Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. April 2, 1899. [Spring Shooting Underway and Sportsmen Arriving on the Train.] Omaha Sunday World-Herald 34(184): 23.

Forest, Field and Stream.

Spring shooting is now at its height, and there is scarcely an outgoing or incoming train but what carries its contingent of enthusiastic sportsmen. True to my prediction of a month ago and despite the fact that the main issue of wild fowl has been delayed fully a fortnight by the unseasonable weather, the shooting is proving almost unprecedently good. There seems to be birds everywhere—all the favorite feeding grounds fairly teem with them—geese, Canadas, Hutchins, snow and speckled fronts, cranes and pelicans, red-heads, mallards, canvasback, widgeons, pintails, bluebills, butterballs, teal and merganzers swarm in the fields and flock along the open riverways, and on all hands the ambitious gunner is making hay while the sun shines.

Extraordinary sport is being enjoyed along the Platte almost everywhere from Waterloo to Ogallala and geese have not been so plentiful, nor in such excellent condition, for ten years, and the ducks simply swarm the naked bars in the myriads.

The grand old river has gotten rid of much of the ice despite the continuous freezing weather, and gurgling and rippling in tune with the dawning spring, she rushes on her way as if under a spell of enchantment. The soft breeze play over the gloss, and the yellow sunlight kisses the ragged masses of floating ice and snow-covered bars into radiant smiles, and the sportsman is in high feather.

The legendary old Platte is dear to the heart of all the followers of the gun, and at this time of the year presents a thrillingly beautiful picture, as it flows with a mighty impetuosity onward and downward through one of the most magnificent agricultural and grazing regions of the world, so lovely and yet so romantic in its surrounding details, so impressive in its sweep of grandeur. Way off there are the dim outlines of the barren uplands, with their lacustral borders, where the cottonwoods stand naked and spectral, but gleaming topaz in the soft light; along the sprawling bedway, jut innumberable towheads and islands dark and gloomy in the shadows, but affording unsurpasses blinds for the hunter. Stretching before you, through a network of moving ice and snow-laden floes, the savage river, a glittering expanse of crystal waters, dim artery of all the vast country roundabout, everywhere offers a favored resting place for the royal Canada, the canvasback and mallard, as well as the crow and the fish-hawk.

As all local hunters know, the Platte is a peculiar stream and at this season of the year is a seemingly interminable stretch of watery wilderness, the whole country for miles, at places, appearing to be so swallowed up by its extending shores as to make it next to impossible to pick out and distinguish the river proper. The main channel, if there be such a thing, even to one familiar with the configuration of the landscape, cannot be determined from the almost countless sluices, divides, cut-offs, guts and cul-de-sacs which fairly reticulate its broad bed. It is seldom, if ever, at any point over a man's head, although from one to one and a half miles wide, and at some points wider. There are channels deeper than others, of course, and treacherous holes and beds of quicksand, which make it exceedingly hazardous, even for the most adventurous and skillful ducker to enter, yet in their high "waders" they boldly penetrate to the most remote bar and cross and recross here, there, in fact, everywhere without fear or disaster in the ardor of the chase. Yet many an unwary and inexperienced spring shooter has met his death in its swift, cold and perfidious depths. Men hunting on the Platte at this time of the year cannot be too cautious.

From time immemorial this erratic waterway has been one of the most celebrated resting and roosting places for wild geese, during their spring and fall migrations, there is in the world and is a haunt more numerously visited by both geese and ducks of any accessible in this section of the great west. The birds fly off to the corn and stubble fields in the morning for food, returning for ablution and rest shortly before noon and then off again about the middle of the afternoon for their vesperian banquet and back in the gloaming for rest and safety on the bars through the dreary hours of the night, when the redtail hawk sleeps and the coyote whines in impotent rage on the distant bluff's side.

But here we are in one of Sam Richmond's blinds below Clarks. The morning has risen fresh, radiant and rosy as Aphrodite from her bath in the sea. The pink and pearl of dawn have faded, the bluffs have warmed into purple, while the white tops of the cottonwoods have brightened into gold. The sun is kindling the brown grass and weeds and greening willows into yellow life, and picking out the sprouts and dank leaves has given them an acute tinge, and lifting her veil has o'erspread the universe with glad illumination.


There comes a bunch of Canadas, with apparently tired stroke of huge pinion, up the river's channel, with a noble old honker, almost as big as the fabled Roe, piloting the way and sounding his clarion trumpet that all is well as he cleaves the ambient air.

"Ah! they see our decoys and have actually set their wings and are drifting in. Don't stir; I'll take the big fellow after he passes you."

The next instant the birds are within reach and we are upon our feet. I pour my first barrel into the side of the old pilot and with an affrightened ah-unk, he begins to climb, and in my hurry and eagerness to stop his ascent, I make a clean miss with the second barrel. Then I hear the crack, crack of your Lefever, then a splash in the water and a thud on the bar, as a goose drops at each report, and I slowly drop back into my hole to do a little thinking. You remember that morning, don't you, Doctor, and the eloquent words I spoke as you came back and threw your two birds into the pit? And what a day we made of it. But ah's me! that was nearly a dozen years ago.