Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. August 30, 1908. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 43(48): 2-M.

A Long-Ago October Evening.

The sight of a pigeon hawk mounted on an oak branch and perched in a corner of my living room, recalled to my mind last night a pleasant little hunting incident I enjoyed with the late George Scribner up on Lake Creek, on the Pine Ridge Agency in South Dakota, in October, 1891. In coming into camp one evening from round the north end of the lake above Reshaw's, we saw, some 200 or 300 yards off, through a driving mist, an assemblage of moving objects, which we at first took for a bunch of antelope. A careful inspection soon resolved them into birds, and Scrib cried out, "Sandhill cranes! We ought to get a shot at them, Sandy!"

He proposed that we separate and stalk them from opposite directions, the idea being that if one of us could get a shot at them setting they might give the other a chance by flying over his head. We withdrew the duck charges from our guns and slipped in some No. 3's, and George struck off obliquely to the northwest, while I went to the southwest. After getting directly opposite the great birds, we both began to move, in a crouching position, directly upon them, but of course, slowly and cautiously. They had not yet discovered us, and appeared not to do so, even after we had gained positions not more than 100 yards from them. They were feeding leisurely in my direction, but tending off to the southeast. At last they halted, and instead of looking my way, they caught sight of Scrib, stood still, intently peering in his direction a moment, then came on, moving slowly my way again. I knew by edging a bit to the east they must, if they continued on their present course, pass within fifty yards of me. So I hurriedly moved to the right some twenty-five steps or more and lay down behind a bunch of tuft-grass. I got my gun ready and eagerly awaited their coming. As they drew nearer and nearer I felt certain of my prey. Finally they reached a little rise about forty-five yards from the spot where I was lying, and taking careful aim at the biggest bird in the flock, I let him have it, and then emptied the other barrel into them as they rose. I had the pleasure of seeing one let go and tumble to the ground. Instead of going toward Scrib, the flock flew to the north, doubtless seeking the advantage of the wind to get out of the neighborhood as quickly as possible, and he was a little chagrined at not getting a crack at them at all. My success, however, was solace enough, for at my first shot I had killed a handsome cock bird, and we considered the two victims reward enough.

These were the first sandhills we had secured, and we were much elated over our success. The flock, as we saw those that misty October evening, were majestic looking creatures, indeed. As we saw them they looked about three feet tall, and as they moved about, intent on their feeding, it was with stately grace, and at first greatly resembled a herd of deer. The weight of a sandhill crane never comes up to expectations. They are mainly feathers, legs, neck and tail. Eight to ten pounds is about the best of their weight. They are excellent for the table when well served, but if the cook does not understand his business, they are apt to be too dry. They use to be extremely numerous up on the Lake Creek flats in the fall, but are not at all addicted to water, so far as I have been able to observe. With the first keen frosts they move on to the south.

Of course, our birds were too big to stuff into our canvas coats, even, and the best we could do was to sling them around our necks with a string tied to each of their feet, and let them dangle over our shoulders. We had just gotten ready to start, when a small bird swept into view out of a scud of the mist, and Scrib, hampered as he was with his crane, pulled up and brought it down. It is the pigeon hawk, that from its oaken perch in the corner of my room, looks down on me every time I enter the house, and never fails to bring back that memorable and misty October evening of long ago, with a beloved and lamented comrade, upon the Lake Creek marshes.

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