Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. April 28, 1889. Omaha Sunday Bee 18(317): 16.

A Day's Magnificent Sport.

A Beautiful Day, Plenty of Game, and a Great Bag.

Chasing the Erratic Snipe.

Snipe Shooting.

The "jacks" are here at last in great numbers, and wherever suitable feeding grounds are to be found there is no question about the shooting.

The writer and Mr. W. G. Ingram spent a day last week on the famous grounds about Honeycreek lake, fourteen or fifteen miles north of the Bluffs. However, before attempting a depiction of the pleasures of this day's outing, let me indulge in a word or two about this morceau of all feathered game.

The English snipe, Gallinago Wilsonii, or as he is familiarly known, the "jack" in the esteem of a majority of sportsmen is the choicest game bird that flies, not even excepting that favored delicacy of the epicure, the woodcock.

Many think the latter, in so far as its incomparable edible qualities are concerned, is a delusion and a myth, and that it is accorded such universal preference on account of the endorsement of alleged gastronomes and the rarity of the bird. Not one cook in a thousand knows anything about serving woodcock, and the bird is apt to come upon the table in as unpalatable a shape as it is possible to imagine of anything so delicate and delicious.

But to go back to the snipe.

Avaunt with your woodcock, your canvasback or quail! Could a daintier or more irresistible dish be conjured up than these succulent little denizens of marsh and meadow afford, especially at this season of the year. Take a baker's dozen, have them neatly dressed, split them open on the back, and with a lump of spring butter and plenty of salt and pepper for each bird, lay them in a dripping pan about two-thirds full of water, then place them in the hot oven, and while in process of baking, repeatedly baste, and when they are thoroughly done through and nice and brown, I'll venture to say you will find them the most luscious dish you ever sat down to.

About Honeycreek lake is a capital snipe country. Just south of the little ellipse of water is a long stretch of low-lying, boggy meadow and woodland that will afford as good shooting as any of the celebrated grounds along the Kankankee. The soil is of the richest black loam, broken up and fractured out of symmetry by conical tussocks of "nigger-heads," with either brackish pools or reaches of dead buffalo grass lying between. Peeping from these now is the tender grass of the dandelion and the lily, while here and there are clumps of swamp maples, willow, lilliputian cane and puckerbrush, making a favorite feeding place for the birds. The "jacks" usually arrive here in their greatest flight during the first warm and genial days of the latter part of March. However, I have known them to put in an appearance in open winters as early as the 20th of February, but in small numbers, restless in deportment and lying to neither dog nor man.

The shooting is now at its height and Ingram and I had a glorious day of it. We bagged forty-one in four hours' shooting and without the services of a retriever at that. For one I do not deem a dog of much advantage in snipe shooting, save for recovering dead birds, for a dead snipe is about as hard to find as the proverbial needle in a hay-stack. The snipe when present, are easily walked up, and afford just as free shooting as when located and flushed by a trained canine.

It was a lovely day, and I told Billy [text missing] and mosses, over lichened logs, through thickets of yellow tendriled willows, red-dyed maple springs and creeping vines.

The landscape, too, was all aflutter and full of animation.

A soft, wandering breeze swayed the naked reeds; the robin sang his blithesome roundelay from the topmost twig of yon cottonwood; the blackbird, rufus headed and scarlet winged, chirped petulantly from this copse and that; a couple of jays scolded us from a near clump of willow; the crow cawed in the distant grove; the hawk winnowed his graceful shape far above the azure waters, and the garter snake, with provident speed, made his sinuous way into the crypts of dead flags from under our rubber boots—the whole scene bewildering the eye and revivifying the fancy.

It will be borne in mind that we did not know whether the snipe had come in here or not. Pat Collins said he thought they had, and I felt certain that they were there from the extremely favorable meteorological conditions existing—the gentle rain of the morning, the frost-freed ground, the starting grasses, the warm, mellow sunshine and soft south breezes.

Nobody knows when the snipe come. Nobody ever saw them come, or leave either, for that matter. They are as mysterious and silent in their arrival and departure as disembodied spirits. They evidently migrate by night, riding in on the first warm wave from the south after the earliest spring rains have accomplished their mission with the frost in the earth. You may visit the snipe grounds to-day, and beat them up and down, and across and back again, until your legs wear out, and never jump a single jack or hear a single "skeap," the inevitable plaint of the startled snipe. But to-morrow you go again and you find the meadow full of them. But if the temperature is not just right they are to be found only in isolated bunches of four and five. They are then uneasy in their habits and flush way out of gunshot, the first "skeap" some times being the admonition for every jack in the field to rise. Under such conditions they are up like a white and brown streak; their notes are sharp and spiteful, and off they go, flying low at first, but gradually ascending until they are but mosquitoes against the over-arching background of blue. Here I have known them to fly for hours in the most irregular peregrinations, making great curviforms in their aerial diversions, now shooting off out of the range of vision, but unexpectedly making their appearance again and immediately overhead, as if dropped from the upper spaces, so erratic and bewildering are their movements. At irregular intervals during this flight, that distinct but far-sounding guttural whir, that tremulous "hoo-oooo-oo" breaks upon the ear, and which weird sound is made now and then by the bird beating its sides with inconceivable rapidity with its wings during its curvetings in the air. There is no telling what a snipe may do; his little head is full of eccentric motions, and he may drop down within a few feet of you, tilting dudishly back in the reeds with the noiselessness of a sprite, or continue his reticulated antics in the air until he becomes the veriest speck in the sky, and then vanishes for good. At other times you find them lazy and sluggish, lying like lead, in fact almost compelling you to kick them up from their wallow in the warm mud. This is the case when the weather is sultry and redolent with the spring-fever, developing thus suddenly after a gradual moderation of weeks, during which the struggling sunshine and drizzling rains together have extracted the frost from the ground and rendered "boring" good for the birds the moment their slender legs settle down. Their long journey, although they make frequent halts for rest, from the south has wearied and made them hungry, and they set to work most voraciously on their arrival and gormandize themselves on the larvae and angle worms, with which good feeding grounds most abound into an indolence and indifference that hardly ever fails to result in the bird's woe and the gunner's profit. Their slow flip-flap up from the grass and reeds makes shooting no trick at all, and under such conditions enormous bags are often made.

For the distance of a quarter of a mile Billy and I tramped through the choicest of ground, with [text missing] vegetable debris at my very feet, one of the little tawny beauties, sounding his warning note, darted, his graceful shape glancing white and russet in the bright sunlight, in his hurried effort to get out of the way of the advancing behemoth. But it was no go; I was quickly onto him despite his frantic evolutions, and at the crack of my gun he dove headlong into the mud.

The loud report, breaking in so harshly upon the delightful melody of wind and bird and frog, started up at least a dozen more, in front, on both sides, and even behind me, none more than twenty yards away, but in the flurry of the moment I lost my head, and made a clean miss of a fine quartering shot.

Ingram too got in both barrels, but it might have been a flock of barn doors so far as he was concerned, he couldn't have touched them any way. Any man who wants to go hunting squirrels with a sword, hasn't got any business in a snipe grounds.

We strode on now, all excitement, and I was in the very act of picking up my dead jack, when "skeap," so close that for a second I thought it was the dead one, but quickly saw the little fat rascal shooting away to my right, and he got it, just as he left off his zigzagging, and plunged stone dead amidst a wisp of cat briers. I was quickly after him, and en route, knocked down another, and made my second miss, at least seven or eight birds flushing in the fifty yards distance separating the two dead. I now cooled down and took things easy, and if it hadn't been for Billy's constant fusillade would have done good work. The birds were there and all I had to do was to go about it in a business like way and kill them.

Shortly I reached a shallow sluiceway, full of young splatter-dock and tender grasses and bordered with low alders, which bisected the marsh. Halting a moment I stooped and examined the black soil at my feet, and discovered here and there and all around where the birds had been probing with their sensitive bills for worms and larvae. As the walking was less obstructed along this oozy rivulet, I made up my mind to give the tussocked prairie a rest and beat down the stream. And well was I repaid, for every moment or so a bird arose and their startled signals, interrupted with brief cessations between by the sharp crack of my Levefer, were constantly sounding on the air.

By this time the rays of sun were slanting over the rim of the western bluffs, and notwithstanding the uninterrupted sport, I was nearly fagged, and with a well filled bag dragged my ponderous feet from out the boggy field, and told Ingram it was time to start home.

As the result of his work Billy exhibited a yellow-headed black bird, two jay birds and a crow. He said the snipe were too little, and he wouldn't monkey with them.

Magnificent sport is sniping in the spring, during the passage of the birds to the remote places of modification in the far north. No sportsman will gainsay; but that it ought to be prohibited by law, too, none ought to deny. The birds tryst and mate during their sojourn here, and by the last of the second week in April in this particular latitude, the ovary contains the fully formed eggs. In the course of time this spring destruction must tell upon them, and I expect to see the day when such a thing as a jacksnipe will be unknown in this region, unless opportune legislation intervenes and gives the birds a change to increase and recuperate.

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