Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

November 17, 1907. Omaha Sunday Bee 37(22): 4-S.

Ducks and Grouse in Western Nebraska

To enjoy two or three days of grouse and duck shooting in the fall among the sand hills and lakes of Western Nebraska which includes a 100 mile drive and two days in camp, is a privilege that must be experienced to be appreciated. The writer has just returned from a trip of this kind, and with due respect to all other hunting trips both long and short, places this kind in a class of its own, giving genuine enjoyment and sport without the hardships incident thereto, writes Ernest Sweet to The Bee.

Two friends, Charles and Francis Morrison—products of the west and enough said—participated with yours truly, making the party of three—left Mullen at sun-down for a night ride to camp Carey on Cody Lake, a distance of thirty-five miles over as pretty a piece of free range country as ever fattened a steer or echoed the sharp yelp of a lonesome coyote. Half way over we forded the Dismal river, and whoever named it is entitled to a medal, for it is without doubt the most lonesome spot on earth, as it winds among the hills, far down below the level of the higher lands, not even a claim shack or cow camp for ten miles in either side, and not a tree or shrub for twice that distance.

Arriving at camp at 2 a.m., we turned in for three hours sleep—on bunks made of new hay and woolen blankets—before the early morning shoot. Frank Bassett, the cook, hauled us out before daylight to a breakfast of bacon, eggs and coffee that would delight the soul of an epicure. Dawn found us at the lake all expectancy, nerved up, cheeks aglow in the bracing morning air of that altitude, our hunting coat pockets bulging with shells ready for the sport of kings.

We stationed ourselves in the rushes along the lake at intervals of about 200 yards, and Carey goes up on the lake to "burp them out" for us. At Carey's first shot, on they come, on roaring wings; Crack! Crack! and Charlie has made a double, while Francis and I got in action perhaps two seconds later as they go by, 90 to 120 miles per hour, all varieties, from the smallest teal to the handsome canvasback and lusky mallard. An hour or two and they are pretty well scared out until evening, but we have bagged thirty-two, and return to camp to get team and spring wagon for grouse shooting on the hills.

Tom Quinn has come over to join us. He is Carey's near neighbor, his cabin being only six miles away. He is of Celtic extraction, "right" clear through, has a slight impediment of speech, and the limit of dale-devilry. He knows Charles and Francis well and would be glad to take us with his team. We accept and are soon flying down a long incline with both horses at a dead run. Just ahead is the deep ditch of an old washed out trail, which we miss by a foot, by turning sharply just as Francis and I in the back seat are ready to jump. Quinn looks around with a grin and the information, "I just w-wanted to make Francis h-holier," in which he has succeeded admirably.

Shortly we are on the hills among the grouse, that beautiful species of game-bird peculiar to the American prairie. The dogs are working splendidly and the buzz of wings is almost incessant as they raise out of the bunch grass from the very top of the sand hills, or edge of some desolate blowout. Every man is getting his share and soon the ten birds each, allowed by law, have been brought to bag.

In returning to camp we pass a small lake and spy a few mallards. Charles again makes a double and they fall 10 feet out in the lake. Quinn says the lake is shallow and he will drive the horse and rig in and pick up the ducks. Charles and I are willing to be called land lubbers and stay on shore, while Quinn, Carey and Francis ride out to the ducks, the water being about up to the wagon box. They pause to pick up the birds—the wagon settles in the mire—the horses flounder and one is down and up again. All is excitement except Quinn who says, "S-see that h-horse drown," and as the horses break loose from the wagon he calmly reaches down for a bottle of beer that has been brought along for an occasional sip, elevates his feet on the dash board, takes a quaff and remarks: "Y-you fellows don't know any more about duck shootin' thin a grouse knows about illustratin' a-astronomy." But Francis now evened old scores with Quinn by slipping into the only pair of waders in the wagon and getting ashore, leaving Carey and Quinn to strip and either wade or swim from the luckless craft. My greatest regret was that by an oversight my kodak had been left in camp.

Less than a half mile away a lone wire fence was quickly robbed of 200 feet of barbed wire, one end fastened to the rig, the horses to the other, and after a strenuous pull, the rig was landed, the axles, reach and box, being heavily loaded with the growth and slime from the lake bottom, but otherwise uninjured, save for a broken singletree, which was soon wound with barbed wire, allowing us to return to camp before sun down, just in time to snap a few pictures before the evening flight of ducks on Cody lake.

I might say in passing, that Cody lake is so named after Colonel W.F. Cody (Buffalo Bill), whose original ranch outfit used to be located there.

The evening shoot over, all returned to camp at dark to partake of a supper of fresh fish taken from the lake that afternoon by the ever thrifty Bassett. Fried to a crisp brown, they are fit for the gods, and every hungry man did his full duty.

After supper in camp, as Charles puts it, "is the best part of a hunting trip." It is always the old story, pipes lighted, songs and yarns. Friendships made or renewed here seem closer, and are remembered with a feeling of fellowship most sincere.

  • Ernest Sweet.