Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. November 3, 1918. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 54(5): 14-N. With five pictures by P.J. McAndrews, staff photographer.

Scenes at the Smith Shooting Shack on the Legendary Platte, West of Shelton

Ideal, indeed, are our October days, and never more so were the few which I passed last week, together with my good pal, Pat McAndrews and Scott E. Smith, of Shelton, at the latter's historic and cozy old shack, on a tow-head in the middle of the ever-fretful Platte, a half-dozen miles or so southwest of that thriving little city. We found nothing missing, as usual, save the ducks, which were more noticeable for their scarcity than we have known them for many years, and still we got enough to keep the pan greasy, and enjoyed, as is the inevitable fact when in the genial Scott's care, those few days as fully and completely as if the birds had flown in their oldtime plentitude. And at that we had two mornings of really prime sport, bagging eleven birds the first a baker's dozen the second - all mallards and greenwing teal, with the exception of a brace of widgeon, three pintails and one hooded merganzer. Scott's incomparable flock of live decoys - all wild birds - caught and carefully trained by our host, did their work as well as ever, but the simple fact was that the ducks were not there, excepting in irregular and straggling flocks, a condition that is growing with each recurring season and which cannot but impress the sportsman with the absolute need of the fullest and completest conservation. The old morning and evening flights - save on rare occasions - when the birds fairly filled the glowing or glowering skies, are already a fable along this resplendent old stream, and those are days that never can or ever will return.

But as I have so often asserted, it is not all hunting to kill, and there is yet, and will be for many years to come, the grandest kind of sport and life-prolonging recreation to be found on the swirling expanse of the old Platte, and at no place in greater redundance than at Scott Smith's hallowed old shack, especially with Scott himself, and his resistless personality, there to show you and educate you how to seize it.

And who is there from among us, ardent and confessed as we are can tell just what it is that constitutes this unquenchable and unsubduable charm of duck shooting or duck hunting, as better fits the case in these modern days, when the intrinsic old follower of the sport can listen to any of the striking and appreciative descriptions of the witcheries of nature that after the flight of many long years, and which I recall with such vividness and keen enjoyment.

And after all, how many of us, burdened with the old double barrel, decoys, corduroys and canvas wardrobe, and other things, go out into the wild and silent places for the sublimity of nature and her sunshine?

Nature may take care of herself, and shift whither she may before our eyes, and the sunshine clogged with fog and the ruck of termagant weather, and altogether too big to slip into the rear pocket of our canvas coat, but not a mallard or two, or even the cumbersome body of a Canada goose. Is it fancy or is it fact?

But again, I ask why does one keep on going after ducks? Surely, it is not for their food value, for from an economical standpoint, time conservation, comfort, both mentally and physically, one would think, would point to a choice sirloin or porterhouse at the nearest meal market. Yet it does not, and we keep on going duck hunting.

What is there in the subtle quality of the charm that holds such enduring sway over and urges us on? What is there in the acute wildness of these feathered creatures that it should lay such powerful hold upon us? Why is the music that fills the soft air in the beating of their wings when they approach the decoys in front of your blind, and the keen disappointment as it grows faint as they turn and swerve in swift flight for safer quarters.

There comes a flock! Mark to the right. Have they seen us? No, they are coming in, or are they going? Indeed it is hard to tell. yes, there they come. Keep down, don't move. Have they seen us? They are passing. They are too far - they've seen us. There they go! They didn't hear the decoys - they're gone! That is the song of the blind. Why such excitement, why do we watch that erratic flight with such nervous keenness, and in these tense moments do we even note in the smallest way the charms of our environments? Do we appreciate the exceptional elements of beauty of the savage and gurgling river, with its whirlpools above the gray bars, the silvery sheen upon the waters, their reflection in the blue or drab skies, the waving of the painted shore line - willow, cottonwood, mingling under-growth, bordering sunflowers and drooping weeds. Are we conscious of this riotous wealth of entrancement and beauty, or do we have cognizance only of the gun in our hands, and feel only the lust of blood upon us? Some of us do, others don't. With some there is much more than gun and its killing capacity and the distorted vision of falling ducks virtually void in the glory of the skies, the rushing waters, the fine tracery of cane, of willow, alder and cottonwood, the waving grasses and yellowing rice stalks, and the whole majestic, beautiful and resonant outdoors!

That we had a matchlessly glorious week with Scott at his incomparable duckers' domicilicum in the middle of the sprawling Platte calls for neither reiteration or asservation at my hands, for the thoughts herein portrayed, though feebly, should be sufficient substantiation of the fact. Scott is an ideal host, an old and indurated habitue of this famous old stream - a man of profundity of though and with an abundance of linguial ability to express it, and his tales of the old days on the river and the prairie are as exhaustless as they are entrancing. Let it suffice that, try as hard as I may, I can never hope to cancel the debt I owe him. And now it is again a long wait of the rolling year, as with the expectation of the fall season all sport for the lover of the gun comes to an end for another twelve months.