Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

March 12, 1887. Omaha Daily World 2(171): 2.

How to Hunt.

Three Business Men Invent an Ice-House.

Incidents on a Nebraska Marsh

The Foolishness of the Average City Sportsman—The Charm of Camping Out and Telling Big Lies by the Fire.

On the Union Pacific train from the West on Monday morning last were three red-faced business men, dressing in rather shabby clothes, and watching with almost mother-tenderness three gun-cases, covered with canvas. The trinity live in Omaha and been to Clark's on a hunt. Two weeks ago geese, brents and ducks began their spring immigration to the country places of the state, and according to the gentlemen referred to are now quite plentiful. It is probable, however, that their stay will be short, for unless the melting of western snows shall swell our streams to overflowing, there will be very little water for them. The three Omaha hunters bagged thirty-eight geese and fifty-two ducks, mallards, redheads and pin-tails, and their manner of securing the game, as they detailed it to me, seemed somewhat novel. They crossed the ice in the Platte to the middle of the river, and by the aid of axe and saw constructed each an ice house for a blind. Their decoys they fastened to a neighboring sand bar. "A more complete or effective hiding place," said one of the hunters, "could not be designed. But Jerusalem, it was cold!" Think, if you please, of three respectable and tenderly-nutured business men standing or crouching in an ice house from 6 in the morning to 7 at night of a cold and breezy March day! And they call that sport. They do it for their health. It is their way of taking exercise. I fancy that on that great day when all mysteries shall be solved, it will be found that three-fourths of the American professional men or business men who have hunted in a spasmodic way, because they wished to get "a breath of fresh air," or because it "toned them up," have done so at a great sacrifice of physical strength and health. This thing of rising at 5 o'clock, of lunching on cold foot, of walking or standing all day, of watching incessantly for game, of enduring the shock of the gun's explosions, and the intense excitement of the chase is not rest or exercise of the beneficial sort. If one were to continue it, one would speedily find a grave on the rushy bank of some lone duck-pond. Even if it were possible for a man to endure such strenuous exertions and live, his endurance would come only as the result of working up to the climax by degrees. However, the average city sportsman recognizes no such philosophy. He snatches three days from his desk, flies to the country hotel, compresses the labor of two weeks into his vacation, burns himself, catches cold, strains every muscle in his body until no possible posture is comfortable, and returns to his business a physical wreck. There is only one way to hunt, and that is to take your time. There is more in the heavens for the true sportsman than the ducks and geese that fly there—more on the earth than the quails or chickens that nestle in the grasses. I had a friend who stood on the margin of a lake one evening waiting for the ducks to come in. He was a good shot and loved to shoot. The ducks came, circled round him and dropped into the clear water almost at his feet, but he watched the glory of the western horizon where the sun had set and listened to the evening voices of the black-birds as they teetered on the rushes. He lost the evening shooting, for when the shadows grew so thick and fell so far that the rustle of the mallard's wing or the whistle of the teal was all that discovered the game to him, he had not fired his gun.

Hunting is not altogether a matter of bird murder. I call to mind a day on which three of us set out with guns and tents for a few weeks' sport on the marshes. The time of the year was March and the weather cold. At night we found the rough, unclapboarded shanty of a homesteader, and as it had been deserted we occupied it. In one corner of the one room was a rusty, old-fashioned stove, with legs as long and spindling as those of a sand-hill crane—a veritable deformity, with its oven humped high on its back. But it drew very well and seemed a joyful sort of thing when we got acquainted with it. We went to bed not far from it and along in the middle of the night the rain, which had ceased at sundown, began falling again—began falling through the shanty's cracks upon us three, just and unjust alike. We awoke uncomfortable and after a few words of condolence had been exchanged it was proposed that one of us rise, light the lamp, build a new fire in the stove and mix the coffee—I think it must have been coffee—for the purpose of imparting a general warmth to the interior. The scheme worked very well. The lamp burned brightly, the stove took on a dull but pleasant tinge of crimson, the coffee, if it were coffee, cheered without inebriation. The jovial spirit succeeded the spirit of content and a genuine frolic began. It was very brief. An unwary foot caught on the sprawling leg of the jolly hunchbacked stove and down came the whole business with a red-hot rush, stove-pipe smashing about our ears, and sparks and smoke and combustion filling the room as though a Chicago Anarchist had dropped a bomb there. It was no easy trick for three of us to lift the burning wreck and take it out of doors. It was a necessary trick, however, because if it had not been done and done quickly, the homesteader's shanty with its gaping cracks would have burned, and three young men without fire insurance would have been left to the unmercifulness of a night in March. While catastrophe reigned within, however, a wind which had been keeping late hours down south came up and pushed the clouds away, so that when the stove had been placed flat on its stomach on the ground by the door, the illustrious adventurers noticed that the stars were shining gloriously. I suppose that there must be in every party a man who is a more consummate ass than any of his companions. It was that particular ass of our company who, stopping by the fresh air stove to draw a long breath, saw a large and lambent star hanging in the lowest east. He was neither an early riser nor an astronomer, but he had heard of the morning star.

"It's no use to go to bed now," said this foolish fellow. "There's the morning star, Jupiter Pluvius. The dawn will be here presently," But the other two went to bed, just the same.

The big star crawled slowly up the sky, dwindling in size and lustre as it proceeded, but somehow the dawn lagged. It seemed possible that the great string fastened the twilight of the new day to the morning star had broken, and that the mechanical universe was at loose ends. It must have been an hour after the pretentious planet had emerged from under the long low ridges of the East that a cold, weary and hopeless person left the side of an outdoor stove and slipped under his blankets in an adjacent shanty. And it was still night. No dash of dawn, no suspicion of day, had greeted his smoked and tearful eyes. I have often thought since then that I would study astronomy long enough to ascertain the name of that false harbinger of a reluctant morning. It would please me to get even with that star, if it should ever in its eccentricity wander in my direction.

To meet on quiet evenings after the day's shooting, to talk over the ludicrous events of a sporting past, to tell big lies of prowess and adventure, to compare the characteristics of the game secured, to wander out under the fainting stars when the day is halting in the East and brush the night rain from the bending grasses, to look across the marsh as the sun comes up or sinks, and see the read jeweled ponds with their settings of vital green, to clean the trusty gun and feed the faithful dog, to play seven-up in a tent on a dry goods box and fancy yourselves the innocent successors of criminal vagabonds, to make your own coffee and to broil your own game—all this is sportsmanship. It cannot be enjoyed by any man who leaves an active business for a hunt of three days, no matter how great may be the slaughter which he inflicts upon the birds of the air. To hunt successfully one must have the spirit and the time.

Fred Nye.