Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. February 4, 1900. [Upland Shooting and Lore of the Upland Plover]. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 35(126): 23. Archaic mis-spellings corrected.

Forest, Field and Stream.

  • When the winter storms are howling,
  • And the snow drifts shoe top deep,
  • When the fields are bleak and barren
  • And all nature seems to sleep
  • Then I love to sit and linger
  • By the firesides genial glow,
  • And dream of summer days gone by
  • Mid pastures fair where rivers flow.
  • When the fields are bare of verdure,
  • And the tree tops bend and crack,
  • And the snow flies past in eddies,
  • Then the chimney nook I seek.
  • And live in memory once again
  • In weeds where squirrels play.
  • And by the river sit again
  • And fish in [n.l.] all the day.
  • I take the old rod from its place
  • And joint it up once more.
  • I set the reel and tie the flies
  • And start for Cut-off's shore.
  • The sun is shining bright o'er head,
  • The waters calm and deep.
  • The bass are biting fast and sure,
  • These scenes I love to keep.
  • Stored up in memories gilded halls,
  • Such pictures dear to all.
  • When winter winds are flowing cold,
  • Come back as company at your call.
  • - L.C. Smith, Omaha.

A correspondent, and an old sportsman, writes to know what the distinctive meaning of upland shooting is, and whether it is simply used to divide the sport of the mountainous and hilly country from that of the plains and lowland? He also would like to have a reason for calling the Bartramian sandpiper, upland plover. He says the bird could just as properly be called lowland plover, as it is found with the same frequency in the valleys and on the lowlands as it is on the hills and high lands.

In answering these interesting queries, I will take up the last one first, by announcing that the bird we know here as the upland plover is not a plover at all, but a sandpiper, the Bartramian. The name plover has been given it, not only in this section of the country, but in other localities, as an easy way of distinguishing it from its long-legged confreres, and on account of its similarity to the real plover genus. Unlike the plover, however, it is truly a bird of the uplands, and on account of this striking characteristic, it has been given the prefix "upland" to the name "plover." There is no season in the whole twelve-month when this royal little game bird is found with any degree of certainty near water or on low, damp, boggy ground. While the killdeer is frequently seen where the upland plover is found, and will feed with it on our broad hay fields and plowed grounds of late summer, the plover is never found in the killdeer's favorite resorts along the muddy margins of ponds and lakes and streams, it is sometimes found in the vicinity of these places, but never right at them, and although it has even longer legs than the killdeer, and just as long as the yellowleg, it never ventures to wade in the shallow waters, and feeds entirely upon the coleopterous insects of the newly upturned wheat fields, grasshoppers, on the haying lands, crickets, beetles, worms and larvae.

The upland plover is very abundant throughout all the plains country of Nebraska, and affords the grandest sport of all our visiting game birds as a season when all others, save the dove, are exempt from the gun. They come up from their winter home on the broad plateaus of Texas and Mexico during the latter part of March, linger here a day or so for rest, then continue on to the breeding grounds farther north. Some go as far north as the valley of the Saskatchewan, but the bulk of them breed in the Dakotas, and not a few in the northern part of Nebraska. While shooting up at Pender, one July, several years ago, I ran across a brood of young uplands, little, comical, yellowish, downy balls, but with a speed of foot that was something remarkable. The season of nidification is comparatively short, and by the time the golden rod is pluming our broad prairies with its topaz shafts, long about July 15, they return to this latitude and linger here until the arrival of the first frost, when they again mount the nocturnal air and move back to more southern climes once more. From the middle of July to the last of August is the shooting season on uplands for Omaha sportsmen, and there is no season of the year fuller of charms than this. The upland is indeed a royal bird, and as a bonne bonche for the gastronomic had but few equals. Some fancy him more than they do the delicious jacksnipe, and others rate him even above the quail. They abound here in great numbers during this brief midsummer stay, our broad hay fields, reaches of plowed ground and sunny sloping hillsides being a favored abode. They are extremely shy, and are found scatteringly together over the same feeding grounds, and when flushed never fly off in a bunch, but each bird takes his individual course, such as killdeer, phalaropes, English snipe and yellowlegs.

With the close of the upland plover shooting, the gunning for the summer months reaches its end, and when the delicate purple of the meadow beauty and the soft azure of the lobelia show their sweet faces beneath a clear sun-lit sky, you need no longer listen for that plaintive whistle rippling across the fields or no longer watch for that circling blot of gray against the horizon and over the distant woods, now gradually turning to that yellowish hue of the waning dog days. The golden rod is fading and the sumach reddening in the shadowy gulch and remote fence corners. Then is the time, for patience. The uplands have gone, but autumn, that most jocund season of all, is coming. In a few more weeks the woods and the fields, the crested lake and murmuring stream will form one great hunters' elysium. With the cool nights and cooler mornings, with the the sear prairies, gray sandhills and gayly tinted river valleys, comes the vanguard of those quacking hordes that will once more start the sportsman's heart to beating and make him forget the melancholy but ever dear "tur-wheetle! tur-wheetle" of the upland plover.

The term upland shooting is used not to distinguish the sport of the highlands from that of the low, but that of the inland country, from that along the sea-coasts. The phrase includes a large variety of game, both birds and animals, all those that find habitat in our fields and woodlands, on our mountain tops, hillsides and in our lowlands; the birds of lake, marsh, streams and lagoons; the long-legged waders, the wild fowl, jacksnipe, plover and the shorter-legged denizens of the stubble, corn-field, prairie and tangled copse and thicket.

In other words, we understand by upland shooting, all that is sought by the aid of the dog and the fowling-piece, as opposed to that pursued in boats or over decoys on the lake, the bay or estuary.

It is the cream of all sport, although there are thousands of the gun's votaries, and I am one of them, who deem duck shooting the most fascinating, the most exciting and pleasurable of all, but on the uplands is required a greater combination of the qualities which go to make up the skilled and successful sportsman. He must know just how to handle his gun, must thoroughly understand the habits and haunts of the particular variety of game he seeks, must know how to manage his dog, must have a keen eye, perfect hearing, good nerves and an inexhaustible stock of perseverance and determination.

It is a stupendous job, a day's tramp, under the broiling September sun, over our broad grassy prairies and cloggy sandhills, and through seas of hot standing corn, after chicken; a heroic task to force one's way through the network of vines and interlacing briar and bramble, through tiresome stubble, up hill and down dale, through the woods and across the meadow, after quail; a struggle to wade through the boggy marsh and quaking mire, tussocked sink holes hidden beneath a sheet of muddy water, over ditches and drains, and back again, after the elusive jack. To do this one must be endowed with the bodily vigor of perfect health, and must have in his veins the inherited blood of a sportsman. He must know all the signs of the weather and depend on his own sure foot and sturdy leg, as well as his keen eye, to keep pace with his tireless four-footed friend; upon his own knowledge of the likely places where his wary quarry may lurk, and his own skill to secure the booty when once the keen scent of his canine ally has located it and it cuts the air in its whirring effort to escape.

We have many great field shots and successful hunters in Nebraska, in fact, the whole state is a veritable sportsman's home. The wildest and wariest, the fleetest and sharpest flying of all game birds, and the choicest, from an epicurean standpoint, too, is to be found here in exhilarating abundance. And then our timbered river valleys are full of squirrels and the creek's course a veritable rabbit warren from source to mouth. And our waters, too, are full of gamey fishes, and our marshes the haunts of myriads of wild fowl, from the king of the sky and the main, the swan to geese and ducks and crane and waders of all kinds and varieties.

From the above intimations it will be an easy matter for any sportsman to determine what game comes under the head of upland shooting - the grouse family, quail, jacksnipe, plover, and several varieties of the waders, all the wild fowl family, when shot on passes and not over decoys, doves, and squirrels and rabbits. Thus it will be seen that all upland shooting is not necessarily found on the uplands, and the term is only used to divide the sport from that found on the sea and sea coasts.