Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold, Sporting Editor. April 12, 1896. Omaha Sunday Bee p. 18.

The Jacks Are In.

Days With the Votaries of the Rod and Gun.

The jacks have come and the sportsmen are all agog over prospective days in the field. There is no game bird which excites the general interest in shooting circles as this erratic and mysterious little russet colored rover. Unquestionably the one morceau of all feathered game, not excepting even the lordly canvasback, the rare woodcock or dainty quail, the jack is king of them all. He is a queer little fellow and it is a difficult matter to accurately get into his incoming and outgoing. Nobody ever saw them come, or leave, either, for that matter. They are as mysterious and quiet in their arrival and departure as disembodied spirits. They indubitably do their traveling by night, riding in on the first warm wave, or with the first spring thunder storm, like that of last Thursday night, from the south, after the earlier spring rains and genial sunshine are well along on their work with the frost in the earth. You may visit the very best snipe grounds accessible today and beat them up and down, across and back again until your legs wobble weary and your patience peters out and never jump a bird or hear a single "skeap," but tomorrow go again and you will find the marsh or meadow full of them. If there is anything out of whack with the temperature when they first come in you will find them in scattered bunches of four or five, but if everything is just right, look for them singly almost everywhere. They are always uneasy in their habits at first and will flush way out of gunshot, the first discordant "skeap"—the jacksnipe's plaint—often being the signal for every bird in the neighborhood to rise. Under such conditions they are into space like so many white and brown streaks; their notes are sharp and spiteful, and off they dart, flying low at first, but gradually ascending until they are but specks against the overhanging arch of blue. Once risen on such a day, and I have known them to fly for hours, always circling, in their lofty peregrinations but now and then shooting off out of the range of vision, again reappearing almost overhead as if dropped from the upper spaces, erratic and bewildering in their movements always. At intervals during their aerial diversions they send forth that distinct, but far-sounding guttural whir, a sort of a hoo-oooo-oo made by beating their little brown sides with extra rapidity with their delicate wings, a weird accompaniment to their fantastic curvetings overhead. There is no telling what a jack may do; his little bulging head is full of eccentric notions, and he may drop down within a few feet of you, tilting dudishly back into the reeds with the noiselessness of a thistle down, or continue his fantastic reticulations in the air until he becomes but an insect in the sky and vanishes for good.

But when the conditions are all right you will find them sluggish and lazy, and lying close, in fact almost compelling you to kick them from their wallows in the warm mud. This is when the weather is warm and full of spring fever, as is developed here in Nebraska after the gradual moderation of weeks, during which the strengthening sunshine and warm rains have extracted about all the frost from the ground and made "boring" good. Boring is what the birds' feeding is called, as they probe into the mellow earth with their long, sensitive bills in quest of angle worms, larvae and the lilliputian snail, on which they fatten rapidly. Their long journey from the plateaus of Mexico, although they make frequent halts for rest, has wearied and made them hungry, and they set to work voraciously on their arrival and gorge themselves with the fattening provender with which our rich soil teems and which causes an indolence and indifference on the little rascal's part which never fails to result in disaster for him and profit for the gunner. There is a very general idea prevailing that the jack snipe is the hardest kind of shooting, and when they are poor and lean and wild this is true, but after they have banqueted a few days on any good grounds their slow flip-flap up from the sprouting grasses, reeds and flags makes the shooting no trick at all. A single No. 9 pellet is enough to bring them down and when once the birds are found in plenty it is a poor shot indeed that will return home with anything but a well filled bag.

But, as I said in the outset, there are few game birds that kindles the fires in the sportsman's heart like those the jack sets the torch to. He is a grand little fellow and makes royal sport, whether lean or fat, wild or tame, whether rising from the muddy, tussocky bog in breaking spring or from the rich tangle of reeds and grass in golden autumn. For an abundance of the birds the low, loamy marshes and measureless slough shores of Nebraska used to be hard to beat. They are generally pretty scarce now, in these madding days of sport, but still come in here to their favorite haunts in sufficient numbers to furnish a healthful excitement fit for kings. The shooting is the best in the spring and it would be hard to match a day like this out on the marsh lands around Horseshoe lake or down in the moist and oozy bottoms at Biglow or Percival.

"Skeap," there goes a bird now, spinning up wind like a flash of rosewood and white, up into the air against the undimpled blue, as if bound for heights unknown. You are slow, but unenvious even, stand and watch him till he disappears. All about you are the picturesque beauties of budding spring. The dark green of the manzanita is brightening into new life on the distant hill side, bluebells are blowing amidst the marsh grass and the maple's buds are bursting. Off on the lake to your right you catch the sheen of a belated mallard's head, while a mob of green wing teal bob like corks in the shallows. In the leaning and yellow rice and greening reeds, you catch the cardinal flash of the blackbird's wing, and from adown the mucky shores comes the plaintive and tinkling call of the yellowleg. The frog makes music in the rushes and the wind sighs in harmony over all the gladdening landscape. These are some of the delights that await you when you go forth for a day in the sweet springtime with those little cruisers of the air, the jacks.