Sandy Griswold. April 23, 1899. [Comments on Spring Hunting.] Omaha Sunday World-Herald 34(205): 23.
Forest, Field and Stream.
By rights there should be no shooting now, but of pets and inanimate targets. While I have never been an advocate of the abolishment of spring shooting, owing to the unsatisfactory condition of the laws of adjoining states, I have always felt that the killing of a bird in this season of northward migration means, at least, one bird the less, perhaps two, or a dozen, in the season to which shooting properly belongs.
No right-minded sportsman practices or advocates the shooting of quail or chicken in the spring, and why should he uphold the spring shooting of snipe, wading birds and water fowl. One reason, but it is a poor one, is that the first breed with us and the loss is directly apparent, forced at once upon us, when in early summer days we visit the barren covers, fruitless now, not because of untimely harvesting, but for lack of seed, while the far northern fields, on which the crop of the last named birds are grown, are for the most part beyond our sight and ken. Just as surely as we destroyed the seed instead of here, the yearly crop diminishes and less and less of it returns to us. But there is another reason and it is much better than the first. It is that all the adjoining states permit spring shooting and the prohibition of it here would be but to enhance the sport elsewhere and in the long run amount to but little. There is no salvation for the birds save through the medium of a universal law, as I have spoken of hundreds of times before.
The plea for this improvident killing of migrants on the score that without it we should have no spring shooting, is far from equitable or just. As if life were not worth living unless one can be killing something from the beginning to the end of the year, and as if it were not better to stay our hands for a season now than to have nothing to shoot by and by. If I had my way I would say now let there be no more shooting of geese, ducks, snipe, yellowlegs or other spring migrants, without the pulling of triggers and the noise of guns, let us blaze away at targets made of asphaltum and clay. There will yet be left plenty of these materials to mold others from, and if we want to go hunting, let us go now with the kodak and the camera, and without a gun.
We shall not find it unpleasant nor unprofitable to take to the fields or woods now, for we may be sure that they are pleasanter than the untidy wastes of a month ago. Where nature has her own way with herself she makes her garb seemly even at this early date, after all the tousling she gave it in her angry winter moods. The scraps of moss, barks and twigs with which the last surface of the snow in the Elkhorn and Rawhide's bottoms was obtrusively littered lie now unnoticed on the flat-pressed leaves, an umber carpet dotted here with flecks of moss, there sprigged with fronds of green, the tender dandelion or sprays of violet, the purpling leaves of the squirrel cup and its downy buds and first blossoms. Between banks so clad the stream babbles as joyously as amid all the bloom and leafage of June, and catches a brighter gleam from the unobstructed sunbeams. So befittingly are the maples and the elms, the plum and the dogwood, arrayed in graceful tracery of spray and greening buds, that their seemly nakedness is as beautiful as attire of summer's emerald or autumn's gaudy banners could make them.
Never sweeter than now, after the silence of an uncommon long winter, do the birds' songs sound, and never in all the round of the twelve-month is there a better time to see them when the gray haze of the branches is the only hiding for their gay wedding garments.
If you would try your skill at still-hunting, follow up the muffled chatter that throbs through the scraggy timber, and if you discover the rufous fox squirrel gambolling upon his favorite log, and undiscovered by him can watch his proud performance, you will have done something better worth boasting of than by bringing him to earth from his amorous play. Out of the distant pastures come, sweet and faint, the call of the meadow lark and the gurgle of the blackbirds that throng the lakeside reeds. From high overhead comes down the clarion note of the departing goose, the sibilant beat of the redhead's wings, the plaint of the yellowleg and the plover's tinkling cry, each making his way to northern breeding grounds. Are you not glad they are going safely, as their uncaught shadows that sweep swiftly across the darkening meshes of the wood's floor? Are you not content to see what you see, hear what you hear, and killing nothing but time?
Verily, you shall have a clearer conscience than if you were disturbing the voice of nature with discordant uproar of your gun, and marring the fresh odors of sweet spring with the fumes of villainous nitros.
And look! Down in the marshes the lodges of the muskrats have gone adrift in the floods of melting snow, but the unhoused inmates count this a light misfortune, since they may voyage again with heads above the crystal liquid, and go mate seeking and food gathering in sunshine and starlight, undimmed by roof of ice. As you see them cutting the smooth surface with long, swift, arrowy wakes, coasting the low shore in quest of brown sweet-hearts and wives, whimpering their plaintive call, you can hardly imagine the clumsy body between that grim head and rudder-like tail capable of such graceful motion.
The painted wood duck swims above the submerged tree roots at Quinnebogg; a pair of belated mallards splash to flight, with raucous clamor, out of a sedgy cove at your approach; the thronging redwings shower liquid melody and hail of discord from the budding cottonwoods above you. All around, from the drift of floating and stranded waterweeds, arises the crackling croak of swarming frogs, and from sunny pools the vibrant trill of toads.
From afar in the yellow rice come the watery boom of a bittern, and song of the farmer fishing boy and the hollow clang of his oar or pole athwart the gunwales of his leaky craft, the distant boom of the improvident's gun and the echoes rebounding from shore to shore.
The graceful odor of the warming earth comes to your nostrils; to your ears, from every side, the sounds of spring; and yet you listen for fuller confirmation of its presence in the longdrawn wail of the sickle bill and the rollicking melody of the bobolink.
Who has the effrontery to proclaim lovely budding April a month for the gun?