Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

October 11, 1883. Forest and Stream 21(11): 203-204.

A Spring Day on the Prairie.

I was living near the Platte river, in the beautiful state of Nebraska. This river, with its tributaries, is the natural feeding ground for the myriads of geese and ducks that migrate yearly from North and South. The geese seem specially to like the sandbars of the river, and every fall and spring the sportsmen from Omaha, Lincoln and Nebraska City, shoot large numbers. One day not long ago, I saw over two hundred geese in a pile in the streets of Lincoln. I may be mistaken as to the exact number, and if so, Burr H. Polk, one of your most interesting correspondents, can correct me.

Ducks are found in the small streams and ponds at points from ten to twenty miles from the river, and afford a great deal of sport. I think they are not protected at all in Nebraska, but they most assuredly should be, as often teal are shot in May. They nest quite frequently, but would remain in larger numbers if protected.

In the school where I was teaching-for I was a schoolmaster, and my business according to the usual saying, was teaching the young idea the use of firearms-was a very bright boy, Bert, who was an enthusiastic sportsman. He and I soon became fast friends, for I, too, am an "enthusiast." Ever since the age of twelve, I have owned some kind of a gun, and like O'Gorman's green bottle, "must have one in the house for its company."

One day in April I told Bert that on Saturday, should it be pleasant, we would spend at least a part of the day in duck shooting. He was to furnish the lunch and I the horse and buggy, and as is usual in making such plans, we agreed to get an early start. I think the hour named was seven. Saturday dawned cool and clear, with a spanking wind from the N.W. Really it was decidedly stiff, and had it not been a hunting excursion on which we were bent I should have given it up. Alas for my plans! I did not wake to a certain knowledge of this world until 8 A.M. Either the school duties of the week had been too much for me or I had been out late the evening before; at any rate it was ten o'clock before we were fairly started. We had an open buggy just right for shooting excursions and an old nag, trusty and true. According to report she had spent the greater part of her late years in hunting, and was just the outfit we wished. I noticed that Bert's lunch basket was rather large, and from the many excuses made by his mother concluded that we had a fine "spread."

I was much disturbed by the uncertain and mysterious appearance of a sporting ordnance, called the "Zulu," which constituted Bert's weapon. This gun is a kind of a club-footed affair, that perhaps is known to some of the readers of the Forest and Stream. I never saw one before, nor have I seen one since. They may be fine guns, as a class, but this was not. Its record was poor indeed. Was "knocked out" at the second round, and consigned to a resting place under the seat-Bert declaring that he "preferred rather to drive than to shoot." But more of this anon.

We were hardly outside of the city limits, when I saw a bunch of teal flying head to the wind, and apparently about to cross the road near us. It did not take me long to slip my 12-gauge Baker from its case and hunt up a couple of shells. The birds lit in a small mud hole near us, and by creeping and crawling a short distance, I got two shots at them. Result one bird. "First blood!" yelled Bert. "First blood," echoed I. We now put the old nag to her best paces, in our anxiety to get to the shooting grounds. It was nearly noon when we reached our destination. We both took our guns from the buggy, put a few shells in our pockets, and started along the banks of Salt Creek. (Notice, this is not the fabled stream, up which disappointed candidates are supposed to journey, but it has an actual existence.) We saw plenty of ducks flying from point to point, and soon had two teal and a widgeon added to our bag. Bert made a pot-shot at seven teal, which were sitting on a mudbank just across the creek and failed to get a feather. He looked decidedly blank, but from the far-reaching shot holes I noticed in the bank, I think the fault was in the gun.

On taking a vote of the delegates we decided that it was dinner time and the convention adjourned to the south side of a straw stack. Here we were out of the wind and in the sun. I found that our lunch was a very elaborate one. After dinner we drove along the banks of a little "branch," as they say in Georgia, thinking that the ducks would seek protection from the wind in the small ponds. Sure enough. Every widening of this little stream contained ducks I think, for at my first shot they got up in numbers. Here I bagged three mallard, a widgeon and wood-duck. In one place I saw a "happy family." There were mallard, spoonbills, widgeon, wood-duck and green and blue-winged teal, all crowded together. That I got but two I confess with suitable modesty. Bert had a nice shot as they swung around near the carriage, though he failed to get a bird. This broke his heart, and with a few suitable remarks he put the "Zulu" away under the buggy seat.

A little further on I got an old merganser of the red-breasted family. He was the Jumbo of the flock I think. Whoopee! I yelled as I held him up to view. "Bert, see what a fine canvas-back I have shot!" He took it all in, and told me what a fine table bird they were. I gave the bird to him saying, "that I knew his father would relish it." I afterward learned that the son's gratitude was the only appreciation of my kindness expressed by the family.

We started homeward with an even dozen ducks, not including our "canvas-back." We had enough for Bert, and also to supply my friends at the boarding-house with a game dinner on the following Sunday.

I wish every reader of the Forest and Stream, especially those shut up in shops and offices, could get out for an airing as I often did. I was in Florida and Georgia last winter, and for the first time fully appreciated the value of good health. The hotels were full of men broken down by the close confinement in offices and shops. So I can say to all my brother sportsmen, "get out with your gun as often as possible." But I did not intend to write an article on hygiene.