Sandy Griswold. August 5, 1894. Omaha Sunday Bee p. 16.
After Chickens in Waning Summer.
The present season has been a good one for the prairie chicken crop in Nebraska if it has not been for any other. The early portion of the season was perfect for nesting, and since the little chicks have hatched out there have been no violent storms to kill them off. There was a large number of old birds left over from previous years, and reports from the central and western part of the state indicate that there is an unusual supply of young birds this season. In spite of the fact that the law does not permit the shooting of birds until September 1, it is a notorious fact that the hunting of these birds commences all over Nebraska early in July, and usually by the time the season is here there are very few left in the vicinity of the towns, and the sportsman who respects the law must either be content with no shooting of a satisfactory character, or else must go some distances from the town to get it.
This year it promises to be little better, for it has been so insufferably hot and dry that hunting by either man or dog has been out of the question. This has delayed the slaughter somewhat and allowed the birds to grow stronger of wing, and they will not fall quite so easy a prey as formerly, and for this reason there is likely to be good shooting left when the open season arrives without being compelled to go out of the world to find it.
The very thing that has operated to save them so far this season, however, will cause a still more ruthless war of extermination later on unless the sportsmen of the state take a hand to stop it. There are every year a large number of men in this state who make their living by hauling these birds and selling them, and the failure or partial failure of the crops in a large portion of the state will vastly add to this army and the attendant slaughter of the birds. Men who ordinarily do not think it worth while or who have something else to do which pays them better will this year see in the birds an opportunity to make a little money, and will accept it. To make chicken hunting pay the hunter must bring to bag an average of two dozen birds per day, and at this rate even one hunter will kill an astonishing number in a season. If something is not done to stop this slaughter birds will be few and far between next year.
All true sportsmen will be content to await the coming of September 1, when chicken hunting and chicken shooting will be lawful. And by the way there is a vast difference between chicken hunting and chicken shooting, as many an ardent adventurer has found out. At this season of the year there is no sport in either. It is too oppressive to tramp through dried stubble, sere grass or burnt corn for the former, and an outrage in the latter, even if you or your dog is so fortunate as to locate a covey of the soft, flabby, pin-feathered chicklings. There is no skill in this event required in the slaughter, which is attended with neither enthusiasm nor excitement.
Of course a chicken or grouse is at its very best for table purposes when but half grown, but this is no argument in extenuation of their unlawful killing, and a full grown bird is sufficiently toothsome to answer all gastronomic requirements.
When once the season opens there will be an exodus of impatient sportsmen, all panoplied with hammerless and shells, and greedy to get at the mottled beauties from which they have been debarred for a twelvemonth. Side by side, with the pointer and setter ranging in front, they will tramp the fields, the sidehills and draws, and in the lazy, hazy days of golden autumn know such enjoyment as never befalls the midsummer miscreant and buccaneer. Besides the actual pleasure to the hunter from the fact that he is engaged in an honest recreation, there is still greater delight to be derived from the thousand beauties of waning summer. Shut up in store or office perhaps all through the hot days, the sights and sounds and odors of the droning country now seem to him altogether new. Such an outing, with the birds fairly plentiful and strong enough of pinion to test his keenest sight and steadiest nerve, it is a revelation of another existence, yet each enchanted faculty brings back to him memories of other days like these, of other companions, but none so beautiful, so happy or beloved. To him the morning and evening note of the golden-breasted meadow lark, as he perches proudly on the top of the tallest fence post, standing well up on his cream-colored pillars, or tilts on swaying sunflower stalk, never sounded half so plaintive, half so sweet. And for his delight the ruddy-chested robin hops nimbly and fearlessly along the green and dank creek's bank, darts athwart brown meadow, emitting from his yellow beak a sharp, petulant staccato, yet full of the lilt of melody that the sense of honest sportsmen alone can understand and appreciate. The modest flowers of early fall, the moose's heart, the adder's tongue, goldenrod, wind flower and Indian plume, open their tender faces seemingly to greet him, an old-time friend.
And more, too, he hears the querulous caw of the flapping crow, the faint chickadee of the vagrant solitaire, and the sharp and almost incessant twitter of the blackbird. From off over the low sandhills, from river, lake or marshy expanse, occasionally comes the honk of an early goose or the quack of a mallard that has nested and reared her family here, while from above falls the shrill shriek of the ever-present red-tailed hawk, poised on moveless wing, intent on some unwary rabbit ot creeping chick. Then again the broad prairie, with its endless undulations of yellow grass, is as silent as the tomb. The birds have hushed their merry throats, yet over the limitless plain, through the hills and mottes of timber, across lake and into somber valley, is marching southward noiselessly, imperceptibly, but sure and certain, the advance guard of a host—cold, white and cheerless—soon to make itself everywhere felt and heard.
But look! There is Neil, and Don, too, on a dead stand, in that little patch of buckwheat stubble yonder. Now for a double!