Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

November 5, 1898. Forest and Stream 51(19): 369. Also: 11/26; Forest and Stream 51(22): 425-426.

In Nebraska Bottom Lands.

In what more enjoyable situation could a sportsman be placed than to be dumped out of a train, bag and baggage, in some of the finest shooting ground of the mid-West? We had hardly stepped off the train since leaving New York, except in changing at Chicago and again at Omaha. Our friend C., an old New Yorker, was at the station to meet us with a dilapidated carryall, but any old thing proved welcome enough after the severe jolting of the train from Omaha. As we started off toward C.'s home a cool breeze from the west wafted to our nostrils an indescribably sweet odor of prairie grass—off toward the timber lining the banks of the Elkhorn the liquid notes of Bob White reminded us of the prime sport to be had for the seeking.

As the sun dropped below the horizon the wind shifted around, blowing from the north in such icy gusts that we were very glad to turn up our coat collars and snug up close together on the seats. C., who had been discoursing upon crops, cattle, etc., suddenly switched off upon the duck outlook as augured by the north wind, to the effect that we should be in readiness for a flight of mallards and teal, which prediction from such an old hunter aroused our keenest anticipations.

At 3 o'clock in the morning we were aroused by C., and after partaking in a fragrant cup of coffee and sundry good things from the cupboard, we hitched up the team and were soon bowling along over a six-mile route of level prairie. Just as the first streak of dawn showed itself in the east, C. pulled the horses up, jumped out and led them into what turned out to be a perfectly wind proof bower of wild plum trees. Decoys were raked out of a brush patch, and in a short time we were stationed in our blinds waiting for all comers. Two of us covered the decoys, while C. and H., both fine shots, stationed themselves further up the stream, intending to cut off stray pairs and stragglers.

We hadn't long to wait. A flock of mallards following on down the bend of the river swept in toward our decoys. I took the leader, a big drake, and cut him down clean with the No. 4's of my left, and in echo the No. 2's of my right dropped another plump one. I glanced at B., who seemed to be making some uncomplimentary remarks about himself, and looking into the empty breech of his gun. Just then our friends of the other blind spoke three times in quick succession, and B. just finished loading up in time to drop a solitary teal screaming along with the wind at a 120-mile pace. The birds kept coming down first in bunches, then in straggling out pairs, till about 9 o'clock, when the flight ceased. We rowed out in a little skiff and picked up our birds, most of which had collected in a dead-water swirl below the point, together with those of our companions. Between us we had shot forty-eight shells; we collected thirty-one mallards, pintails and teal, losing probably eight or ten down stream.

We took our birds and decoys back to the wagon, and after exchanging our duck loads for lighter loads of 8's spread out and waded through a partially submerged piece of prairie bottom along the river bank. The grass was literally alive with golden and ring-neck plover. We bagged about twenty in short order; and considering that we had taken our share of game for the day, started back to the wagon. C., to spoil his record of seven straight, tried a pot-shot at five golden plover strung out in almost a straight line from him. He squatted down; there was a bang and splash. A duck charge shot by mistake was his undoing. Five very much surprised and alarmed plover flew away to more congenial feeding grounds.

In three days our stock of game entirely disappeared, so we sallied off after quail and chickens. Some time later I may send in an account of our success with the chickens.

In Nebraska Bottom Lands.-II.

What a change it was for all three of us. We, who for years had not raised a gun to our shoulders, and had been stooping over our desks grinding away, trying to forget the good times we had had every year with partridges, quail and rabbits, when living in the country.

The four days' feasting upon ducks and snipe, to say nothing of our regular morning diet of fish and buckwheat cakes, had tightened our waistcoats to an alarming degree.

These fish I must mention; perhaps some one will recognize the species. They are delicious; the flesh is of a lightish pink, and in flavor very much like salmon. They are speckled and have a long snout like a pickerel's. Here is their history: "About fifteen years ago two cars containing fish in glass tanks were wrecked at Jackson Lake, and the finny occupants, true to instinct, flopped into the water. It was a sad day for other denizens of Jackson Lake; the newcomers waged a relentless war upon all species, until now they have everything to themselves. In warm weather they bite upon a hook, taking a piece of raw meat better than anything else. Later in the season they are caught in nets. Some fish have been taken that weighed over 16 lbs." I am quoting my friend C. in all but the eating part.

C. had two of the finest cocker spaniels in the country, Nip and Tuck. They were thoroughly broken in every way, and willing to hunt for anybody who knew how to handle a gun. Tuck couldn't stand having a gun pointed at her, and would instantly sneak out of range if a down-turned barrel happened to point in her direction. On account of business C. was obliged to stay home on the day we had decided to hunt chickens-so he gave us these directions: "Strike right across the prairie a half mile to Plum Creek; hunt up the creek for wood ducks till you come to a firebreak. Walk across the firebreak for quail till you come to a slough. Look out for ducks in the slough. Then to the north, hunt across that partly submerged piece of alkali bottom for snipe and plover, around to the east toward the Elkhorn, and hunt the rolling ground back toward the ranch."

Such a meaty prospect as this set the blood tingling in our veins. Each took fifty shells (ten loaded with 4s, twenty with 7s and twenty with 8s) and our 12-bore guns. We struck into Plum Creek and picked up four wood ducks within the first hundred yards. Nip didn't much like retrieving in water, but Tuck braved the icy bath and retrieved beautifully. We left the creek to keep out of temptation, following along down toward the firebreak. Before we reached it, Tuck, ranging on ahead, came to a point. Nip came up, sniffed a little and kept on toward the scent, putting up a little prairie sparrow. So Nip redeemed himself from failing to retrieve the wood ducks. Whenever we had a doubtful point from Tuck, Nip would settle the question in short order. Quail were very numerous in the break, and either one or both of the dogs were on the stand continually. Long before we reached the slough we were forced to leave the quail grounds with twenty-eight birds. The slough was literally alive with wildfowl-mallards, canvasbacks, widgeon, teal, pintails, mudhens, bittern and quawks. We crawled through the tall grass to the edge, and feasted our eyes on the sportsman's elysium. Then having picked out a certain bunch of canvasbacks about 20 yds. from the shore, at a signal all three stood up. What a whistling swirl of wings! Our canvasbacks were swallowed up in the mass of ducks taking wing. I sighted one off to my left, and a widgeon got mixed up in the pattern in some way, and both came down together. I fired again at a mallard which was slow in getting up, and scored a clean miss. B. got a canvasback and a teal with his first barrel, missing with his second. Poor H. neglected to remove his 8s, and got a handful of feathers as his reward. Some of the ducks in the upper end of the slough refused to leave, even after the fusillade; and continued to upend as though nothing had happened. We crossed over toward the alkali bottom, picked out several golden plover and surprised a bunch of seven mallards fast asleep with their heads doubled under their wings. We managed to get within 50 yds.; then they rose, towering, and we fired, killing two and tipping a third, which Nip finally bagged. We now had to our credit four wood ducks, two canvasbacks, three mallards, and five plover. We were weighed down already, and before reaching the chicken grounds.

We turned as C. had directed down toward the Elkhorn and the cornfields. Nip made a stand on the edge of the corn, towards a tumble down shock and thinking it was another flock of quail we didn't attempt to shoot. Right from under our feet flew a big flock of prairie chickens. We had resolved to let the chickens go for another day, but this was more than human nature could stand. I volunteered to shoulder H.'s and B.'s ducks, and we continued on down through the field. Tuck made a pretty point, which being verified by Nip, put B. and H. on the qui vive. Whirr! Eight fat beauties. A pretty double by B. and a mussy single by H., in no way helped by the second barrel. Having marked down the first flock, we soon came up with it, adding two more to our load. Then we divided up weights even, and made a cast iron resolve not to shoot again, which, to our credit, we kept.

We raked out from under our quail in our hunting coats a well-warmed and bloodied lunch of pickled tongue sandwiches, cheese and ginger snaps, which we dispatched to the last crumb. Then we trudged home through flocks and flocks of chicken and quail-perfectly satisfied that in spite of our heavy load of game we had kept within the bounds of fair sportsmen.

Charles G. Blandford.