Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. March 3, 1895. Omaha Sunday Bee p. 10.

Shooting in the Spring.

Arrival of the Avant Coureurs of the Feathered Hosts.

The balmy and spring-like weather of the past week not only brought the avant coureurs of the great body of wild fowl now preening themselves in southern marsh and lagoon for their annual migration north, in sight, but likewise filled the heart of the restive sportsman with enthusiasm. Already there has been some few birds killed—mostly pintails and Hutchin's geese—and the gunners are all feverish and impatiently awaiting the arrival of the feathered hordes in force. They are all expecting great sport, but I do not think they will get as much as they anticipate. In fact, it looks to me as if the season was going to be an unusually poor one, still I may be mistaken. At any rate, the advance guard of the birds has come in earlier, much earlier, than is customary, but I consider this but a spasmodic flight that will be of but short duration. There is certainly much inclement weather yet in store for us during the present month, and the main issue of ducks and geese will not start north much before the middle of the month, let the weather be what it may. The very general rainfall of a few days ago has contributed a great deal to the duck hunters' expectations, but it certainly was not sufficient to fulfill the requirements that would warrant the hope of any uncommon sport in this line. It will take ten times the amount of rain we have had to replenish our low lakes and streams and dried-up marshlands, which the wild fowl love to haunt, and to justify a belief that any considerable abundance of sport is ahead. Prior to the recent storm the prospects for the spring shooting were the most meagre for years, and to my way of thinking there has been but small improvement. Such another dry period as this western country has but just begun to emerge from has not marred history in many years. It came on early in June last, reigned uninterruptedly throughout the summer and fall, and but light and inconsequential rain or snow storms have broken the arid sway during the winter months. The result of the summer's drouth was the incontinent drying up of all our small lakes, sloughs and streams long ere autumn properly began, and by the time the wild fowl season was fairly on, even many of the larger bodies of water and rivers were so low that inducement for the birds to linger but briefly on any of their former favorite feeding grounds was so emaciated that the slenderest kind of shooting was the rule. That the conditions have been anywise extensively ameliorated, I doubt exceedingly. For good wild fowl shooting, as I have often asserted, there must be plenty of water. With lakes filled with naught but muck and slime and the marshes but areas of cracked and seamed congregate, there is but little opportunity for the palmiped beauties to eke out a livelihood, and no matter how splendid the atmospheric conditions or favorable the other conditions are, the birds will tarry but a short time ere they continue awing to haunts more in conformity with their necessities for refreshment and rest. There must be more rain, much more rain, before I would venture to predict anything but a repetition of the experiences of last fall. Should there yet be a heavy descent of rain or snow all over the west, on the plains and in the mountains, a veritable freshet, such as would make river and stream fret and froth within their confines and send their waters gushing on to gulf and sea, filling up lake and flooding marshland and, then might we look for rare sport with the kingly canvasback, the lordly mallard, the redhead, pintail, teal and bluebill, to say nothing of the honkers, the gallinagoes and yellowlegs.

Again, the past year's unprecedented baked period went a long way in ruining the crop of feed; there was precious little in the fall and it must be woefully less in the spring. The wild rice fields in the north and west were naught but wastes of dried and empty stalks. Nutritious seeds were shriveled up, and there was nothing but a sere and yellow spread of leaf and tendril everywhere. Where wild celery (speralis vallisneria) once flourished in luxuriance it disappeared absolutely last fall, and all of the aquatic plants and grasses were next to utterly burnt out in many of the best grounds in the state, and it is not likely that the birds will wax fat upon the farinaceous deposits erstwhile so plentiful. They will be forced on to more favored lands before they can gorge themselves upon those subaqueous delicacies that were once their portion here. Hence, the poor outlook for the sport that charms so many.

I am an ardent lover of nature in all her forms and ascribe to this indulgence all that is best and most healthful in my existence. I have acquired much knowledge by outdoor lifer but would fain believe the school has just begun. I am ever willing to picture in glowing colors all that the true sportsman holds most dear, but must refrain from erecting castles in ethereal space or chronicling that which I know would but mislead and disappoint. 'Tis true, the season when life takes on its most buoyant phase is fast approaching, and despite the denial of those elements which afford the sportsmen joy ineffable, there may be a good time coming after all. In any event, it will do no harm to take a ramble in field or wood. It will fill us with nobler ambitions and higher impulses, and teach the pure lessons of self-denial, self reliance, endurance and courage; of the religion that dwells with Nature, where the bared soul

  • "Like Moses, may espy,
  • Even in a bush, the radiant Deity."

Is it not ecstasy to list from out the distant fields to the call, faint and sweet, of the golden-breasted meadow lark; to the chirp and twitter of red-winged blackbirds that swarm in the reeds, and dart in clouds athwart the landscape. Does it not quicken the pulse and thrill the blood to catch the resonant honk of the Canada as he scrapes the clouds with his ashen back; the crane's guttural cry, the whistle of the canvasback's wings, the plaint of the mystic snipe, the curlew's scream or the plaintive piping of the plover, even if they do refuse to come down and poise before your murderous aim, and persist in skimming on over your barren wastes to more salubrious climes beyond? What you can hear and see and feel should recompense you for a few days absence from desk or bench. The fresh odors of the sweet springtime will refresh your lagging energies and leave you with clearer conscience during the long wait for the dawn of mellow autumn, when, with nourishing rains and softly falling dews, Nature will again have filled field, stream and wood with all that is essential to make the sportsman's life as nearly akin to perfect content as can be experienced here below.