It is about this
time of year, as instinct joins with hunting laws to tell me that my pursuit of
pheasant and quest for grouse has ended for the season, that I begin to truly
savor this sport I enjoy so much. Winter turns me into an outdoorsman moved
perforce indoors. My mind has a way of responding to this situation by
producing from who knows what recesses whole hosts of hunting recollections,
vivid flashes of events so long gone that they should by all rights have
vanished from my consciousness forever. Thus it happened the other evening that
two names came to my mind almost in the same second: Littleghost and
Lochamilton, the first a Sioux Indian, the second an Irish lord; the first a
lean, proud man of fierce bearing, the second a bulging pompous fellow whose
nobility, I fear, stemmed more from his lineage than his heart. Why both at
once? I wondered. And then with a pleased flush I realized the connection that
my memory had so surprisingly made for me. These were the men, many years and
thousands of miles apart, who saw me make the two most dramatic bird shots of
too, a girl named Ilsa MacLeod.
Wakpala, where my
friend Ambrose Littleghost lives, is a Sioux Indian village on Standing Rock
Reservation. The plains, torrid and dusty in summer and bitter and blizzardy in
winter, roll down from the Rockies in western Montana to meet the Missouri near
by. I spent several years there directing an Episcopal Church mission school
for Indian children.
To the east from
the river is a long, dreary reach of precarious grain-farming land that should
never have been put to the plow. The threat of drought exists every year. There
is a story told of an early settler who was earnestly plowing the baked gumbo.
A Sioux, standing by and watching, chuckled every now and then.
funny?" the farmer finally asked.
wrong side up," the Indian said.
He was right; the
land should have been left for grazing, but if that had been done there would
never have been all that wonderful pheasant shooting. It is well known that
South Dakota has the best pheasant hunting in the world. Why do these birds
thrive in a climate that ranges from 115� in the summer to 40� below in the
winter and in a locale where the wind is blasting most of the time? The answer
seems to be that the soil of this country is impregnated with limestone that
was ground up thousands of years ago by the last glacier, and the birds consume
it along with their regular diet of wheat and other seeds. This results in an
egg with an unusually hard shell and a strong chick whose bones axe well
fortified with calcium and whatever else pheasant bones should be fortified
with. The adults are vigorous, durable, heavily feathered and larger than those
found almost anywhere else. The males are startlingly gorgeous.
When the shooting
season opens in October there is a strong concentration of hunters in the
grainfields on the east bank of the Missouri, across the river from the
Standing Rock Reservation. Many birds soon find it prudent to take off for the
opposite shore, where they are seldom shot at, for the Sioux have little
interest in bird shooting. Deer hunting—that is something else again. Nearly
every Sioux cabin will house a deer rifle. Things have not changed much since
that day in early January 1805 when Lewis and Clark, camping on the Missouri in
this very neighborhood, made an entry in their journal, "Pocapsahe also
visited us and brought some meat on his wife's back."
Because of this
feeling for hunting, the Sioux always appreciate skillful shooting—even when
the quarry is a bird. So what I did that marvelous day all too many years ago
in front of my two Indian friends, Ambrose Littleghost and his cousin, Chet
Four Bear, could hardly have been better.
We left the
mission school by car. I had two Ithaca 12-gauge guns, and I gave one of them
and a bag of shells to Littleghost, a unique Indian in that he could handle a
shotgun. He insisted on riding in the baggage rack atop the car, and before we
had reached a long slope known as Mad Bear's he had potted a couple of
sharp-tailed grouse. Ambrose loved to shoot from the top of the car as it
bounced along the grassy plain, and he was very good at it.