Ordinarily, even in such exquisite autumn weather as was vouchsafed the sportsmen all through the third week of the present month, in the years gone by, there were plenty of ducks to keep them busy whenever they felt disposed to indulge in the sport.
Not so, today, however, and about nine out of every 10 hunters that did venture into the sandhills or out along the Missouri or the Plate, got beautifully skinned, the shooting being the poorest ever known in these favored old regions.
Even the crop of locally bred birds was away short of anything like the usual average, with the bluewing teal, always the most plentiful of all the ducks in the early fall, scarcer than they had ever been before. Of course there were many hunters who were favored with all the sport they ought to be rightfully entitled to, especially in the early morning and late evening, but it was but the mildest kind of reminder of the days of yore.
Shadows of Change.
Notwithstanding the scarcity of the birds in these early days of the season, there is soon to be a change if it has not already taken place, and with plenty of water and plenty of feed everywhere, the shooting should be all that the most ardent soul could desire. But so far as there being any great flight from the north at any time, that you need not look for. Of course the bulk of the birds have been lingering uncommonly long this fall, hundreds of miles to the north of us, for the weather throughout all that vast country lying this side the great arctic bays has been just as charming as it has in this latitude, and there has been no incentive for the birds to move.
The time is growing short, however, and they will soon be coming in, but not as formerly, in one huge overnight flight, but in straggling flocks, at all times, both day and night, as has marked their movements for several years now.
What to Look For.
A word as to near future weather probabilities. Whatever the calendar may say about what is likely to be the case, it has been my own studious observation extending over a period of 40 years right here in Nebraska, we do not have the real wild fowl conditions, that is generally, until after the golden days of October have faded, and the drab ones of November are upon us.
Generally the coming month is the ideal one, not only for an abundance of the birds, but the surety of being able to preserve them until you are ready to make the return trip home. With the likely exception of two or three real cold and inclement spells, we are granted a fair supply of clear skies, balmy sunshine and gentle winds, and not until the closing days of the month does winter take a real grip upon us, and often the genial protean weather is stretcher clear up to the holidays.
The Glories of October.
October, with the exception of an inaugural week, has maintained the wonders of the whole year in the way of remarkable weather, and so warm and balmy were the conditions of things, that many species of vegetation that have taken on a new start that most of the birds that did go south in that first drear week have come back and for the past few days the signs have been good that the northern birds will soon be on hand, as there has been an unusual flight of boreal birds, the hawks and the owls, from their natural haunts in the far north. This is a real forerunner of good hunting. And it is my belief that the sportsmen who have delayed their annual foray until now are the ones who are going to enjoy some really fine sport.
The Unafraid Hunter.
While there are few men who enjoy winter as they do summer, the gunner is a hardy critter, and just so the ducks and geese are flying, he finds an extra fascination in the sport in the worst booms of early winter's austerity. And yet the man who goes forth out of a pure love of nature, the well-known lines of Shakespeare are apropos.
"Now is the winter of our discontent."
And the most of us are well prepared to lie to until well along when the harbingers of another vernal season come trooping up from the south.
The Solace of a Grim Day!
If winter comes, and it surely will, you will miss one of the greatest witcheries of the whole year, until you go down into the tangle along the Elkhorn or the great woods up along the River road, and stand there with your back up against the bole of some old Anak of the forest and gaze about you, then, it is more than likely, you will appreciate how rare and peculiarly impressive is the sense of absolute silence - the soundless deathly quiet in earth and air on such a day, and which is only broken, at long intervals, by the cawing of some distant crow, of the lonely note of the little, indomitable chickadee, but even these, fantasies of the hearing, as they really seem, are as quickly engulfed in the vastness of chilly silence.
That is why I find solace in the winter time.
There is a potency in the sense of utter desolation when alone in the soundless woods on a December day, that is hardly equaled by any display of nature's tremendous energies, let it be in the cold and lonesome blind on some sandhills marsh, or in a hole in the sand on some river bar, waiting, watching and hoping for one more shot at a foolhardy duck or majestic goose.
The Last of the Hawks.
And then, too, nothing seems to so aptly symbolize the spirit of the grim in its gloom, in the mind of the hardy sportsman, as the sight of a lone hawk curling in his magnificent flight, far up in the great cold vault above searching with his telescopic eyes for a scanty meal upon some unfortunate victim of your shotgun.
And withal I must claim, there is but rare gayety in the heart of the hunter or nature lover amidst the grim season that will so soon be upon us, on the occasion of one of those driving snowstorms, as we so well know them here, and causing such a wailing over the blurried prairie and among the naked boughs of the trees.
- "Bare, ruined days, where so late the sweet birds sang."
These and all other ghostly things that contribute regret to the last days of the shooting season, nature's annual burial.October 30, 1927. Sunday World-Herald 63(5): 13-W. Leaves from the Notebook of an Old Nature Student.