Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

[Sandy Griswold]. May 15, 1890. Forest and Stream 34(17): 328-329.

Jacksnipe in Nebraska.

Omaha, Nebraska, May 5.—This has been a great spring for Wilson's snipe, and bigger bags have been made than for a long series of years. There is no accounting for this remarkable flight of the birds, however, and I haven't even a conjecture to offer. I am bold enough to express the belief, though, that Nebraska shooters will not see another such season for many a long year to come, if ever again.

No one who has ever indulged in the sport will deny that spring snipe shooting is about the most enjoyable and exhilarating of all outdoor sports, and still I stoutly hold, as with wildfowl shooting of all descriptions, it should be prohibited by law. This precious little bird only drops down in our marshes and meadows in the warm mellow days of April and early May, to make love and tryst, and secure a little rest and nourishment before continuing its weary flight on to the north. They are on the way to the hatching and breeding grounds, where the sound of man's footfall is seldom heard, and should be allowed to reach here for the brief period that marks their stay, and then proceed unmolested on their way. This would always assure us magnificent fall shooting, when the birds would be as plump and fat as veritable butter-balls, a hundred fold superior to what they are found to be in the spring. But there is no law whatever in Nebraska for the protection of this bird, and any of the water fowl either for that matter. When the jack comes, either in spring time or hazy autumn, you can take your breechloader, go down in the bogs and knock him right and left—that is if you know how—with impunity. Why is this?

The jacksnipe (Gallinago wilsoni) is, in my estimation, the choicest of all our feathered game. The quail or the woodcock cannot be mentioned in the same breath, at least in my opinion. As plenty as they are here, now, they command to $2 and $2.25 in the market. They are little, but they deserve as much attention at the hands of the Legislature as the quail, duck, dove or any bird of insectivorous proclivities. This spring shooting is telling with terrible effect upon their numbers, and within a few years more they will entirely fail to put in an appearance in these, their old haunts. Every year, to the observant and solicitous sportsman, the decrease becomes more and more noticeable, and he calls louder and louder for succor at the hands of the law-makers.

Why do I shoot snipe in the spring, asks the doubting nimrod? I answer him sharply, because all the rest of the Portuguese do. If I hung up my gun alone it would accomplish nothing, save to give some of the alleged shots round here a better chance to make a big bag themselves, and I'll not do it. As long as shooting is permitted in the spring, I'll have my share of it, but I would hail with satisfaction supreme the enactment that should compel all to forego this spring slaughter and give the persecuted jacks an opportunity to recuperate and multiply.

There are magnificent snipe grounds within easy reach of this city. To the west, stretching away up the beautiful Elkhorn Valley, is a low-lying wild meadowland of the richest and blackest soil, corrugated and broken with tufted nigger-heads and trickling rills, making one of the choicest feeding grounds the hungry snipe ever struck. This loamy reach, too, is dotted here and there with clumps of blood-twigged maples, with bunches of wild rose and acres of lilliputian cane, pucker brush, flags and slender-speared buffalo grass, which makes a favorite home for song birds, for turtles, frogs, gartersnakes and an occasional rattler of the prairie breed. In July and August this, too, is a famous rendezvous for woodcock, and I have made many and many a famous bag here. Still it is the jacks' paradise, and as there is more genuine pleasure and excitement in an hour's snipe shooting than there is in a whole day's woodcocking, I will give you my experience out there of ten or twelve days ago.

The Doctor and I went here together, and what a glorious day we did have! South breezes were blowing warm and balmy, the yellow sunshine flooded the forest, field and wallow, and all the conditions were superb for a successful shoot.

Once upon the ground, and Fan, the Doctor's old Gordon, was ordered about her business. I do not usually take a dog for snipe, but on this occasion the Doctor was anxious that his setter should have experience, and as they never come amiss in assisting you in recovering the killed, of course I offered no objection. A dead snipe is about as hard an object to find as the proverbial needle in a haystack. Without a dog much care must be exercised in marking down the fallen bird, and they should be recovered at the earliest possible moment, as the homogeneousness of a well-ordered snipe ground is a wonder and a perplexity always.

Fan looked up into our faces a moment with her bright, intelligent eyes, waving her tail in delighted anticipation. "Hie on!" repeated the Doctor, and with an eager whine she bounded off, dropping to a quick walk with her delicate nose to the ground. After completing a circle she returned and gazed up into Doc's face as much as to say, "No snipe here." She was waved off again and vaulting the conical tussocks, treading gingerly through the brackish pools, searching grassy thickets and reedy caverns, and nosing the ground generally, she made a picture well calculated to stir the blood in the veins of the ambitious sportsman. Suddenly, as the Doctor and I were both astride an old rail fence that bisects the upper marsh, we simultaneously noticed a resilient movement on the part of old Fan; then she became as immobile as if cut from stone, with her dilated nostrils drinking in the scent that came from a small, scroggy clump of pucker brush. "Birds, Sandy," admonished the Doctor, and then in his improvident haste, his rubber boots went "kersock" in the oozy mud on the other side.

"Skeap! skeap! skeap! and away, here and there, and thither and yon, darted little brown and white shapes, twisting and convoluting in the dazzling sunshine like so many feather lunatics, and although taken at a decided disadvantage, astraddle the top-most rail of the old zig-zag fence, I got in two shots, grassing a bird with each, while the Doctor, with language entirely inexcusable, was extricating his rubbered limbs from the agglutinative loam.

At least fifteen birds had flushed, and they had dropped all about us in the undergrowth and grassy slough. Fan still stood crouching, gazing back at us with a wistful, impatient look, but at the irate Doctor's "Go fetch!" she sprang forward and in a jiffy the two defunct jacks were at his feet.

We were not slow in getting to work I can assure you, and as the aid of the Gordon's keen nose was entirely unnecessary, if not a downright hindrance, the Doctor ordered Fan to heel. She followed meekly, with an injured look in her great eyes, as all well-broken dogs will, and we were soon at it.

The freshness, the picturesqueness and the romance of the whole scene were delightful. A few yards on we jumped another flurry of birds, and we both got in two barrels, only killing a jack apiece, however. As luck would have it we both shot together at the last bird, and I had scored a clean miss with my first barrel—overshot the zigzagging little rascal. But the next moment I made up for it by a corking double. "Great shot!" cried Doc from the other side of the swale.

As I reached my lost bird I gazed upon him with queer emotion, as he lay there at my feet in all his delicate beauty—lay there amidst a cluster of peeping dandelions and curling cresses, a glossy, high-bred, high-fed cock.

With what little reference and thought to man exists the greater part of the Deity's creation. Some things appear to be made for his use, but what myriads of others, grand and beautiful, have no connection with him or his presence.

The snipe and the glossy blades of the tiger lily glisten alongside each other in the solitude of the gloomy slough. The graceful birds, the budding vegetation waving in curves of matchless loveliness, the limpid pools, the grandeur of the whole wild landscape, all ask not the eye of the man to admire them. Yet he thinks the world created especially for him instead of being but one of the countless expressions of the Almighty, one of the atomic links in the infinite series of creation. All, from the vasty heavens to the squirming ephemera, are but portions of the mantle which the inscrutable Master wraps about Him for purposes of his own.

Skeap! from the crypt of straggling flags at my very feet, and but a step from his dead mate, flushes an unwary bird.

Where are the influences of my sentimental musings—where the fruits of my moralizing? My Lefevre is to my shoulder—a puff of azure smoke, a sharp report, and the snipe plunges dead into the mud!

Crack! crack! echoes the Doctor's gun.

He has worked off to the right and is beating up a favorite ground of mine down along a tortuous slough, half hidden by spreading splatterdock, the lurking place of the pinkeys and the piping batrachian, where the jacks are found when nowhere else.

Finally the distraught birds became so scattered and wild that it was only at infrequent intervals that we got a shot. I was thinking seriously of getting out of the bottoms, as I had noticed a cloud in the west drop its gauzy ladder to the rim of the horizon, and felt that one of those erratic April showers so common here was about to catch us. The Doctor, however, was in his element, and insisted on staying, and nothing loth, I floundered on.

An April storm! Soon the distant bluffs mingle grayly, then the whole perspective was swallowed. The shadowy groves of willow and maple melted, the further lines of puckerbrush was next in the misty mingle, and then with a rush the shower was upon us.

The marshes, so soft and tender and pleasant in the sunshine of the morning, became in a moment sticky and reeking wet. But this preliminary deluge was of but short continuance. To the wand of sunbeam the misty curtain lifted and there was the instantaneous glitter all about. In a few moments, however, a second installment of the shower came, engulfing the already dripping groves and swaying reeds, and changing again into jewel work under the sun. For the next hour there was a quick intervening of rain and sunlight. The former would streak the scene, then blue eyes would open in the sky. The arcades of the woody groves would glow, darken, be masked in the shower, only to flash again into gold.

Things continued thus for an exasperating length of the time. The Doctor and I were long since drenched to the skin and bubbling over with disgust, but at last, the dingy, lead color above whitened, broke into large fragments and then, as if by magic, the vault overhead was one smiling expanse of blue. Again we started forth, leaving the clump of maples in which we had sough shelter, and working over toward the oozy meadows that ran clear down to the bed of the Elkhorn.

How the blackbird chirped and the robin sang, the whole scene putting on a look as sweet as a fairy face I know.

As enthusiastic as ever amid such entrancement, we reached the meadow lands and here jumped the birds again, probably 30 or 40 getting up simultaneously and whirling and tumbling away in the glistening air in all directions, some dropping down again, like ghosts, among the nigger-heads, not 100 yds. away, while others, perhaps the ones that had been oftenest flushed, rise into space until mere specks, when they circle and dart, and flutter and whir in the most erratic flight, until we grow tired of waiting to mark them down. All about us, in the soft, black soil, we saw where the birds had been boring for angle-worms, while their graceful tracks, crossing and recrossing like net-work, showed how they had been disporting themselves during the spasmodic storm.

We continued our shoot, with varying success, for an hour or two longer, and then, as our game pockets were bulging with birds, our clothes soggy and steaming, our legs weak and unsteady, and our stomachs empty, we started for the city, which we reached just as the tender tints in the April sky were trembling away into the soft gray of the deeping twilight.