January 12, 1895. Forest and Stream 44(2): 26.
Notes From the Plains.
Omaha, Neb., Jan. 1, 1895.—So far as field shooting is concerned Nebraska sportsmen have pretty generally encased their fowling pieces for the winter. The close season for both quail and chicken began yesterday, and there is not sufficient inducement in jack rabbit shooting or the uncertain pursuit of the clumsy fox squirrel to warrant the loss of time and incident exertion. Chicken shooting the past season was possibly the poorest we have experienced out this way in a decade. The drought was so severe and wide-spread that the best grounds in the State were found absolutely barren this fall. That the birds have been forced by lack of feed to temporarily leave the country, however, is made certain by the large influx of both chicken and grouse since the cool days of early December in almost all of their former haunts. I met Mr. Hardin, who owns a large ranch north of Paxton in the western sandhills, yesterday, and he told me that the spectacle of a bunch of several hundred birds was almost a daily occurrence now, where a month ago it was next to impossible to jump a single one. With abundant crops the coming season, I have but little fears that we will have our full quantum of sport again next fall. The quail shooting during the past season has been just the opposite. Everywhere there has been an unprecedented supply of birds, and good bags were the rule. Quail shooting in Nebraska, however, at its very best is laborious sport on account of the dense vegetation to be encountered wherever the birds are to be found, which is largely in the tangly bottoms and impenetrable grape and plum thickets. There is little or no field or stubble shooting here, and the gunner who bags his two or three dozen birds—and that is plenty—only does so after a hard and industrious day's work.
And this reminds me of a little story. Two weeks ago E.S. Dundy, Jr., United States Commissioner, and Lawyer Myron Learned and myself were out at Clark's, goose shooting. We did most of our work on the bars on the Platte, and while the birds were off feeding in the fields we devoted our attention to the quail, which were found by the hundreds amidst the network of brushwood on the numerous small, oblong islands with which the old stream is filled at this point. In fact, I never saw birds more plentiful in the old days back in Ohio than they were here. As winter sets in all the birds in the country seem to leave wooded arroyos and creek bottoms and assemble within the mazy depths of these islands for protection from the advancing cold. Their retreat, too, is a wise one, for there is plenty of feed here, the shield from the steely winds the very best, and the dangers from hunter, hawk and coyote at its minimum. Of course, all shooting to be had on these islands is of the "snap order," and it is generally about five or six shells to the bird. Once in a while an open shot is obtained, if the gunner happens to be on the very outer edge of the island, and a bird flushes and attempts to cross the river. As a usual thing they are extremely hard to flush until they have all been driven to one end or the other of the island. They will run along before dog and hunter, beneath the reticulated vines and shrubbery, until they can go no further, when they flush together and shoot one of the numerous channels to a neighboring island or the mainland. Dundy and I were making one of these drives, he in the middle of the island, while I skirted the edge. He could hear the birds pattering along on the dead leaves and hear them dipping as they ran along under the matted rushwood, but seldom caught sight of one. Suddenly Dundy called me to come where he was standing. I made my way through the thicket to the spot, and pointing to a small hole at the foot of a good sized tree, he said he saw a quail go in there. I knelt down, thinking to catch the bird alive, but the hole extended back further than I could reach and was evidently a hollow rot. Dundy tried his luck with no better success, and determined to catch Bob after this failure we finally concluded to dig him out. With a couple of stout sticks we soon reached the root, which we found too green and too bulky to cut into with our pocket knives, and were again nonplussed. We were about to give the job up when Dundy asked what was the matter with shooting a hole into it, and as I could see nothing the matter with it, we located the quail so that he would not be injured, and with a half dozen shots a hole sufficiently large to admit a hand was blown into the green root; and reaching in I pulled out the bird alive. He was a handsome cock, and after a laugh over the peculiar method of catching quail, I told Dundy we must give him a chance for his life. So, pulling up our hip boots we waded out some twenty-five yards into the rushing Platte. I was to throw him up and Dundy was to do the shooting, and at a given signal up he went. The first barrel was a miss, but the second tumbled him neatly into the floating ice.
But speaking about goose shooting reminds me that this royal sport has been magnificent here since the middle of October up to date. Even the late sub-zero weather was not enough to drive away all the Canadas and they yet linger in considerable numbers along both the Platte and the upper Missouri. On the trip above alluded to the three guns netted twenty-nine big Canadas and a half dozen canvasback in two days. The white and Hutchins geese all have been gone for a full month.
There has been better antelope shooting in this State for a long series of years. I met Jack O'Hern, superintendent of the Union Pacific shops, at Cheyenne the other day, while en route to Clarke, and he told me that he had just returned from an antelope hunt at Bushnell, Kimball County, this State, and had met with great success. He said the last morning his party was there they saw three bands of antelope, from the top of a high knoll, at one time, and there wasn't less than twenty head in each band.