CapeCodHistory.us home page
19th Century docs
posted Nov 2005
Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly.
NEW YORK. May, 1885.
VOLUME XIX. Number 113.
full table of contents for the issue are below
Brant-shooting at Cape Codpages 625-628
By Orville Deane
Ho ! for Cape Cod, and such sport as only a very limited number of persons know anything about! We leave the cars at Harwich, about seventy miles from Boston. Thence, by a lumbering stage-coach, we ride over six miles of sand, till we reach the quaint old town of Chatham, situated on the extreme elbow of the Cape ; thence by sailboat we proceed seven miles more, and come to anchor beside the little Island of Monomoy.
It is a little sand-heap, only about two hundred yards wide, by perhaps three hundred long. Indeed, there an» times, at very low water, when it is not an island at all, but simply a sand-reef beyond a stretch of mud-flats. Commonly, however, it is surrounded by water.
As we climb up the steep, sandy shore, piled knee-deep with seaweed, we get sight of a little building, about fifteen feet by twenty, shingled all over, and having on one end a weather-vane shaped like a goose, but holding the head and neck in such a strange way that you don't quite know what the figure is intended to represent. But it is the exact profile of a brant, and this building is the headquarters of the Monomoy Branting Club of Boston.
You ask, "Just what is the brant ?" I answer, "It is not a goose." There is a small goose called the brent-goose ; but this is not the bird. In the Western States almost anything shaped liked a goose is called a brant ; but nothing like this bird has ever been seen beyond the Mississippi. What we are soon to shoot at is the Bernicla brenta—a beautiful creature, weighing about three and a half pounds, with head, wings and upper feathers nearly black, but with lighter-colored breast, and the lower tail-feathers white. It is exclusively a salt-water bird.
" There is a flock just now passing northward, and I guess we are not too early ;" so speaks one of the party who has had experience. And we shall find him correct in his guesswork, though it is now only the 19th of March.
We said but few persons knew anything of this sport. There are good reasons why. One is that this is almost the only point on the continent where they can be shot in any numbers. These birds are not distributed along the shore so generally as are Canada geese, black duck, coots, and other water-fowl. They do alight at Nantucket, at Prince Edward's Island, and in less numbers at two or three other points, but for various reasons they are out of the hunter's reach.
Another reason is, that the Spring flight—and then only do they alight—is very short, lasting only from about March 20th to May 1st. Still another reason why so few hunt them is that it requires a considerable outlay of money to provide the apparatus necessary for any tolerable success, and it is only when associated in the form of "clubs" that the average sportsman can afford the luxury.
Facing eastward from Monomoy, you look on the broad Atlantic. But to the westward is a vast expanse of level sand and mud, known as the "Chatham Great Flats." These extend up and down for several miles, and over them the water flows, varying in depth from two feet to almost nothing, according as it is full or neap tide.
Adjoining these flats, on the west, is deep-blue water, where grows abundance of common eel-grass on which the brant feed. This grass grows in water five or six feet deep, and as these birds are not divers, they can feed only at low water. At high tide they are cruising about in small flocks, or "pods," as the sportsmen say.
This is the time when, if ever, we shall get a shot at them. But now you will be surprised at the arrangement for shooting them. A water-tight box about six feet long, three and a half feet wide, and two and a half feet deep, and made of heavy planks, is about half-buried in the flat. Then hundreds of loads of sand are brought from a distance, until a "bar "is made a little higher than the top of the box, and stretching away on either hand for twenty to thirty yards. The highest point of sand and the top of the box must be just above the water at full tide.
The birds see this sand-bar from a distance, and suppose it a good place to alight, like any other of the reefs now visible above the water. But there are special inducements to come to your bar, for the guide has a dozen wooden decoys floating in the water near, besides a couple of live birds in the basket, which he will make use of when all is ready.
The birds fly most on morning tides, so we take a hasty breakfast, and are on the way to the boxes before the sun is up. But what a strange-looking company we are ! Hunters walking straight into the ocean to shoot birds ! An observer would never suspect our errand, unless he understood this singular sport. The tide rises apace, and the water grows deeper and deeper, till we are slowly making our way through two feet of the ocean brine.
It takes a long time to go a distance of' half a mile in this way, but at length we reach the box, and are comfortably seated within it. Each box is arranged with seats for two hunters and a guide, who also carries a gun.
Our feet are incased in rubber boots reaching to the hips, and we wear light-colored oil-clothing, with hats as near the color of the sand as possible.
Now the guide takes a couple of live brant from his basket—birds with wings clipped so they cannot fly— fastens a line to their legs, and tosses them out on the bar. These are the live decoys. They are so trained that when a " pod " of brant are passing, or are in sight, they will stretch themselves up and flap their wings, in this way inviting the flock to alight with them.
When a flock has settled into the water, and are swimming for the bar, the decoys will run to the edge of the water to meet them. But so soon as they begin to cluster on the sand, the decoys will work off to one side out of range of the guns.
After a few moments of waiting, our guide, Alonzo, points to a dark spot at the water's edge, a mile away, and says :
"Now they move."
"It takes a long time to go a distance of' half a mile in this way, but at length we reach the box."
We watch them eagerly as they fly swiftly on, now high over the water, now low down ; but we are doomed to disappointment, for they pass us a long way out, going straight toward Prince Edward's Island, where they will alight in about eight hours. But others are moving, and more and more the air is alive with them as the rising tide drives them from their feeding-grounds. Now a flock seems moving toward us.
" Keep down," says the guide, and we are invisible. Nearer and nearer they come ; the decoys " show wing," but there must be old birds in the flock, for they appear suspicious, and will not alight.
"Good fish in the sea as ever were caught," mutters Alonzo. "Down, down, boys ; more are coming!"
This time a pod of six are approaching. They show no disposition to " settle," but attempt to pass us about fifty yards away.
We see their game, and, before they can get away, we spring to our feet and give them three barrels, reducing the flock by two fine birds.
Scarcely are we quiet in the box again when the guide says, "Jerusalem !" and points to a long dark line, just visible above the water, a mile and a half to the south of us. We grasp our guns and keep down, while he watches them and works the decoys. They are passing us one hundreds yards out. No ; they catch sight of the decoys, and their white feathers gleam in the morning sun as they suddenly turn and fly straight toward us. Oh, how gracefully they circle around us, coming slowly nearer, as if half suspecting danger.
But they seem to say at last, " There can be nothing wrong about that mere sand-bar ; and, besides, some of our folks are now there. Let's alight."
And into the water they settle. There must be four hundred birds in that flock. But they are eighty yards away. We must wait till they swim up to the bar.
How long the time seems ! We can scarcely sit quiet, with guns in our hands and with such game in sight. Cases are on record where, in similar instances, some excited hunter could not control himself, but, springing to his feet, has discharged his gun and driven off the birds, without securing one ; but Alonzo is whispering :
" Keep down, boys—keep down, and you shall have them !"
Again and again he makes the decoys show wing, and nearer and nearer comes the great flock. Now they are only fifty yards away—now only forty. Their feet begin to touch bottom, and they will not swim much nearer; so we must prepare to shoot.
"Look at them,'' says Alonzo ; and for the first time we raise our heads, very slowly, and our eyes feast on the sight.
If they would only bunch up, as they sometimes do ! But they will not, and we must select the spots where they are thickest.
"Put over," says the guide ; and, following his example, we slowly push the muzzles above the edge of the box. "Ready!"and each man selects his bunch. " Fire!" and three guns sound so simultaneously that you hear but one report.
With a thundering roar of wings, and with cries of astonishment, the flock rises ; but we also rise, and in an instant three guns more are discharged. Down drop the birds in every direction, some near and some far out.
Dropping guns, we jump from the box and rush through the water after them. Let the dead ones rest for a little, while we catch the wounded who are trying to swim away. Some are only "wing tipped," and it takes a long chase through the water to catch them. When we get such a one we keep him and train him for a decoy. We lose some that drop, but on coming back to the box and counting up, we find we have sixteen birds from that scrimmage.
"In an instant three guns more are discharged, and down drop the birds in every direction."
"Let the dead ones rest for a little, while we catch the wounded who are trying to swim away."
Alonzo lights his pipe and proceeds to take a smoke, with the air of one who thinks it unnecessary to remark, "Gentlemen, you perceive I know how to do it"; and we think he does.
Then we sit and wait for a long time without seeing more brant. Arctic terns, Turkey gulls, black ducks, shell drakes, old squams, and such like birds, fly temptingly near, but we must not shoot if we expect more brant.
But our patience is at last to be rewarded, for from the north a large flock is heading toward us. The decoys " show wing," but the water is now getting low, and, though the birds seem disposed to accept the invitation to alight, the sand-bar is now quite conspicuous, and they settle into the water a long way out.
It seems impossible to get them nearer than eighty yards, and that is a very long range for an ordinary shotgun.
"Can you reach them ?" says the guide, who has laid aside his muzzle-loader and cannot shoot because he has spilled all his powder.
"I think so," says each hunter, and we exchange the shells now in our guns for some with coarser shot.
"Put over—ready—fire !"
Bang ! bang ! as they rise. Bang ! bang ! Indeed, we have reached them, and dropped some ! Splash, splash ! go the rubber boots through the shoal water as we run out after the birds. And we return in triumph with nine dead birds.
"Well done!" says the guide; "but, boys, do you know that was an awful long shot ?"
But the sun is high and the water is low, and it will be useless to remain here longer. We signal for help from the "shanty," and a man comes to help carry up our twenty-seven brant.
This is a truthful record of one morning's work, bnt it was considered as rather more than average good fortune.
"Brant are worth two dollars a pair in Boston now," ssayg Andrews, the cook, as we sit down to a good hot clam-chowder, prepared for us by his skillful hands.
"We lose some that drop, but on coming back to the box and counting up, we find we have sixteen birds from that scrimmage."
Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly.
NEW YORK. May, 1885.
VOLUME XIX. Number 113.
table of contents for issue
BUTTERFLIES.- - Colored Plate, facing................ 513
THE BIRTH OF A NEW GOVERNMENT. By W. A. Croffut. 514
Illustrations.—President Cleveland and his Cabinet, 513. Thomas F. Bayard, Secretary of State; Daniel Manning, Secretary of the Treasury, 516. William O. Endicott, Secretary of War; William C. Whitney, Secretary of the Navy, 517. Augustus H. Garland, Attorney-general ; William F. Vilas, Postmaster-general, 520. Lucius Q. C. Lamar, Secretary of the Interior, 521.
ON THE BOX. By Paul Benison..................... .... 517
THE SEA. POEM. By John A. Symonds.................. 519
THE LADY OF THE GRAVES. By Philip Bourke Marston..................................................... 524
Illustration.—" When I drew the pillow away, the face was there, but the eyes were changed. I was aware that my wife Marah lay there, and that I had murdered her."
BRANT-SHOOTING AT CAPE COD. By Orville Deane. . 526
Illustrations.—" It takes a long time to go a distance of half a mile in this way, but at length we reach the box"; " In an instant three guns more are discharged, and down drop the birds in every direction," 525. " Let the dead ones rest for a little, while ; "We lose some that drop, but on coming back to the box and counting up, we find we have sixteen birds from that scrimmage," 528.
FALLEN ANGELS. POEM..........,..:................... 530
HER REVENGE. By Florence B. Hallowell............ 530
Illustration.—'"This woman is my wife,' says Rex. 'Your wife!' Jim laughs; 'that's a good 'un! This here girl's been my wife for a matter o' ten years, mister," 529,
THE NEW STATE OF CONGO. By Alvan S. Southworth. 534
Illustrations —View from the Isanghila Road : A Congo House; A Village near Bolobo; A Henhouse, 532. Station of the Baptist Missionary Society at Bayneston, Lower Congo; Bird's-eye View of Stanley Pool, on the Congo River, 533. View of the City of St. Paul de Loanda;. View on the Congo above Boma, 536. The Congo Conference in Session at Berlin, 1884-5, 537. Forest Scenery on the Upper Congo; Leopold II., King of Belgium, 540. Trading Establishments at Stanley Pool; In the Rapids o£ the Congo, 541. A German Factory on the Cameroon River; German Traders in Africa, 544.
THE TWO MEN IN GRAY HATS." By Eliza Abchard...... 546
Illustration.—"Bella passed quickly, in front of her sister, and threw her arms about, her. The door of a vast apartment house near by stood open for the moment," 545;
Illustrations.—First Deaf-and-dumb Asylum, Philadelphia; An Arithmetic Lesson to Deaf-mutes, 648. A Deaf-and-dumb Wedding, 549. Monument to the Abbe de l'Epee at St. Roch, Paris ; H. P. Peet, Former Principal of the New York Institution for Deaf and Dumb; Mass and Instruction for Deaf-mutes, Paris, 552. A Song Rendered in Sign Language, 553. How to Articulate the Vowel " A "; The Letters "F," "O," "P"; A Cafe for Deaf-mutes in Vienna; Deaf-and-dumb Institute, Carmansviile, New York, 556. Deaf-and-dumb Institute, Belleville, Ont. ; Describing Animals with the Hands ; The Lord's Prayer by Signs, The First Lesson; A Blind and Deaf Mute Conversing, 557. Alphabet of the Deaf and, Dumb, 559. Study of H. Humphrey Moore, a Distinguished Deaf-mute Painter, 560.
THE SONG OF THE GIBBET. POEM. By Alfred Thompson...................................................... 562
With Illustration, 564.
A DESPERATE PLOT; Or, AN INCIDENT NOT DOWN IN THE BILL..........,................................ 562
Illustration.—" With a quick, sharp blow she severed the rope that held the heavy curtain-pole aloft," 561.
IN THE ALSATIAN MOUNTAINS. A Tour in the Vosges. By Katharine Lee....................................... 566
Illustrations.— Tourists near Wangenburg, 565. The Mode of Conveyance of Wood by Sledge-roads in the Vosges, 568. The Church at Nieder-Haslach; A Window in Rappolts-weiler, 569. Merry Washwomen at the Tank in Rosheim, 572. Returning from Church in the Vosges, 573.
THE FAN-PAINTER. From a Canvas by Louisa Max-Eheler.................................................. 576
STORIES OF THE CAMPAIGN. By Max Volkhart....... 577
THE DEATH-MARK. By Garrett Walker. Chapters XXX. to XXXIII......................................... 577
WATCHING THE PROCESSION............................ 581
ADMIRING THE LAST ART ACQUISITION.............. 585
MR. BULSTEAD'S SURPRISE ............................. 587
CUPID AND PSYCHE. From a Drawing by D. Hock..... 589
GILBERT AND AMETHYSTA. POEM. By Charles Mackay. 590
With Illustration, 592.
TUBBS'S ROMANCE....................................... 599
Illustration.—" among the camp stools going over the stern, a blue object flashed. It was unconscious cerebration, I presume, that caused me to mark its similarity to Tubbs's new yachting-suit. I did. not fully realize the fact, however, until I saw his round, hatless head rise above the waves as he swam toward the struggling girl," 593.
THE VEGETABLE WONDER OF MEXICO. By Emily Pierce................................................... 597
Illustrations—The American Aloe or Century-plant, from which Pulque is Made, 596. Indian Drawing Sap from the Agave. 597. Pulque-drawers with their Skins and Implements, 600. Scene before a Pulqueria in the City of Mexico, 601.
CARDINAL RICHELIEU'S HEAD ; CHIMNEYS ; TO CLEAN GLOVES; THE MORMON BIBLE............ 599
THE ORIGIN OF NORTHAMPTON, MASS................. 600
THE ENDURANCE OF THE ARAB HORSE............... 601
BOILING BROTH IN THE HIGHER ANDES ; THE
ORIGIN OF PEWS IN CHURCHES..................... 602
LE BONHOMME CORNEILLE; By Henry M. Trollope.. . 603
Illustrations.— Corneille's House at Petit Couronne, Rouen, France; Portrait of Corneille, 604 Corneille's Study at Petit Couronne, 605. The Oven and Well at Petit Couronne, 608.
NAMELESS. POEM. By Rea.............................. 606
HUNTINGTOWER HALL. By Jane Pay Alston........... 606
Illustration—"Springing forward to meet her, his handsome face all alight with expectation, came Lord Huntlngtower," 609.
COLONEL F. G. BURNABY. Royal Horse Guards (Blue). 612
Illustrations — Colonel F. G. Burnaby, 612. Somerby Hall, Leicestershire, Burnaby's Country House; Mrs. Fred Burnaby, Author of " High Alps in Winter," 613. Colonel Burnaby at the Carlist Outposts, in 1871; Starting on his Balloon Trip across the Channel, 616. On the Ride to Khiva, 1875; At the First Battle of El Teb, February, 1884, 617. At the Second Battle of El Teb; Telling of his Egyptian Campaign at his Club in London, 620.
THE SPINNSTUBE......................................... 615
Illustrations—A Spinning-school in Germany, 621. The Idle Wheel, 624.
THE MUSK-DEER............................................ 618
HEALTH. POEM. By John A. Symonds...........:...... 619
THREE DAYS IN A LIGHTHOUSE. By G. A. Davis...... 619
Illustration.—" For. the space of a single breath they saw her, her hair blown straight along the wind, her long, loose robe twisted about her limbs as she poised there," 625.
TWO KISSES. POEM. By M. E. W........................ 627
GENIUS AND TALENT ; PERSIAN WOMEN ; TABLE NAPKINS.............................................. 627
SOMETHING ABOUT THE MOLE......................... 628
A LOVE-SONG. From the Painting by Julius Benczur. . 62S
A CURIOUS WEDDING ..................................... 630
A FEATHER. By Dr. Hans Gadow........................ 630
Illustrations.—Tall Feathers, 629. Feather from Back of the Argus Giganteus, Showing Shaft, etc., 630. Radius from Hawk's Down; Underview of the Shaft of a Quill, 631. The Apteryx, 632. Feather Pulpa; Growing Downy Feather of a Bird in the Shell ; The Eider-duck, 633. Sections of Growing Feathers, 634. Basal Part of Quill of Bearded Eagle, 635. Waving Plumes of the Ostrich, 636. Covering Feathers of the Humming-bird, 637. Feather Tracks on Cock and Duck, 638.
RECENT PROGRESS IN SCIENCE......................... 638
ENTERTAINING COLUMN................................. 639
SINIGUALA. By A. Ritzberger........................... 649