Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. October 29, 1899. [Quail Season and Pleasures of Being Afield.] Omaha Sunday World-Herald 35(29): 19.

Forest Field and Stream

On Wednesday morning next the open season for quail begins and local sportsmen are as much agog as they were over the arrival of the wild fowl a month ago. Duck shooting this fall has been unprecedently good and the prospects are flattering for great sports with Bob White. Notwithstanding the excessively frigid weather during the latter part of winter the birds are reported in unusual plentifulness in all favored localities. The heavy snow of February lay but a few days upon the earth and the havoc among the birds in consequence was small. Had the white blanket lain for any considerable period and the weather maintained its intense severity, the quail in the least covered districts would have been all but exterminated. It is the inclement weather in this section of the country which works the greatest disaster for the birds. The sportsmen, hawks, owls and coyotes cut but little figure by way of comparison.

From a personal standpoint, each lover of the field and wood has a preference in regard to the species of game he prefers to hunt and shoot to obtain the greatest amount of profit and pleasure, and this performance naturally forms the individual's opinion as to which is the best of all for the purposes of healthful sport. One prefers wild fowl, and not taking into consideration his own personal fancies and idiosyncrasies, his peculiar success in this branch of gunning, or his advantages, which undoubtedly are mainly instrumental in determining his preference, he emphatically affirms that this class of shooting is best of all. And of this constituency I am honest in admitting that I am an ardent follower. And so with all the rest of the craft whose choice is the shooting of some other bird—whatever it may be it is certain to be extolled above all others. I am willing to confess, however, that is my belief that from the standpoint of the greatest amount of pleasure to the greatest number, quail shooting, for numerous reasons, is the finest sport of all. It affords so much mixed shooting—in the open and in the cover, and slow and swift—that there is plenty to tax the skill and tickle the fancy of all, however crotchety or fastidious. In the open country the shooting is not too difficult to dishearten one of even the most moderate skill, while, on the other hand, in our tangled and matted creek bottoms, the pastime is well calculated to test the nicest skill of the best shot who ever picked up a hammerless. So, taken as a whole, in the open or in the brush, the gunner of average deftness can manage to make a satisfactory showing, and thus secure the consequent excitement which comes with reasonable success. In this connection, I will add, and meet the approval, too, of all experienced sportsmen, I think, that a certain degree of success is essential to the shooter's pleasure. Many writers deprecate the consideration of the bag, treating it as an irrelevant incident, gross and unsportsmanlike, and these are so enthralled with the beauties of nature and the ethics of gunning in the abstract that they think it should be mentioned in the hushed tones only viewed my eyes askance. But, according to my idea the beautiful and the useful should go hand in hand. Each is a component part of the whole, and as such should be equivalent as factors in the joys of the field and stream. A full bag and a full creel distinguishes the expert and the enthusiast. To the sentimental, which surely ennobles and adorns the useful in life, there must be added the material, the serious and the practical; the hunter must be rewarded for his efforts or he will soon cease to be a hunter. It is not all shooting to shoot or all fishing to fish.

There is still another important feature about quail shooting. The man whose business cares allot him but a few days for shooting, and these at no regularly stated time, certainly has more possibilities for recreation and sport on quail than any other bird that flies, notwithstanding there may be a lack of fervid enthusiasm and superlative exaltation as is conspicuous among the wild fowl, the jacksnipe and the grouse shooters.

Quail are undoubtedly more uniformly and widely distributed throughout the United States than any other high class game bird. Its habitat comprises both open and timbered districts from piney Maine to silvery sanded California, and from the borders of British Columbia to the Gulf of Mexico. It differs from the ruffed grouse, whose home is exclusively confined to the woods, and therefore in a much smaller territory than that of Bob White, and from the pinnated grouse (prairie chicken), which is purely a bird of the prairie. The quail flourishes wherever it can obtain a sufficient food supply, either in a timbered country, or on the treeless and shrubless prairie adjacent to some river ot water way. It readily adjusts its habitat according to the dominating circumstances of food and cover, whether it be on our plains, or in the woods or in a region embracing both open and cover. Here in Nebraska it frequents both field and wood, preferring such as have a good food supply, with hedges, river and creek beds choked with plum and grape and crab apple, to which it can run or fly to shelter and safety. Here it rarely penetrates far into the woods, preferring to skirt along the outer edges of them merely for protection, as both the redtail and Cooper's hawk are its deadly enemy, and it must be ever alert to escape them.

But the idyllic season is almost here, so whistle up the old dog and prepare for a day in the thicket and stubble. The blackbird, with the scarlet splotch on either wing flashing in the hazy sunlight, chucks a last sad farewell overhead; russet has succeeded the gold in the thin branches of the cottonwood, and a dull dun lights the fading green of the pasture land, and a marked change has come over the old setter. No longer does he tap out an indolent welcome on the porch floor at your coming at noonday or evening, but springs down the walk with eager bark and sparkling eye to meet you, soiling your business apparel with his forepaws as he leaps for your face, and evoking a harsh word of command for his effrontery. But he knows you don't mean it and cavorts around you in an ecstasy of emotion, rushing off through the drooping peony and chrysanthemums, and back again to peer into your face in an effort to fathom your intentions—whether you are merely home for grub or after canvas coat and hammerless.

A few more days and from out the tangly Elkhorn's mazes, where the orange arlis of the bittersweet are darkening among its maroon leaves, will come the plaintive signal of the scattered bevy, that will set your soul ablaze. How different from the cheery whistle that so lately floated across the harvest field, yet how thrilling, how penetrating. Strangely exciting, indeed, is this autumn call of the quail. He who has never heard its melody when the hills are bathed in purple and gold, when the sumac burns its brightest, and a mellower sunlight floods the land, has missed one of the sweetest emotions of the human breast. Strong, indeed, must be the fetters of office or counting room that holds back the born sportsman when the perennial rustle of the late October winds sound like mystic music from angels' lutes and the blackening walnuts are dropping from their nearly bare branches, when the querulous caw of the crow comes like a phantom cry from over the silent fields and the acrimonious scolding of the irascible blue jay, tilting up and down, through the elm's gray network, is nearly all that is left of the pleasing summer sounds, and when the golden flash of the yellow hammer's wing the last gleam of brilliant life!