column By: Grover Cleveland | March, 20
I am convinced that nothing meets all the requirements of rational, healthful outdoor exercise more completely than quail shooting. It seems to be so compounded of wholesome things that it reaches, with vitalizing effect, every point of mental or physical enervation. Under the prohibitions of the law, or the restraints of sporting decency, or both, it is permitted only at a season of the year when nature freely dispenses, to those who submit to her treatment, the potent tonic of cool and bracing air and the invigorating influences of fields and trees and sky, no longer vexed by summer heat. It invites early rising; and as a general rule a successful search for these uncertain birds involves long miles of travel on foot. Obviously this sport furnishes an abundance of muscular action and physically strengthening surroundings. These, fortunately, are supplemented by the eager alertness essential to the discovery and capture of game well worth the effort, and by the recreative and self-satisfying complacency of more or less skillful shooting.
In addition to all this, the quail shooter has on his excursions a companion, who not only promotes his success, but whose manner of contributing to it is a constant source of delight. I am not speaking of human companionship, which frequently mars pleasure by insistent competition or awkward interference, but of the companionship of a faithful, devoted helper, never discouraged or discontented with his allotted service, except when the man behind the gun shoots badly, and always dumbly willing to concede to the shooter the entire credit of a successful hunt. The work in the field of a well-trained dog is of itself an exhibition abundantly worth the fatigue of a quailing expedition. It behooves the hunter, however, to remember that the dog is in the field for business, and that no amount of sentimental admiration of his performances on the part of his master will compensate him, if, after he has found and indicated the location of the game, it escapes through inattention or bad shooting at the critical instant. The careless or bungling shooter who repeatedly misses all manner of fair shots, must not be surprised if, in utter disgust, his dog companion sulkily ceases effort, or even wholly abandons the field, leaving the chagrined and disappointed hunter to return home alone — leg weary, gameless and ashamed. He is thus forced to learn that hunting dog intelligence is not limited to abject subservience; and he thus gains a new appreciation of the fact that the better his dog, the better the shooter must know “what to do with his gun.”
I do not assume to be competent to give instruction in quail shooting. I miss too often to undertake such a role. It may not, however, be entirely unprofitable to mention a fault which I suppose to be somewhat common among those who have not reached the point of satisfactory skill, and which my experience has taught me will stand in the way of success as long as it remains uncorrected. I refer to the instinctive and difficultly controlled impulse to shoot too quickly when the bird rises. The flight seems to be much more speedy than it really is; and the undrilled shooter, if he has any idea in his mind at all, is dominated by the fear that if the formality of aiming his gun is observed the game will be beyond range before he shoots. This leads to a nervous, flustered pointing of the gun in the direction of the bird’s flight, and its discharge at such close range that the load of shot hardly separates in the intervening distance. Nine times out of ten the result is, of course, a complete miss; and if the bird should at any time under these conditions be accidentally hit, it would be difficult to find its scattered fragments. An old quail shooter once advised a younger one afflicted with this sort of quick triggeritis: “When the bird gets up, if you chew tobacco spit over your shoulder before you shoot.” It is absolutely certain that he who aspires to do good quail shooting must keep cool; and it is just as certain that he must trust the carrying qualities of his gun as well as his own ability and the intelligence of his dog. If he observes these rules, experience and practice will do the rest.
I hope I may be allowed to suggest that both those who appreciate the table qualities of the toothsome quail, and those who know the keen enjoyment and health-giving results of their pursuit, should recognize it as quite worth their while, and as a matter of duty, to cooperate in every movement having for its object the protection, preservation and propagation of this game. Our quail have many natural enemies; they are often decimated by the severity of winter, and there are human beings so degraded and so lost to shame as to seek their destruction in ways most foul. A covey of quail will sometimes huddle as close together as possible in a circle, with their heads turned outward. I have heard of men who, discovering them in this situation, have fired upon them, killing every one at a single shot. There ought to be a law which would consign one guilty of this crime to prison for a comfortable term of years. A story is told of a man so stupidly unsportsmanlike that when he was interfered with as he raised his gun, apparently to shoot a quail running on the ground, he exclaimed with irritation: “I did not intend to shoot until it had stopped running.” This may be called innocent stupidity; but there is no place for such a man among sportsmen, and he is certainly out of place among quail.
It is cause for congratulation that so much has been done for quail protection and preservation through the enactment of laws for that purpose. But neither these nor their perfunctory enforcement will be sufficiently effective. There must be, in addition, an active sentiment aroused in support of more advanced game legislation, and of willing, voluntary service in aid of its enforcement; and in the meantime all belonging to the sporting fraternity should teach that genuine sportsmanship is based upon honor, generosity, obedience to law and a scrupulous willingness to perpetuate, for those who come after them, the recreation they themselves enjoy.