plain plank table, with benches. At the end, a large old fashioned wood stove which serves to warm the cabin as well as cook the food.

But Jim and I both stood staring in the light of the bright gasoline lantern hanging from the ceiling. For the old familiar cabin wore a most unfamiliar air of tidiness and order.

The bunks were all neatly made up with their bedclothes. The plank table was covered with white oilcloth. The rusty old stove was black and gleaming. On the shelves, lined with newspapers, the canned goods and other supplies were set up in the attractive style of a groceteria.

Skipper stood beaming at our surprise.

“Well,” he demanded, “how does the old joint look now?”

“Why,” gasped Jimmie, “it doesn’t even smell! No mice! No squirrels …”

And from the other door of the cabin beyond the stove, appeared Wang, the author of all this miracle. He was a small, chunky Chinese in a white apron. We shook hands with him formally.

“Wang,” said Jim, “we should have met you 20 years ago.”

And Wang beamed too and proceeded immediately with his cooking.

As Jim and I tossed our gear on our bunks and got ourselves settled, Skipper and the rest of the boys told us how Wang had sent them all out for a walk while he scrubbed and disinfected, and made the beds and organized the layout of supplies and stowed everybody’s equipment neatly under the bunks or hung it on nails.

“You’d think,” said Skipper, “that Wang had been born in the wilds or spent his entire life in hunting camps, instead of being a city slicker.”

Wang waved his appreciation and grinned happily.

Dinner was just ready. It consisted of small lamb chops grilled over bright red birch coals, to bare which Wang had simply removed the front top of the stove. You never tasted such chops, even in the costly restaurants. There were boiled potatoes, peas, broccoli, a large bowl of salad, lemon pie and coffee.

Skipper sat at the head of the table in the captain’s chair and watched us with pride and satisfaction as we stowed away the delicious victuals, with glances at one another which revealed more than words could our delight with the whole situation. Wang stood, like an adjutant, behind Skipper’s chair, watchfully. It was certainly a far cry to the hunting parties of the past, when we had stumbled about a cluttered cabin and sat down to amateur meals dished out of cans.

“I would have you gentlemen know,” announced Skipper, “that out in the lean-to, at the back, where, by the way, Wang has made his bed, we have a front quarter and a hind quarter of lamb; a side of finest bacon; a roast of beef and fresh vegetables too numerous to mention. And it all costs a great deal less than the canned goods we would have brought otherwise.”

Wang cleared the dishes off without disturbing us in our places. He wiped and mopped the table deftly. And there we sat, ready for the evening’s planning of tomorrow’s strategy.

Skipper, as captain, had prepared some fresh maps of our hunting territory. In different colored pencil, he had sketched maps of each section of the country, showing all the favorite runways and all the familiar topographical features, so that as he laid each map out, we could follow his instructions almost as though we were on a high hill overlooking the actual locations.

“Planning,” announced Skipper, “is the essence of any enterprise. To go hunting and just wander about by random, as we have done for years past, isn’t fit to be dignified by the name of hunting.”

“Here, here!” we all chorused; and from the end of the cabin came the cheery clatter of Wang doing dishes.

“According to the barometer, which I brought with me,” announced Skipper, “tomorrow is going to be cold and wet. A lot of east wind and rain. Therefore, I suggest we do not hunt the usual first-day section, which is down in that swampy area near Loon Pond. It will be too wet, too exposed; and the deer won’t be wandering around in such weather. We will hunt instead up in the cedar and hardwood country around Job’s Hill, where the deer will be taking shelter, and where we won’t get so wet hunting.”

“Here, here!” we all agreed, and Skipper laid down before us the big red and green pencil map of Job’s Hill and proceeded to appoint each of us to our station.

In that delicious mood in which you climb into your berth on a train that is about to take you to New York or San Francisco, we all undressed and climbed into our bunks for a good night’s sleep to prepare us for the opening day’s hunting, Wang had finished in his chores and brought in armfuls of wood for the morning, wound his alarm clock and stood dutifully to the last to see if there were anything wanted of him.

“Good night, Wang,” called Skipper, as he turned off the gas lantern and slipped into his bunk.

We heard Wang retire to his bed in the lean-to and before the first faint snore from Jimmie disturbed me, I had slipped away into dreams.

What waked me, I could not at first determine. I glanced at the cabin window and saw the first faint gray of dawn. I could see Skipper, leaning out of his bunk, pumping furiously at the gasoline lantern. The back door of the cabin was open, and a chink of light indicated that Wang was already up and about.

I could hear Wang’s voice, low and tense.

He was saying:

“Come on! Get out! Hey! Come on! Get out!”

“Hullo …” I began heartily.

“Shut up!” hissed Skipper, down below me.

He scratched a match and set it to the lantern. It burped and glowed and suddenly filled the cabin with glaring light.

“What’s up …?” I murmured.

“Shh!” commanded Skipper sharply and started to swing his legs out for the floor.

At which moment we heard a loud thud from Wang’s lean-to; and a sudden wild yell.

Through the cabin door, from the lean-to, came a large skunk, with that hop-skip-jump and sideways gait of an indignant and outraged slunk. A skunk likes to move with dignity.

And in the doorway, his face contorted with rage, appeared Wang, brandishing a stick of stove wood over his head.

“No, no, nooooo!” roared Skipper, diving back under his bed covers.

It was too late anyway. The skunk had fired his first shot in the lean-to, at Wang. The cloud of incense rolled in on us.

“No cat,” yelled Wang, letting the billet of stove wood fly, “is going to eat my eggs!”

The stick hit the skunk and………well………

Well, well, well!

At the council of war, held outside in the dawn of the opening of the season, Skipper applied the talent for organization which he possesses. We had no tomato juice. All our juice was grapefruit and orange. We had one pint of vinegar. It would take, at the least, four gallons of vinegar or eight gallons of tomato juice to wash down the cabin.

“And all the fresh food in the lean-to,” I reminded.

It was 15 miles to the village.

So we drew lots and it was Ben Holt, our youngest member, who is only in his forties, who got the job of walking the 15 miles into the village for Elmer to come and take us all the heck out of here.

“The best laid plans of mice and men,” said old Skipper sadly, “are easily skunked.”


Editor’s Notes: A Tote Road is a road for hauling supplies, especially into a lumber camp.

This story reads a lot like the Greg Clark stories from the 1950s, in that Skipper, their friend who shows up more in the 1940s, plays a major role.

Non-Co-operation

I cast the weedless lure close ashore and drew it splashing and skittering among the lily pads and decoys

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 13, 1945

“Ducks,” insisted Jimmie Frise.

“Muskies,” I asserted emphatically. “This week-end is the last of the bass and musky fishing in Ontario. It closes the 14th.”

“Ducks,” repeated Jim doggedly. “This week-end is really the beginning of the duck season. They’ll be flying this weather.”

“Jim,” I presented earnestly, “the year 1945 is over this week-end as far as fishing is concerned. Gone forever, 1945! We’ve got the rest of October and November to shoot ducks. But this week-end will never come again.”

“Ducks,” said Jim.

“Have you no sentiment?” I demanded indignantly. “Don’t you realize that there are just so many fishing seasons in any man’s life? When a season ends, it is like a chapter of life closed. We shall not pass this way again.”

“Ducks,” said Jim.

“Aw, ducks!” I scoffed. “The silly things. There you sit, shivering in a clump of dead grass, crouched down. Minutes pass. Half hours pass. Hours pass. Far off, on the horizon, flock after flock of ducks sweep away, like wisps of smoke in the distance. Then all of a sudden you hear a rushing, whistling sound of wings. You jerk awake. Over your head, go six ducks, skating through the air, slithering and sliding in fright at the sight of you quivering below. You yank your gun to your shoulder and blast off. One, two. And then you slowly lower your gun and watch the six ducks vanish in the distance.”

Instead of resenting my contemptuous description of duck shooting, Jim’s eyes gleamed with delight.

“Gosh,” he said, “it’s wonderful!”

“But you missed them,” I pointed out.

“That time, maybe,” said Jim. “But tell me how foolish it is to shoot at ducks coming in to decoys.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “There you crouch, in a clump of frosty bulrushes, on a damp box sogged into a quaking bog. A nasty east wind rattles the rushes around you and coils up the back of your clammy canvas coat. It spits rain a little.”

Jim’s face wore an ecstatic expression as he listened.

“As you peer amid the clattering rushes,” I continued, “you can see your decoys bobbing in the cold gray water, 15, 20 yards out from your hide. They are silly looking things, decoys. All facing the same way. All bobbing busily. You think they look like ducks. So do the ducks.”

Jim took a deep breath and clutched an imaginary gun to his stomach, as he crouched in his chair.

“For suddenly, far off,” I related, “your eye detects a flicker of movement in the gray, dismal light of dawn. Yes. Over on the far shore a flock of 15 blue-bills has curved away and is heading for you.”

“Fifteen!” whispered Jimmie, sliding the safety catch off the imaginary gun clasped to his bosom.

“They are fanned out,” I hissed, “in a wavering, shifting line of fast racing birds. They are going to pass a quarter of a mile to the south of your hide.”

“Aw,” regretted Jim, relaxing the gun.

“But, no!” I cried. They are wheeling! They’ve turned! They have spotted your decoys!”

Jim sank down deep in his chair, his eyes piercing the office wall.

“A mile a minute,” I grated in a low, dramatic tone, “that weaving, shifting line of blue-bills races towards you. They bunch! In the air, they seem to huddle as they flare up and wide, past you and your stupid decoys, bobbing busily on the water.”

Jim sat crouched in his chair, not turning his head, not daring to move.

“Up and wide, they flare,” I hissed, “and swing in an arc, still bunched. Then they begin to fan out. And as they fan out, they begin to drop. THEY ARE COMING IN!”

Jim’s knuckles turned white around the imaginary gun.

“They Taste Weedy”

“Lower, lower,” I muttered, “they are dropping, fanned out. They are 15 feet above the water. They are 10 feet above the water. They are floating in, on set wings, at silent, incredible speed. They are going to pass over your decoys about eight feet up, and land up-wind of them. Their wings are set, taut, curved, to brake them against the breeze…”

“BANG! BANG!” yelled Jim, leaping to his feet and taking aim with the imaginary gun pointed at the office wall.

And with a huge sigh, he fell back into his chair and said:

“How many did I get?”

“One,” I informed him, disgustedly.

“One?” protested Jim.

“As usual,” I advised him, “you fire into the bunch, instead of picking your birds and leading them. You got one. And it just happened to fly into your shot pattern.”

“I picked two drakes,” protested Jim hotly.

“You got one,” I informed him. “A hen.”

“Shucks,” said Jim disgustedly.

He stared into space until the imaginary scene I had built for him out of thin air had slowly faded.

“We’ll make it duck shooting this weekend,” he stated firmly.

“We’ll go fishing,” I retorted. “It is the grand finale, the finish, the glorious end of another fishing season gone into the dark limbo of the past.”

“Fishing,” asserted Jim, “is for May, June and part of July. By the middle of July, you are already sated with fishing. You are already sneaking up to the attic to fondle your guns.”

“There is no week in the whole year,” I countered, “to equal the second week of October for musky fishing. Maybe because it is the last, it is the loveliest. It is fraught with farewell and good-by. The shores are sentimental with autumn’s sweet, tragic colors. The sun is already paling. The wind of October is fitful.”

Jim began scanning the office wall for more blue-bills.

“In the water,” I pursued, “the weeds have died. And the muskies, who have hidden in the weed beds all summer, have fled the stinking water of the weed beds for the hard shores. The rocks.”

Jim yawned.

“In two and three feet of water,” I insinuated, “off these hard shores, amid the boulders, the crevices and along the sunken logs, the great muskies of autumn lie waiting and watching. For two reasons have they come into the shallows: to escape the stench of the decaying weed beds and to feed up against the winter on the little fishes and frogs and crawfish that dwell along the shore.”

“Slimy things,” yawned Jimmie.

“You drift in your skiff,” I wheedled, “along the shore, maybe 60 feet out. And you cast, cast, cast. Towards the shore. At every shadow of rock or crevice or log. You cast your plug and reel fast. Unlike in summer, you don’t have to reel slow and deep. You reel fast, your plug just skimming the surface. For when one of those fresh-water tigers sees your bait, he leaps on it like a famished tiger. He is in shallow water. He can’t go down. There is only one way for him to fight, when he feels the sting of your hooks. And that is up!”

“They taste weedy,” sneered Jim.

“Eight pounds. 10 pounds,” I exulted, “maybe 15 or 20 pounds of lithe, green, solid muscle. On the end of a fragile little casting rod. Twenty pounds of solid muscle, leaping, frantic, threshing, boiling in the water, in that cool October sunlight, against that lovely soft tragic shore …”

“I,” said Jim, getting up with finality, “am going duck shooting.”

“Very well,” I said bitterly. “I am going fishing.”

“After all these years,” said Jim, “you’d think a guy would get his full of a stupid sport like combing the water with a wooden plug.”

“After all these years,” I retorted, “you would think an old friend would not desert you on the last day of the fishing season of 1945.”

Jim stood looking out the window for a minute and then said:

“What we can do, we can go together to Blue’s Landing and you can fish and I can shoot. There is good musky fishing there. And the place whistles with ducks.”

So that was the solution. Blue’s Landing is an old favorite of mine for late season fishing. The old hotel is practically deserted by this time, save for a few lean and taciturn Yankees, who know about the mystery and glory of October musky fishing in the shallows, and come all the way from Memphis and Omaha to indulge in it here in the less popular resorts of Ontario. The Americans who come in summer are noisy and lively characters who fish hard and get a lot of sunburn. Those who come in October are silent, cold-eyed Yanks, with very old clothes and very costly fishing-tackle boxes and tailor-made split cane rods made in Bangor, Maine, and costing close to a hundred dollars.

They do not interfere with you, they eat by themselves, they do not crave any company, like their summer brethren. The autumn musky fishers from Mobile and St. Louis are prayerful men.

Voices in the Rushes

But when Jim and I drove in the dark into the hotel yard at Blue’s Landing, there were too many cars huddled in the October night. And inside, I could hear the whoopee of duck hunters.

When I pushed in the front door with my armful of rods and tackle boxes, half a dozen rosy gentlemen around the log fire, in loud hunting shirts, greeted me with stony stares.

When Mike, the hotel handyman, came out from the kitchen, I asked him if there were no gentlemen in the house this fall.

“Oh, yes,” said Mike. “But they’ve gone to bed.”

And he winked meaningly with a nod towards the living-room, where the duck hunters were greeting Jim heartily around the log fire.

“I’ll go to bed, too,” I said, “How’s fishing?”

“Mr. Vince got an 18-pounder this morning.”

So I went straight to bed, giving Mr. Vince’s room a friendly nod as I passed his door. Mr. Vince being an aged gentleman from Wheeling, West Virginia.

Jim came in after I was abed and tried to get me to come down and hear some of the stories that were going around the log fire. But I bade him good-night.

And very early in the morning, long before light, the old hotel was shaking and squeaking with the rising of the duck shooters and the musky fishers.

It was, in fact, a fact, I could hear no sound from Jim’s room and hoped I was ahead of him. But when I got down to the lamp-lit dining-room, there he was in his hunting shirt at the large table with the strangers of the night before. At separate tables, scattered around the room, were the musky fishers, singly, or two by two, but mostly singles. Mr. Vince was by himself. I. went and shook hands warmly and then went to a table of my own. That is the spirit of the autumn musky fisher.

Bacon and two eggs. Home-fried potatoes. Toast, coffee. And pumpkin pie. A good sound breakfast. Eaten rapidly. Because the duck hunters are already scraping their chairs away from the table and, with loud talk, scattering out into the hall to pick up guns and pull on waders and canvas coats.

As arranged with Mike the night before, I got the little red boat which Mike had hidden in the reeds some distance from the boathouse. Mr. Vince had his canoe and John Jacob, the Ojibway, for his guide, and they vanished away into the first mists of dawn. Outboard engines whined and roared as the duck hunters blasted off into the murk. In one of the outboard skiffs, I saw Jim perched up very chummy with a crew of his overnight buddies.

I waited until Mike brought the red skiff from hiding and shoved off to row the quarter-mile to McDuggan’s rocky shore across the bay. The mists of daybreak were still thick when, one by one, the outboard engines died in the distance. And a great silence fell over the world. The hunters were creeping into their hides. The musky fishermen were silently drifting along their favorite rides, flinging their lures towards the stilly shore.

There was just a tinkle of breeze. Little wavelets ruffled the water. I came to McDuggan’s shadowy shore, let my oars drag and began to cast. Not a sound broke the eerie silence. It was still too dark to see the best spots to hit with the lure. Suddenly, over my head, I heard a rushing sound which swelled into a squeaking whistle, and I could make out, for an instant, half a dozen torpedo-shapes hurtling through the air. Black duck, maybe, or mallards. They were heading straight up the shore, so I held my cast and listened. But no shots rang out.

“Heh, heh, heh,” I said to myself, and cast.

Slowly the dawn grew and I could make out the rocks and crevices of the shore. The wind drifted me at a pleasant pace. I did the full mile of rocky shore without a rise of any kind. But so great is the expectation, in musky fishing, that you don’t really need a fish.

There were tall bulrushes and reeds for the next mile of shore with all sorts of lily-pad beds.

“Hey,” came a muffled voice from the first clump of bulrushes, “buzz off!”

“That you, Jim?” I called back.

“Ssshhh!” came a sharp rejoinder. “Beat it.”

Instead, I cast deliberately at the lily pads. As reeled in, I could hear mutters and mumbles from the rushes. I drifted, with occasional pulls on the oars to keep me straight, along the reedy shore, while dawn grew into day. A lovely, chill, misty day, ideal for muskies.

A figure rose out of the rushes.

“Will you,” demanded a voice profanely, “get the heck out of here? There’s no fish along here. You’re chasing all the ducks away.”

“What ducks?” I demanded scornfully.

“You’ve scared off three flights already,” declared the figure in the rushes. “Now get the heck out of here before somebody accidentally shoots your tub full of Number Fives.”

“I’m perfectly within my rights,” I said, aiming a cast for the lily pads 10 feet from where he stood.

He sank out of sight with growls.

By now, it was quite light and I could see the hotel at the foot of the lake, as well as Mr. Vince’s canoe far up the opposite shore and a couple of other anglers’ skiffs at likely spots.

As I was watching Mr. Vince, I saw a flock of what appeared to be red heads come spanking out of his direction. They raced across the lake towards me. But seeing my boat, they hoicked up in a beautiful climb and turned towards the hotel end of the lake.

At the same time, I heard shouts, groans and imprecations from half a dozen places in the reeds.

There She Blows!

Then I heard Jim’s voice:

“Greg! Greg! A huge musky. Just rolled. Hey. Here!”

He was in a point of rushes a couple of hundred yards up.

I rowed smartly towards him. His decoys were spread amid the lily pads.

“Where?” I demanded, as the skiff coasted in.

“Right among my decoys,” hissed Jim urgently. “Cast. Cast.”

I cast the weedless lure close ashore and drew it splashing and skittering among the lily pads and decoys.

“Go ahead, he was a 20-pounder, right under my nose,” urged Jimmie.

I cast and re-cast. There was no response.

“Come in,” urged Jim, “and pick me up and I’ll row you along here. He may be cruising up and down.”

“You stick to your ducks,” I said, suspiciously.

“Come on,” wheedled Jim. “A great big green monster …”

At which moment, from down the hotel end of the lake, a long line of speeding bluebills hove in sight, and I saw an expression of agony strike Jim’s face.

“Get out of here!” he roared. “Or come in here and hide that red tub!”

The flight swept far away to the other shore. Behind it came another and another.

“Get out of there, get out of those decoys!” bellowed Jim. “Or come in…”

“I knew what you were up to,” I retorted, as I snagged a lily pad from my weedless lure. “Trying to get me to let you get hold of this boat …”

“Will you come in and hide that boat?” demanded Jim menacingly.

“I’m perfectly within my rights,” I announced. The season is still open. This is a famous fishing lake. I don’t see …”

Far off, a couple of guns barked with that futile sound that means long shots and missed.

“Spoil sport!” yahed Jim.

“You’ve got all the rest of October and November to shoot,” I stated.

“Will you get out of my decoys?” demanded Jim.

At which moment, from the next point of rushes north, gun went off and a scatter of shot slashed the water about 10 feet outside my boat.

“Sorry,” a voice called, “My trigger caught in the rushes.”

And at the same instant, in the water where the shot had lashed, there was a sudden large boiling of the water, the immense dark green back of a musky arched up, a large reddish tail lifted and slapped the water.

“There!” yelled Jim.

I made a quick, backhand cast. My lure chucked into the boil before it had subsided. I felt the slow, savage tug of a big fish. I struck. The lake seemed to explode.

“Give him line! Let me in. Row with one hand. Hold him. Get me in that boat …”

It was Jim roaring from the weeds.

In musky fishing, once things start to happen, all is a dream.

Somehow, Jim got in the boat. Somehow, we fought the fish back through the decoys and the anchor strings and the lily pads and got into the clear. Seven times, the big fish cleared the water in arrowy, horizontal leaps 10 feet long. From the rushes came the yells and cries of advice that goes with a big fish.

And after horsing him up and down the shore for half an hour, we got him tired and hit him on the head with the numbing-stick and hoisted him aboard.

“The great thing about sport,” said Jim, as we shook hands, “is co-operation.”

Groundhogs

By Greg Clark, July 18, 1936

“Groundhogs,” said Jimmie Frise, “are at their best right now.”

“For eating?” I begged.

“For shooting,” said Jim. “The fields are deep with grain or clover. The groundhogs have lost that anxious alertness of the spring. Fat and free, they sit on their little mounds. They make a perfect target.”

“A target, eh?” I asked.

“An animated target,” said Jim. “The mind of man can’t discover any other use for a groundhog. Their meat is too soft. Their fur is sleazy and thin. The divine purpose of a groundhog, as far as I can figure, is to provide an animated target for farm boys and city sportsmen in the offseason.”

“Hmmm,” said I.

“The bad points of a groundhog are well known,” said Jim. “They not only cat crops, such as winter wheat, clover and so forth. I’ve known farmers to have their entire crop of brussels sprouts ruined by groundhogs. But in addition to their damage to crops, groundhogs cause a lot of damage to horses, Horses step in groundhog holes and break their legs.”

“The survival of the fittest,” I explained. “Nature realizes that the horse has numerous and powerful friends, while the groundhog has none.”

“As a matter of fact,” said Jim. “I can’t figure out why Nature ever invented a groundhog. It has no earthly use.”

“Nature,” I stated, “didn’t figure the way man was going to steal the show when she did her designing. She simply set loose a lot of guesses. Nature is a gambler. She doped out a few hundred designs and then sat back and said go to it.”

“Wouldn’t it have been swell if the groundhogs had won?” jeered Jimmie.

“I can’t think of any life more agreeable than a groundhogs,” I admitted. “They have no economic value, therefore they are not enslaved like the cow and the horse and dog. Their fur is valueless, therefore they have not met the fate of the beaver and the fox. Their meat is of no interest, therefore they are not hunted as deer are.”

“Thank heaven,” said Jim, “for the sporting instinct of humanity, or the entire face of the earth would now be pitted with groundhog holes.”

“A groundhog,” I continued, “has a delightful life. Unlike the fox and the raccoon, he lives in a dugout of his own building, safe from life’s war. A nice warm dugout, with two or three entrances in case of danger. On his fast little legs he can jump into one of his dugout entrances at the first sign of hawk or human. He is a wise baby who digs his home in the midst of human endeavor. He selects a nice clover or grain field, and makes himself a home where he won’t have to move more than ten jumps from any one of his strategic entrances.”

“They’re stupid,” said Jim. “They sit erect like fools, right on the doorsill of their burrows, a perfect target.”

“In time,” I countered, “the groundhogs will learn that they can’t take any chances with men. The more groundhogs learn about us humans, the more they will develop long range rifles and telescope sights. So that in time, no groundhog will ever sit up at the door of his burrow. That is Nature’s way. Don’t think men are entitled to win in this gamble of Nature. Sooner or later, one of the other contestants in the race will get the bulge on us. And believe me, it will be a bulge.”

Winter Doesn’t Bother Him

“Do you mean,” demanded Jimmie, “that groundhogs might some day conquer the human race?”

“Why not?” I inquired. “Just because we humans have been top dogs for a few million years recently is no reason to suppose that Nature’s gamble is ended. The way men have been behaving lately. I’m willing to put a bet on the beetles at any reasonable odds.”

“Beetles!” ughed Jim. “Make it groundhogs.”

“Think,” I said, “of the way groundhogs hibernate during the winter. There is reals civilization. There is genuine economy. A groundhog. when the time comes, simply goes down into the deepest depth of his dugout, curls up, draws a few pebbles and handfuls of sand around him, and goes to sleep. Not for him are the hardships and rigors of winter. Not for him are starvation wages. He simply goes to sleep and spends all the winter months dreaming idly of the pleasures of summer. Then when spring comes, he wakes, and finds his winter dreams true, new shoots of grain growing, and life ready to amuse and feed him. Don’t you wish we humans had thought of hibernation about two hundred million years ago?”

“It would have been an idea,” agreed Jim. “No doubt Nature missed several good bets in connection with men, and hibernating was one of them. And wings was another. And a sting was another. I often wish I had a great big sting like a bee’s. But all the same, you haven’t mentioned any good reason for groundhogs. I don’t see why we shouldn’t consider them as just something to shoot at.”

“No doubt, you’re quite right,” I confessed. “Judged by the same standards, a great many human beings cut no more figure in this life than so many groundhogs. They might be regarded as something to shoot at.”

“The only difference is that the groundhogs can’t complain to the authorities. They can’t get even.” said Jim.

So when Wednesday, Jim’s half day off, came along and he signalled me to follow him from the office, I did so, and we walked down to the parking lot, and in Jim’s car was his rifle and several boxes of shells. And it being a lovely day and the birds likely to be mad with love and song. I went along, mostly to see the birds. Jim said that south of Georgetown were some wonderful sandy and gravel hills just lousy with groundhogs, and that way we went. And long before we spotted the first groundhog I was well paid by a no less beautiful sight than two cuckoos flying with their curious snakelike motion, and a Blackburnian warbler and no end of commoner birds which are to me like people I know as I pass along, and so life is less lonely.

Up a hill waving with green clover, and against a beautiful old boulder fence, we spied our first groundhog. He was all unaware, busily feeding, and not until we were within about forty yards of him did he suddenly sit up, the picture of indignation, his dark brow’s making him look very like an indignant fat man disturbed in his rightful business.

We lay down. Jim put the rifle to his shoulder and drew a careful bead. He drew and drew, breathing heavily and then holding his breath, and finally he touched off the trigger.

There was a loud plunk.

“Got him,” cried Jim, leaping up and racing towards the fence. But I saw the little brown beast scamper furiously and vanish into his hole in a sandy knoll of his own building.

“You only winged him,” I accused, as I ran alongside. “He got down his hole.”

“We’ll find him lying dead just inside the entrance,” said Jim.

But when we got to the little mound, and found the dark and secret entrance to the cave, there was no groundhog sprawled at the gate, nor was there any sign of blood.

“I heard it go plunk,” said Jim.

“Listen,” I commanded.

And from out the hole in the ground came, as from a distance of several feet, a faint squealing sound. It was a sound like newborn puppies make, and it was interspersed with a snapping or chopping sound which groundhogs make with their teeth as a warning.

“Jim,” I declared hotly, “there are babies in this den.”

“It’s the one I hit,” said Jim. “Squealing its last.”

“Pardon me,” I said, “but that is baby groundhogs making that squeaking sound.”

In the pleasant afternoon, soft with light and tenderness and joy and the love that broods in summer, we stood listening and then we knelt and finally we lay down with our ears at the hole.

“Suppose,” I accused, “that you have killed the mother of a brood of baby groundhogs?”

“Let’s go and find another,” said Jim, getting up.

“Jim. I’m going to dig these out,” I stated. “I’m going to go to that farm we passed back there and borrow a spade.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “why be a silly sentimentalist? Groundhogs are vermin. Why don’t you do something about all the beautiful baby sheep and baby pigs that are being slaughtered every day at the packing houses?”

“Wait till I come back with a shovel,” I commanded.

It was only a couple of fields back and the lady at the farmhouse gladly gave me a shovel.

“For groundhogs?” she said. “I hope you dig them all out.”

Jim was asleep on the mound when I got back. He said he would stand guard over the other exits of the groundhog burrow while I dug.

“It isn’t likely more than three or four feet down.” I assured him. And anyway. I want to show you what you have done.”

At first I intended to dig out the burrow the way drain menders dig out a sewer pipe, that is, by making a ditch that reaches down to it. But the entrance penetrated straight down for about five feet and then slowly sloped deeper still, and by the time I had burrowed six feet, I was under the stone fence and Jim was squatted at the entrance of the tunnel, watching me.

“Make it bigger,” he said, “so I can come down.”

“Go get a board off a fence,” I directed, “and come half way in and scoop the dirt back out as I dig.”

Ahead I could still hear the faint squealing of small animals, and this served to excite me on. Jim returned with a board and kneeling on knees and hands, he skited the earth I dug back between his hind legs like a terrier. We began to make progress.

The tunnel straightened out and ran like a gallery ahead. All I had to do was cut the earth around the hole already made by the groundhog and pass it back.

“Look,” I cried, “here’s a branch tunnel leading off. Isn’t this smart? Just like a German dugout in France.”

Something stabbed me on the knee.

“Jim,” I cautioned, “be careful with that plank.”

“It isn’t near you,” said Jim, skiting sand.

“Ouch,” I said, “what the dickens are you doing?”

Something whistled sharply, and a heavy furry object like a bag of something soft, such as flour, struck me violently in the pinnie.

“Back, Jim,” I shouted loudly. “Back.”

“What is it?” asked Jim, not backing, but leaning forward as if to see in the dark over my shoulder.

By now, there was a scuffling and a scurrying a whistling and a chunnying, a teeth-grating and a scratching; with a dexterous movement, I let Jim follow his curiosity while I heaved past him, and left him in rear. In the darkness, there was a sense of danger and of menace.

“Look out,” cried Jim in his turn, pushing at me to make way. “They’re attacking us.”

And with Jim assisting me, I made good time up the tunnel and we burst into the blessed wide open spaces with sand in our hair and grit in our teeth. We backed a respectable twelve feet from the hole we had made and stared down.

“For heaven’s sake,” said Jim, “the little brutes actually attacked us.”

From the shadows far at the bottom of our excavation there rose a chorus of menacing sounds, curious hoarse whistles and grindings, chucky grunts and snappings. Like a jack in the box, a brindled fat figure popped out a foot and then instantly back. It repeated this bold maneouvre three or four times while Jim and I stared ready for instant flight.

“I’ll be jiggered,” I said. “The little savages.”

So I stooped and grasped a boley, which is a pebble egg-sized or up.

“Easy,” cautioned Jim. “Don’t irritate them. We’ve only got a little twenty-two.”

He picked his rifle up gingerly, and held it behind him.

“In the case of bears,” I suggested in an undertone, “they say the best thing to do is walk quietly away. Don’t run.”

“Come on, then,” agreed Jim anxiously, for the sounds in the cavern were increasing, as if ground hogs were gathering from all the subterranean passages for miles around to man this pass of Thermopylae.

We backed slowly. We did not remove our eyes from the excavation. No fierce sabre-toothed groundhog head showed. We turned. We walked smartly. We ran. We got into the car and slammed the doors and rolled up the windows. Jim held the twenty-two on his knees.

“Ah,” we said.

“That’s gratitude for you,” I said. “Me trying to do a noble and humane deed, and they attack us.”

“You can carry humanitarianism too far,” said Jim. “Sometimes, humanitarianism is against the laws of life.”

“The ungrateful little brutes,” said I, bitterly.

“To tell you the truth,” said Jim. “I was afraid they might have rabies. That’s why I didn’t want to let them near me.”

“It was the shock that made me hurry,” I explained. “Shock and rage at their ingratitude. The vermin.”

Jim rolled down one of the car windows and stuck the twenty-two out. No fanged heads showed above the sandpile high up against the stone fence.

“Just fire one,” I said, “to show our contempt.”

So Jim fired one, and the little spurt of sand showed he had hit the fortifications.

“Yah,” I yelled. “Take that.”

So we drove back around through Georgetown and all the pretty little towns and scorned groundhogs from then on.


Editor’s Notes: Jim shows his farm-boy roots in this article, with his contempt for groundhogs, and his feeling they serve no purpose.

This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing, 1980.

To the Victor

By Greg Clark, March 13, 1948

Jim and Greg discover that the wily crow is getting wise to the tricks of the hunter

“Hist! A crow!” exulted Jimmie Frise.

We ran to the office window. And there, on a roof across the street, perched a crow, his back humped, his beak extended as he yelled derision down to the swarming traffic below.

Like a ragged old black hat, he leaped into the air and flapped away onward on his journey north.

“Man! The first harbinger of spring!” gloated Jim. “In a week, we can go crow-shooting. The bush lots out in the country will be alive with them.”

“What a thought!” I expostulated. “See your first messenger of spring, and immediately decide to shoot him.”

“They’re rascals,” declared Jim. “They’re murderers. They are the enemies of everything from mankind down to the smallest little infant song bird. Crows are the pariahs of the bird kingdom.”

“They are also,” I stated firmly, “the first glad heralds of spring. Hardy, bold, cunning, undefeated, they beat their way back to us weeks ahead of the robins and the bluebirds. Not like little soft birds do they wait for the balmy winds of spring to ride on. No: the crow braves the sleet and the …”

“Don’t let them fool you,” cut in Jim, grimly. “The reason they get back here early isn’t to squawk the good news to us. It’s so they can spy on the farmer and see where he plants his corn. It’s to get their nests made and their eggs hatched in good time so that their horrible infants can be fed birds’ eggs. They come early, so they can hide in the pines and watch the tender little birds building their nests.”

“Nonetheless, the farmer’s heart lifts when he hears the first crow,” I soliloquized, as we stood gazing out the office window. “The crow may have a harsh and discordant voice, but it’s music in the empty air of March. It has the note of a trumpet in it; a note of ardent and excited signal. It sounds as though the crow, from above, can spy something coming, far to the south. It’s spring!”

“Look!” interrupted Jim. “We’ve got this afternoon off. Why not let’s go crow-shooting this afternoon? We haven’t been out in the country for months. We…”

“I could do more…” I cried.

“Look!” insisted Jim. “I’ve got Doc Secord’s stuffed owl down in my cellar right now! The one on a pole, you know? We just take it out to some woodlot outside the city and set it up.”

“What a welcome,” I grated, “to a joyous creature homing from exile! To set up a stuffed enemy. And when the poor crow comes shouting, we, hiding like cowards, blast him from the skies.”

“We’ll leave,” announced Jim, returning to his drawing board, “right after lunch. We’ll get away by 1 o’clock. We’ll pick up our shotguns and old clothes and that stuffed owl.”

“The roads,” I protested, “the back roads will be in an awful mess a day like this, Jim. There’s a thaw.”

“We’ll stick,” advised Jim, “to the paved roads. Lots of good crow-shooting right along the highways.”

Thus you see how the noblest sentiment is brushed aside by the brutal authority of material considerations. Such as an afternoon’s sport.

In the first place, I must confess that this sport of crow-shooting around a decoy stuffed owl is something out of this world. Doe Secord’s stuffed owl is the handiest contraption I ever saw. The owl is fastened to the top of a pole, about an inch thick and four feet long. Three other four-foot lengths of pole, each fitted with a ferrule of galvanized tin, allow the sportsman to joint the pole together, like a fishing rod. And thus the stuffed owl is set up, on a 16-foot pole, cleverly hidden in a cedar or spruce tree in a nice open glade or swamp. The owl appears to be sitting perched on the top of the tree.

The sportsmen then conceal themselves in the underbrush nearby, and the most musically gifted member of the party starts cawing on his crow call, a sort of squawker that very closely imitates the excited yelling of a crow.

If there is crow within a mile, he immediately, and silently, comes hot-winging it over to see what all the excitement is about.

And when he sees the owl on the cedar, he just about goes crazy. His wild calling rings far and wide over the fields; and crows for miles, taking up the hue and call, come flying at top speed to mob the owl.

Of course, March is too early for the best crow-shooting. The first week of June, when the young crows are out of the nests and the parents are busy teaching the young’uns all the tricks and perils of their trade, is the peak of the crow-shooting season. Scores, sometimes hundreds of crows can be attracted by skillful calls. They circle and dive at the owl, oblivious of the barking from the concealment of the bushes. Teaching a young crow what an owl is appears to drive the normally suspicious and crafty crow right off his rocker.

“There’s a crow!” cried Jim, slackening the speed the car. “Over there …”

Against the skyline, above a distant woodlot, I could see the ragged figure of a crow flying slowly and aimlessly. A tired crow, I thought, home from a long journey south.

“Too far off the highway, Jim,” I assured. “We don’t want to risk driving in that far. And it’s too far to walk, carrying the guns and the owl.”

“They’re back!” gloated Jim. “There’ll be more.”

And sure enough, only a mile or so farther, we saw another crow. He was feeding on a bare patch of earth extruded from the frowsy March snow. As we slackened the car, he jumped and flapped away.

“How about it?” demanded Jim. “Let’s set the owl up in the next woodlot we come to. There’s enough crows right in the district to start on.”

“I kind of …” I muttered, gazing back at the figure of the crow hastening away toward a distant clump of bush.

“You’ll feel different,” assured Jim, “once the shooting starts!”

So Jim drove on another mile or so until we came to a good gravel side-road. It was one of those first-class second-class roads, if you know what I mean, that the county authorities keep in good shape even at this time of year. About half a mile down this side-road stood a fine bush with cedars and pines among its woods – a perfect spot for crows.

Jim turned the car and we followed the good gravel into the woodlot, where we selected a nice wide spot to park the car. Filled with the usual exaltation that comes over a man when he steps out of a car with a shotgun, we loaded up with the stuffed owl and the jointed pole and our guns, and walked 300 yards farther down the road to a meadow with cedars of the right height clustered around it.

Working quietly, and in the hope that no prowling crow would come by and see us, we jointed the poles together and hoisted the owl on high. Then we set the pole, well concealed, deep into the foliage of a cedar. The stuffed owl, with his glaring yellow glass eyes, perched beautifully just on the tip of the tree.

We retreated a few yards and took refuge, kneeling under other cedars. And Jimmie unlimbered his crow call.

Four, five short, sharp barks on the crow call, as if a crow had just suddenly stumbled right on top of an owl.

Then two or three long-drawn caws of alarm, followed immediately by another series of the short, yelping notes of excitement

But no crow answered; no crow came.

“Maybe …” I murmured.

“Sshh!” hissed Jimmie, going into the second movement of the symphony.

Suddenly, off to one side, a black shape hurtled past, ragged as an old umbrella, flurried as though blown on a gale. It was the first crow. He landed, teetering, on the tip of an elm 100 yards away, and gave a few hoarse caws.

Jim redoubled his clamor. He put an agony of excitement into it; and a few low, cursing sounds, as though a crow were just about to dive.

The crow, with a sharp bark, lifted and flew away west.

“Well!” gasped Jim, pausing to puff for his wind.

In the distance, we heard the crow start to call. Jim answered. The crow increased his tempo. Jim joined. Presently, we heard another crow join in. Then another, and another.

But they didn’t come any nearer. They must have been a good quarter of a mile away.

“Maybe,” whuffed Jim, resting from his labors, “maybe they got ANOTHER Owl; a real one…”

He tried again, throwing real volume into his calls. But all that happened was that the clamor in the distance seemed to multiply and increase.

“By gum, that’s it!” cried Jim, coming out of concealment. “We’ll go on down and see.”

So we disjointed our owl off his pole and hurried out to the gravel road and back to the car. Driving very slowly, with both our heads stuck out of the windows we cautiously advanced down the side road. Ahead, slightly to the south, we saw another woodlot.

“They’ve got it in there,” diagnosed Jim excitedly. “An owl, by the sound of them. We’ll sneak as close as we can in the car.”

The new woodlot stood a few hundred yards down a really bad side road running off the gravel. And as we drew near it, suddenly out of the bush nine or 10 crows exploded. And uttering wild cries, flew a couple of hundred yards farther south.

“Jim!” I protested.

But Jim had turned the car, and we were jouncing and slithering into the side-road.

“It’s only a lane…” I warned, “a mud road…”

But the call of the wild was on Jimmie. He hunched over the wheel. In second gear, he plunged the car 100 yards through mud and slush and rib-jagging ruts and pitch holes before we went into the ditch for the first time.

“Jim, not another yard,” I shouted, as he gave the engine the gun and, by a miracle, lurched us back onto the narrow miry crown.

He stopped the car, and we got out and harkened.

Three hundred yards away, not nine or 10 but 20 or 30 crows were screaming their heads off, at the bottom end of the woodlot.

“They’ve got an owl, all right!” gasped Jim. “A great horned owl!”

We scrambled back into the car. Jim-put her in low; and we scrunched 50 yards before we slewed off the road for the second ditching. He was not so lucky this time, and we both had to get out and wade through mud to get fence rails, pine branches and other debris with which to set a footing under the back wheels of the mired car. Meanwhile, the tumult down the road gathered fury and frenzy.

When Jim had keel-hauled the car back on the road, I said:

“We can walk from here, Jim. It’s only a couple of hundred yards.”

“We can drive nearer,” commanded Jim. “In their excitement, they’ll notice a car far less than us on foot.”

One hundred yards farther the car did a couple of slews, a slide and a dive, and went down to her running boards in a solid mass of porridge mud.

“There!” I declared hotly.

“Come on!” hissed Jim, seizing his musket and leading out the door.

But we had not gone 100 yards on foot through the muck and slush until a sudden silence fell on the community of crows. One instant they were all yelling. The next, not one! And, furtively, we could see their black shapes diving and ducking and vanishing into the woodlot, across the fields and over the hills. In a moment, a great hush settled on the countryside; all you could hear was our heavy breathing.

“Well…!” said Jim.

Well, we walked back to the car. And it did not take much of a glance to see that this was a job for a strong farmer with a stronger team of horses.

It was quite a walk and quite a long time on the party line telephone before we found a farmer able and willing to come to our aid. In fact, it was dusk by the time he got us hauled back out onto the gravel.

“Crows?” he said, as we handed him $5 for his hire. “Ah, crows are wily! They’re getting educated. Sometimes, I figure crows are developing an almost human Intelligence. Why, I could tell you tricks crows have played on me…”

“So can we,” said Jimmie and I both.


Editor’s Note: A ferrule can be any of a number of types of objects, generally used for fastening.

Caw Caw!

By Greg Clark, March 30, 1935

“This morning,” said Jimmie Frise, “I was waked by a flock of crows.”

“Spring!” I cried.

“A whole flock of them in the tree beside the house. And the racket they made,” said Jim.

“Why,” I said, “you poor sap, they were serenading you. Honoring you. I wish it had been me they’d chivareed.”

“So do I,” growled Jim. “I hate crows.”

“One of the first, and therefore, the sweetest of the sounds of spring,” I said. “Jimmie, it is good luck to have crows come and wake you in the morning. It means a good year.”

“Crows,” said Jim, pointing an imaginary shotgun into the office air, “are vermin.”

“They are fellow creatures,” I pointed out. “Fellow creatures, Jim, filled with life like you and me, and just as eager as we are to live it.”

“Crows,” declared Jimmie, like a crown attorney, “are villainous vermin. They are crafty, clever and destructive. They are as wicked and cruel as they look, with their black coat, the color of the devil himself, and their beady jet black eyes. They rob nests of eggs and tear the young nestlings of good birds of all kinds, useful and gentle birds, worm-eating and weed-seed eating birds, right out of the nests amidst the despairing cries of the parents.”

“After all,” I said, “God made them.”

“And God made them a good black color, so that they would be an easy target for a shotgun,” cried Jim.

“The birds we like,” I said, “are the birds that put money in our pockets, like the insect eaters in our fields of crops and the worm eaters in our orchards. The birds we love so tenderly are the ones that sing for us and make us feel good.”

“Why not?” demanded Jim.

“Isn’t it rather presumptuous of us,” I replied, “to decide what birds we shall spare and what birds we shall kill? Are we the masters of all life? Are we the kings, the emperors of creation? Or are we savages. And what we like, we let live. And what we don’t like, we ruthlessly destroy.”

“Well, what would you have us do?” hotly demanded Jim. “Just lie down and let the enemy walk over us?”

“Listen, Jim,” I said. “When the last man on this earth falls to the ground, when all our topless civilization is wasted and rotted and gone, when we are exhausted and worn out and vanished, and that last man on earth staggers and falls to the good earth, a crow will be there to peck his bones.”

“Not if I can help it,” assured Jim.

“What can you do?” I asked.

“I can do what a million sportsmen in the United States are doing,” announced Jimmie. “I can do what Jack Miner and all the thousands of people he influences are doing. I can go out now, in the spring, with a crow call and a stuffed owl, and I can kill a few dozen crows before they have time to nest. I can reduce considerably the number of crows in this neighborhood.”

They’ll Always Come Back

“But,” I said, “up in Patricia Land and Rupert’s Land and in the Rocky Mountains, there will still be a crow or two to carry on his race. I don’t think you’ll do much here, by shooting crows, even if you shot them all, except make this part of the country particularly good pickings for the crows when they do come back. For, of course, they will come back.”

“I hate that remark you made about a crow picking my bones,” muttered Jim.

“Are crows increasing?” I asked.

“Sure they are,” said Jim. “The more the land is cultivated, the more the crows multiply. Before the white man came to America, there were only a few crows scattered here and there in the wilderness. But since the white man came and cleared the forests and planted the prairies, the crows have found wonderful pickings and have flourished beyond all dreaming.”

“It is a battle then,” I said, “between men and crows as to who shall conquer America?”

“Don’t be so smart,” said Jim. “We men have helped the crows to multiply. Now they are an ever-growing menace not only to men’s crops but to men’s numerous friends, the little song and insectivorous birds, see?”

“So we have to do something to reduce those unnatural numbers?” I asked.

“Now you’ve got it,” said Jim. “I don’t want to destroy all crows. All I want to do is keep them within bounds. A few crows are a useful part of the economy of nature. They clean up dead carcases of animals. They eat quantities of large grubs. But I can show you, out in western Canada, crows’ nests with fifty or a hundred wild duck egg shells underneath the tree.”

“The only thing I don’t like,” I said, “is the way duck eggs and corn crops and things keep popping up in this discussion. Is it because crows interfere with our sport and our bank accounts that we hate them?”

“They’re just a vermin,” stated Jim.

“And,” I said, “not only do they eat our corn and kill our little worm-eating birds and do their share of duck hunting — in the egg, not on the wing — but they employ thousands of men in the ammunition factories, and in the hardware business, selling guns and shells. In one way, the crow is a menace to man. In another way, he is a big employer of labor.”

“If,” said Jim, rising. “you wish to come with me on a crow hunt, say so. I’m tired of arguing about crows. I just hate them. That’s all.”

“How do you hunt them?” I asked.

“A crow hunt,” said Jim, happily, “is more fun than a picnic. We take a stuffed owl. You know, a great big stuffed owl. We set it up in a dead tree near the corner of a woodlot. Then we make a few little hides out of brush and cedar nearby for us to hide in.”

“Cowards,” I said.

“Then we take a crow call,” said Jim. “It’s a little sort of wooden horn that makes a sound like a crow–caw, caw, caw. After we are all hidden, we start calling with the crow call. We make it excited and high, like a crow that has found something. Pretty soon, a crow comes along, silently, anxiously, to see what all the excitement is about. He spots the owl, sitting up in the dead tree. Then he starts yelling bloody murder, and we keep it up, too, and away goes the crow, to rally the forces of crowdom. We still keep up our excited cawing, and in a few minutes, the crows come, not a couple, but in dozens, to mob the owl.”

Practising the Call

“A dirty trick,” I assured him.

“They are so excited,” went on Jim, “diving at the stuffed owl, and cawing at the top of their lungs, that they come right down over the blinds and you blaze away. In an afternoon, you can get several potato bags full of them.”

“What do you do with them?” I asked.

Jim looked at me coldly.

“Bury them,” said he.

“Tch, tch,” said I.

“After each fusillade of gunfire” went on Jim, “they fly away to a little distance. But you start calling wildly again, leaving the dead ones propped around the fences and on the ground and wedged in the crotches of trees. And in answer to your frantic calling, back they come again. I imagine you can call half the crows in a township. And get them.”

“Beautiful, beautiful,” I assured him. “You imitate the distress cry of a noble creature. Impelled by the grandest of motives, the brave and instantaneous answer to the distress cry of their fellow creature, the crows come at full speed to help their comrade. And even in the face of death, when hidden guns blaze at them, they still come on, droves of them, to answer that cry.”

“It sure is swell shooting,” said Jim.

“And good, too.” I pointed out, “for industry. Think how soon good times would come again if everybody went crow shooting and all the idle factories were equipped to turn out guns and ammunition for crow hunters.”

“Wait till you’ve been on your first crow shoot,” said Jim.

“When will that be?” I asked.

“Saturday,” said Jim.

With three of Jim’s shooting friends, I shared the car with a large stuffed owl. It was borrowed from the dining room of one of those small town hotels we passed through on our way to the Orangeville district where the crow shoot was staged. Jim drove and all the way up, we took turns at practising crow-calling with the crow call, a small wooden thing like a clothes peg, with a thin piece of metal stuck in it to make the caw.

“Just blow in it as hard as you can,” explained Jim. “It is supposed to sound like an excited crow, a crow in danger, a crow set upon by enemies.”

So we blew and cawed and made loud dying sounds with the caller, which Jim said were perfect.

At this time of year, with the roads the way they are, you have to do quite a lot of walking to get to a likely spot for crow shooting. We left Jim’s car at a crossroads and walked northeast of Orangeville until we came to a farm with a big woodlot and a swamp side by side.

“We got fifty here last year,” said Jim. “I wasn’t along that time, but the boys said it was wonderful shooting for a couple of hours.”

They let me carry the owl because I was the shortest. They said it wouldn’t be noticed so much by any stray crows if I carried it. But we saw no crows, nor heard any.

Over a few fields we plodded, and after studying the woodlot, we selected the southwest corner of it. We wired the stuffed owl on to a dead branch of a tree about twenty feet from the ground and there it sat, very life-like, staring with large yellow glass eyes, at space. Then we rigged up half a dozen hides, or clusters of brush and cedar boughs, with a good space in the middle for one man to hide, and with a look-out hole for him to shoot through.

“I’ll call,” said Jim. “Now boys, get into your hides. And no shooting until I shoot. Understand? We let the first couple of crows come and look, they go away and bring the main body back. So no shooting until I shoot.”

The Heavens Ring With Tumult

We all agreed. I got into a hide next to Jim, from which I could see out a hole and command a good view of the stuffed owl and the surrounding air soon to be filled with black devils.

No sooner were we hidden than Jim started the music. He let go a few frightened and started caws. Louder and louder. Then the sharp barking caws changed into long and agonized caws, as if the crow who was making the sound was a lady crow and she saw her only child being swallowed inch by inch by the owl.

It was beautiful. Across the afternoon landscape of late wintry fields, with streaks of mud and furrow showing through, the music rang and echoed. Caw, caw, caw-wah, caw-wah!

I listened for the far reply, and got my shotgun ready for action. I selected the sections of air where I could shoot without hitting the owl. Let others blow the stuffed owl to bits. I would not.

Jim got tired cawing and rested for a moment, and we all strained our ears to hear the first replies from the surrounding hills. But only a dog barked from a farmhouse back of the woodlot.

So Jim tuned up again.

“Caw, caw, CAW! Caw-wah, caw-waaaah!”

The gray heaven rang with the tumult of this poor anguished crow. It sounded as if it had its toe caught in a wringer.

A flight of little birds flitted anxiously down the field and scuttled into the woodlot below. A rabbit got up and hopped leisurely away from the furrows clown the field. But as we scanned the heavens and the far horizons, no battalions of crows hove in view.

“Caw, caw-wah,” went Jimmie, warming to his work.

But it was like crying in a wilderness. The immense peace of early spring was over the earth, the country peace. No farmers moved behind plow or seeder. No cattle stirred across the hungering and eager fields. It was the season of the yearning for the spring. The brown earth seemed to beg upwards, the staggered fences seemed naked and ashamed in their great need of weedy garments to hide them. There was a faint yellowness, like the nimbus around the heads of saints, around all the woodlots in the distance, and yellow is the true color of spring. Here at sunset would sing the first small birds that had flung themselves, day and night, northward a thousand miles to be here. How terrible, I thought, to blast their waiting stillness, this bleak dawn before the glorious day of spring, with guns. To salute with death those poor black villains of the mardi gras of spring. Villains? Did God make villains so that sportsmen might see how straight they could fling a thimbleful of shot? Or would God deal with the crows in due time as He would with the sportsmen? But across the empty sky rang Jim’s enchanting squawks and wails and through the hole in the cedar boughs I watched for little frantic specks to come waving above the yellow nimbus of the far-off woodlots.

“Caw-wah, caw-wah, caw-WAH!”

And presently we heard a little sound. A distant, multitudinous sound. It was gabbling and a clucking, a crying and quacking sound. It seemed to come from out along the edge of the woodlot which we could not see.

Jim put on the steam. His caws grew louder and more excited, anguished and agonized.

We clutched our guns and stuck the muzzles just outside the edges of the peep holes.

And around the corner of the woodlot, into our view, scrambling and galloping on their silly short legs, beeping and squawking and quacking for all their worth, their necks stretched out and their absurd bodies thrust forward like marathon runners, came whole herd, a flock, a host of ducks.

“Quaaaack, qua-haaack, quk-quk,” they screamed. “Beep, beeep, wank, wank, quaaaack!”

Jim was first out of the blind. The ducks raced and surrounded him, rushing to peer inside the blind, scampering eagerly all over the muddy ground.

“Well,” we said, also coming out of our blinds.

But before we could get into conversation with Jim, a farmer came tearing around the edge of the woodlot, waving his arms.

“Hey,” he said. “What is this?

“We were calling crows.” said Jim.

“What with?” said the farmer, eyeing our guns suspiciously.

“With this crow call,” said Jim, showing him.

“That’s a duck call,” said the farmer, grimly.

“It is also used for calling crows,” said Jim. “I’ve often called crows with it.”

“Did any ever come?” asked the farmer.

“Sure, lots of times,” said Jim.

“It’s funny,” said the farmer. “I got one of those duck calls I use hunting, but I also use it to call these ducks at feeding time That’s why they came to you. I seen them vanishing around the woodlot just in time.”

“We wouldn’t have shot them,” said Jim indignantly.

“Maybe not,” said the farmer.

And he walked away, saying quack, quack, and taking his ducks off with him.

“I guess,” said Jim, “we’ve shot off the crows in this district. Some day we’ll have to pick out a new part of the country.”

So we went into Orangeville and ate crow at the restaurant.


Editor’s Note: “Chivareed” is past tense of “chivaree”, which is defined as “Any loud cacophonous noise”.

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