Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. May 1, 1898. [Spring Snipe Shooting at the Famous Old Grounds at Percival]. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 33(213): 11. Portion of Forest, Field and Stream column.

Forest, Field and Stream.

The spring shooting for 1898 is now virtually at an end. The main issue of wild fowl, with the exception of the blue wing teal and they will shortly follow, has winged its way on north to the natural breeding grounds in the vast marshes roundabout Baffin's and Hudson's bays. The jack snipe, too, will soon be on the way. The weather is rapidly warming up and summer in all its fullness will soon be upon us.

There is no gainsaying the fact, the present vernal shooting season has been a disappointment. This was mainly caused by a scarcity of water on all the most favored grounds. But few even creditable bags were made by any of our local sportsmen of either ducks or snipes. In pleasant company, I made several forays afield myself, and with the exception of a really royally three days' goose shoot on Kimball's ranch late in March and a snipe shoot last week, all were failures of the most dismal kind, when it comes to computing the size of the bag made.

But let me tell you about my snipe hunt.

It was down on the famous old grounds at Percival, Ia., and that good shot and better fellow, George Scribner, was my companion. We reached the lowlands at an early hour in the morning and started in. Off to our left the marshy timbered bottom stretched away toward the river, and robed, as it was, in the faintest tinge of green, presented a most inviting and charming appearance. The distant bluffs were shrouded in an autumn-like haze, which was rapidly melting away before the rising sun, while the broad expanse of oozy field and marsh land was one greening paradise, with the budding pursuivants of the sweet spring time scattered lavishly about upon either hand. The wings of a belated mallard whistled encouragement as he hurried away above us and the black birds kept the air full of music and color. Myriads rose, chirping petulantly from every clump of willows and every mass of reeds, but their noisy clamor was melody to our ears, and as long as no jack had jumped, we found agreeable pastime watching their ceaseless motion. Hundreds were mirrored on the slough's glassy surface as they streamed back and forth overhead, and hundreds more swung on broken reed and ragged rice stalk. The lowlands seemed alive with them. They were everywhere. Some in greenish black coats, which gleamed in the sunlight like polished ebony; some in dirty brown, some with scarlet splotches on their wings and others with golden head and collar. A belligerent kingfisher kept darting restlessly up and down the slough, filling the morning air with his querulous cackle, a keen-eyed hawk kept silent vigil from the naked branches of a distant cottonwood, while the bronze of the robin's breast and the blue of the jay's bright jacket gleamed from rose bush and hopple. Along the back water's muddy shallows the yellowleg, with his plaintive whistle atune with the matutinal winds, waded and fretted over his morning meal, and way up in the blue arch above a number of fish hawks curved their acute shapes against the distant background sky.

For the benefit of the shooters who have not had the good fortune to visit Percival, I will say that the snipe grounds there are unsurpassed in this section of the country. It is a low lying valley of rich black soil, corrugated and broken with tufted niggerheads and trickling rills, pools, sloughs and shallows, making as choice feeding grounds as fastidious gallinago could ask. This loamy reach is also dotted here and there with clumps of yellow tendriled willows and bloom-twigged maples, with branches of wild rose and acres of reed and rice, pucker brush, flags and long-bladed grass, a natural habitat for song birds of all kinds, as well as for frogs, turtles and gartersnakes.

But to our shoot, Scrib's and mine. Well we had a glorious day of it. The south breeze blew warm and balmy, the yellow sunshine flooded bluff, water, fields and wallow, and all the concomitant conditions were superb.

On striking the wet ground, Nancy, Scrib's red Irish, was told to go about her business. With an intelligent look back into our faces she bounded off with an eager whine, but quickly, slowed down to a rapid walk, her black muzzle to the ground. After completing a circle she returned, and, looking up into her master's face, seemed to say, "There's no jacks here." But George waved her off impatiently, and, vaulting the low pucker brush, she treaded gingerly away through the brackish pools thrusting her rust-colored nose into ever grassy thicket and reedy cavern. and sniffing over the ground generally, she made a picture well calculated to start the blood in a sportsman's veins.

Scrib and I were laboriously pulling our way through a mirey slough, when together we noticed a resilient movement on the part of nancy, and the next instant she had drawn down and was as moveless as an image carved out of granite, with her dilated nostrils thrust toward a little oozy puddle heavily bordered with dead flags.

"There they are, Sandy!" admonished Scrib, and, true enough, the words had hardly left his mouth when skeap! skeap! skeap! the snipe's startled note broke the stillness, and away, in every direction, it seemed to our heightened fancy we beheld a flurrying of white and russet shapes, twisting and convoluting in the bright sunlight like infusoria in the air, and although taken almost wholly by surprise and at a decided disadvantage, stuck in the agglutinative muck as we were, we both got in both barrels, I missing with my first and George scoring a clean and artistic double.

That was what I called a pretty good starter.

At the lowest calculation at least two dozen birds had flushed, and being fat and loggy, had dropped all about us in the straggling undergrowth and oozy shallows. Nance still remained crouching, looking back at us wistfully, but when Scrib cried "Fetch!" she was up like a flash and in less than no time had retrieved our three birds.

We were soon at it again, I can assure you, and the keen nose of the Irish now being unnecessary. Scrib ordered her to heel. There is little occasion for a dog in snipe shooting except to save you steps in first locating the birds and in retrieving, and I seldom take one with me. On this occasion, however, we took Nance for the latter service alone, as there is a good deal of hard ground at Percival, and a dead snipe - and I think a majority of old gunners will bear me out - is about as hard to find as any bird that flies, unless you are shooting upon an unhampered meadow land.

Nance, of course, did not relish her master's mandate, but, like the well broken dog that she is, she obeyed promptly, following us meekly with an abused and entreating look in her great brown eyes.

We were now in our element. We felt that there were plenty of birds in, and the freshness and romance of the whole scene was delightfully revivifying. Fifty yards or so ahead we flushed another flurry of rose color, and again we got in two shots, only killing, however, a bird apiece, as is often the case when two men are shooting together. We both shot at the last bird, and, as I had done before, Scrib made a miss with his first barrel. The next instant he more than squared matters again, for I got two shots at a straight away and missed them both, and Scrib, after the bird had apparently cleared the limit of range, tumbled him into the mud at the first crack.

"That's what I call shootin'," said the U.P. man, but I never made reply, for at that instant there was a frantic "skeap" at my very feet, as from a little crypt of decaying splatterdock flashed an unwary bird. My gun was to my shoulder - then a sharp report, a puff of thinnish azure smoke, and the distraught gallinago went whirling dead into the reeds but a few yards from where Scrib's bird had plunged.

"that wasn't so bad, either," I mentioned with some feeling of pride.

"No, but you ought to have caught him alive," returned the U.P. man, as together we picked up our birds.

Crack! Crack! Thee goes George's gun again. He had worked off to the right and was beating up a tortuous little slough where we had always found birds before, while I continued on straight ahead down to the bridge, getting tolerably fair shooting en route, and landing there jaded and sore about the noon hour. As I reclined there resting and waiting for the U.P. man, whose gun I heard at intervals as he came plowing through the willows on the east, I noticed a cloud in the west drop its gauzy ladder to the rim of the distant hills, and I made up my mind that one of those erratic spring rains was about to catch us.

An April storm!

With the passing of a breath the far-away bluffs mingled mistily, and by the time Scrib floundered up to the old bridge, the whole perspective had been swallowed up in the gray maw of the storm. The shadowy groves of willow and maple had melted as into vapor, the nearer line of cane and rice were next in the misty mingle, and then with a merry rush the rain was upon us.

The marsh-land, so soft and tender and beautiful in the sunshine of an hour ago, quietly developed into a gloomy and reeking sheet. But the downpour lasted but a moment. To the wand of struggling sunbeam the grayish mantle lifted and in a flash the world was again a-glitter. Then the clouds lowered again, and once more dripping willows, hazy bluffs and swaying reeds were enshrouded in a deluge of April tears, changing still again,as the vapory masses broke, into the jewel work of the sun. For an hour or more Scrib and I crouched under that old bridge, and during that time there was a quick interweaving of rain and sunlight. Now the former would streak the scene, now blue eyes would open in the frowning clouds above. The arcades of maple, willow, reed and wind would glow, darken, be masked in the shower, and then flash again into gold.

Finally, after the U.P. man and I were thoroughly drenched through the cracks of the bridge's flooring, the meteorological gods seem satisfied. The lead color over-arching, began to take on a pearly hue, then shattered into fragments, before a rushing, soothing breeze, and as if swept by the broom of some fabulous giant the overhanging vault became once more a smiling expanse of blue.

Gathering ourselves together Scrib and I were soon on the back track, and shortly in the midst of the birds again. On a boggy piece of pasture we flushed a large number of them. At the first "skeap" the whole body took wing and whirled away in all directions, but dropping down again before going far, in the short and dripping grass. For another hour we enjoyed capital sport, and then, as our canvas pockets were well filled with game, our clothes soggy, steaming and disagreeable, our under-pinning weak and unsteady and our victually departments yearning for attention, we started for Percival, reaching our pleasant little hostelry just as the delicate tints in the April sky were trembling away in the shadows of the deepening spring twilight.

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