column By: Horace Bigelow | January, 21
If you have youngsters coming on, let them read these tales. I’ll feel more than satisfied if I can persuade a few members of the coming generations to have a hankering for the scatter-gun and all that goes with it: the never-forgotten thrill, after an icy vigil in the duck blind, when a bunch of “canvas” hovers over your decoys, the goose flesh that travels up and down your spine when your maiden efforts on a yelper elicit a response from some bearded gobbler, the rapture of listening to a “sight cry” as the pack hustles a buck in your direction, and above all the sense of pride in a job well done, when the bird dog that you have broken yourself, flashes into his first picture point. There’s nothing quite like it, and the more shotgun fans we can produce, the better we can be assured that our heritage of American game bird shooting will endure. It doesn’t take long to realize that you can’t “eat your cake and have it, too,” which insures game conservation, propagation and management.
An Afternoon at Bray’s Island
As a general thing, bird shooting in South Carolina was better in the back country than on the coast. Two exceptions, however, proved the rule — Pineopolis, near Monks Corner, the county seat of Berkeley County, was well-known for its bird shooting, while my friend Willie Ford came back from a hunt near Beaufort and said he had bagged so many quail in three days’ shooting that he was really ashamed to bring them home.
Jack Hollins lived in Beaufort and owned Bray’s Island nearby. You can imagine my delight when my office phone rang on Monday, and Jack’s voice greeted me with, “Come on down Saturday, have lunch with me and try the birds on the island.”
Saturday seemed a long time coming but finally arrived. Promptly at noon, another Jack, my shooting buddy who was included in the invitation, Ghost and Queen, our two setters, guns, shells and I were loaded into the car; and the seventy miles to Beaufort were speedily left behind. Luncheon was stowed away without delay, and Hollins guided us to his property. He brought along two more setters, so it looked like a sorry day for the bird population.
Bray’s Island contains about two thousand acres located in a bend of one of the tidal rivers and is connected with the mainland by a narrow causeway crossing the marsh and bridging a broad creek. Part of this marsh had been surrounded with banks to keep out the tide, a well sunk which flowed fresh water and resulted in a duck pond of two hundred acres. As we drove across the causeway, a flock of seventy bluebills, which had been visiting the live decoys, took flight and whistled off down the river. Too bad the duck season was over.
In the center of the island was an open field of 400 acres. This was cut up by ditches into small patches of from twenty to thirty acres. Most of the patches were cultivated, but a few were grown up in broom sedge and ragweed. The ditch banks had been allowed to grow surrounded by woods which trailed down to the marsh’s edge, and out in the marsh were numerous tree-clad hummocks, some with small fields in their midst. Hollins told us that a covey of birds used every one of the small patches and that there were a number of coveys in the woods and on the hummocks.
The first bird tenement was uninhabited. Its occupants were either in the woods or off visiting. Along the ditch bank, near the edge of the woods, one of Hollins’ dogs stood and was promptly backed by his other dog and Queen. The three of us walked in abreast and opened fire when the covey flushed.
“Five down,” we discovered when the smoke cleared. We pursued the others into the woods and the dogs picked up several singles at the edge of the marsh, one even out in the sedge where the mud was over Jack’s boot tops. Anyhow he killed it, and we had eight birds all told when we decided to call at the next apartment. As I came out of the woods back in the big field, I found Queen on point. The quail that whirred up from under her nose was a regular “daisy cutter” and an “artful dodger.” He skimmed along low over the tops of the broom sedge, twisted around a clump of myrtles, and when I finally located him over the end of my gun and pulled the trigger, he was a good sixty yards on his way. Yes, he dropped, and stone dead at that. I certainly was a surprised mortal.
Hollins, who had witnessed the performance, dropped his gun and gave me his hand. “Gosh,” said he, “I’m glad to have some fellows along who can shoot. I had this place leased for the first part of the season to a friend from New York. One afternoon he and two others shot away one hundred shells and brought in three birds.”
Another covey was at home in the nest patch, but our percentages fell off on the rise, three birds only. Then we had difficulty with the singles which had dispersed in the marsh outside the bank of the duck pond. It was hard work for the dogs in the mud, and after Hollins had dropped one, we started for the high land and another quail family. Our shooting had stirred up all the ducks in the neighborhood. Bluebills in pairs and singles and small flocks circled overhead, whizzed by in front to our right, to our left. Perhaps it wasn’t tantalizing not to shoot!
Another empty apartment was fully explained by a large marsh hawk circling over the field, and again we had a point. All the dogs grouped about this time in a semicircle in the ragweed. A pretty sight! The covey swung to the left heading for the woods. I didn’t get a chance, but Jack and Hollins picked up three birds and made for the woods. I had spotted a single which had cut over behind us and landed out in the open field and followed him up with Queen. She made a fine point, but I was in too much of a hurry when the bird flushed, for though I killed him, he was too close and wasn’t much use for the game bag.
I joined the others who had added a couple of singles in the pine woods, and we walked on into the last section on the east side of the big field. The broom sedge and weeds here were shoulder high, and we walked right into a covey of at least thirty birds before we saw the dogs that were standing them perfectly. The ensuing snap shooting garnered only two more birds. The fusillade aroused a grand old gobbler about a hundred yards ahead, which sailed majestically into the pines, and I was all set to follow him but changed my mind when Hollins told me that there were only three wild turkeys on the island, this gobbler and two hens.
We headed back towards the car along the west side of the big field, and before long the dogs were standing again. It was pretty much of a thick hole where the birds got up, and only two were retrieved. I followed one with a broken wing which fluttered away ahead of me. Queen picked it up, and as she did so, froze just beyond the cover in a low field at the edge of the marsh. Two birds rose as I walked in, and I scored a double. The others didn’t see me do it as they were back in the big field.
It was getting late, and we hurried on. We didn’t have time to visit all the apartments, let alone several of the hummocks where Hollins had coveys spotted. We stumbled over two more coveys and added five more birds to our tally without following up the singles. We took a few minutes off to visit a spring in the marsh on the west side and experienced the thrill of jumping five English ducks (mallards) which departed leisurely, quacking derisively as if they knew we couldn’t shoot at them.
After this experience I decided that Willie Ford had been drawing no long bow when he told me about the superabundance of birds in the low country around Beaufort.