For Dwight's Am. Magazine. By a young man of Connecticut.
In order to enter into the spirit of this interesting pursuit, the reader must imagine himself to have taken his seat in a one-horse wagon, without springs of any kind, and to have set out to travel, over a rough, uneven road, to some retired spot, generally a clearing in the midst of the woods, far removed from the bustle and din of busy men; at least so far that none of it can be heard.
Before the time for pigeons to appear, either in the spring or in the fall, to place is selected in some spot peculiarly haunted by them. It is an excellent thing to have a few tall, old, dead dried-up trees not far off, as these are the favorite stopping places. The spot having been pitched upon, a piece of ground, a little larger than the net to be used, is carefully smoothed over, every blade of grass is dug up and the whole made to look like a newly-made bed in a garden. This is called the pigeon bed. On one side of it are then placed three or four dry trees, twenty or thirty feet high, which are called the pigeon-trees, or lighters. When things have proceeded thus far, the work is generally stopped, and the whole left for a week or two; a quantity of grain having been sprinkled on the bed. When it is ascertained that any number of pigeons hove got baited, and come there regularly to eat the grain, it is time to proceed with further preparations.
On the opposite side to that on which the pigeon-trees are placed, at the distance of about thirty feet from the corner enough to contain two or three persons, made of pine or cedar boughs. This house is built by degrees, so as not to alarm the pigeons. and is called the bush-house. Inside of it is firmly planted in the ground a still walnut sapling; and, in a line with it, at the same distance from the other corner, another of the same description is placed. They are called fly-ups or spring-poles. The net, which is light but strong, is fastened by loops to two sticks, down into the ground at the corners, under the lighters. It is then laid fiat upon the ground, covering the whole bed. A long rope, run through the farther side, from the trees, is then tied at each end to the fly-up, and stretched by them.
It will now be readily perceived, that, by forcing this rope, with the net attached, to the pig on-trees, the spring poles will be bent over, and held like a bent bow. The rope, being carried there, is fastened in such a manner that, on a sudden and strong pull, it is released, and of course the poles fly up and regain an erect position, throwing the net instantly over the bed, and capturing whatever is therein.
When a sufficient number of pigeons are baited, it is time to commence catching. An old pigeoner rarely takes more than one companion, sometimes two. If there should happen to be more, they are posted at a great distance from the bed, so as not to terrify the pigeons. Those admitted into the bush-house must be persons of a taciturn disposition : or, if not, those who have the faculty of holding their tongues when necessary. The first step is the setting of the net, as has been before described. It is folded into a compact roll, extending the whole length of the bed under the trees, and covered entirely, yet lightly, with very fine dust. There must be no stick or twig intermingled with it, as a small one might delay the sudden spring of the net, and allow all or part of the prey to escape. All tracks of footsteps are now carefully raked over; and a fresh supply of bait is put into the bed. Almost every pigeoner has something which be mixes with the wheat, to render it more attractive to the pigeons The composition of these mixtures is kept a profound secret, and he must be an intimate friend indeed who shall be favored with even a hint of it.
All being ready, the sportsmen take their places in the bush-house, and sit, talking in low whispers. Even this conversation is almost entirely suspended, as soon as the pigeons begin to arrive. There are left loop-holes among the cedar boughs, so as to enable those inside of the bush-house to command a view of the bed and the lighters. They are however so small as to defy the keenest sight from without. From about two in the afternoon, if that is the time chosen, or, if in the morning, immediately after daylight, the pigeons begin to arrive : singly, in pairs or in flocks. Perhaps the inexperienced may suppose that they immediately descend into the bed and are caught; but, if so, they are much mistaken. The pigeons generally sit nearly an hour on the trees, before they begin to make any demonstrations towards the bait. At length, if all is still, one or two, more hungry than the rest, begin to stretch out their long necks, turn their heads sideways, and perform other evolutions, plainly evincing their ardent desire for their meal. Apparently, hunger and decorum are arguing the case: one argues for the wheat, the other for waiting the pleasure of the majority. At length hunger prevails; and one hops upon a branch somewhat nearer to the ground, and again ogles the wheat, with longing eyes; then peers suspiciously around, above and below, to see if he can espy any hidden foe. Poor fellow, do you not know that under yon green bush, as it seems to you, are concealed your blood-thirsty enemies, with their fingers itching to have hold of your innocent neck, and their hearts beating high with excitement, as they witness your preparations to enter the toils, so subtly spread for you! He sees none of this, however; and at length summons courage to fly down to the bed and commence eating. The whole flock generally follow the first. Sometimes, however, only a part go down, and the person in the bush-house, wishing to catch the whole, frightens those in the bed up to the trees again, by snapping a twig, not bigger than a pipe-stem. When all has gone right, and the pigeons are all busily feasting upon the grain, the man in the bush-house, stealthily and noiselessly rising to his feet, pulls the rope suddenly and strongly : the net is disengaged, the spring-poles throw it over the bed, and the whole body of pigeons are caught under it in an instant.
If intended to be kept alive, they are preserved by putting them into bags or baskets. If otherwise, they are killed before being taken out of the net, by simply pressing on the top of the skull. This kills them instantly, and without pain. If there are enough pigeons left to justify a second haul, the net is set as before. The feathers must be carefully picked from it and from the bed, and buried at some distance. If any blood should have fallen on the ground, even a drop, it must be carefully scraped up and buried. It is not however generally advisable to make a second haul immediately, but to leave the spot until the next day, when those not caught will bring more with them, to share the fate of their predecessors. When pigeons are in plenty, and the bed well managed one or two hauls are made everyday.
- J. P. N.