Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. October 7, 1894. Omaha Sunday Bee p. 11.

King of the Stubble Field

Glorious Sport Ahead for the Pointer and the Setter.

The quail law was up for 1894 on Monday last, the 1st day of October, and already some very fine bags have been made in the immediate vicinity. All reports concur in the fact that the crop of birds this season is the largest that has been known in Nebraska for a long series of years. In all localities where the conditions are favorable for the thrift of this royal little bird, they are to be found in uncommon numbers. Every stubble field and every copse seems to shelter its covey, and there is a great season's sport ahead. Along the wooded Elkhorn, in the fields and thickets both up and down the Missouri, out on the Loup, Republican and Platte, there are said to be myriads of quail, and as soon as the frost wilts and beats down the leafy undergrowth and strips the trees of their gay foliage, a grand fusillade will be heard all along the line. From time immemorial quail shooting has been a favorite pursuit of the sportsmen, and while it does not begin to rank with the delights of wild fowl shooting, in my estimation, there are thousands of other lovers of the gun who rate it first of all. They delight in the work of the dogs, which no other shooting so thoroughly calls forth, and then the sport is not fraught with the hardships that attend almost every species of autumnal hunting.

The quail is certainly a most delectable table bird and its beauty is far-famed. Not only is he rare in brown and white plumage, but there is grace and poetry in his every move and motion. He is the most vivacious and joyous of all game birds, and ever in cheerful and interesting activity. During the summer months, throughout the breeding season, the quail, alone, of all the gallinaceous family, keep the soft air atune with their melodious whistle. The old cock, perched upon some high fence post or stump, near the nest of his mate, is always tireless in his efforts to relieve her of the ennui and irksomeness involved in the labor of incubation. Then when the shells are broken and the bevies make their appearance, how proud he is and how he struts and parades before their wondering eyes. This has been a great season for fecundity among these birds, the first brood being hatched in most localities out this way and well afoot as early as the middle of June, owing to the dry and favorable weather. In such seasons they always hatch two broods, and if the conditions are auspicious and they are undisturbed by two and four-legged enemies, their increase is very rapid. The duties of nidification keep the hens busy from early in May until October.

In Nebraska the quail's worst enemy is the weather. Our severe winters are too much for them, and in cases of a general heavy snowfall, followed by zero weather, they freeze and starve to death by the wholesale. On frequent occasions from this source the birds have been all but exterminated, whole coveys being often found in corn-shocks and fence corners, frozen hard as rocks. If they are unable to brave the cold they starve to death. In Ohio and many of the eastern states the farmers, who are everywhere friends of the quail, provide against these destructive contingencies by scattering feed in their most frequented haunts and erecting brush sheds for their comfort and protection. As these dangers are much more liable here in Nebraska the example is a good one for our farmers and stockmen to imitate. On several different occasions within my own knowledge quail have been almost wholly extinguished by cold and snow here in Nebraska. This was notably the case in the intensely cold winter of '90. Prior to that they had been fairly plentiful all over the state, but when spring came, following upon that frigid epoch, and the warm sun began its work of extracting the frost from the ground it was found that Bob White was all but annihilated. They recuperated slightly, however, in '92 and '93, but it remained for the breeding season of '94 to restore them to anything like their former plentifulness. They are here now and the strictest pains should be taken to preserve and protect them. The inroads made by sportsmen upon their ranks is the least decimating peril to which they are subjected. At its very best quail shooting in Nebraska, owing to the dense nature of the stream-bordering thickets in which they seek safety on being flushed, is laborious sport, and the birds that fall to the sportsman's gun are as nothing compared to the number which fall victims to rapacious birds of prey, skunks and coyotes, to say nothing of their chiefest danger by summer floods and winter cold and snow.

Another case for the abundant crop of the present fall, aside from the splendid season of nidification, was the open character of the weather last winter. They were quite plentiful in most regions last fall, and as the winter following was one of the most propitious known here far a long time, there being no prolonged cold and but the most inconsiderable snowfall, the bulk of the birds pulled through, strong and robust, to multiply and increase at a wonderful ratio during the summer just closed. A careful adherence to the law—a vigorous interest on the part of both farmers and sportsmen, and mutual concessions about hunting and trapping them, and an unceasing war upon their feathered and furred enemies will go a long ways toward preserving this little king in fairly abundant numbers for years to come.

In hunting quail, and I have had lots and lots of it on the best quail grounds in the world, which are, I am bold to proclaim, found only in central Ohio, it is more difficult to find your birds than it is to kill them. While they fly with exceeding rapidity, in fact there is no bird within my knowledge that takes wing nearly so quickly, they are easily covered by the practiced gunner. They leave you on a direct line, and never pitch or tumble, or twist or turn, like snipe, plover or duck, yet it takes a quick eye and a steady nerve to do the work properly. The majority of sportsmen may differ with me on this question, but few, I think, who have had the varied experience with feathered game that has been my delight and good fortune.

This would be a most charming time to hunt quail in Nebraska was it not for the matted and tangly vegetation which abounds exuberantly everywhere the birds are most likely to be found. The mornings, up to half past 10, are perfect, and so are the afternoons, for such a tramp as would be necessary to make anything like a respectable bag. All talk about certain conditions of the weather for success with the different kinds of game has always struck me as idle. Many sportsmen assert that it must be stormy, blustering, with wind and snow and sleet and rain, for ducks; damp and cloudy for quail and cold for geese, but so far as I am concerned I want the pleasantest weather possible in season for all kinds of shooting. I have seen it in all its phases, from deer and bear on the upper Peninsula, to rail on the reedy Delaware. I have crouched in a blind all day long, with the mercury flirting with zero, back in the sloughs of the lower Illinois, knocking the peerless mallards right and left, and never thought of the cold until the waning light stopped the shooting and brought me to the realization that I was all but frozen to death, and yet I considered it the most capital kind of sport, but not so in the sweet by and by, when the twinges of rheumatism and neuralgia racked limb and body. Then, again, I have had just as fine shooting and made just as big bags of the same birds when the atmosphere was at temperate heat, and know it was sport, a thousandfold more satisfactory and enjoyable. Give me balmy weather and a flood of yellow sunshine to shoot in, always; let it be deer, turkey, duck, snipe or quail, it matters not to me, and I will be content with the luck that happens my way and get my full share of the game, mauger the opinion of the sportsman weather connoisseurs. But we will let that go for further discussion.

As to hunting dogs for quail, of course there is much that could be said, but it is not my intention to undertake to teach sportsmen in this regard. I only give my observations for what they are worth, and never want to be considered as an authority on the sport I love so well. But the dogs, some prefer the setter, others the pointer, but with me it depends greatly upon the condition of the country I am to hunt over, and while from personal choice I prefer the pointer, I am easily satisfied with just dog, so long as he finds the birds for me and is staunch and obedient. Therefore I will not take up any further time in arguing on the often disputed excellence of the two breeds of dogs.