The Captain sat down, jerked off the brake, and spoke to his horses. I sat down, too; mainly because I had to. The Invigorator leaped from hump to hump. Before those quail knew it we were among them. Right, left, all around us they roared into the air. Some doubled back; some buzzed low to right or left; others rose straight ahead to fly a quarter mile, and then, wings set, to sail another quarter until finally they pitched down into some bit of inviting cover.
The Captain brought his horses to a stand with great satisfaction. We congratulated each other gleefully; and even old Ben, somewhat shaken up in his cage astern, wagged his tail in appreciation of the situation.
For, you see, we had scattered the covey, and now they would lie. If the band had flushed, flown, and lighted as one body, immediately on hitting the ground they would have put their exceedingly competent little legs into action, and would have run so well and so far that, by the time we had arrived on the spot, they would have been a good half mile away. But now that the covey was broken, the individuals and small bands would stay put. If they ran at all, it would be for but a short distance. On this preliminary scattering depends the success of a chase after California quail. I have seen six or eight men empty both barrels of their guns at a range of more than a hundred yards. They were not insane enough to think they would get anything. Merely they hoped that the racket and the dropping of the spent shot would break the distant covey.
We hitched the horses to a tree, released old Ben, and started forth.
For a half hour we had the most glorious sport, beating back and forth over the ground again and again. The birds lay well in the low cover, and the shooting was clean and open. I soon found that the edges of the bare ground were the most likely places. Apparently the birds worked slowly through the cover ahead of us, but hesitated to cross the open spots, and so bunched at the edge. By walking in a zigzag along some of these borders, we gathered in many scattered birds and small bunches. Why the zigzag? Naturally it covers a trifle more ground than a straight course, but principally it seems to confuse the game. If you walk in a straight line, so the quail can foretell your course, it is very apt either to flush wild or to hide so close that you pass it by. The zigzag fools it.
Thus, with varying luck, we made a slow circle back to the wagon. Here we found Mrs. Kitty and Carrie and the lunch awaiting us with the ponies.
These robust little animals were not miniature horses, but genuine ponies, with all the deviltry, endurance, and speed of their kind. They were jet-black, about waist high, and of great intelligence. They drew a neat little rig, capable of accommodating two, at a persistent rapid patter that somehow got over the road at a great gait. And they could keep it up all day. Although perfectly gentle, they