Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. November 6, 1921. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 57(6): 4-W.

Days With the Ducks Among the Old Sand Hills

An October morning in the Sandhills-on the shores of the legendary old Hackberry.

The long line of serrated bluffs, in the increasing light, looked like some old rampart of the feudal days of the dark ages, frowning down upon the chequered waters of the lake.

It was our first morning in the hills, and the scene was one of exceptional beauty, despite the homogeneousness of the topography, especially to the eyes of one born-like the immortal Thoreau, for instance-to the appreciation of all nature's handiwork, and in rapt enchantment we could but stand and gaze.

The summer-like mists lifted rapidly from the surface of the lake, and soon the sun came up over the rim of the eastern uplands, sprinkling hill and vale, willow, reed, rice and cane, as with golden rain, and setting the few blackbirds still lingering in that remote region, into delighted motion. The long, vibrant call of some old hen mallard resounded from the distant rice bed, then a small flock of the birds rose, and, in military line, went off over the hills to their feeding grounds in the far-off fields.

And thus the scene, with every passing moment, became more and more picturesque, and we were content, as I said before, to stand and drink it in with inexpressible rapture.

On the far shore of this little inland sea there is a grand sweep of barren hills, now laved in alternate lines of topaz and crimson, again in gray and purple, swelling gracefully from the very edge of the shimmering waters. Across the heavens floated great masses of fleecy vapor-not clouds-fiery-edged and dropping their lights and shades upon the bosom of the lake like the play of color on velvet. Now the rounded tops of the towering bluffs glowed as if in the glare of some vast prairie conflagration; then an immense shadow would arise from the waters, like Afrite from his crystalline vase, and clamber off over the walls of the hills, the startled sunshine shrinking before it like a thing pursued. A playful breeze comes rustling through the tall, tawny pampas grass from the north and, brushing by us, pounces onto the riant lake, streaking its surface with silvered crinkles, fanning the reeds and rice with its delicate and invisible wings, and melting away into the bordering tules on the other side.

Such was the picture presented to us on the many auriferous mornings-save one rainy one-we spent there, from in front of Fred Peterson's model hunting lodge, which stands on a slight eminence on the north shore of the lake, about midway between the well-appointed Dewey lake club, on the site of the old Stillwell ducker's tavern-so happily recalled by the older sportsmen of Omaha-at the head of the lake, and the really palatial home of the Hackberry club on the west, near the foot of the lake.

There were five of us-Roy White, the General Foch of the party; Ernie Holmes, Dr. Robert Nichols and Jim White, the colored chef. We left Omaha on the morning of October 14 in one of those splendid big Cadillacs which defy mud and sand, and rough roads of all kinds and sizes, and which landed us safe and sound after a wondrously interesting journey, at the Peterson domicilium, in due time-a great trip and one replete with many interesting little episodes. At Wood Lake, George Christianson joined the party, and at the lodge we found Bob Oliver of Council Bluffs on hand, with the encouraging assurance that he had been having a royal time for several weeks, and was certain a like experience awaited us. And it did, although there were few ducks in, but plenty enough to afford any reasonable sportsman with plenty of fun, and then, when the wild fowl preferred to remain quiet, there were plenty of chicken to occupy our attention.

Of course, we were not long in getting under way, and for over two short weeks, although the shooting was extremely slender at all times, each day was a repetition of the one preceding, and by the dint of hard work, principally on the part of Roy White, a real duck hunter and one of the most untiring I ever shot with, and Bob Oliver, another good one, aided and abetted materially by Holmes and the doctor, and Christianson, too, with an occasional sortie by yours truly, the morning decided upon for the start home found us well supplied as we should have been, with both ducks and chickens.

Of course, no attempt will be made here to recount the trials and thrills of each day's experience, for so redundant were they that the space required to detail them would require a half page for many days to come, and, as precious and valuable as space is with a great newspaper just at this bristling moment, it cannot be done.

The first night, after all had been out, there was much hubbub after supper, as we lolled about in the big dining room, emulating each other in our fervid endeavors to tell just what we, each of us, had seen and done, and as Roy and Ernie had been the most successful, the rest of us finally subsided, as White reeled off his picture of the evening's shoot.

"We hadn't more'n got our old scow well hidden in the cane," voluminously declared Roy, "than Ernie called my attention to a pair of pintails, with their slender necks stretched out to their fullest elongation, which were coming straight at us from over in the direction of Watt's lake. Suddenly they catch sight of our decoys, scattered about the opening in our front yard, and warily making a sharp turn, they start to circle the spot in the tantalizing style a pintail always uses.

"Let me tell you there's lots of style to Mr. Pintail, and dang me, if I believe there's a single bird in the whole duck tribe that has got half the sense of one of them when he's convoying his old lady into supper, and a bit suspicious of the looks of things round about.

"Why, I was out on the Platte one spring morning and we saw a pintail-"

"But go on, Roy, tell 'em about what happened today-ancient history'll keep-go on, tell 'em of what we did this afternoon," interrupted the placid Mr. Holmes, as he deftly rolled a coffin nail, "tell 'em, that's what they want to hear, so tell 'em!"

"You'll pardon me, but when I get to discussin' a pintail I don't know when to stop. However," and White threw his left leg over the corner of the dining table, "let me say, that when those two birds began to circle round our blind this afternoon, I didn't expect to get a shot. But they soon got over their timidity and the next minute I saw 'em comin' head on again, and in such beautiful shape for a double, that I turned to Ernie, but not in greediness, mind you, for I'm always ready to give the man in the blind with me the first crack, but because this time they were on my side, and I felt that I must distinguish myself the first dash out of the box, with a double.

"'I'll kill 'em both, brother,' I whispered, 'but if I fail, you hand it to 'em!'"

"The two pins had swung clear round over the lake back of us, but were now coming back and at a rate of speed, oh boy, that made me doubt my ability to stop even one of them, let alone the pair.

"I couldn't get in just exactly the position I would have liked to have gotten, but nevertheless, just before the spikes got over us, I led the old drake about five feet, and at the crack of my gun his gray form stopped right in the air, as if he had bumped into a stone wall, and came to the water with a wop, right within reach of us, dead as a door nail. The hen, with an affrighted squawk, stepped on high, and did her level best to get away from your Uncle Hiram, but she hadn't a chance. She caught the whole bunch of sixes well astern, made a frantic effort to keep going, but couldn't make it, and plunged down among the lily pads fully 200 yards to the south of us.

"Well, we went out and got her, and had hardly gotten back into the cane again, when the hoarse shouts of a flock of canvasback broke the evening's quietude. They were comin' from the southeast, off toward Dewey lake, and we quickly discovered the snowy line clearing the dividing rise, coming straight as an arrow's flight, toward us.

"Ernie was so excited he liked to have went overboard, but admonishing him to take the rear birds-they were again on my side-we crouched down and feverishly awaited the big moment. The bulk of the flock passed over to the right of our hide, with a sturdy old redheaded cock showing the way. I broke his gray neck with my left barrel, and then in the frantic scramble for the nether spaces, I killed my second, and-will you, can you, believe it-Ernie went me one better with his seven Winchester loads, cutting three more from right out of the tail enders! Five canvasbacks at one fell swoop! Ye gods, and wasn't that enough to satisfy us if we'd never got another feather? I'll tell the world it was!"