And from the four directions they came, jogging along in carts or spring-wagons, swaying swiftly in automobiles whose brass flashed back the early sun. As each vehicle drew up, the greetings flew, charged electrically with the dry, chaffing humour of the out of doors. When we finally climbed the fence into the old cornfield we were almost a dozen. There were the Captain, Uncle Jim, and myself from the ranch; and T and his three sons and two guests from Stockdale ranch; the sporting parson of the entire neighbourhood, and Dodge and his three beautiful dogs.
Spread out in a rough line we tramped away through the dried and straggling ranks of the Egyptian corn. Quail buzzed all around us like angry hornets. We did not fire a shot. Each had his limit of twenty-five still before him, and each wanted to have all the fun he could out of getting them. Shooting quail in Egyptian corn is, comparatively speaking, not much fun. We joked each other, and whistled and sang, and trudged manfully along, gun over shoulder. The pale sun was strengthening; the mountains were turning darker as they threw aside the filmy rose of early day; in treetops a row of buzzards sat, their wings outspread like the heraldic devices of a foreign nation. Thousands of doves whistled away; thousands of smaller birds rustled and darted before our advancing lines; tens of thousands of blackbirds sprinkled the bare branches of single trees, uttering the many-throated multitude call; underneath all this light and joyous life the business-like little quail darted away in their bullet flight.
Always they bore across our front to the left; for on that side, paralleling our course, ran a long ravine or “dry slough.” It was about ten feet deep on the average, probably thirty feet wide, and was densely grown with a tangle of willows, berry vines, creepers, wild grape, and the like. Into this the quail pitched.
By the time we had covered the mile length of that cornfield we had dumped an unguessable number of quail into that slough.
Then we walked back the entire distance—still with our guns over our shoulders—but this time along the edge of the ravine. We shouted and threw clods, and kicked on the trees, and rattled things, urging the hidden quail once more to flight. The thicket seemed alive with them. We caught glimpses as they ran before us, pacing away at a great rate, their feathers sleek and trim; they buzzed away at bewildering pitches and angles; they sprang into the tops of bushes, cocking their head plumes forward. Their various clicking undercalls, chatterings, and chirrings filled the thicket as full of sound as of motion. And in the middle distance before and behind us they mocked us with their calls.
“You can’t shoot! You can’t shoot!”
Some of them flew ever ahead, some of them doubled-back and dropped into the slough behind us; but a proportion broke through the thicket and settled in the wide fields on the other side. After them we went, and for the first time opened our guns and slipped the yellow shells into the barrels.