Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. April 28, 1901. [Jacksnipe Shooting in the Spring in the Omaha Vicinity]. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 36(210): 18. Portion of column.

Forest, Field and Stream.

As I intimated would be the case two or three weeks ago, jacksnipe shooting in this vicinity this spring has been of very limited duration. There has been some little sport at various localities on these birds roundabout Omaha for the pst month, but on no grounds, that I know of, have the long-bills been found in sufficient numbers to justify the hard work that it requires to get at them to put in the day at it, until the next week, when they came in in fair quantities on the broad marsh lands surrounding Honey creek lake and on the extensive tussocky fields down the Missouri below the Bluffs. At Ashland the birds have been unusually scarce and but sporadic specimens have been encountered on any of the well known feeding grounds out on the Papio, at Sarpy mills, Cut-Off, Florence, Willow or Manawa lakes.

This is inevitably the case with every backward and long drawn out spring in this section of the country. With the first symptoms of mild or breaking weather early in March the birds begin to arrive, but only stragglingly - in singles, pairs or small wisps, and they keep it up through all the varying meteorological conditions until bona fide spring finally comes down with a swoop like it did at the tail ned of last week, and just when the season ought to begin it ends. In a single night, after a simpering shower, and when the south winds are roving warm and mellow over the land, the main issue of the birds appear as if by some turn of the great prestidigitateur's wand, and lucky, indeed, is the sportsman who happens to go afield the next morning. On some oozy plat of territory bordering any of the marshland country he is apt to find the birds by the hundreds, and the jumping of the first bird, with his thrilling "skeape," is the signal for the rising of scores of others, and away they radiate, up into the sunlit air, and off over the mucky mire in every direction, some tilting back dudishly into the ferzy flags and reeds, while others mount higher into space, until they become mere specks in the sky, then disappear altogether.

Under no circumstances will these birds remain here long. They are already in fine condition. They have made frequent halts for refreshment and rest during their journey up from the limitless plateaus of Texas and Mexico, and are plump of body and strong of pinion. The gravid females are restless and wary to be off to their remote crypts of nidification in the farther north, and the cocks, resplendent in their coat of rich rosewood, are arrogant, but gallant, and only too eager to pilot the way. The sun by noon is as fiery as in July, the slimy marsh, the broad expanse of noxious pulp, while fairly alive with crawling worms and ambitious insects, has lost its real charms for the royal gallinago, and has become a source of execration to the floundering hunter. As a consequence the shooting season is an extremely brief one.

It is the same with all wild fowl. We have had but little real sport this spring. The weather has been too variable, the unfavorable being too largely mixed with the favorable, and the real sort arriving just when it should be giving way to the season that should forever remain closed - the breeding season. The ducks have been flying this way ever since the last of February. Never in any very tremendous quantities, but stragglingly and in an aimless haphazard sort of a way that is unreliable and unsatisfactory, and never productive of good sport. Of course, there were some good bars made on both ducks and snipe - lucky individuals struck lucky days, but for the most part the shooting has been meager and disappointing.

But the jacksnipe.

Few birds in the known world start so fierce a fire in the sportsman's heart as this little russet-colored rover of marsh and sky, whether springing with his strident cry from the oozy meadow at the dawn of spring, or heard high in the evening sky in the painted autumn time when he comes down from the chilling north. It makes no difference by which of his many names you call him. Jack, jacksnipe, Englishsnipe, Wilson snipe or common longbill, there is always an attraction and a charm about him that no true sportsman can resist. Much of this is in the defiant manner and seeming consciousness of superiority which lend so much charm to these lordly game birds, the Canada goose and sandhill crane. No gamer bird ever spread wing than our common little jacksnipe, and no greater marceau ever graced the table of gastronome or epicure. He not only equals the vaunted woodcock and universally admired quail, but in the delicacy of his flavor, in his intimitable succulency and delightful substantial qualities, he surpasses one and both of them, in fact, has no equal up or down the whole gamut of wild game, either domestic of foreign.

Caption: An afternoon with the jacks.
[Full Size]

And he is a foxy rascal, plenty keen enough to keep the smartest hunter at his wit's ends to accomplish his downfall, and then again he is not so wild and wary to make his pursuit disheartening, but snipe hunting generally is attended by the most laborious exertion on the sportsman's part, but in his enthusiasm this never becomes noticeable or worrisome until it is all over and then the recollection of the frantic chase is so sweet and soothing its intenseness is much assuaged. When the chicken and quail once leave you a-wing and then alight and hide themselves it is with the hope that you cannot find them, and without a good dog, I must confess their hope is oftenest fulfilled. But not so with the saucy little jack. He often jumps up, squeaks once or twice at you, zigzags away a few dozen yards, seemingly to distract your aim, then when once out of harm's way, he pops down onto some soft spot and defiantly waits your coming. When he once goes down he says to himself, "Now this big, two-legged behemoth who is after me is coming close enough to make me fly again and I'll give him one more chance to shoot me, and then, if he misses me again, I'll just fly over on the other side of the marsh and give him a run for his money." Then up he goes, just flying close enough to draw your fire, always trusting to get away by superior speed and twisting flight.

Once the spring days have begun, when all the ducks but the bluewings and spoonbills are gone, the jack fills a void in the sportsman's heart. Don't you recall the first day you were out this spring, a little over a month ago, when there was a break in the lowering skies, a breath of sultriness in the air and you were sure that Jack Frost had let go his grip on the boggy pasture land? And then, when once you got afield. Everything changed. Loud howled the winds of March, and bleakly scowled the leaden sky, and while you had your misgivings, you plunged on through the snow and mud, and leaped the roily sluiceway as nimbly as you would have done on a May morning. Not yet had a frog broken the silence left in winter's wake; no liquid note from fretful blackbird among the red-tendriled willows along the creek's shore; no sound from adventurous robins, only the occasional clamor from a passing flock of white geese, and you realized at last that you were a week or so premature. But the spirit was upon you and on you labored, now trudging through the lingering drift of belated snow, now twisting your rubbered foot from out the all-devouring mire, now dragging your form through the clinging reeds, trying to look happy and feel jubilant. Many an acre of dreary dead flags and half frozen muck you leave behind you, and through many an acre of chilly ooze you splash your way, without seeing a sight of life, save the long line of dots off in the northern sky where a flock of mallards are coursing to the frozen fields, or hear a sound excepting the dismal caw of a lone crow flying low over the distant field of bedraggled cornstalks.

But on you go, despite your pinched face and benumbed hands, despite your sinking spirits and jading limbs, until suddenly, so suddenly that you cannot realize its import, "Skeape" is the sharp cry that breaks upon your hearing, and not two dozen yards before you, from a little spring water splotch in the marsh, where the grass is peeping green, there mounts a bit of brown and white, in a shape you know so well, so unexpectedly that the shot from your first barrel hustles by the spot where he just zigzagged east, and from your second, amongst the ghastly rice staffs over which he tilts. But your Dutch is up now. You have seen a bird and must get him. Hurriedly you tear through the rice clump, too hurriedly, in fact, for you emerge on the other side just in time to hear that thrilling note of defiance and see that wisp of brown flush fully 100 yards away. Off he goes, up into the air, then way down to the lower end of the marsh, then circling, comes back again. You crouch low amidst the decaying vegetation in the hopes of getting a shot when he passes over you, but when you think this is a cinch, he veers with a sharpe skeape, bends round, swoops lower and then drops among the niggerheads a third of a mile away. It takes you a quarter of an hour to get near enough to flush him again, but this time you do not shoot, you do not want to scare him out of the country, and you simply halt and watch him as he spins down wind, then changing his mind as quickly again, up he goes, as if bound to penetrate the depths of the very clouds above. But he does not, he simply gets out of gun shot, then makes a wild circling sweep, comes back, and all at once with a sudden whirl falls into a spiral line, and with his long bill pointed toward the earth, down he comes, pitching around backward, alights again upon the exact spot amidst the peeping grass from which you first flushed him.

You had regained consciousness by this time, and you squatted low and waited until you though the jack had had time to forget your intention, when you made the sneak you had been contemplating. For the first 100 yards you kept a gray clump of wild rose bushes between you and the bird, then you almost floated across a bisecting ditch, under the cover of the reeds on the other shore, of which you worked down until you was within sixty yards of the spot where your quarry rested. Then you boldly arose erect and advanced on a half run, but were none to quick at that, for it was only in response to a stray pellet from your second barrel, that the jack cupped his wings, floated on a few yards hopelessly, then gyrated down into the mucky soil. Napoleon never swelled to any larger proportions after any of his tremendous victories, than you did, when you saw that bit of rosewood color plunk into the mud, and that evening, when you strolled into Billy Townsend's and showed the first jack of the season, you were the hero of the hour, and felt as proud as if you had sunk a Viscaya or captured an Aguinaldo.

There were a pile of snipe shooters out on Sunday and Monday last and while some were fortunate in finding lots of birds, others were disappointed. Stockton Heath and the sporting editor bagged seventeen jacks, six sandpipers and one greater yellowlegs on the Sweetwater bottoms Saturday, but on Sunday went to Honey creek and saw but four birds. Eddie George and Dr. Summers did better, securing nine jacks and a brace of yellowlegs, and Charlie Waterman did still better, bagging eleven jacks on the same grounds all by himself. Billy Brewer, Fred Kingsbury, Steve McAtee, Gus Bersheim and Dr. West, the latter trio belonging to the Bluffs, were at Missouri Valley Sunday, the quintet bagging eighty-three scolopax and two or three dozen yellowlegs and bluewings. Billy Marsh was up at the Big Springs on the Missouri, but all he saw was the tracks of other hunters. If there were any birds there neither Billy or old Joe could find them. Wilber Fawcett, George King and Charlie Dooley put in Sunday on the flats down below the Bluffs, Fawcett making a kill of thirteen birds - jacks - while King and Dooley got thirty-seven.

The sporting editor, with his little son, Girard, and Edgar A[not legible] put in Wednesday on Sheelor's [word not legible] up near Calhoun, bringing home with them in the evening eleven fat jacksnipe, a lot of watercress, a good coat of sunburn and a tremendous stock of that tired feeling.