Mr. Ellis, a reliable constant in sinewy nature fiction in which the animal and human are equally accommodated, tells his true tale of a rescued crippled mallard duck -- with a difference. While giving full suspenseful value to the saga of Peg Leg Pete, whose leg had to be amputated by the author, Ellis also considers his own relationship to the creatures he hunts and eats, sometimes rescues and protects. Why had he given in to the importuning of his three lively daughters and dressed Pete's wound instead of the bird for his table? Why did the whole family search for the duck one icy New Year's Eve? Why did Ellis, a hunter, feel such a revulsion at the crowd of hunters at the river to whom the mallard looked like any other duck? ""It just didn't make sense. . . the headlines. . . could give me plenty to cry about. . . or maybe I was angry because once again I was feeling death's clammy fingers testing the texture of my own skin."" Pete miraculously survives through seasons of capricious weather, matings, hatchings, and deaths, and the ""sad and sillly"" spectacle of an army of sportsmen looking to kill a duck. Ellis speculates via earnest-to-lighthearted dialogues with his family and the pursuits of Peg Leg Pete and the empathic reader will flap right alongside.