Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. April 16, 1899. [Spring Shooting of Jack Snipe.] Omaha Sunday World-Herald 34(198): 23.

Forest, Field and Stream.

Spring duck shooting, with the exception of straggling and belated birds and bluewing teal, may now be said to be over. The main issue of the birds has been here and gone, and from this on to the close of the open season on the last day of this month, the sport will be meager and unsatisfactory; that is, on the larger class of wild fowl. But with the jacks and the bluewings sportsmen have many good days of sport ahead of them. All of the conditions for these birds are exceptionally fine, and good shooting ought to be obtainable almost anywhere.

With many gunners jacksnipe are the most attractive of all our feathered game. Surely, there are none to surpass them in table qualifications, and so far as keen enjoyment in their pursuit is concerned, it cannot be excelled. During the past few warm days and nights they have come in in countless numbers, and good bags are being secured daily. Splendid grounds are to be found at Gothenburg, Schuyler, Clarks, Silver Creek and other points along the Platte, while the lowlands below Waterloo and near Valley and Gretna should fairly teem with birds. Bluewing teal shooting is also unusually good at all these points. There are also fine snipe and teal grounds near Manawa and below the asylum on the Bluffs side, at Percival, Bartlett and Bigelow below, and Honey creek, Loveland and Missouri Valley above.

According to the investigations of latter-day students in bird life, the breeding grounds of the snipe, Wilsoni Gallinago, our common jack, begin in the northern part of South Dakota and thence north to the Arctic circle. It migrates leisurely southward as the autumnal season dawns, feeding on the available grounds, enroute, and ultimately going as far south as the West Indies and Northern South America. In the spring time it comes back with the first sultry days of April and lingers and fattens on our boggy pasture lands until well into May. It is a bird of the wet lands, and as with the woodcock, a bird now almost wholly unknown in Nebraska, but once exceedingly plentiful, the available area entire for a food supply is small as compared with the earth's surface; such area being the places which are soft enough to be bored with its sensitive bill, and also containing food to its liking and enough of it to supply its needs-larvae, tender roots of plants and worms and such insects as it can secure on top of the ground.

To the average sportsman its habits in the shooting season seem erratic and mysterious. It is to be found in this field today, in that tomorrow, or it may go contrary to its whimsical reputation and linger for days about the same grounds. Still, the hunter is always in ignorance of what the birds will do next. The weather and food conditions may be the same so far as observations can determine them, and yet the jacks may come and go in their own curious way regardless of conditions. The scolopax fly mostly in pairs, threes and sometimes one or two more, but always in small numbers, and being thus independent how the common impulse to seek other grounds is at the same time felt and acted on by all the birds of a certain neighborhood, or at least most of them, there being many exceptions as a matter of course, as for instance, in a section where there are birds in abundance on a certain day they may not all leave at the same time, and indeed some scattered birds may be found on certain ground throughout the whole season. But on the whole, the bird is erratic and lawless most of the time.

But from my way of figuring that which seems singular and recondite in the life of the precious little jack is really in harmony with the needs of nature. The bird is largely nocturnal in its habits. It is difficult to learn its ways, and while it is especially difficult for the student of one locality to observe its habits with any degree of precision, seeing it is but one small corner of its habitat the local sportsman can at best gain but a fragmentary knowledge of its needs and habits, though he may that the small part which he sees is really the whole.

Being swift of wing and enduring in flight, the jack undoubtedly feeds over vast areas on grounds many miles apart. The common run of shooters lay great stress on the difficulties of snipe shooting, treating of it as a bird of phenomenal swiftness and puzzling flight, and the bagging of it as requiring something extraordinary in the way of skill. But I am not one of this class. The one difficult thing in snipe shooting, in this section of the world, I have encountered, is the almost impassable territory in which it is found, water-soaked bogs and sticky, mucky fields. As a matter of fact, snipe shooting on a short tufted meadow or pasture land is the easiest sort of wing shooting. In warm days, when the bird are fat and lazy, they are tame and fly slowly, and he is a poor shot, indeed, who is unable to bag at least every other bird he flushes within range.

The novice thinks that the jack rises with a zigzag motion against the wind, darting to the right and left with such rapid flashes of speed, as defies ordinary deftness with the Lefever. To be sure it is true, the jack does rise against the wind, when there is a wind, and it is also true that he zigzags a few times to get up steam and strike a straight course. But is there anything easier than to wait a moment until the bird straightens out before shooting, when it becomes a simple matter of shooting on the wing, as other wing shooting is. All of these motions of reticulated flight, speed and cunning savor of the amateur of the field, and of a skill that is but in its incipiency.

On cold windy days the jack is wild and will jump at the extreme range, and then the shooting is truly a test of skill, as well as a test of the gun you are shooting, and the ammunition you are using. The best gun for snipe shooting, day in and day out, is a moderately choked, seven pound lefever, or any other make for that matter, but I mention the Lefever because there are none better, and the new Peters Victor shells, loaded with three drachms of King's smokeless and an ounce and a eighth of No. 9 shot.

There is little use for a dog in snipe shooting, other than for retrieving purposes, as all old snipe shooters will tell you. The bird either lays too well or not at all to dog, and in the rank and bedraggled marsh grass it is impossible for him to do satisfactory work, however well he may be trained. Very few dogs have a natural fondness for work on snipe. Stocky Heth's old Spot-in dog heaven these several years-being the only one I ever knew to enter into sport with the same ardor that he worked on quail or chicken, although there are many good snipe dogs in certain sections of the country, but not here. But wait, I am going out one day this week, and I'll let you know just what the birds are up to this spring.