Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. December 10, 1905. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 41(71): 26. Continues: 12/17, 41(78): 32, 33. Includes sketches and pictures. Also 12/14, 41(85): 17.

The Last of the Mallards in the Sandhill Marshes

The Story of a Most Delightful Ducking Expedition in the Late Days of November.

Indisputably one of the most successful and enjoyable duck shoots that has fallen to my lot for several years was that during the last days of November with the Hon. Buck Taylor and R.M. Welch. We were at J.M. Gentry's ranch, near Stump lake, 14 miles northwest of Hyannis, and although it was later than they had ever known duck shooting on the sandhills lakes before, we found the mallards and greenwing teal still reveling among the grand feeding beds out there by the thousands. But I am getting ahead of my story.

We left here on the evening of November 23, Taylor, Welch and myself, and reached Hyannis the next morning just in time for a delightful prairie chicken breakfast with A.B. Hosman of the cozy Commercial hotel.

The occasion of our going to the sandhills at such a late date in the season was on a special invitation extended to us by Mr. Gentry himself, Tom McCawley, Bob Hayward and Bud Moran, three of Hyannis' prominent business men and a trio of sportsmen you cannot beat between the Chesapeake and the Sui-Sun marshes. Gentry is a genial, generous, wholesouled fellow, with one of the best stock ranches in the state, with its thousands of head of cattle and fine horses, and a chicken and a duck shot with the best in the land. Tom McCawley is a real estate dealer and a sterling all-round gentleman, as well as one of the crackingest duck hunters in the state. He is well known and highly esteemed by many of Omaha's best sportsmen. Bud Moran is the sheriff of Grant county and has been ever since the county was organized. He is a character and an interesting one, a splendid fellow and white clean through. He has had much experience in the border days of Western Nebraska, and when he gets going he can spin a few that would make Ned Buntline, if he was alive these days, turn as green as alfalfa, with jealousy. Bob Hayward is a capitalist, sportsman and a sterling fellow, too.

We had a fine trip from Hyannis out to Gentry's, fourteen miles across the prairie and through the sandhills. Tom, Bud and I in one wagon, Bob, Buck and ray in another, with the dogs, two setters and three pointers, frolicking ahead or ranging away in their quest for grouse trails on either side. The day-one of the last of the loveliest Indian summer known in this section for years-was perfect, and to say that we fully appreciated it would be but superfluous. The sun was like moulten gold, the wind like wine, and the good things we said and ate and drank en route would fill a good-sized volume. Once just after crossing a low swail, caused by a trickle from the uplands, and were bowling along on the sunny side of a low range of gray hills, we saw an eagle-one of the golden species-sweeping in rather circumscribed spirals above a dome-like knoll ahead of us. Suddenly he poised as if upon a perch, and with pinions winnowing with inconceivable rapidity, hung seemingly moveless in the air.

"He sees his breakfast," remarked McCawley, and the words were hardly free from his lips when the great bird folded his gold-brown wings against his white sides, and with lightning quickness absolutely hurled himself head downward, toward the crest of the knoll, whizzing through the trenchant air like a bullet!

Of course we could not see what he was after, and in a second the rim of the dome hid him from our view, but the net instant we saw an old hen grouse scurrying affrightedly from the spot where the eagle must have aimed at, and heard he shrill kuh-kuh-kuh-kuh! as she darted on swiftly across the big draw and over the neighboring hill. Almost at the same instant the grouse burst into view, we also saw the eagle rise, and as he lifted himself majestically into the air, a fluffy feather or two floated lazily away from where his sharp talons were curled up under his speckled belly, and we all realized how close, indeed, had been the call on old Mrs. Grouse.

"A miss is as good as a mile," said Tom, "and I'm glad he didn't get her!"

"Do they destroy many birds, do you think?" I asked.

"Oh, not so many, I do not believe,: he replied, "and what they do get they are entitled to. You see I am not one of those sportsmen who make a bugaboo out of eagles, hawks, owls and crows-they kill grouse to eat, but don't we? Grouse are the natural food of those birds, as much as hay is of the horse and cow, and it is ill-befitting in us to grumble and complain when they take a bird or two we think ought to be left for us. But I was awfully pleased that old hen got away. She was so scared, and then-well, she may reach our frying pan yet before we get out of the hills."

That was one of many interesting little scenes we enjoyed, and it seems that I can never tire of telling of these trips and during the long winter days before us I will probably have much in this line to talk about.

Like Thor, whose pictures of the outdoors were the delight of the days of my youth, I have loved nature since old enough to know what nature was, and there is no scene, however bleak and dreary to ordinary eyes, but what I find some beauty in it. It is all the same to me, hills or plains, sky, lake, streams or wood, I have always worshipped them, aye when alone and amidst the loneliest of solitudes, as fervently as when with as congenial camaraderie as on the occasion in question.

We reached Gentry's along about 11 o'clock, and he was there to meet us, along with the farm hands and Alfred Gustavason, the French chef from Stockholm. Of course everything upon our arrival was all hurrah and bustle. Gentry was tickled to death to meet us and so were we to meet him, and the first procedure, all around, of course, was an attestation of this mutual happiness via the neck of a bottle of Yellowstone, with a glass of Colfax on the side. All feeling pretty good, Alfred proceeded with his dinner, which he had under way before we got there, while we adjourned from the range house itself to the adobe lodge Mr. Gentry devotes to his hunting friends, and mind it, too, he entertains no one for hire, if you go to Gentry's it is only on an invitation from Gentry, and as Gentry's guest. Well we soon had a roaring fire blazing in the stove in the sod house, for despite the suave sunshine without, it was cool in the shade of the interior, and gathering around it we told stories and swapped jokes until summoned to the banquet board.

Talk about your spreads in palaces or the swellest cafes in the universe, what are they compared with a feast prepared for a lot of hungry duck hunters, especially at Gentry's? How the hot cornbread, tenderest of sirloin roasts, grouse stew, baked potatoes and fried onions, with a steaming cup of fragrant old government Java on the side, did disappear. Truly it was something marvelous, and if the bottomless pit is anything like the stomachs of Welch and Taylor it must really be something awful, indeed.

The meal over a couple of hours was devoted to pipes and cigars, than we donned our shooting togs and waders, a couple of Gentry's teams were hitched up and the whole party set out for the north marsh, where Tom and Bob predicted we would find plenty of birds, and great shooting walking up the feeding mallards in the scattered rice and tules, and to wait the evening flight.

On the way we had to pass along the east shore of Stump lake, and on surmounting the low sandhill overlooking the same, we were electrified by the sight of thousands of ducks feeding along the farther shores.

As we rattled down the incline a big flock of redheads-one of the few bunches of birds of this kind we saw on the trip-flushed from the offing beyond the nearest bay and went hurtling like a charge of canister, down the middle of the broad expanse of open water toward the west end.

"The Burlington flyer," exclaimed McCawley, as the birds curved up into the air and faded out of vision up over the hills against the pale saffron of the western sky.

As we reached the north shore I noticed hordes of birds jumping from a patch of thin rice out in the lake a couple of hundred yards, and telling Bob to throw me out a sack of decoys, I had gentry pull up the team and I got out. Although they remonstrated with me and advised me to stick to the wagon and go on over to the north marsh. I told them that spot suited me, and that I would remain there and they could pick me up on their way home in the evening.

So they left me.

I dragged my decoys out through the water, more than waist deep, and reaching the thin rice, set them out in a small bayou on the west side, then broke down a few stalks to thicken my blind up a bit, took my stand and waited.

All was still and lonely.

The purple haze that seemed to absorb the last chilly rays of the November sun enveloped the lake and bordering marsh, as well as the surrounding landscape of prairie and sandhill. The tall rice stalks stood straight and silent as if cut out of gray stone. Everything was silent, save off in front of me a little ways, well down towards the shore a large number of mallards were wallowing in the shallows. An occasional twitter was also heard, subdued and silvery, as though the little brown marsh sparrow who voiced it was in awe of some impending calamity.

Only a single redtail hawk was indifferent to the prevailing lethargy which enthralled all animated nature. The solitary bird was in his element, and industriously swooped from point to point, dipping, poising and rising, then sailing away over the brown tules as noiseless as a thistle down.

At last relief came to hand. A murmur of delight among the yellow rice stalks, a whisper of welcome to the light evening breeze came up from the south. Now it frolicked among the bursted cattails and danced over the quiet pool where my decoys were bobbing. All nature seemed to awaken and new life leaped through my veins. Phoebus, in his gilded chariot, entered the homestretch through a gateway of rosy clouds. The shadows lengthened behind me, until my own, like some fabulous giant, ran far back toward the foothills on the plain.

The moments dragged along.

Long dotted lines crept out against the sky in the west. It was the ducks coming in to roost. They had put in the day in the adjacent sloughs and on the distant prairie ponds and were now headed for a night's tossing on the bosom of the lake. The long lines came widening out and sliding down, and out of the horizon they rose in bunches, hanging for a moment against the rosy clouds, then bearing down upon me.

Over the bluffs on the south where the land rolls into the vast expanse where the land rolls into the vast expanse of the prairie they came, no longer singly or in pairs, but by the battalion, and swifter than the now stiffened wind itself thousands came riding in on the last beams of the setting sun. The sky above was specked with converging strings or straggling masses. My gun barrels were heated with rapid firing and I paused as the limit was reached.

How many did I kill and what did the other boys got-well that is a secret that will keep another week.

Duck Shooting Days Out on Gentry's Marsh

The Drive Back Home After the First Day's Shoot, Amidst the Glories of a November Night.

When the wagons returned from the north marsh that evening they found me awaiting them with as nice a bag of birds, most all mallards, as you ever laid your eyes upon. The fact is I had pretty nearly as many birds as their whole party together, that is, ducks, for in addition to their bag, they had some eighteen or twenty grouse. That they were surprised is drawing it mild. The idea of the oldster skinning a bunch of such expert young bloods as Tom McCawley, Bob Hayward, Buck taylor and Ray Welch was something which exceeded their wildest dreams.

After a little good-natured persiflage, my birds and decoys were tumbled into one of the wagons, and climbing in after them, we drove slowly back home amidst the glories of a rare November evening. There was no sound from the late autumn night watchers, excepting the long drawn and lugubrious howl of a coyote came from the distant slope's side. The eastern sky had grown into a purplish black, but a thousand varied and delicate hues, yet lingered in the west above where the sun had sank, and against this faint background we traced many lines of flitting dots which we knew were ducks hurrying to roost.

It was good and dark when we reached Gentry's, but our host was there before us, and he not only had a glorious fire roaring away in the sod lodge, but the Yellowstone bottle and glasses set out temptingly on the table, and both rooms lit up with the brilliancy of midday. It is needless to say what our first procedure was, but the next was the exchange of our damp hunting duds for dry clothing, and then came a supper, one of Alfred's best, which is equivalent to saying that it was enough to have tempted the gods.

The afternoon's work had admirably prepared us for a dreamless bed and after a smoke and a half hour's good-humored rattlery, we tumbled in and were soon lulled to sleep by the plaint of the south wind whispering through the crevices in the sod walls, the yelping of the prairie wolves on the distant hills and the never-ceasing sonorous aria from the nasal cornet of the Hon. Mr. Taylor.

Perhaps all duck hunters, no matter how great their stock of vitality, know what a hard matter it is to quit a warm pile of blankets at half-past 4 on a keen November morning, build a fire, get breakfast and sally forth in the damp and frost for the morning flight. But all duck hunters have done it, and will continue to do it, I suppose, as long as there are any ducks left, but not so with Buck, ray and myself, on this occasion. The fact is, we didn't waken until it was fast getting light, and when we did that same old fire was roaring away in the base burner; that same old Yell-the truth is-it is almost a shame to tell it.

"I forgot to tell you," remarked Welch as we were all working away like beavers about the breakfast table, "About the canvasback I killed last evening."

"Canvasback," I interrogated, "I have not seen any canvasback. Merganzers, you mean."

"Well, maybe you know what I mean better than I do myself. I said canvasback and that is what I meant. I killed two of them, but they both got away-"

"Killed them-and they got away. That's a good one. Ha! ha! ha! ha!"

"Just close that cavern of yours, you act is if you thought no one had any license to kill anything but yourself. I suppose you would make me out, if you could, no bigger'n your own conscience, and gentlemen," and Mr. Welch waved his fork like you've seen Sousa wave his baton, "if you can find anything on earth smaller than that, you'll have to use a microscope, that's all."

"But the canvasback, Raymond, the canvasback you'll forget just how many did get away from you if you don't spit it out before it gets cold.

"To hell with the canvasback! Just keep on blabbin' yourself; you've done all the talkin' on the trip so far anyway, and it doesn't affect me or my credit. I tower above it all like some tall cliff-"

"All ready, boys-come on, we're wasting time. The birds are already moving and we want to be off. Hurry up, the teams are ready and we've quite a ways to go."

And McCawley, who had finished his breakfast before we sat down at the table, appeared at the door, bun in hand, and all togged up ready to start.

In a remarkably short time the rest of us were ready, and we were soon rumbling down the valley toward the east marsh, over which we could already see many birds circling.

In the meantime the pearly light in the east had changed into glowing amber and the feathery clouds at the zenith had flushed with crimson and the day was rapidly breaking. The sandhills began to creep out bold and distinct from the massed mist and prairie and a filmy vapor to crawl upward from the distant tule beds. The barren points came out more and more plainly and the timid piccolo of a lagging meadow lark now and then tinkled through the air. As we hurried along, the open water at the east end of the Gentry marsh, burst into view, in diffused but still sober colors, here a slab of marble, gray, there a polish azure, while the streaky clouds above were blushing into rose. A few moments later the long diaphanous mass along the eastern hills turned from ruby to gold. Sunrise in the sandhills, with its wondrous and mystic beauties. We were on the marshes' low selvedge now and the open waters at their head were glancing with all the hues of a prism-red and orange, green, blue, purple and violet. Yellow lines ran along the gently swaying tops of the rice and reeds, the east fairly gleamed with royal banners and at last through a vista of the sentinel sand dunes, poured a flood of golden balm, the luster of the rising sun.

Suddenly that rare melody of beating duck wings greeted us and looking upward with one accord, we all saw a big bunch of grand old mallards curving in the air, but too high for a shot. Then a big brown hawk rose with a flourish from the thick cane and sweeps on around and down so close to us that we catch the flash of his wild eyeball, and as he sweeps off across the yellow lowland, the teams are pulled up for a consultation. This results in Welch and myself getting out for the purpose of shooting over decoys on the open water, while Tom, Bob and Buck are driven by Bud on around the lake to the other side, where they enter the marsh, the intention being to jump the birds from the tules and give Welch and myself the benefit of their movements up and down the open water.

The wagon halts on the distant shore, the canvas-clad trio are swallowed up in the rushes and Ray and I get ready for action. We were standing in the tules in the water up to our waists, our decoys floating idly in the open. Before a bird had been flushed by the distant wading stalkers, we were startled by the sudden and affrighted quack of a mallard, and glancing up we saw a pair which had been coming straight upon us, evidently, but were now turning back upon their course, having undoubtedly detected our couchant, but not very completely hidden forms. To sling his gun ahead of them was instinct with my companion and at his first barrel the hen came whirling into the rushes, and at the second a little puff of fluffy feathers floated dreamily in the rear of the old green head. He killed one and wounded the other.

"Good," I cried as Ray started out to retreive his bird. He disappeared in the cane on the opposite side of the open and I heard him moving gingerly about within the watery labyrinth, then I heard him returning, soon catching a glimpse of his dead grass coat, then his head and shoulders emerged from the reedy thicket, and holding the dead duck by the neck, he waded slowly back to our blind.

We were looking at and admiring the hen-a big, fine fat bird-when we heard a distant report, then another and another, and almost instantly thereafter descried a tremendous big flock of birds over about where we thought the boys ought to be. They were coming on swiftly up the lake and we had no more than time to settle ourselves on the muddy bottom, than they were upon us. They were considerably higher than we thought, but with our four barrels we succeeded in cutting out a pair, one falling out in the grass on the shore, the other falling wing-tipped in the water on Welch's side. Ray started for the latter, and I for the shore. I went straight to my bird, but Welch had a great flounder in the reeds and waters after his. Mine was lying on his back in a dying condition in a little break in the long grass, a grand old emerald-headed drake.

As I looked down upon it I could not help thinking that such a beautiful creature ought to be sacred from the hand of man, and it was really with peculiar emotions I gazed upon the peerless bird. He was lying at my feet, lying there in a tangle of heavy marsh grass, in all his delicate beauty. He was still gasping, and drawing down his green-hooded head spasmodically, until a last heaving of his chestnut breast and his relaxed form told that the final struggle was over. There he lay, the king of all that wild marsh land, so lately cleaving the shimmering air in the glory of his strength of heart and speed of blue-banded wing, his wariness, cunning and caution, there he lay, with a gory splotch on his white velvety breast-dead! Imperial-if such a small object can be imperial-and beautiful to the last, his sloe-like eyes still upon me, flashing in defiance, even through the mists of death.

"Down," I hear Welch calling to me, and dropping in my tracks, I peer out and see a bunch of birds, like aerial racers, coming up the marsh. In fact, there are birds in sight in almost every direction; a mass of them were circling round and round over the center of the tule beds down the lake, and large and small flocks were flying aimlessly across and back the lower end of the marsh and over the glinting sandhills, beyond the valley. Tom and Bob and Buck had been steadily at work since their first shot, and the frequent crack, crack, crack of their pieces apprised us that they were endeavoring to make a kill that would ope our eyes when we again met at noontide. Taking in the surroundings I again fasten my eyes on the big bunch Ray had called my attention to, and I saw them swing up the arm of the open water, right over our blind then comes two puffs of thin, bluish smoke, two reports in quick succession, and I see three birds let go, all falling in the reeds where Welch stood, and no two a half dozen yards apart. That was easy. Ray hardly had to expose himself in gathering his kill, and well it was for me, for at this very instant, when I had about half risen from the grass, I caught sight of a long line of birds whizzing down upon me from the grass. I caught sight of a long line of birds whizzing down upon me from off over the sandhills to the north. I fairly fell upon my face. There was no need of admonishing Ray, for he had seen them, too. On, on, they came, and I quickly saw that they were greenwings. This I had barely decided upon when they reached the margin of the grass patch, but, instead of coming straight on, they suddenly swerved as if to go round me. They had not detected men, and this turn was but a whim of their erratic natures. But it was a lucky thing for me that they didn't come straight at me in a line, for I couldn't have possible killed more than a bird or two, and might have missed altogether, for a line of incoming teal make about as elusive a wing target as I know of. As it was, this bunch of birds curved around just right, giving me a raking shot from crescent end to crescent end, right through the main bunch, and I didn't do a thing to them. Must I tell it, well I only knocked down that unlucky number thirteen, a good bag for a whole day's shooting, any time. I thought it was bailing greenwings for a moment, and as the dead and crippled when gyrating over and over amidst a cloud of flying feathers, and into the grass beyond me, I thought I had killed a hundred of them. Ray let out a yelp and as he did so, the remainder of the flock flew together, going up into the air like a sleigh runner, and then with another of those incomprehensible convolutions for which Anas crecca is famous and alone capable, swooped round with a rush of wing, and started right back toward me again. I sounded softly that little jerky whistle that is so seductive to them and down they dive toward the earth, as if determined to find out what had become of their missing companions. But they wasted no time in their investigation, nor did I in preparing for them. I slipped in a couple more of those matchless Ideal shells and as they swept around my short grass hide again, I gave them another dose of chilled shot, but in contradiction to my first efforts, I only dropped a single bird, an anomaly I wish some son of a gun would explain.

"Bah," yelled Welch, and I felt like turning my Parker on him, but then the thoughts of the fourteen green wings I was sure of, alleviated all pique and disappointment, and I watched the rest of those fool birds, like little rufous streaks, scud off toward the lake, out across the reed fields and over the low hills toward Abbott's lake, and at the rate they were going, I don't believe they pulled up before sundown.

Were those fourteen dead birds strewn along there in the waving grass, the fruits of my emotions, my moralizing and sentiment over the dead mallard drake, it certainly must have been the case. Fourteen teal with four shots Monstrous! you say. But just wait a minute, think carefully over the long list of your sportsmen friends and convince yourself if you can, that any one of them, among the whole number, would have refrained from taking those shots, especially the two first ones, with which I grassed thirteen of those fourteen birds. No, no, don't give me any of your mockish guff, for you know there are few mellowing influences and little mercy in a duck hunter's blind when the birds are flying thick. ALl refinement of thought is left for indulgence after the shooting is over, with about every man who loves the sport. I've seen them all in the field and shot with them, too, ministers of the gospel, lawyers, doctors, merchants and capitalists, and I've found them all alike, all swayed by the same desires, the same impulses, all made out of the same kind of stuff. Slaughter, till stayed, nowadays, by the mandates of the law is ever the dominant attribute of the gunner crouching in rice, willows or reeds, let it be on the Chesapeake's legendary shores, within Koshkonong's rushy domain or along the flag-draped borders of the lonely marsh in the sandhills.

But I am stretching out this installment a trifle long and again I will say adieu until another Sunday. However it might be well to turn to page 30 and take a glance at a series of half tones of this wonderful sandhills country and some of its equally wonderful people.

Typical Scenes in Nebraska's Hunting Grounds

Where Sandy Gets His Inspiration for the Interesting Stories Every Fall for the Sunday World-Herald.

Drawing the grouse for preservation. [picture caption]

The scouts preparing a banquet in the field.

Gentry's residence in the sandhills.

"Cuss," Bud Bower's famous English setter, one of the best chicken dogs in the sandhills.

Ducking Days

Glory of the Sandhills as the Sportsman Sees It

Last Day With the Ducks Out at Gentry's for the Year About to Close.

Notwithstanding the birds were still flying numerously over the marshes and both Ray and the boys down on the lake were popping away at them, after gathering my fourteen teal in a pile, I threw myself in a recumbent position and made up my mind to simply look on a little while and enjoy the charming surroundings and rest until Welch's feet, which must have been gradually freezing in that ice-cold water, would drive him into shore. As I lay there and viewed the scene's quiet repose, I thought how beautiful indeed were these late November days, mellow as those of mid-October. It is in just such days which nature stills her throbbing pulses, the reeds sway with more tranquil grace, the call of the laggard meadow lark comes in softer tones, and the waters lapse into calmer ripple. Poets, whose hearts are filled with thoughts of the sublime and the beautiful, love to depict the last bright, lingering days of autumn, and the work spreads tranquility over the soul. What images crowd the fancy when gazing upon such a picture of charming solitude; what serene joys of thought, what pure and lofty sentiments are its off-spring! The fact is, it is more than half the chase, that is to the sportsman whose heart is in the right place and, I am proud to confess, that I enjoyed it almost as well as I did the shooting itself. It was now nearly noon and the atmosphere was almost as warm and balmy as that of September, and as I lay there waiting for the incoming hunters, I found a most agreeable occupation in watching the pictures my fancy wove in the lace-covered sky. Light fluffy clouds had flecked the dome all morning, and a soft breeze having sprung up, there were wondrous doings above. The blue was that of tender tint always seen over the sandhills and through this I seemed to penetrate to unbounded depths, beneath which November's breath weaved its graceful cloud paintings. There goes a palace of pearls, with its turrets, pillars and battlements, followed by a grove of palms, while off beyond, a flotilla of queer crafts bears up; then a steepled cathedral, a range of mountains, with their ragged cliffs; a cavalcade of plumed knights wrapped in fleecy mantles, and way off along the southern horizon, looming high in the clear air, are many superb Alpine peaks. Below, all about me stretching away to the sky line, is the yellowish prairie or gray sandhills. Of course, there is much homogeneousness in the picture, but the claim that the sandhills country is dull and tiresome and absolutely devoid of beauty is erroneous. It may be so to unappreciative eyes, but not to those of the sportsman. To him there is exquisite beauty in all this monotony and a wagon journey through this country is of much interest to those who love nature in all of her varied forms. They see beauty in the barren rock, the dead snag and the sandy plain. It does not require Himalayan peaks, majestic cataracts, Venetian skies, frowning forests, flashing lakes and dashing streams to enthrall this class of students.

The sandhills of Cherry county present the rounded, domelike summits of all sandhills, and yet at places, despite the fact that there is no trace of the hypersthene in their formation, they are in some places, cloven and windblown into jagged whitish chalk-like peaks, which in altitude sometimes touch hundreds of feet, veritable mountains of sand and scraggy vegetation. In the summer time, many of the inter lying valleys and high table land are clothed in patchless verdure, with myriads of other flowers than those of the topaz aliofolia, including the lobelia, with its fragrant azure blossoms, the speckled disked poppy and the cacti in many forms. And then again, anomalous as it may seem, lying within the lonely basin of the hills from way up on the Big White river in South Dakota-threshold to the bad lands-clear south down through Deuel county to the sprawling Platte, is the most marvelous chain of lakes to be found anywhere upon the face of the broad land. Many of them are connected by insignificant streams, filled with pure cold water, save where they trickle through the intensified alkaline stretches which frequently streak the region. These, primitively, were devoid of piscatorial life, but now in many instances show where the state fish commission is doing good work, in the redundance of trout and rock bass that are found. But while speaking of the sandhills, it might be well to remark that they extend somewhere from the middle of the state, both north and south, quite 250 miles west, until the high plateau paving the way to the altitudinous state of Wyoming, is reached, where there is a shifting of the scene, the character of the landscape changing materially. Just what I style the sandhill Sahara, however, begins with central Cherry county and stretches away like an arid waste southward beyond the Platte river and west into Cheyenne and Dawes counties, Deuel county being about as near its thoracic center as any point I can think of without consulting the map.

There is chain after chain of sandhills in this county, undoubtedly left there by the receding waters of some prehistoric ocean. They are queer conical shaped piles of sand, with their countless tufts of yucca and scant and sickly looking grasses. In this region the yucca is commonly called soapweed, a name it gets from its saponaceous properties. It is also called bear grass and Adam's needle, and is a close relative to the Spanish bayonet. The Nebraska sandhills yucca is a genus of the American liliaceous, sometimes arborescent, and is a really attractive plant in looks, with long sharp pointed leaves, which stand up perfectly rigid from the body of a more or less woody stem and in the summer bearing a large panicle of showy yellow blossoms. It is ever green and one of the toughest plants known to botanical science. Sometime when you are in the sandhills, try to imagine you want a specimen for transplanting and attempt to dig one up. You will soon be willing to abandon the task and tackle that other abomination of the sterile waste, the Russian thistle.

But as barren as the sandhills are alleged to be, by the ignorant only, however, I could go on for hours and dilate upon their attractions, but we'll leave that now till another time and go on with our hunt.

It was just 12 o'clock when the rattle of the approaching wagons awoke me from my pleasant dreams. Welch, too, had come in and was busy tying up his ducks down on the shore. The birds had quit flying and Tom said they had all left, gone over to Abbott's lake or off to the distant marshes around Mother and Big Alkali. Loading up we all got in and drove over to Wiltse Abbott's abode ranch house for dinner, and while we found no one at home, we took possession, as is customary among those generous, free-hearted sandhill kings, and got our own dinner-potatoes boiled with the jacket on, a warmed-over pan roast we found in the over; a big pot of hot coffee, slap jacks, dill pickles and Bermuda onions. That wasn't so bad, was it? Then Sheriff Moran went to the telephone-oh, yes, there was one there, as there is in almost every ranch house in the region, and called up the Commercial House in Hyannis and was lucky enough to catch Wiltse there. He told him who were in our party, that we were at his house and had just finished dinner, and that we had about cleaned out his larder. Abbott yelled back that that was bully! Then he inquired if we were able to find enough to eat, if we were not, he added, we could bake the cat and eat her, and if she did not suffice we'd find a bundle of coyote skins behind the door that might taste good. Then we left the Yellowstone bottle, with a few stray drinks remaining in it, on the table with a note inviting the big, good-natured Abbott over to Gentry's that night to hear Welch and Taylor sing, and to help us enjoy ourselves. Did he come? Well, I should say, and the time we had around the fire that night will always have a green spot in memory.

An hour after leaving Abbott's we were back on the Gentry marsh again, and while Buck, Bob and Tom remained there for the return of the birds in the evening, Ray and I had Bud drive us, back to Stump lake, where I had shot the first afternoon and evening. When I tell you made the trip in an airship; I may give you some idea of how Moran makes those western Cayuses go over the bumps. By 3 o'clock we had our decoys out and were in the same old blind, while Bud drove over to the north marsh to start the birds we knew were feeding there by the thousands.

The sun was fast lowering toward the top of the western hills when Welch peering out from the rice stalks to the west, whispered:


It was a rush of mallards and they came rushing down the wind with tremendous velocity. I took the lead and Ray the rear, according to our positions. We both downed our bird. Welch's was killed stone dead, but mine was only wing-tipped: I shot him over immediately, however, and Ray retrieved both birds. Another bunch came in almost immediately, but they swung out rather far. We heard the shot rattle against their sides, but they were a foxy old crowd and continued on their way up toward the polaric zone. Again, we had hardly recovered from our chagrin, when still another bunch of mallards-there must have been sixty of the, came straight into us. We waited until they dropped their red orange legs to light among their wooden prototypes, when we cut loose together. Three birds fell, while a fourth, who had received a few stray pellets in the fusillade, swerved from the main bunch, as they tore straight away, and flying back of us crossed the intervening water, went over the shore and fell on the hillside a quarter of a mile away.

"He's our meat. We'll get him this evening," remarked Ray.

Some few moments later my companion's keen spectacled eyes discovered a flock of birds circling over the wapoto beds across the lake to the southeast and he asked me to call them.

After a moment's shrill squawking I succeeded in attracting their attention and they quickly started to come over. They were not long in getting their eyes on the decoys, but shied past just as we thought they were going to come in, and deflected to the left. They made a circle of a mile, then came bearing down upon us again. As they approached I gave that running clucking call, so enticing to the hungry mallard, and almost immediately they turned and came swiftly but suspectingly in a straighter line toward us. We saw that they were extremely timorous and we tacitly, as duck shooters often do, in a blind, agreed upon taking a long chance. Sure enough, when within possibly fifty yards of our blind they dished, with a sibilant sound of wing, and began to go heavenward at the a rate of about two miles a minute and feeling that they were off, and this was our only chance, we let them have it. To our utter astonishment three birds fell, all killed clean. And there again, before we could retrieve, came that electrifying admonition:

"Mark! Mallards! From the north," and over the hills I saw them coming, a single pair, and evidently set going by Bud over in the big marsh. The wind, which had been gradually shifting around in that direction all afternoon, assisted them considerably, and it required a few seconds only to bring them in. As they caught sight of the decoys their natural wariness and caution returned to them and they began to beat upward as if for a better view. Everything appeared satisfactory and down they came plump in our faces, the old drake with green velvety head stretched far out leading his brownish consort by a foot or two.

"There's an easy double, Ray! You take them and let's see what you can do!" I whispered.

"All right," he responded in subdued tones. "I'll show you how I always fix 'em."

And as the two birds cupped their wings and dropped their red legs, Ray made ready. The drake was extremely leery, and in an almost perfectly upright position, hovering, actually stationary in the air over the decoys, his glossy chestnut vest and snow white belly staring us right in the face. With the supreme confidence in his skill, Welch banged away without hardly aiming, thinking, of course, that the greenhead was as good as dead, he swung off onto the hen, who had wheeled as if on a pivot and with distraught squawks was cutting her way through space, back toward the hills, with all the energy of her sturdy pinions. Bang! went the other barrel, and to my inexpressible disgust and Welch's evident humiliation, we saw both birds making good their escape, the old drake emitting that aggravating "Mamph! mamph! mamph! of his as he dove round, like a glancing ball, and joined his mate in her mad flight across the northern dunes. A downy feather of two was being buffeted hither and thither on the stiffening wind and that was all.

Mr. Welch had made a beautiful double-miss.

I ceased smiling as I saw what a humor this faux pas had thrown him into, and in an extenuating sort of way, said:

"Well, sir! If I've done that once, I have done it 1,000 times in my experience. The best shot on earth don't know just when he is going to drop a tough old mallard. They seem to get out of the most impossible situations sometimes. You see, Ray, you were too anxious to make a double, so you missed them both. You shot under both birds, but you tickled the old drake's tail, anyway, for I saw the feathers fly. But you couldn't do that again if you'd try.

Mr. Welch hadn't a word to say. He simply slipped in a couple of more shells in a sort of perfunctory way and resumed his vigil. I knew, however, that he couldn't repress his feelings long and sure enough he soon broke forth:

"How I came to do that, I can't tell. Actually I believe I could have killed them with a bow and arrow, they were so close. How do you suppose I did it, Gris?"

"Oh, you remember what I've always told you about holding on an incomer-"

"You tell me anything!" he interrupted savagely, "not in a hundred years, and I'll bet you $50 in nickels you don't know you are alive now. You tell me how to hold on a duck. You make my head ache."


I saw them coming and it is a good thing they happened along just then for I would have been quite apt to have said something not taught in the Sunday schools. The birds were coming down from the hills to the north an immense horde of them and in our anticipatory enthusiasm we both forget all about the egregious fiasco just perpetrated. The birds had now dropped low over the water and were slowing up preparatory to sliding into its cooling depths. In another moment they would have settled and what a flock it was actually I never saw anything like it since the old days up on Lake creek, when the Merganzer club was alive. every nerve was tingling with the keenest excitement such as only the old-time wild fowler knows under like circumstances. Ray and I stood like images hewn from stone. Moveless as death we were waiting until the advance line of the approaching myriad had breasted the crest of the restless lake, when suddenly, "Bang!" went my gun. One of the triggers of my "old-kill-'em-all" had been weakened by too constant use and pressing on this a trifle too strong as I was getting ready to throw both barrels into the birds, and off it went, up into the air!

The mallards? Well, you've seen a flock get away when business urges them, haven't you? Well, that's explanation enough! We didn't get a feather.

"Now I hope," exclaimed Ray irascibly, "that you'll get a new ashpan put in that darned old blunderbuss of yours. I told you a dozen times what you might expect."

And such was our days at Gentry's-the most ecstatic duck hunters ever spent-fine shooting the whole of the week, the most pleasant camaraderie, bully grub, and everything else that goes to round out a grand good time, how could it have been otherwise?