Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold, Sporting Editor. October 10, 1897. [Hunters Pursuits Afield.] Omaha Sunday Bee p. 19.

Forest, Field and Stream.

An Autumn Ramble with the Votaries of Rod and Gun.

There is little or no doubt about it, but wild fowl shooting holds first rank in the estimation of a large majority of sportsmen over and above any other species of shooting. Of course there are those who are more fond of either chicken or quail shooting, but where you will find one enamored of this classic sport you will find a score or more who will tell you that it falls far short in healthful excitement of the pursuit the palmiped beauties of marsh and lagoon. This, in fact, takes in not only geese and ducks, but jacksnipe, crane, yellowlegs, avocets and the plover family, affording the hunter a greater variety of shooting than any other class of game. There is no denying a ramble over one of our immeasurable hay fields and stubble and through thicket and copse for chickens and quail is a royal pleasure, and so even is upland plover shooting, but there is something resistlessly fascinating about shooting geese and ducks over the decoys that claims an overwhelming majority of sportsmen as its devotees.

The autumn season, the grandest of all, with its mists and mellows, is now upon us and we will hear more or less about the sport until the encroaching influences of winter drive the birds to the softer climes further south.

So many men are attracted to the marshes and lakes in the fall that he who has no affinity with such pursuits wonders whether it is really sport or greed of gain that lures so many to the comfortless wilds to brave all sorts of weather and privations in the wild fowl season. His doubts should be easily dispelled. If the average gunner does not get more sport than going out of his yearly outings the balance sheet would show almost over 1,000 per cent against him. But really there is no thought of profit with the true sportsman. Health and enjoyment are the dominant influences. The pleasure comes first in the anticipatory delights of an expedition. If the sportsman happens to be advanced in years he becomes a youth again and the night before the morning in which he crawls into his blind of reed and rice he experiences all the ecstasy of a child with a new toy. If he be a young man, his emotions are as varied as they are beatific and he would not exchange places with the president of the United States. Then comes the actual sport itself, the glories of a mingling with nature in her blandest moods, the exultation over a capital shot, the keen disappointment at a miss, and to crown all the supreme satisfaction and pride felt in bringing home a big bag of birds with which to regale his legion of friends, for they are always legion especially when he has a lot of fat birds at his disposal. Such an outing, be it in spring or autumn, is worth to the happy sportsman more than a ton of physic or all the prescriptions of the most learned of physicians. So, once more, I will reiterate, there is nothing compared with a day with the ducks. Can you imagine a fuller pleasure than a trip to one of Nebraska's famous shooting grounds on a morning or evening, like these we are now enjoying.

How the hunter's heart bounds as he plants his rubbered foot upon the oozy marsh and enters feverishly upon his errand, whether it be for mallard, teal or snipe, forcing his way through tangles of ambitious sprouts, briar and bramble, into lichened crypts, and through thickets of yellow-tendriled willows and Tyrian-dyed maples; entangling grass and creeping vines; rustling cane and swaying rice, the whole landscape aflame with the royal banners of Jack Frost and aflutter with animation and life.

A vagrant breeze, warm and wandering, stirs the waters into azure ripples and bends the reeds into green and yellow undulations, the loitering robin chirps his farewell notes from scraggy cottonwood, the red-wing blackbird twitters from this rose clump and that, or streams overhead in long and musical lines; the jay scolds at every feathered relative that comes within his vision; the crow caws querulously from a distance, and the redtail hawk, cleaving on steady pinion the dome above, all combine in making one grand panorama, as pleasing to the senses as it is entrancing and mystifying.

But about the season that is now just dawning. What will the harvest be? Is there going to be good shooting, or otherwise? These are the stereotyped questions hunters put to themselves, and which are only answered by a trip afield. The summer has been an unusual one, with its hot suns and lack of storms. Still there has been plenty of moisture, and my understanding is that the lakes and sloughs and streams and creeks are all full to almost their normal depth, and I have but little fear that there is a busy campaign ahead for the sportsman. By the middle of this month the main issue of birds will have quacked their farewells to the obscure breeding grounds about the frozen bays of the distant north, and will be reveling amidst an abundance of feed which is to be found within the confines of the Dakotas, Nebraska and even further south. The Canada goose, the royal old honker with his congeners, the wary Hutchins, the white goose and speckled front, the chestnut-hooded canvasback, the noble mallard, whizzing redhead, the mottled widgeon, baldpate, bluebill, pintail and teal, in fact, all the feathered frequenters of lake and river, morass and marsh, are now settling down within our own province for a month's recuperation and rest.

There is little need in telling this, al least to the sportsman. This is the idyllic season of the whole twelvemonth for him. He needs no stronger admonition than the girdled timbered bottoms and the shroud of hazy splendor that envelops the silent hills. He watches with jealous delight the shifting hues in landscape and sky; the sumach burning in shady wayside nooks, and the browning sweep of prairie grass; the silvery sheen on half-hidden waters and the lapis-lazuli of overarching space. These are the pursulvants of the decaying summer time, the signs that stir the hunter's blood and fill his restless brain with visions of waders, canvas jackets, boats, decoys, shells and the numerous other concomitants of his calling.

Before closing I might appropriately add here that all the reports I have received from distant points tend to encourage one in the belief that this is going to prove a great fall for the birds. Mallards have been unprecedentedly plentiful about all of our little inland lakes since the blazing days of July, and teal, both the blue and the green wing, have been encountered in vast numbers, thus showing that a larger percentage of birds than usual evidently preferred to remain in this region and bring up their young to the long and arduous pilgrimage to the fastnesses of the hyperborean lands of the far north. Jack snipe are in in countless numbers, and the crop of yellowlegs and the lesser waders promises to be something remarkable.