Theodore Roosevelt (18581919). Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail. 1896.
XI THE RANCHMAN'S RIFLE ON CRAG AND PRAIRIE
HE ranchman owes to his rifle not only the keen pleasure and strong excitement of the chase, but also much of his bodily comfort; for, save for his prowess as a hunter and his skill as a marksman with this, his favorite weapon, he would almost always be sadly stinted for fresh meat. Now that the buffalo have gone, and the Sharps rifle by which they were destroyed is also gone, almost all ranchmen use some form of repeater. Personally I prefer the Winchester, using the new model, with a 45-caliber bullet of 300 grains, backed by 90 grains of powder, or else falling back on my faithful old stand-by, the 45-75. But the truth is that all good modern rifles are efficient weapons; it is the man behind the gun that makes the difference. An inch or two in trajectory or a second or two in rapidity of fire is as nothing compared to sureness of eye and steadiness of hand.
From April to August antelope are the game we chiefly follow, killing only the bucks; after that season, black-tail and white-tail deer. Now and then we get a chance at mountain sheep, and more rarely at larger game still. As a rule, I never shoot anything but bucks. But in the rutting season, when the bucks' flesh is poor, or when we need to lay in a good stock of meat for the winter, this rule of course must be broken.
The smoked venison stored away in the fall lasts us through the bitter weather, as well as through the even less attractive period covering the first weeks of spring. At that time we go out as little as possible. The roads are mere morasses, crusted after nightfall with a shell of thin ice, through which the shaggy horses break heavily. Walking is exceedingly tiresome, the boots becoming caked with masses of adhesive clay. The deer stay with us all the time; but they are now in poor condition, the does heavy with fawn and the bucks with ungrown antlers.
Antelope gather together in great bands in the fall, and either travel south, leaving the country altogether, or else go to some out-of-the-way place where they are not likely to be disturbed. Antelope are queer, freaky beasts, and it is hard to explain why, when most of these great bands go off south, one or two always stay in the Bad Lands. Such a band having chosen its wintering ground, which is usually in a valley or on a range of wide plateaus, will leave it only with great reluctance, and if it is discovered by hunters most of its members will surely be butchered before the survivors are willing to abandon the place and seek new quarters.
In April the prong-horned herds come back, but now all broken up into straggling parties. They have regular passes, through which they go every year: there is one such not far from my ranch, where they are certain to cross the Little Missouri in great numbers each spring on their return march. In the fall, when they are traveling in dense crowds, hunters posted in these passes sometimes butcher enormous numbers.
Soon after they come back in the spring they scatter out all over the plains, and for four months after their returnthat is, until Augustthey are the game we chiefly follow. This is because at that time we only hunt enough to keep the ranch in fresh meat, and kill nothing but the bucks; and as antelope, though they shed their horns, are without them for but a very short time, and as, moreover, they are always seen at a distance, it is easy to tell the sexes apart.
Antelope shooting is the kind in which a man most needs skill in the use of the rifle at long ranges; for they are harder to get near than any other gamepartly from their wariness, and still more from the nature of the ground they inhabit. Many more cartridges are spent, in proportion to the amount of game killed, in hunting antelope than is the case while after deer, elk, or sheep. Even good hunters reckon on using six or seven cartridges for every prong-horn that they kill; for antelope are continually offering standing shots at very long distances, which, nevertheless, it is a great temptation to try, on the chance of luck favoring the marksman. Moreover, alone among plains' game, they must generally be shot at over a hundred and fifty yards, and often at between two and three hundred. Over this distance a man will kill occasionally,I have done so myself,but at such long range it is mainly a matter of accident. The best field-shot alive lacks a good deal of always killing, if the distance is much over two hundred yards; and with every increase beyond that amount, the chances of failure augment in geometrical proportion. Exceptional individuals perform marvelous feats with the rifle, exactly as still more exceptional individuals perform marvelous feats with the revolver; but even these men, when they have to guess their distances, miss very often when firing at game three hundred yards, or thereabouts, distant.
As in all other kinds of big-game shooting, success in hunting antelope often depends upon sheer, downright luck. A man may make a week's trip over good ground and get nothing; and then again he may go to the same place and in two days kill a wagon-load of venison.
In the fall the prairie fires ravage the land, for at the close of summer the matted, sun-dried grass burns like tinder, and the fires are sometimes so numerous as to cover whole counties beneath a pall of smoke, while at night they look very grand, burning in curved lines of wavering flame, now advancing fastest at one point, now at another, as if great red snakes were writhing sideways across the prairie. The land across which they have run remains a blackened, charred waste until the young grass begins to sprout in the spring. The short, tender blades at once change the cinder-colored desert into a bright emerald plain, and are so much more toothsome than the dry, withered winter grass that both stock and game forsake the latter and travel out to the tracts of burned land. The feed on these places is too sparse to support, of itself, horses or cattle, who accordingly do not penetrate far beyond the edges; but antelope are like sheep, and prefer scanty, short herbage, and in consequence at this time fairly swarm in the burned districts. Indeed, they are sometimes so numerous that they can hardly be stalked, as it is impossible to approach any animal without being seen by some of its countless comrades, which at once run off and give the alarm.
While on these early spring trips we sometimes vary the sport, and our fare as well, by trying our rifles on the mallards in the reedy sloughs, or on the jack rabbits as they sit up on their haunches to look at us, eighty or a hundred yards off. Now and then we creep up to and kill the cock prairie fowl, when they have gathered into their dancing rings to posture with outstretched neck and outspread wings as they shuffle round each other, keeping up a curious clucking and booming that accord well with their grotesque attitudes.
Late in the season any one of us can usually get antelope in a day's hunt from the ranch by merely riding off alone, with a good hunting horse, to a great tract of broken, mound-dotted prairie some fifteen miles off, where the prong-horns are generally abundant.
On such a trip I leave the ranch house by dawn, the rifle across my saddle-bow, and some strips of smoked venison in the saddle-pockets. In the cool air the horse lopes smartly through the wooded bottoms. The meadow-larks, with black crescents on their yellow breasts, sing all day long, but the thrushes only in the morning and evening; and their melody is heard at its best on such a ride as this. By the time I get out of the last ravines and canter along the divide, the dark bluff-tops in the east have begun to redden in the sunrise, while in the flushed west the hills stand out against a rosy sky. The sun has been up some little time before the hunting-grounds are fairly reached; for the antelope stands alone in being a diurnal game animal that from this peculiarity, as well as from the nature of its haunts, can be hunted as well at midday as at any other hour. Arrived at the hunting-grounds I generally, but not always, dismount and hunt on foot, leaving the horse tethered out to graze.
Lunch is taken at some spring, which may be only a trickle of water at the base of a butte, where a hole must be dug out with knife and hands before the horse can drink. Once or twice I have enjoyed unusual delicacies at such a lunch, in the shape of the eggs of curlew or prairie fowl baked in the hot ashes.
The day is spent in still-hunting, a much easier task among the ridges and low hills than out on the gently rolling prairies. Antelope see much better than deer, their great bulging eyes, placed at the roots of the horns, being as strong as twin telescopes. Extreme care must be taken not to let them catch a glimpse of the intruder, for it is then hopeless to attempt approaching them. On the other hand, there is never the least difficulty about seeing them; for they are conspicuous beasts, and, unlike deer, they never hide, being careless whether they are seen or not, so long as they can keep a good lookout. They trust only to their own alert watchfulness and quick senses for safety. The game is carried home behind the saddle; and the bottom on which the ranch house stands is not often reached until the moon, showing crimson through the haze, has risen above the bluffs that skirt the river.
Antelope are very tough, and will carry off a great deal of lead unless struck in exactly the right place; and even when mortally hit they sometimes receive the blow without flinching, and gallop off as if unharmed. They always should be followed up a little distance after being fired at, as if unhurt. Sometimes they show the rather curious trait of walking backwards a number of steps just before falling in death.
Although ordinarily harder to get at than deer, they are far more frequently killed in what may be called accidental ways. At times they seem to be heedless of danger, and they suffer from occasional panic fits of fear or curiosity, when it is no feat at all to slay them. Hunters can thus occasionally rake very large bags of antelope, but a true sportsman who only shoots for peculiarly fine trophies, or to supply the ranch table, will not commit such needless butcheries. Often accidents have thrown it into my power to make a big killing; but the largest number I have ever shot was on one day when I bagged four, all bucks, and then we were sorely in need of fresh meat, and it was an object to get as much as possible. This day's shooting was peculiar because it took place during a heavy rain storm, which, taken in connection with my own remarkable costume, apparently made the animals act with less than their usual shyness. I wore a great flapping yellow slicker, or oilskin overcoat, about as unlikely a garb as a hunter could possibly don; but it seemed to fascinate the game, for more than once a band huddled up and stood gazing at me, while I clambered awkwardly off the horse. The cold rain numbed my fingers and beat into my eyes, and I was hampered by the coat; so I wasted a good many cartridges to get my four head.
In some places they now seem to have learned wisdom, for the slaughter among them has been so prodigious that the survivors have radically changed their character. Their senses are as keen as ever, and their wits much keener. They no longer give way to bursts of panic curiosity; they cannot be attracted by any amount of flagging, or by the appearance of unknown objects, as formerly. Where they are still common, as with us, they refuse, under any stress of danger, to enter woodland or thickets, but keep to the flat or broken plains and the open prairies, which they have from time immemorial inhabited. But elsewhere their very nature seems to have altered. They have not only learned to climb and take to the hills, but, what is even more singular, have intruded on the domain of the elk and the deer, frequently making their abode in the thick timber, and there proving the most difficult of all animals to stalk.
In May and June the little antelope kids appear: funny little fellows, odd and ungainly, but at an astonishingly early age able to run nearly as fast as their parents. They will lie very close if they think that they are unobserved. Once several of us were driving in a herd of cattle while on the round-up. The cattle, traveling in loose order, were a few paces ahead, when, happening to cast down my eyes, I saw, right among their hoofs, a little antelope kid. It was lying flat down with outstretched neck, and did not move, although some of the cattle almost stepped on it. I reined up, got off my horse, and lifted it in my arms. At first it gave two or three convulsive struggles, bleating sharply, then became perfectly passive, standing quietly by me for a minute or two when I put it down, after which it suddenly darted off like a flash. These little antelope kids are very easily tamed, being then very familiar, amusing, and inquisitivemuch more so than deer fawns, though they are not so pretty. Within a few days of their birth they stop seeking protection in hiding and adopt the habits of their parents, following them everywhere, or going off on their own account, being almost as swift, although, of course, not nearly so enduring.
Three of us witnessed a rather curious incident last spring, showing how little the bringing forth of a fawn affects the does of either deer or antelope. We were walking through a patch of low brushwood, when up got a black-tail doe and went off at full speed. At the second jump she gave birth to a fawn; but this did not alter her speed in the least, and she ran off quite as well and as fast as ever. We walked up to where she had been lying and found in her bed another fawn, evidently but a few seconds old. We left the two sprawling, unlicked little creatures where they were, knowing that the mother would soon be back to care for them.
Although sometimes we go out to the antelope ground and back in one day, yet it is always more convenient to take the buckboard with us and spend the night, camping by a water hole in one of the creeks. The last time we took such a trip I got lost, and nearly spent the night in the open. I had been riding with one of my cowboys, while another acted as teamster and drove the buckboard and pair. We killed two antelope and went into camp rather early. After taking dinner and picketing out the four horses we found it still lacked an hour or two of sunset, and accordingly my companions and I started out on foot, leaving our teamster in camp, and paying no particular heed to our surroundings. We saw a herd of prong-horn and wounded one, which we followed in vain until dusk, and then started to go back to camp. Very soon we found that we had quite a task before us, for in the dim starlight all the hollows looked exactly alike, and the buttes seemed either to have changed form entirely or else loomed up so vaguely through the darkness that we could not place them in the least. We walked on and on until we knew that we must be far past the creek, or coulée, where our camp lay, and then turned towards the divide. The night had grown steadily darker, and we could hear the far-off mutter and roll that told of an approaching thunder-storm. Hour after hour we trudged wearily on, as fast as we could go without stumbling, the gloom and the roughness of the unknown ground proving serious drawbacks to our progress. When on the top of a hillock, the blackness of the hollow beneath was so intense that we could not tell whether we were going to walk down a slope or over a cliff, and in consequence we met with one or two tumbles. At last we reached the top of a tall butte that we knew must be on the divide. The night was now as dark as pitch, and we were so entirely unable to tell where we were that we decided to give up the quest in despair and try to find some washout that would yield us at least partial shelter from the approaching rain storm. We had fired off our rifles several times without getting any response; but now, as we took one last look around, we suddenly saw a flash of light, evidently from a gun, flare up through the darkness so far off that no sound came to our ears. We trotted towards it as fast as we could through the inky gloom, and when no longer sure of our direction climbed a little hill, fired off our rifles, and after a minute or two again saw the guiding flash. The next time we had occasion to signal, the answering blaze was accompanied by a faint report; and in a few minutes more, when it was close on midnight, we were warming our hands at the great camp-fire, and hungrily watching the venison steaks as they sizzled in the frying-pan.
The morning after this adventure I shot an antelope before breakfast. We had just risen, and while sitting round the smoldering coals, listening to the simmering of the camp-kettle and the coffee-pot, we suddenly caught sight of a large prong-horn buck that was walking towards us over the hill-crest nearly half a mile away. He stopped and stared fixedly at us for a few minutes, and then resumed his course at a leisurely trot, occasionally stopping to crop a mouthful of grass, and paying no further heed to us. His course was one that would lead him within a quarter of a mile of camp, and, grasping my rifle, I slipped off as soon as he was out of sight and ran up over the bluff to intercept him. Just as I reached the last crest I saw the buck crossing in front of me at a walk, and almost two hundred yards off. I knelt, and, as he halted and turned his head sharply towards me, pulled trigger. It was a lucky shot, and he fell over, with his back broken. He had very unusually good horns; as fine as those of any of his kind that I ever killed.
Antelope often suffer from such freaks of apathetic indifference to danger, which are doubly curious as existing in an animal normally as wary as that wildest of game, the mountain sheep. They are fond of wandering too, and appear at times in very unlikely places. Thus once, while we were building the cow corral, in an open bottom, five antelope came down. After much snorting and stamping, they finally approached to within fifty yards of the men who were at work, and, as the latter had no weapons with them, retired unmolested.
In winter the great herds consist of the two sexes; and this is true also of the straggling parties that come back to us in spring, soon to split up into smaller ones. During early summer the males may be found singly, or else three or four together, with possibly a barren doe or two; while two or three does, with their kids, and perhaps the last year's young, will form the nucleus of a little flock by themselves. With the coming of the rutting season they divide into regular bands, for they are polygamous. Every large, powerful buck gathers his little group of does, driving out all his rivals, though perhaps a yearling buck or two will hang round the outskirts at a respectful distance, every now and then rousing the older one to a fit of jealous impatience. More often the young bucks go in small parties by themselves, while those older ones that have been driven out by their successful rivals wander round singly. The old bucks are truculent and courageous, and do fierce battle with each other until it is evident which is master, when the defeated combatant makes off at top speed. One of these beaten bucks will occasionally get hold of a single doe, whom he promptly appropriates and guards with extreme watchfulness; and, not being overconfident in his own prowess, drives her off very rapidly if any other antelope show signs of coming near. A successful buck may have from four or five to ten or fifteen does in his harem. In such a band there is always an old doe that acts as leader, precisely as with deer and elk. This doe is ever on the alert, is most likely to take the alarm at the approach of danger, and always leads the flight. The buck, however, is prompt to take command, if he sees fit, or deems that the doe's fears have overpowered her judgment; and frequently, when a band is in full flight, the buck may be seen deliberately to round it up and stop it, so that he may gaze on the cause of the alarma trait the exercise of which often costs him his life. The bucks occasionally bully the does unmercifully, if they show symptoms of insubordination. Individual antelope vary very widely in speed. Once I fairly rode one down, but this is generally an almost impossible feat. Among deer, the fat, heavy antlered bucks are usually slower than the does and the young males; but there seems to be little difference of this sort among prong-horns.
With the first touch of sharp fall weather we abandon the chase of the antelope for that of the deer. Then our favorite quarry is the noble black-tail, whose haunts are in the mountains and the high, craggy hills. We kill him by fair still-hunting, and to follow him successfully through the deep ravines and across the steep ridges of his upland home a man should be sound in wind and limbs, and a good shot with the rifle as well. Many a glorious fall morning I have passed in his pursuit; often, moreover, I have slain him in the fading evening as I walked homeward through the still dim twilightfor all wild game dearly love the gloaming.
Once on a frosty evening I thus killed one when it was so dark that my aim was little but guess-work. I was walking back to camp through a winding valley, hemmed in by steep cedar-crowned walls of clay and rock. All the landscape glimmered white with the new-fallen snow, and in the west the sky was still red with the wintry sunset. Suddenly a great buck came out of a grove of snow-laden cedars, and walked with swift strides up to the point of a crag that overlooked the valley. There he stood motionless while I crouched unseen in the shadow beneath. As I fired he reared upright and then plunged over the cliff. He fell a hundred feet before landing in the bushes, yet he did not gash or mar his finely molded head and shapely, massive antlers.
On one of the last days I hunted, in November, 1887, I killed two black-tail, a doe and a buck, with one bullet. They were feeding in a glen high up the side of some steep hills, and by a careful stalk over rough ground I got within fifty yards. Peering over the brink of the cliff-like slope up which I had clambered, I saw them standing in such a position that the neck of the doe covered the buck's shoulder. The chance was too tempting to be lost. My bullet broke the doe's neck, and of course she fell where she was; but the buck went off, my next two or three shots missing him. However, we followed his bloody trail, through the high pass he had crossed, down a steep slope, and roused him from the brushwood in a valley bottom. He soon halted and lay down again, making off at a faltering gallop when approached, and the third time we came up to him he was too weak to rise. He had splendid antlers.
Sometimes we kill the deer by the aid of hounds. Of these we have two at the ranch. One is a rough-coated, pure-blood Scotch stag-hound, named Rob. The other, Brandy, is a track-hound, bell-mouthed, lop-eared, keen-nosed, and not particularly fast, but stanch as Death himself. He comes of the old Southern strain; and, indeed, all the best blooded packs of American deer-hounds or fox-hounds come from what was called the Southern Hound in early seventeenth century England. Thus he is kin to the hounds of Bellemeade, wherewith General Jackson follows the buck and the gray fox over the beautiful fertile hills of middle Tennessee; and some of the same blood runs in the veins of Mr. Wadsworth's Geneseo hounds, behind which I have ridden as they chased the red fox through the wooded glens and across the open fields of the farms, with their high rail fences.
I often take Rob out when still-hunting black-tail, leading him along in a leash. He is perfectly quiet, not even whimpering; and he is certain to overhaul any wounded deer. A doe or a flying buck is borne to the ground with a single wrench, and killed out of hand; but a buck at bay is a formidable opponent, and no dog can rush in full on the sharp prong points. If the two dogs are together, Rob does most of the killing; Brandy's only function is to distract the attention of an angry buck and then allow Rob to pin him. Once a slightly wounded and very large black-tail buck, started just at nightfall, ran down to the river and made a running bay of nearly two hours, Rob steadily at him the whole time; it was too dark for us to shoot, but finally, by a lucky throw, one of the men roped the quarry.
Not only will a big black-tail buck beat off a dog or a wolf coming at him in front, but he is an awkward foe for a man. One of them nearly killed a cowboy in my employ. The buck, mortally wounded, had fallen to the shot, and the man rushed up to stick him; then the buck revived for a moment, struck down the man, and endeavored to gore him, but could not, because of the despairing grip with which the man held on to his horns. Nevertheless the man, bruised and cut by the sharp hoofs, was fast becoming too weak to keep his hold, when in the struggle they came to the edge of a washout, and fell into it some twelve or fifteen feet. This separated them. The dying buck was too weak to renew the attack, and the man crawled off; but it was months before he got over the effects of the encounter.
Sometimes we kill the white-tail also by fair still-hunting, but more often we shoot them on the dense river bottoms by the help of the track-hound. We put the dogs into the woods with perhaps a single horseman to guide them and help them rout out the deer, while the rest of us, rifle in hand, ride from point to point outside, or else watch the passes through which the hunted animals are likely to run. It is not a sport of which I am very fond, but it is sometimes pleasant as a variety. The last time that we tried it I killed a buck in the bottom right below our ranch house, not half a mile off. The river was low, and my post was at its edge, with in front of me the broad sandy flat sparsely covered with willow-brush. Deer are not much afraid of an ordinary noisy hound; they will play round in front of him, head and flag in air; but with Rob it was different. The gray, wolfish beast, swift and silent, threw them into a panic of terror, and in headlong flight they would seek safety from him in the densest thicket.
On the evening in question one of my cowboys went into the brush with the hounds. I had hardly ridden to my place and dismounted when I heard old Brandy give tongue, the bluffs echoing back his long-drawn baying. Immediately afterwards a young buck appeared, coming along the sandy river-bed, trotting or cantering; and very handsome he looked, stepping with a light, high action, his glossy coat glistening, his head thrown back, his white flag flaunting. My bullet struck him too far back, and he went on, turning into the woods. Then the dogs appeared, old Brandy running the scent, while the eager gaze-hound made wide half-circles round him as he ran; while the cowboy, riding a vicious yellow mustang, galloped behind, cheering them on. As they struck the bloody trail they broke into clamorous yelling, and tore at full speed into the woods. A minute or two later the sound ceased, and I knew that they had run into the quarry.
Sometimes we use the hounds for other game besides deer. A neighboring ranchman had a half-breed fox-and-greyhound, who, single-handed, ran into and throttled a coyote. I have been very anxious to try my dogs on a big wolf, intending to take along a collie and a half-breed mastiff we have to assist at the bay. The mastiff is a good fighter, and can kill a wildcat, taking the necessary punishment well, as we found out when we once trapped one of these small lynxes. Shep, the collie, is an adept at killing badgers, grabbing them from behind and whirling them round, whereas Brandy always gets his great lop-ears bitten. But how they would do with a wolf I cannot say; for one of these long-toothed wanderers is usually able to outrun and outfight any reasonable number of common hounds, and will kill even a big dog very quickly.
A friend of mine, Mr. Heber Bishop, once coursed and killed a wolf with two Scotch deer-hounds. After a brisk run the dogs overtook and held the quarry, but could not kill it, and were being very roughly handled when Mr. Bishop came to their assistance. But a ranchman in the Indian Territory has a large pack of these same Scotch dogs trained especially to hunt the wolf; and four or five of the fleet, high-couraged animals can not only soon overhaul a wolf, but can collar and throttle even the largest. Accidents to the pack are, of course, frequent. They say that the worry is enough to make one's hair stand on end.
Before leaving the subject, it is worth noting that we have with us the Canada lynx as well as his smaller brother; and, more singular still, that a wolverine, usually found only in the northern forests, was killed two winters ago in a big woody bottom on the Little Missouri, about forty miles north of Medora. The skin and skull were unmistakable; so there could be no doubt as to the beast's identity.
I have had good sport on the rolling plains, near Mandan, in following a scratch pack of four fleet, long-legged dogs. One was a wire-haired Scotch deer-hound; his mate was a superb greyhound, the speediest of the set. Both were possessed of the dauntless courage peculiar to high-bred hunting dogs. The other two were mongrels, but, nevertheless, game fighters and swift runners: one was a lurcher, and the other a cross between a grey-hound and a fox-houndthe only one of the four that ever gave tongue. The two former had been used together often, and had slain five coyotes, two deer (white-tails), and an antelope. Both the antelope and the deer they had fairly run down, having come up close on them, so that they had good send-offs; but there is a wide individual variation among game animals as regards speed, and those that they caughtat any rate the antelopemay not have been as fleet as most of their kind. They were especially fond of chasing coyotes, and these they easily overtook. When at bay the coyotes fought desperately but unavailingly, the two hounds killing their quarry very quickly, one seizing it by the throat and the other by the flanks, and then stretching it out in a trice. They occasionally received trifling injuries in these contests. The animal that gave them most trouble was a badger which they once found and only killed after prolonged efforts, its squat, muscular form and tough skin making it very difficult for them to get a good hold.
We did not have time to go far from Mandan, and so confined our coursing to jack rabbits, swifts, and foxes. Of the latter, the great red prairie fox, we saw but one, which got up so close to the dogs that it had no chance at all, and after a fine burst of a few hundred yards was overtaken and torn to pieces. The swifts are properly called swift foxes, being rather smaller than the southern gray fox. Ever since the days of the early explorers they have been reputed to possess marvelous speed, and their common name of "swift," by which they are universally known, perpetuates the delusion; for a delusion it emphatically is, since they are, if anything, rather slow than otherwise. Once, in a snow storm, I started one up under my horse's feet while riding across the prairie, overtook him in a few strides, and killed him by a lucky shot with the revolver. The speed of the coyote also has been laughably exaggerated. Judging by the records of the hounds, the antelope is the fastest plains' animal, the white-tail deer and the jack rabbit coming next; then follow, in order, the coyote, the fox, and the swift, which is the slowest of all. Individuals vary greatly, however; thus a fast jack rabbit might well outrun a slow deer, and of course both coyote and fox will outlast the swifter jack rabbits. Several dogs should run together, as otherwise a jack or a swift, although overtaken, may yet escape by its dexterity in dodging. The cactus beds often befriend the hunted animals, as the dogs rush heedlessly into them and are promptly disabled, while a rabbit or a fox will slip through without injury.
Two or three of us usually went out together. Our method of procedure was simple. We scattered out, dogs and men, and rode in an irregular line across the country, beating with care the most likely looking places, and following at top speed any game that got up. Sometimes a jack rabbit, starting well ahead, would run for two miles or over, nearly in a straight line, before being turned by the leading hound; and occasionally one would even get away altogether. At other times it would be overhauled at once and killed instantly, or only prolong its life a few seconds by its abrupt turns and twists. One swift gave us several minutes' chase, although never getting thirty rods from the place where it started. The little fellow went off as merrily as possible, his handsome brush streaming behind him, and, though overtaken at once, dodged so cleverly that dog after dog shot by him. I do not think that a single dog could have killed him.
Coursing is the sport of all sports for ranchmen, now that big animals are growing scarce; and certainly there can be no healthier or more exciting pastime than that of following game with horse and hound over the great Western plains.