Thursday, January 28, 2021




IT IS 7:30 o’clock of a late November morning on the 1,200-acre estate of Marshall Field on Lloyd Neck, Long Island. Standing along the right of the long driveway near the house are thirty employees of the estate, the men who keep the woods in order, or make paddocks for the polo ponies, cut the lawns, trim up the rock gardens and woody glades.

"Caumsett" Horse Transport Trailer

It is 7:30 in the morning, and they have two hours to wait for a glass-paneled Buick omnibus to come down the driveway from the mansion followed by two Reo trucks.

In the omnibus are Mr. Field’s ten guests for the day’s pheasant shoot. One of the trucks is full of ammunition and men to put it into the guests’ guns. The other truck is the vehicle which, after each rise of birds, will return with dispatch to the larder, where men are ready to hang up the game that has been killed.

The Pheasant on Long Island 
Courtesy Dr. Edgar Burke
Fortune 1931

The birds are brilliant. They are waiting quietly in the woods which the thirty woodsmen—who this morning are called beaters—will soon enter. They are ringnecked pheasants and—even more dazzling in the shafts of early sun this autumn day—a cross between the ring-neck and the Versicolor, a cross called Melanistic Mutant, which Mr. Field’s Scottish gamekeeper and landscape engineer, Douglas Marshall, evolved to satisfy himself that Melanistic Mutant was not a strange new species but just an accident. 

Gamekeeper Douglas Marshall

Douglas Marshall is a competent and intensely interested person, is ready to take his place in the center of the strung-out line of beaters. He will do this as soon as the shooting guests have been driven down a grass-carpeted clearing in the woods to the meadow where the first stand is made. Three months ago this meadow was belt high with goldenrod. Now it it mowed clear and is the edge of the rising wood.

Strung out up the shorn goldenrod field are stakes with cards wedged in their tops. On each card is a number. The shooters have drawn for places; each takes his place, his loader behind him. No. I standing far up the field and somewhat around its far corner, so that to No. 10 the line of guns makes a shallow arc. The sportsmen take shells from their loaders (No. 5 or 6 shot, three drams of powder), and sniff the morning air, eye the wood. 

They come to sharp attention as a bugle sounds down the hill. That is Gamekeeper Marshall starting the first drive. The gunners begin to hear a sound of sticks tapping against trees.

A group of pheasants is called a bouquet. This term is used for pheasants when they are flushed. When they are flushed, they fly away forming a beautiful colored spectacle that looks like flowers.

The fine, meticulously planned objective of Gamekeeper Marshall’s year long job is to make sure that his pheasants shall fly at each rise high and fast over the line of gunners, and in a steady stream, not a sudden, uncontrolled burst. To this end he captains the line of beaters from the center to keep it steady and even. The birds are fed in this first wood. They are plentiful (perhaps 600 of them) and comparatively tame on this first drive of the day. As the beaters come through, tap-tapping steadily on tree boles, a thickening throng of graceful, running shapes, their rustle increasing as the number grows, moves toward the clearing where the gunners wait. The crest of the hill is reached. A few birds take wing, the hens with a soft rush of wings, the brazen-purple breasted cocks with a cackling cry that is the first loud sound of the morning. The next loud sound follow’s. The sport is on.

All that remains of the buildings in this area are some foundations and fence posts. Two long clearings mark the location of the outdoor part of the pheasant pens.

As the birds sail out over the exploding line of the shooters, their number is thinned, and the tumult of the scene is dully punctuated by the thud of dropping birds on the coarse turf. At this first rise, 135 birds or so will be killed. Cripples that streak, hobble, or coast across the open ground into the next cover will be marked by the loaders or by Gamekeeper Marshall and his line of beaters, who now emerge from the brush on the hill’s crest. The dogs are brought on to retrieve—four or five strong, sleek Labradors in black or gold. Pipes and cigarettes are lighted while the field is cleared and the guests assembled at the glassed-in bus.


Careful as any police chief or fight promoter, Gamekeeper Marshall has the next drive half organized already. Three or four of his oldest, most trustworthy men have been posted as “stops” all this while on the next lane to the westward (see map), each with a white flag which he has been waving gently to keep birds from the first rise, or already in the second cover, from running beyond the lane in their fright at the sound of guns. As the guns reach Stand No. II, the stops move to their next station.

"Caumsett" Aerial 1937

Meantime, the order of shooters has changed. No matter what celebrated marksman may be present, he and all the rest move down the line of gunners one number, so that No. 10 is now No. 1. And on this drive there are four walking guns. The four highest numbers walk. They walk through four “rides” (bridle paths) thoughtfully cut for them through the cedar and sumac thicket that constitutes this second cover. They walk just behind the line of beaters, and their instructions are that they may shoot only birds which double back over the beaters’ heads. Shooting at birds forward (or at rabbits) puts one in disgrace or out of the field altogether. But a walking gunner will have little temptation. This second cover is small; the fun soon begins. The line of guns on the lane becomes loudly audible before the walking gunners are anywhere near range. The latter halt when they come to stakes again marked for them. On goes the banging until the last bird has risen and the autumn scene falls quiet again save for the voices of men with dogs, men making alibis or apologizing.

1930 aerial showing the open fields.

Hardest shooting of all in this day’s round at the Field estate is at Rise No. IV. Here Gamekeeper Marshall “drives blank” (without guns at the clearing) a cover 400 yards long, to fill the far corner of the woods with all the  birds that have been missed on the first three drives plus many more not yet started. The line of beaters then splits, reunites at the eastern edge of the wood (by the highway), and starts back.

Remains of Gamekeepers' Cottage 

The guns are placed on ground which slopes sharply toward them, and which is crowned with locusts of a size seldom seen off Long Island. Many of the birds that will now fly have been so thoroughly frightened before this that they will rise late, fast and high before the beaters’ urging. They will be forty to sixty yards in the air going over, the truest test yet of eyes, fingers, and guns which may have been killing well among birds that flapped or coasted over. These birds are corkscrewing for altitude and rocketing for speed. Gamekeeper Marshall knows who can shoot and who can't after Rise No. IV—where everyone eats lunch after the banging is done.

View from 2020 showing Meadow Lane and the homes built in the once open field. Street above Meadow Lane - Ring Neck Ridge pays homage to all the slaughtered birds.

There are three more drives after lunch. Especially fine and sporty is the Berry Rise, over the ruin of a house where lived a man named Berry. The corner of the six-foot fence which again causes the running birds to seek sudden altitude is guarded by a white pine towering even above the giant locusts. Berry Rise is hard shooting, but the cover is an especially rich one. Not less than 150 birds, and perhaps 185, should be taken here by ten guns.

Farther on is Rise No. VI, where a double line of gunners is formed by Gamekeeper Marshall because the cover is narrow and thick. The day’s shoot illustrated by the map is one of four available on this acreage. The whole plan affords a two-day shoot every two weeks from late November through February, with 4,000 to 7,000 birds raised in the breeding pens according to weather and luck with plagues. ***Their descendants can occasionally still be seen roaming in the woods and fields. ***

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 Advice to the Beginner on Incubation, Rearing and Control of Vermin By DOUGLAS MARSHALL Gamekeeper at Caumsett



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