Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. October 9, 1898. [Jack Snipe Hunting and Sportsmen's Fever.] Omaha Sunday World-Herald 34(9): 23.

Forest, Field and Stream.

The jack snipe have come in and the sportsmen are all in a fever over prospective days in the field. There is no game bird that excites a greater interest in shooting circles than this mysterious and erratic little marshland rover.

The jack snipe is unquestionably the one marceau of all feathered game, not excepting even the princely canvasback, young chicken or dainty quail, the jack is the king of them all. He is a queer little fellow at all times and places and it is a difficult matter to accurately get onto his arrival and departure. No one ever saw them come, or leave either, for that matter. They are as stealthy and mysterious in their migrations as spirit birds could be. To be sure, I have seen the birds, and so have you, deep down on to some favorite feeding ground after having been over the same several times, and found birds there before them. We have both also seen the birds mount high in the gray sky on a clear November day and steer away for point beyond the horizon, and never come back again, but that is always after you have beaten up their feeding grounds and flushed them several times. They do most all their traveling by night, riding in here on the warm waves that precede the frost, or with the first warm rains in the springtime. You may visit the very best snipe grounds you know of today and work them up and down, across and back again until your legs wobble weary and your patience is exhausted without jumping a bird or hearing a single "skeap," but tomorrow go down again and you may find meadow and marsh alive with them.

If there is anything irregular about the temperature when they first come in you will find them in scattered bunches of four and five, but if everything is just right look for them singly almost anywhere. They are always uneasy in their habits at first and will flush way out of gunshot, the first startled "skeap"—the jacksnipe's note of alarum—frequently being the signal for every bird in the neighborhood to take wing. Under such conditions they are up into space like so many russet motes, 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 jumped 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 immediately overhead as if dropped from the upper spaces, confusing and eccentric in their movements always.

At intervals during their aerial diversion they send forth that distant but far sounding hoo-oooo-oo-o made by beating their little ashen sides with extra rapidity with their delicate wings, a wierd accompaniment to their fantastic cavortings overhead. There is no telling what a jack may do, his little bulging cranium is full of odd notions and he may drop down within a few feet of you, tilting dudishly into the saw-grass with the noiselessness of a thistledown, or continue his grotesque reticulations in the air until he becomes but a floating atom against the sky, then vanishing for good.

But when the conditions are auspicious you will find the birds lying close, in fact almost compelling you to kick them from their wallows in the warm mud. This is when the weather is sultry and full of haze, as we know here in Nebraska after a gradual moderation of the summer's heat, and during which the soft soil has become just right for feeding, which is done by thrusting their long sensitive bill down into the mud in quest of angle worms and larvae. "Boring" is what this is called. Their long journeys from the swails of the far north, 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 marshland 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 sportsman. There is a very genuine idea prevailing that jack shooting is the very hardest kind of shooting, and when they are first in this is true, but after they have banqueted a few days on any good grounds their slow flip-flap up from the deaying grasses, reeds and flags makes the shooting no trick at all. A single No. 3 pellet is sufficient to bring one down, and when once you have found them abundant it is a poor shot indeed that will return home with anything but well filled shooting pockets. Still, it is not every man who can shoot well on snipe even under the most favorable circumstances. Men who can grass their whirling quail three times out of five will make many aggravating misses on snipe.

But as I remarked in the start there are few birds that kindle the fires in the sportsman's heart like those, this little rosewood beauty applies the torch to. He is a kingly little fellow and makes royal sport, whether lean or fat, wild or tame, whether rising from the muddy, tussocky bog in budding spring or from the rich tangle of weeds and grass in golden autumn. For a plentitude of the birds the low, loamy marshes and limitless slough borders of Nebraska are hard to beat. They are reported in goodly numbers this fall. While the shooting is the best in the spring it would be hard to match a day like this up in the marsh lands around Honeycreek Lake, or down in the moist and oozy bottoms about Percival and Bigelow.

"Skeap!" There goes a jack now, flashing up like a gleam of rosewood and white, up into the air against the undimpled blue, as if bound for heights unknown. We were not quick enough, and still do not envy his escape, as we stand and watch him until he disappears. All about us are the picturesque effects of early autumn. The dark green of the mazanita has changed into gaudy hues on the distant hillside, the fuzz of the cattails is blowing amidst the yellowing saw grass and the mooses'-ear is rent and flapping. Off on the lake to the left you catch the sheen of a mallard's head, while a flotilla of green wing teal bob like corks in the shallows. In the leaning and bedraggled rice you catch the cardinal flash of the blackbird's wing and from down the misty shores comes the liquid ripple of the yellowleg. The crickets and katydis still make music in the deeper rushes and the wind sighs in harmony over all the sweeet, but melancholy scene. These are the pleasures, the sights and sounds, which greet you when you go forth on one of the glorious fall days for a tilt at those precious little cruisers of the air, the jack snipe!