Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

March 6, 1921. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 56(28): 3-W.

Springtime Charm Along the Famous Old Platte

By Sandy Griswold.

Duck shooting, a few years ago, at this time of the year, was at its height out along the legendary old Platte, and, in fact, on all other favored grounds throughout the state. Every outgoing and incoming train bore it complement of gunners, on the way, or returning from a hunt.

Generally, it used to be, the shooting began along the Platte river before it did any place else, but after it once set in on the romantic old stream, it quickly followed on our other rivers, lakes ad marshes, and nowhere in the broad land, from Currituck to the Sui Sun, was there better sport or finer birds.

The reason that the Platte river got the first call was probably because it was, and still is, the first of all the waters of the state to open up. The swift current gets in its work on the icy barriers while the slower running streams and still waters are yet locked in their rigid fetters, and its glistening reaches attract the first flight of birds - invariably the pintails - up from the south.

Indeed, the Platte, in the spring, used to be one of the best wild fowl shooting grounds in the whole broad universe, and it had been from time immemorial, and so long as ducks and geese fly it still will be the favorite resort of sportsmen, when the law did not now forbid.

And what a famous old rivulet it is, anyway, and what was there to compare, in the sweet dawn of spring, with a few days outing along its bewillowed and becottonwooded shores? What could have been more thrilling, healthful and picturesque? Along about this time, the ice-choked stream, generally, would be rushing and frothing and gurgling on its way under a spell of enchantment found but few places elsewhere, with the soft, south breezes, playing over its rough and ever-changing gloss, and the yellow sunshine glinting into jewels the ragged masses of floating ice, and the gray bars and greening towheads into riant smiles. Truly, this sprawling and mystic old torrent, in the delicious vernal season, usually presents a blood-tingling picture, as it turbulently hurries on, with a mighty impetuosity, on and onward, and down, through what has become today one of the most magnificent agricultural and grazing regions on the face of the globe, entrancing and romantic in its surroundings, majestic in its sweep of grandeur.

Off yonder are the outlines of the teeming uplands, tapering gracefully down into the spacious valley, along whose borders are scattered, still naked, so far as verdure is concerned, white and spectral, great glistening cottonwoods and reddening willows, gleaming with opalescent splendor in the soft spring light. And then ahead and behind stretches a tortuous chain of islands and towheads, showing green in the shadows, and affording matchless places for hiding, where you get a thrilling view, through a network of spheres of foam and moving ice and tumultuous floes, up and down the savage Platte.

it certainly makes a grand artery for all the vast farming lands on either side, as well as an inviting haven for voyaging Canada, for mallard, red-head, pintail, teal, widgeon and fish hawk.

The Platte is usually a most peculiar and fascinating waterway, particularly in the breakup of the spring - an interminable stretch, almost, of watery wilderness, the whole country for miles and miles and miles actually being swallowed up by its extended shores, and making it almost impossible to distinguish the river proper from its innumerable tributary channels, sluices, cut-offs, overflows and cul-de-sacs.

The main channel, if there is such a thing, during this impulsive spring onrush, even to the old duck hunter familiar with the configuration of the landscape and the normal course of the stream, cannot be determined from the countless other dashing, roaring frothy currents that fill its broadened amplitude.

One hundred miles or so, west of Omaha even in this great vernal tide, the river is not, at many points, over a man's head, although from one to two and sometimes more, miles wide, and daring and venturesome duck hunters wade it with impunity, despite its treacherous offsets, blind holes and dangerous and treacherous beds of quicksand. It was hazardous pastime, to be sure, but that only seemed to add to its attraction, when we were after the birds. In our high waders we used to penetrate to the remotest bar and cross and recross, here and there, in fact, about everywhere, without a qualm of fear, or an apprehension of disaster. But, let me tell you there was always great peril in shooting on the Platte in the vernal crash, and many an unwary and inexperienced shooter has met his death in its cold and perfidious depths.

Hunters going out on the Platte, even in the more amiable autumn time, cannot be too careful, old or young, experienced or inexperienced, for it is always, excepting in its minimum stage in late summer, a most dangerous proposition.

One more word. From those almost mythical days, where the white domed prairie schooners trundled along the virgin shores of this hallowed old stream, over the oil trail, Oregon bound, it has been one of the most celebrated resting and feeding and roosting places for the wild goose, during its spring and fall migrations, there is in the world, and while rapidly waning now, it is still a haunt numerously visited by the geese and the ducks, too, but in olden times was particularly famous for the larger birds, and for its swan, whooping and sandhill cranes.

While the habits of these birds have undergone much remodeling since those fabled days of old, they used to be as regular as a clock, flying off to their distant feeding fields in the morning, say along about 8 o'clock, or a trifle later, and return for ablution, gravel and rest shortly before noonday; then off again about the middle of the afternoon for their vesperian banquet afield, and back in the golden gloaming for their night's recuperation in safety on the long bars. Here they squatted on the cold sands in absolute security from man or coyote during these solemn hours. The wild goose is more of a land bird than any of the other members of the wild fowl family, and they will never sleep on the water when they can find solid footing on the ground.

It used to be one great glory to shoot geese and wild ducks on the Platte in the glowering days of March, and would we could but know them once again. What worlds of rest and recreation there was in such a privilege, what a health restorer, what a blood and mind purifier, it all was.

How strong and vigorous and eager we felt in the morning, when fresh and radiant as Aphrodite from her crystal bath, the all grand illumination broke over the gladsome earth. In ecstasy we would watch the pinkish tints of dawn fade away; the distant bluffs warm into purple, the willows and the cottonwoods glow into purest gold, and the long lines of ducks and geese coursing the aerial paths above.

Ah's me! Those wondrous birds! Those racers of the glorious skies! Ah's me! I repeat - those ducks and geese! The nerves that would not twang and thrill at such a scene are dead, indeed, and there is no balm in Giliad.