21 April 2010

Duck Shooting at Chesapeake Bay Circa. 1868

In October the various species of ducks arrive from the North, and congregate in the bays along the coast, where they find their favorite feeding grounds. Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries have long been famous for the immense flocks of wild fowl which resort to them at this season, and have become especially noted as the resort of the Canvas-back, generally esteemed the most delicious of all ducks. In our markets, when the Canvas-backs bring four dollars a pair, other kinds are sold for a dollar or less. The ducks when they arrive from the North are very poor, but they rapidly fatten after reaching their feeding grounds. The favorite food of the Canvas-backs is the Tape-grass or Eel-Grass, Vallisneria spiralis. This, which, by the way, is not a grass at all, has flat, tape-like leaves, two feet or more in length, and grows in slow streams, completely submerged. It is said that the Canvas-backs eat only the roots of this plant, while other ducks feed upon the leaves. The superiority of this species of duck is attributable to this particular food, which is in the Chesapeake called "Wild Celery," though it has no resemblance to celery, nor is it botanically related to it. A gentleman from Albemarle Sound informed me that Canvas-backs were abundant in those waters, but as they were without their proper food, "Wild Celery," they were less esteemed than some other species. It seems to be conceded that the excellence of the Canvas-back is due to the Vallisneria, and this relationship is recognized in the specific scientific name, the bird being called Anas Vallisneria. Duck shooting calls for the display of strategy, and those who follow it for sport or for profit resort to various ingenious expedients to get near the game. One of our artists sends us sketches he has taken in Chesapeake Bay, which illustrate some of the methods of hunting. Certain favored spots over which the birds pass as they fly from one feeding place to another are often rented at a high rate as shooting grounds. A point of this kind is shown in figure 1. Blinds or screens are built to hide the sportsmen who lie in wait for the birds. A nearer view of one of these blinds is given in figure 2.

Figure 1. Inlet on Chesapeake Bay.

Figure 2. Shooting from a blind or screen.

A curious way of enticing the birds within range is called toling, fig. 3. Dogs of a small breed are trained to run backwards and forwards on the shore; the dog is sometimes made more conspicuous by tying a red handkerchief around its body. The ducks, observing the motions of the dog, swim towards the shore to investigate; their curiosity being satisfied the flock sails off again. As they turn and present broadside to the sportsmen, they shoot and often kill large numbers. A different breed of dogs is employed to bring the dead game in from the water.

Among the other devices our artist has represented, is one in which the boat is converted into a rude resemblance to a huge swan, figure 4. A boat of this kind can be silently paddled within shooting distance of a flock, which is shot at through an opening in the breast of the monster.

Figure 3. Toling for ducks.

Figure 4. Masked boat.

Figure 5 represents shooting from a float or battery. A broad platform is so ballasted that it just floats upon the surface of the water, and is anchored in a place where the birds resort. The sportsman takes his position upon this, and is screened from sight by means of sedges or boughs. Decoys, to attract the birds, made of wood and painted to resemble ducks, are anchored near by. It is necessary to have an attendant in a skiff, at a distance, to pick up the birds as they are shot by the man on the float.

Night, shooting, represented in figure 6, is sometimes practised, but it is not regarded with favor by sportsmen, as the birds, if alarmed in the night, are not apt to return to the same feeding ground for a long time after being disturbed.

Figure 5. Shooting from float.

Figure 6. Night shooting.

Punt shooting, in which an enormous swivel gun is used, the discharge of which slaughters birds by the hundred, is, we believe, properly prohibited by law in the Chesapeake waters.

From the American Agriculturist.

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