Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

July 15, 1899. Forest and Stream 53(3): 45.

On the Platte River.

Readers who have been there need not be told of the past glories of duck and goose shooting on the wide-flowing Platte in Nebraska, but to those who have not hunted on the once famous river, a description of the stream, the country and the methods employed to bag the wary honkers may be interesting.

The Platte is a shallow, wide stream from one-half mile to one mile wide in some places, and the bottom is entirely of sand. In late April and in May and June it rises or gets on a "boom," as it is generally called. Then the water is from 3 to 6 ft. deep in all the main part of the river, and in the main channel from 10 to even 15 ft. in some particular places. A beautiful valley smooth and level as a floor stretches away for miles from both sides in some places, and in others only on one side, when the high bluffs come up to the bank. Beyond this level valley are the high sands, irregular lines of sand bluffs, and on the high table land beyond is the feeding grounds of the great army of geese and ducks that frequent the Platte every spring and sometimes in the fall. Geese and ducks are not as plentiful here now as years ago; while there are a good many birds here every favorable spring, there is not one to the fifty there used to be in years gone by. Ten and fifteen years ago fifteen to twenty geese were a common thing for one man to kill in a day, or even in a half-day's hunt. A friend claimed to have killed fifty-two geese one afternoon from 2 o'clock to sundown, and no one who knows the man or the number of birds doubts the claim. But these are past supplies, never to be seen on the Platte again. At the present time on stormy days, if a hunter is in a good place, he may be able to bag in the course of a day ten, or maybe fifteen or twenty, geese, and as many ducks. But these days and chances are indeed very rare. Very much oftener the hunter comes in with one goose and a few ducks, or if it be a bad day he comes in empty-handed.

I live within one day's drive of the river, and in the spring a party of four or five go to the old Platte for a two or three weeks' hunt and a general good time. Landing at the river about 4 o'clock in the evening, after a good drive of thirty-five miles, we are made welcome by an old friend who lives about forty rods from the river; we put up our team and then commence to pitch tent, for we come prepared to camp out. While working around camp we see long strings of ducks and geese come sailing leisurely in from their feeding grounds out on the bluffs and in the valley, old-time memories are revived and we all work with a vim to get the tent up and banked and ditched around; we carry hay to make our bed, and then get supper. When this is all done it is too late to do any shooting. Shells are gotten out, guns are examined, hunting suits are laid out handy, and everything is put in readiness for an early start in the morning. While all this was going on, ducks and geese have been lighting in the river, and several hundred geese are out on the sandbars, making merry music for our ears. The musical honk-a-honk is heard after it gets dark, as some tardy members come in to their roost on the sandbars.

We go to bed with the intention of having goose for dinner next day if Dame Fortune shall see fit to send a flock our way. We all arise next morning before daylight, eat a hasty breakfast, don dead grass color suits and with a dozen decoys each and a gun sally forth, going out where we know where they feed in a corn or wheat field. Arriving at the field we dig a pit, place the loose dirt where it won't be conspicuous, then put out the decoys, and settle ourselves comfortably and await the coming of a flock of honkers, or perhaps ducks. We are in sight of the rim, and pretty soon we see some rise up and start for the feeding grounds. We watch every movement made by the flock. They rise high up and they clear the river bank and head directly for us. We crouch low in the blind with guns in readiness, and goose call to our lips. They don't see the decoys, for it is not very light yet. As they come nearer they come down a trifle; yes, they see the decoys. The leader sets his wings and drops below the others, and they sail gracefully for the decoys. But alas, they turn, about the time we are sure we have a shot, and by a graceful sweep go by to one side out of range, and light just back of us 150 yards.

However, we settle down as we see another flock get up out of the river. They go up and start out on the same line with the other flock. They head directly for the other flock on the ground behind me, and reassured by seeing the others there, they drop down within 40 yds. of the ground, and come almost directly over me. I rise with gun in hand, four reports in quick succession, and three noble comrades fall to the ground; and one other starts, then rises and starts on, but one more shot and he comes tumbling down to earth. The fun has started in earnest. The geese come out in small flocks and the guns are booming in every direction. In two hours the flight has ceased, and we gather up our geese and decoys and start for camp. We sum up at camp, four guns have bagged eleven geese and five ducks in the two hours' shoot.

The next day the wind blows hard from the north, and snow is falling in large flakes. It is cold; but we start out to try our luck about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. We separate and take up position in the willow thickets that abound along the river bank. With the river on the north of us, feeding grounds are a great deal closer on the south side, so contrary to their regular habits the birds come out with the wind, and come back flying low, but not in any certain line of flight. We changed places, but with no good results; so I concluded to get in a good sheltered place and wait for some to come over, if I had to wait all day. They flew on all sides, ducks and geese both, some barely clearing the ground. Just to the south of me was open ground for about 200 yds., then a high bluff with some trees growing on the sides and rising above the table land above. My patience was nearly exhausted, when just behind these trees came a flock of mallards. I did not see them till they rose to clear these trees. As I stood in a thick stand of willows they never saw me, but came on just a little to my left about 40 yds. high. They looked big and grand. I could distinguish all their fine colorings as they came closer. I rose up and made a double on two fine drakes that were nearest to me. having retrieved these, I had not long to wait before a lone pintail came along, and I had a fine shot at him. Shooting was good until dark. I bagged seventeen ducks and one brant. One of the other boys got sixteen ducks and the others all had a respectable bag of ducks.

We had another stormy day while on this trip, and these two days were my best, in fact the only days that we bagged very many ducks. We got geese almost every morning and evening, until our return home.

Ducks don't seem to decoy on feeding grounds here, but on some ponds of still water they decoy splendidly, and good bags may be made on any decent day.