Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. September 23, 1894. Omaha Sunday Bee p. 10.

Sport for September Days

Health and Pleasure the Object of the True Sportsman.

Duck shooting is rated as the sportsmen's chief delight. Of course there are some who are more fond of chicken and quail shooting, but where you find one enamored of this class of sport you will find 100 who will declare that it furnishes no comparison with the pursuit of wild fowl. This, as a matter of fact, takes in the geese, brant, crane and snipe and affords the gunner a greater variety of sport than any other species of game. To be sure a tramp over our immeasurable hay fields or through the stubble for chicken and quail is a royal pleasure, and so is dove and plover shooting, but there is something indescribable about duck shooting which claims an overwhelming majority of the true sportsmen as its devotees.

The season is now on here and we will hear more or less about the birds and the shooting until the rigors of winter drive them to their winter haunts in the south. So many men are attracted every spring and fall to the lakes and marshes that the man who has no taste for the delights of the field often wonders whether it is sport or lucre that lures so many from the comforts of home and the fascinations of business to brave all sorts of weather and privations in the wild fowl season. Is conversation with an old-time veteran sportsman, who yet occasionally shoulders his beloved breechloader for a day on the river, lake or marsh, I gathered a great deal of information that will probably prove interesting to the skeptic. One season, and but a few years ago at that, he made a bag of 300 mixed ducks, canvasback, red head, mallard, blue bill and teal. He is a fair field shot, and it required frequent forays into the different ducking grounds to accomplish what he did. So much for his skill, but the peculiary results will not figure up so promisingly. Say, for instance, he had killed an even sixty-seven dozen birds and sold them at the highest market price, and yet they would not have brought him more than $80. Compare this with his expenses. Time, $50; railroad fare, $25; ammunition, $35, and incidentals, $25, or a total of $132, or $65 more than the ducks could have brought if sold. You can readily appreciate the consequences. If the average duck hunter does not get more fun than money out of his shooting, the balance sheet is almost two to one against him. But the sportsman has no thoughts of swelling his bank account by this, his favorite pursuit, enjoyment is the sole object. This enjoyment comes first in the anticipatory pleasure of an expedition. If the sportsman be advanced in years he becomes a youth again, and the night before he crawls into his blind in the rice, reeds, willows or cane, he experiences all the delights of a child on the night before Christmas. If he be a young man, his emotions are as varied as they are estatic and he would not exchange places with a king. Then comes the sport itself, the glories of a mingling with nature in her blandest moods, the supreme pride felt when a capital shot is made and the complete satisfaction of bringing home a big bag of birds with which to remember his legion of friends, for they are always legion when he has a lot of fat birds to give away. But this is not all, for every true sportsman will strenuously maintain that his outings are worth car loads of physic and doctors bills.

Figured from this basis the hunter makes his accounts balance to a nicety. Pleasure, glory and health are more than sufficient compensation for the loss of 25 cents or thereabouts on every duck or goose killed.

Again, I repeat, wild fowl shooting beats it all. What could be more inspiring, more exhilarating or enjoyable than to visit any one of our numerous shooting grounds in this vicinity on a morning or evening like those we are having at the present time. How the sportsman's heart swells as he plants his rubber-booted foot upon the marsh and enters eagerly, feverishly upon his errand, for either teal or snipe, forcing his way through tangles of ambitious sprouts, herbs and bramble, over lichened logs, through thickets of yellow tendriled willows, crimson maple sprigs and creeping vines, in the rustling cane and waving rice, the whole landscape aflutter with animation and life.

A soft wandering breeze rippling the water and swaying with reeds, the robin chirping his melancholy notes from the topmost branch of you old cottonwood; the red-wing black bird chuckling from this rose clump and that, the saucy jay bird scolding in the copse, the crow cawing to his fellows in the distance, and the redtail hawk, cleaving with steady pinion the blue above, making one broad scene as pleasing to the senses as it is mystifying.

Is it any wonder, then, that the sportsman will sacrifice almost anything else for a trip afield in this glorious autumnal weather, is it any wonder that it is health and happiness he is after and not sordid game? For one, I think not.

Now for a word or to about the season that is now fairly on. Whether there is going to be much shooting or not is a question that remains to be solved. The summer has been an unprecedented one, with its fierce suns and scarcity of rain. Generally a dry summer insures a good flight of birds in the fall, and if there is sufficient water left in their favorite haunts I have no fears but what we are in for a busy fall campaign. By the last of this month the main body of birds will have winged their way from their breeding quarters roundabout Hudson's and Baffin's bays and the furthermost borders of British Columbia. That royal old honker, the Canada goose, with his congeners, the Hutchins, the snow goose and the speckled brant, the matchless canvasback, the quacking mallard, plump red head, toothsome teal, widgeon, baldpate, blue bill, whistler, pintail and butter ball, in fact all the feathered habitants of lake, river, morass and marsh, have already packed their Saratogas, and with heads erect are awaiting the signal that will start them south.

This will not be long delayed, for this is the time of the gunners' idyl. Already the timber lands are robed in gilded gowns and the distant hills are shrouded in hazy splendor. The sumach glows and burns in shady nooks, the prairie grass has donned its brownish dress and all the frosty and decaying pursulvants of the bleak and snowy season have begun to admonish the sportsman that his day is almost here. There is the boat to haul out and recalk, rubber boots to be overhauled, shooting wammus to be mended, decoys, shells and other duffle to be overlooked in order that he may be ready to sally forth the moment the main flight is in.

A letter from an old shooting pal of mine back on the majestic Kankakee, and who now runs a big ranch in South Dakota, informs me that more ducks have bred in his vicinity than was ever known before. This report also comes to me from different points in Nebraska, and despite the drought it looks as if great sport is to be had after all. Mallards have been especially plentiful ever since early in July, showing that many of them preferred to remain in this region, and bring up their young than to make the long pilgrimage to the fastnesses of the polar regions. The teal, too, especially the blue wing, have already been encountered in uncommon numbers, while the crop of yellow legs, rail and the several variations of waders is something really remarkable. Hundreds of these birds are being killed every day at Cut-off, Manawa and Big lakes.

About the first of the wild fowl to come down from the Arctic territory in the fall are the blue and green wing teal, the wood duck and spoon bill remaining here throughout the summer. After the teal comes an issue of mallard, widgeon, blue bill, redhead, canvasback and pintail in about the order given. The geese come last. So the sportsman who is not prepared for their reception had better get a wiggle on, for the birds, on account of the scarcity of water, will make their stay here provokingly brief.