The folk who want to shoot ducks, and the naturalists who would protect them, meet, occasionally, in conventions and in the lobbies of legislatures. They have this much in common, in the present day, that they are both interested in duck conservation, for sportsmen have begun to understand that unless they restrain each other, there will soon be nothing to shoot. It is the contention of the fowlers that the ladies and professors who make up the conservative ranks are as incapable of understanding why a man wants to shoot as pacifists of seeing how a soldier can find war ennobling.
Hunters, like pipe smokers, are recruited from two antipodal types of men--gentlemen and worthless loafers. I will say this for them all, that as I know them, they are naturalists of a sort. They know the ways of a rabbit as a dog knows them, the ways of a duck as a hawk does. They have a fund of intimate observation upon Nature exactly as it is, that might be envied by the behaviorists putting caged creatures through mazes and paces. Without the least poetry in their way of expressing it, they are none the less appreciators of the wilderness in a fashion scarcely possible to the city dweller, for when they go into the marshes, or in the brown fields or the silvered woods they must proceed to their quarry by accurate observation. They know what to expect as the norm and what is out of the way. The very fact that a hunter is following a trail to kill arouses instincts in him that observe more than the diffident, tolerant student can hope to notice.
I remember the first baldpate duck I ever saw, floating upon a marsh, in a cold evening damp--floating motionless, with speckled and green head, and blue bill outstretched lovingly upon the water, the exquisite mantle of brownish gray laved by the wind-driven dark ripples, the green and black-bordered wings outspread as if in an ecstasy to catch the wind. So, like a lovely boat, this creature of beauty drove on before the breeze, toward open water, more graceful and more silent than a swan--and dead. Gone was the fowler who had wounded him, but failed to retrieve him. With the bullet in his body the wild thing had still fought for its life, got clear away--to die unconquered, its proud plumage still unplucked; to drift, like this, a Viking's funeral, between the water and the sky.
More information on our Almanac For Moderns project and the work of Donald Culross Peattie can be found here.