Shooting by Hon. Mrs. Lancelot Lowther
In these few words on Shooting for Women, I must begin by saying that as
this is my first attempt at writing, I hope any faults I may make will
be lightly treated. It is only within the last few years that the idea
of a woman being able to see a gun without screaming, much less fire one
off, has even been thought of, but now I venture to say that there are
many women who are just as good shots with both gun and rifle as men,
and perhaps some better. I do not mean to infer that we can count
amongst our number anyone who can take the place which Lord de Grey,
Lord Walsingham, and a few others take amongst men, but as shooting
becomes more popular, and is more practised among women, I daresay we
shall in years to come see some of the latter just as good even as those
I have named.
I am afraid it will take some time for men to get over the terror which
the sight of a woman with a loaded gun in her hand always gives them.
The reason of this is that they think we are much too careless to be
trusted with such a dangerous weapon, and that we think no more of
carrying a loaded gun than if we had a walking-stick in our hands. The
first thing, therefore, that a women who takes up shooting has to
remember is, that as an Irishman once said about a gun, "loaded or
unloaded, she's dangerous." One cannot be too careful in handling either
a gun or rifle, always to have it at half cock when not actually
shooting, and always to take out the cartridges when getting over or
through a fence. Accidents happen quite easily enough without Providence
being tempted by the neglect of these simple precautions.
A woman requires a light gun if she is to carry it all day. There are,
of course, as every one knows, a variety of different bores. I will
mention the ones mostly used, which are the 20, 16, 14, and 12-bores.
The 20 and 16-bores are mostly made for women, but personally I prefer a
12-bore double-barrel hammerless gun. Of course it must be made rather
lighter than for a man. I have always myself used one of these that was
specially made for me, weighing exactly 6 lbs., both barrels medium
choke, and a thick india-rubber pad at the end of the stock to prevent
all recoil. The cartridges I use are made with Schultze powder 35
grains, and seven-eighths of No. 6 shot. I have found this a perfect
gun, and one I should always recommend. It is not too heavy, and is
first-rate for shooting pheasants, partridges, pigeons, etc.
The great thing in ordering a gun is to have it very well balanced, a
thing which is hard to describe but which is easily told apart, as no
one who has tried the two can fail to appreciate the well-balanced gun
as against the badly-balanced one. It chiefly consists in having the
muzzle and stock of the gun to divide their weight, neither one nor the
other being a half ounce too heavy. When choosing a gun, it is necessary
to put it several times quickly to the shoulder at an object level with
the eye, and if the sight taken comes fair on the mark aimed at, the gun
will probably suit. Another thing to remember and guard against, is
having cartridges loaded too heavily for the gun, as it makes the gun
"kick," and nothing puts you off shooting so much as expecting every
time you fire to have your shoulder bruised. This is beside very
dangerous for a woman. If, however, a gun fits you properly, and the
charge of the cartridges is proportionate to the size of the gun, a
"kick" should never happen.
You must also be particular to have the stock exactly the right length,
so that it can be brought up quickly and easily to the shoulder. It must
be held firmly against the shoulder, with the left arm extended as
straight as possible from the shoulder and the right hand behind the
More accidents happen by following game with the gun than by any other
means. There are very strict rules of etiquette to be observed in
shooting, as in hunting or any other sport, and nobody is more hated and
feared than a jealous shot. These are indeed a source of danger to
everyone, as they are always so anxious to add another bird to their
score that they never give any thought to their neighbours, or think of
other people. For a person, whether a man or woman, who is beginning to
shoot, the best thing is to go out with some experienced shot or keeper
who will thoroughly explain the art of shooting, and show how to load
and unload a gun and how to hold it. To quote from the excellent article
on Shooting in the Badminton Library: "A beginner should at first
start with a small charge of powder and be taught to fire this off at
small birds, every attention being paid to his handling his gun with
safety as if it were loaded. He may next shoot at small birds with a
half ounce of shot. If he succeed pretty well, and is above all things
careful in the way he manages his gun, he can next be permitted to fire
at pigeons—with their wings slightly clipped, so as not to fly too
fast—from under a flower-pot or out of a trap, at a distance of fifteen
CLAY PIGEON TRAP.
(Used at Charles Lancaster's Shooting Grounds.)
You must remember that accuracy of aim will only come by practice. When
you are fairly sure of yourself the next step is to go out to walk birds
up, but you must get it carefully explained by an authority what birds
you ought to fire at, and what are to be left alone, and on no account
should you, if walking in line, fire across a neighbour's gun, or at
birds that strictly belong to others from their having got up nearer to
them than to you. It is always better to fire a yard too far ahead of
flying birds or running game than too far in the rear. In the former
case, the shot is more likely to meet the mark, in the latter it never
can. In the former if it does count a hit it means one in a vital part,
the head, in the latter at most it means a wound in the extremities. It
is utterly impossible to measure distances in the air in front of a
flying bird or running game; instinct, aided by practical experience,
will alone teach the hand and eye to obey the brain in this respect, and
to give the correct distance at which to aim in front.
If a rifle is required for small game such as rabbits and young rooks, a
300-bore Holland rook rifle would be useful. Rifle shooting is a far
more difficult thing, and requires more practice than shooting with a
gun. You must have a very steady hand and straight eye to be a good
rifle shot. It has often been remarked that a woman as a rule shoots
better with a rifle than a gun. I do not quite know why this should be
the case, but so it is. When shooting with a rifle one must never forget
that a bullet from even one of the smallest rifles goes a very
I used, as a girl, to have many an enjoyable evening's sport with my
rifle in the park at home, stalking "Brer" rabbit, of which there were
any number, but the difficulty was to get up to them, as they were very
shy from being constantly shot at, and at the slightest noise used to
scurry off and disappear like lightning down their burrows. Some
evenings I used to bring home two or three rabbits, though oftener than
not, none at all, but whatever the result, it was all the same a very
pleasant way of spending a summer's evening, and there was a good deal
of excitement about it. Then another great amusement of both my
brother's and mine was rook shooting. Most people, unless they have
tried it themselves, would think there couldn't be much sport in
shooting at a young rook sitting quietly on a branch of a tree unable to
fly away, but let them once try rook shooting with a 300-bore rifle,
when there is enough wind to blow the trees about, and they will find it
requires no small amount of skill to fetch down a young rook from the
top of a high tree which is gently swaying to and fro. There are two
difficulties in this particular form of shooting which affect a woman
perhaps more than a man. The strained attitude in aiming, necessitated
by the height at which the rooks build their nests, causes serious
stiffness at the back of the neck, which soon communicates with the
muscles of the shoulders and obliges one to rest awhile. Again, and
this more especially occurs when the tree-tops are moving, the tiny
target a young rook makes when peeping out of its nest, will soon become
indistinguishable among the twigs and branches around it, unless the
sight taken is both instantaneous and accurate. Many a time has it
happened to me to gaze and gaze down the barrel of my rifle vainly
attempting to draw a bead upon the swinging rooklet, until everything
becomes blurred and blotted, and I was perforce obliged to bring the
rifle down in despair.
I may say at once that I have a decided preference for the rifle as
opposed to the gun, though I should be the last to minimise the
pleasures of pheasant and partridge shooting. I am not one of those
women who prefer the excitement of a regular "battue" to the more sober
joys of a quiet pot-hunt. To begin with, there is no doubt that a woman
is a great bore at anything like an organised shooting party. It would
do the intending lady-shot good to see the faces of the men on hearing
that they are to have the honour of her company during the day. The
smothered grumbles of the younger sportsmen are drowned in the more
forcible ejaculations of the older generation. But apart from this, and
I am not for one moment assuming that it is the duty of women to
consider exclusively the whims of the sterner sex, there always seems to
me to be some special enjoyment in sallying forth with the object of
replenishing an exhausted larder, and with the certainty of having to
work one's hardest to accomplish the task. Every shot then becomes of
importance, and the comparative scarcity of the prey redoubles one's
vigilance and activity. Should the wily partridge elude your aim on
these occasions, you feel as if some tremendous disaster had occurred,
and your spirits do not recover their normal condition until some
special success has rewarded your efforts, and a long and difficult shot
has added another victim to the bag. In shooting, as in so many other
pursuits, it is quality not quantity that should be sought.
From a Painting by Miss Maud Earl.
POINTER ON PARTRIDGE.
One of the most amusing day's shooting I ever remember was a hare drive
in Austria. We left the house at one o'clock and drove about eight miles
through a very flat country to the "rendezvous," where we found a
perfect army of beaters who were chatting volubly in an unknown tongue.
I discovered later that they were talking Polish, which is the common
language of the peasants in that part of Silesia adjoining the
Austrian-Russian frontier. The men were mostly barefooted, but in other
respects resembled the average English beater. The keepers were
distinguished by their green livery and Austrian conical hats. They
carried horns slung from their shoulders, and when a line had been
formed some quarter of a mile in length, the signal was given by the
head-keeper on his horn and was taken up by his subordinates. An
excellent method was observed in allotting a certain number of beaters
to the care of each keeper, who was then responsible for their
maintaining a good line and preventing stragglers.
The ten guns were of course distributed at intervals along the line, and
we started across level fields of potato and beet-root sugar roots which
took the place of our turnips, and were much easier to walk through.
There were no fences, and the fields were divided by ditches and low
banks. Game was plentiful, and although we only shot for about
two-and-a-half hours, we succeeded in killing about two hundred hares
and several partridges. The beater who carried my cartridges was greatly
excited whenever I was fortunate enough to kill a hare, and jabbered
away in his native tongue. I have never heard anything approaching that
language. It is a fearful and wonderful thing, and I wished I could have
brought some of it away with me to use on special occasions in England.
The only drawback was the weather. It rained cats and dogs, and while I
was glad to note that England has not the monopoly of inclement weather,
I must confess that the Austrians think no more of a wet jacket than we
do. At five o'clock we gave up, and returned home wet to the skin, but
none the less my husband and I have the pleasantest recollection of our
first day's shooting in Austria.
Before closing this article I must refer shortly to the subject of
dress. The first thing to remember, is always to have a dress of some
dark or neutral tinted material that will not be conspicuous on a moor
or when birds are being driven, and which will also keep out the rain. A
short skirt, breeches, thick boots, and either woollen stockings or
gaiters, and a double-breasted loose coat are the most convenient as
well as the most sportsman-like. But the coat must be loosely made, so
as to allow one to bring the gun up to the shoulder quickly and easily,
otherwise it will seriously interfere with the shooting.
From a Painting by Miss Maud Earl.
CHAMPIONS SHANDON II. AND GERALDINE.
A friend, whose name I may not divulge, has kindly given me the
following notes, and I venture to think that their excellence will make
them acceptable, even though the writer prefers to remain
Shooting is a sport which requires neatness, accuracy, and the most
persevering practice. Its real pleasure lies in successful shots rather
than in the number of slain. Of course this does not mean that you
should chance doubtful shots, but rather that you should gain the skill
enabling you to kill a driven grouse, or partridge, or rabbit crossing a
ride, or a high-flying pheasant, neatly, instantaneously, and with
scarcely the loss of a feather or fluff of fur. To do this, constant,
steady and unremitting practice will be necessary.
With regard to the choice of a gun I have little to add to Mrs.
Lowther's remarks. Many people would say that you might begin practising
with a common gun, but my strong advice is to get a good weapon to learn
with, for you will overcome difficulties much more easily if you have a
really good gun, and one that fits. The good shot, indeed, may do
fairly well with a less perfect gun, but in my opinion a beginner should
have the best possible weapons to her hand. Bad shooting will not spoil
a good gun, but an uncomfortable ill-fitting, too heavy gun, may spoil
the novice as a shot for ever.
Having chosen a suitable gun, the next thing to do is to learn to shoot.
If the gun fits you well, this is no difficult matter, at all events up
to a certain point. Aim should be constantly taken at a small paper
target set up in a room, and regular practice should be had every day at
bringing the gun quickly up to the shoulder, with the sight on the mark
at which you aim. Thus, fixing the eye on the imaginary point at which
you are shooting, and holding the gun lightly and firmly, bring it up to
the shoulder so that as soon as it is in position you could fire at the
object without delay. As soon as you find you can do this, the gun still
unloaded, should be the companion of your walks, and should be brought
up to the shoulder in the same way at birds, rabbits, or any mark
animate or inanimate that you please. This practice will have the double
advantage of training your eye and hand, and accustoming you to the
weight of the gun, which though not great, will yet be felt after you
have tramped a good many miles.
Then you need to learn to judge distance. A good plan is to fix on an
object in front of you when out for a walk, and after saying to yourself
how far it is off, to pace the distance. Another good plan is to cut out
of cardboard a rough figure of a bird, pheasant, or partridge, and
fasten it to a tree. Then measure forty yards, thirty-five yards, and
twenty yards, for you should never shoot at birds much nearer than that.
After this begin at twenty yards and move slowly back, aiming every yard
or so and making mental notes of the size of the cardboard bird as it
appears to you. Half the missing, and more than half the wounded birds,
come from a want of power to judge distance. Fortunately continued
practice is very easy, and you should be always measuring distance when
you are out walking.
Boys when they learn to shoot either go out with the keeper or get shots
at jays, hawks, or other vermin in the woods, or they surreptitiously
prowl about the hedges and shoot at anything that moves. But there are
objections to both these plans for women, who may not have woods in
which to range, and it is hardly necessary to say that the shooting of
small birds is not to be encouraged. So for the next step I would
suggest the clay pigeon. I have found that practice at these is very
useful, and the flights are so ingeniously arranged that plenty of
variety is given to the shooting. If there are several shooting people
in the house, it will be possible to organise little competitions and
sweeps which will improve your shooting by the spirit of emulation. I
may add, by the way, that in country houses a clay bird shooting
competition is a capital thing to fill up the day in the cub-hunting
season, when after an early morning's sport, the rest of the day
sometimes hangs heavily on our visitors' hands.
The next step is to the rabbit, though bunny is a most difficult and
deceptive animal to shoot, having been made by nature at least six
inches too short. The best way for a beginner to shoot rabbits is to go
out with the ferrets, and get shots at them as they are bolted. I prefer
shooting rabbits in this way for quite a beginner, to stalking them in
the open when feeding near their holes, as until one is pretty sure of
killing them, there is always a danger of wounding them, and then they
creep away into their burrows to die miserably. Never shoot at a rabbit
going dead away from you, and learn from the first to aim well forward.
Of course the easiest of all shots for a beginner is at a hare crossing
in covert, but hares are hardly numerous enough in most places and often
are more or less preserved for harriers or coursing. By the time you can
hit a wood pigeon and bowl over a rabbit neatly, you will have made some
progress, and will be able to take up the various kinds of shooting in
I will speak of grouse first, because these birds afford the very best
shooting possible. For women who have the opportunity, there is no doubt
that driven grouse are in some respects more suitable to their powers
than the birds to be obtained after a long fagging tramp over the moors.
With the universal popularity of driving, both with shooters and the
owners of moors, such opportunities are likely to come frequently in the
way of women, whose means enable them to shoot in Scotland. Driving is
popular with owners because it is better for the moors, a larger
proportion of old and therefore useless and injurious birds being
thinned out by this method, than when a moor is shot over dogs in the
ordinary way. With shooters it is popular, because driven grouse afford
perhaps the finest shots of any known game, with the possible exception
of the Himalayan pheasants, as they sweep with their grand rush down the
sides of the mountains.
There are certain points which all shooters of driven grouse should bear
in mind, one being that the eyes should be, so to speak, working in
front of the gun, which should come to the shoulder with one movement,
and the trigger be pulled at once. It is this instinctive action in
shooting which makes the constant practice, on which so much stress has
been laid, so necessary. It cannot, so far as I know, be acquired in any
other way, but if a woman has the perseverance and keenness necessary,
she is likely to acquire it more quickly than a man.
Birds, it must be remembered, coming at the pace of driven grouse, fly
into the shot, and therefore the shooter must aim further in front than
would be the case with birds going at a slower pace. But the angle at
which the birds are coming, their height, and the inclination of their
flight, all make a difference. Infinite variety is the characteristic of
shots at driven birds, and it will need all the coolness and steadiness
of nerve of the shooter to meet each occasion as it arises with
promptness and success. When the birds are coming within shot, the
gunner should fix on the bird she means to shoot at first, this being
the one which is easiest for her, that is to say, the one which offers
the sort of shot at which she is best, and at which, therefore, she can
fire with the most confidence. Then keeping her gun at the shoulder, she
will take the second available one. There is no necessity to look to see
if the first one has fallen, for if you have missed you can do no more,
and if it is dead you should waste no more time on it. This is
undoubtedly the method of shooting grouse most suitable to women. It
gives the minimum of fatigue with the maximum of skill, and it is to
skill rather than bodily force to which a woman must look if she would
excel in sport. For however young, strong, and active she may be, it
must never be forgotten by the prudent sportswoman, that we are the
If, however, the moor on which the woman has the chance of shooting is
not suitable for driving, and some far northern moors yield better
results to dogs, then she may try her luck over the pointers and
setters. Very delightful you will find this, but it is well not to
overtax your strength, not only on your own account, but also to avoid
being regarded as an encumbrance by the male members of the party. Beats
near the lodge, if possible, should be chosen, and luncheon should, in
my opinion, be the signal for the prudent sportswoman to retire.
When I turn from the grouse to the partridge I shall probably have a
much larger public, for partridge shooting is, next to the rabbit, the
most easily attainable form of sport. It varies in quality of course,
but is always enjoyable, though it requires very much smaller
expenditure than the grouse. Almost every girl that can use her gun, may
hope to get a shot at partridges. The partridge is little inferior to
the grouse, or perhaps I may say, it is only inferior in its
surroundings. In its pursuit the wild romantic scenery of the moor, will
be exchanged for the tamer but not less beautiful landscape of the
manor. There are three ways of shooting partridges, the drive, walking
up, and shooting over dogs. The first of these is only suitable for
large estates, and is not therefore within the reach of many women. I
well remember the first time I saw one. The friend to whom I owe most of
my shooting, whom I will call Mrs. Robinson, had herself learned to use
her gun in order to accompany her husband who was very fond of the
sport, and when the management of the estates fell into her hands, she
threw herself enthusiastically into the improvement of the shootings.
Mrs. Robinson does not drive her estate, as she holds that walking up
and shooting over dogs is more suitable for her ground. But she has a
neighbour, Lord B., who does, and it was when I was staying with my old
friend, that the latter asked us both over for a "drive."
I was all excitement at the prospect, novelty having ever a charm for
me, though I was a little nervous too as to how I should acquit myself.
My friend offered some earnest advice. "I have told Lord B. you are a
capital shot, so do keep cool, and remember that the birds fly much
faster than when you are shooting over dogs or walking, and, therefore,
the allowance must be greater. In the first drive you will probably find
yourself placed about twenty yards from a high hedge. Stay where you are
placed, and watch the top of the hedge, and try to shoot the birds as
they appear in sight over it. There are a good many red-legs on the
estate, so you may expect plenty of single shots. If you should be near
Colonel A. watch him, for he is one of the finest shots in England, both
for style and results." It was with a decided feeling of nervousness
that I found myself, as my friend had said, stationed about twenty yards
or more behind a high and rather thick hedge. "You will get some really
sporting shots here," said Colonel A. as he went on to his own station,
which I saw was near to mine. As it happened he got the first birds. I
saw his gun go up—quickly but without flurry—and he fired as it were
all in one motion. Two birds were topping the hedge, and a brace of dead
partridges dropped, killed neatly and instantaneously. Almost
immediately afterwards I got my chance at a single bird. My performance
was not so neat, for the bird went on, towered, and fell behind us. I
need not go into a long history of the day's performance, suffice it to
say I came away thoroughly delighted with partridge driving. The number,
variety and sporting character of the shots, made it a most exciting
day, and when at the close the slain totalled up to 123 brace, I felt
that we had had a really fine shoot. It was not that I took actual
pleasure in the numbers killed, but I had never before seen so many
birds which afforded such sporting shots. I have been almost inclined
since that experience to put partridge driving, for actual skill
displayed, at the head of shooting.
As an illustration of shooting partridges by walking up, I may give an
account of a day's shooting over some of Mrs. Robinson's best ground.
Our party consisted of our hostess, Lord B. and his son, the rector of
the parish and myself. To each of us was assigned a man and a dog, and
in the dogs I took the greatest interest, as they had been bred and
broken by my father and myself. But of these more anon. They were three
good dogs, and one super-excellent one, named Dinah, a black retriever.
There was also a brace of pointers, to save time on the turnips. Mrs.
Robinson adopted the formation of beaters and guns recommended by Mr.
Stuart Wortley in his delightful volume on the Partridge—which every
shooter should read and re-read—that is, of a semicircle, with a gun in
the centre and one on each flank. This is undoubtedly the best plan, for
more, and I think better, shots are obtained than by walking in a
straight line. In root crops we left the beaters, and let loose the
pointers, which is a saving of time, and is far the most effectual. Two
guns went with each dog and took the points in turn. The root crops
finished, the pointers were called up and the beat resumed. Then we used
to walk up the partridges on the various beats. The estate was well
preserved, the keeper being both popular and efficient.
But I think perhaps the days I liked best were those on which my friend
and I went out alone, with two steady pointers and my dear old Dinah,
and picked up what birds we could. Of course it is difficult now to make
large bags over dogs, even where birds are plentiful, as they do not lie
to dogs in the shaven fields of modern times as they used to do in the
days of stubble fields, nevertheless, we were generally able to pick up
four or five brace in a morning, and a few rabbits. Hares were preserved
for a pack of harriers, much affected by the farmers on the estate.
Sometimes too, we would beat the hedgerows with a brace of good clumbers
for rabbits, or stray pheasants, and once, in a little copse or spinney,
we found, and I shot, a woodcock.
In turning to the subject of pheasants I have not a great deal to say,
the opportunity of shooting them in these days coming but rarely to
women. There are many reasons why a woman is out of place in big shoots,
and as pheasants now are not often shot in any other way, it is not easy
to get much practice at them. Nevertheless, there are one or two places
on my father's property where, with a steady old setter, I can generally
find a brace of pheasants or more. A pheasant flushed in a hedgerow, is
no doubt sometimes an easy shot when you are in practice, but it is good
for beginners, as is everything that gives you confidence in yourself.
When you shoot your first pheasant and he comes down stone-dead, you
feel you really are a sportswoman, and a new confidence which brings
success in its train, springs up in your heart. In woods, of course, the
birds give a greater trial of skill, as you must as a rule make longer
shots, for they will be travelling much faster.
I seem to have said but little about pheasants which are after all the
most important game, but the principles of shooting are the same in all
cases, and with such pheasants as come in your way, you will be able to
deal, if you read and put in practice the general precepts I have given,
not forgetting to attend to the list of "Don'ts" to be found at the
We now come to rabbits, which are very important from one point of view,
for the woman who can get nothing else can often get shots at "Bunny."
There are so many ways you can get him. You may bolt him with ferrets,
you may stalk him with a rabbit rifle or a gun, you may drive him out of
covert with fox terriers or beagles, or you may make him the occasion of
a big shoot of his own. There is one thing about the rabbit which is
invaluable, he hardly ever offers you an easy shot, and very often he is
one of the hardest animals in the world to hit. Rabbit shooting in
company, unless that company be one of the most select, is decidedly
dangerous, for more stray, careless and excited shots are made at
rabbits than at any other form of sport. I am somewhat solitary in my
sporting tastes, and much as I love the chasse aux lapins, I like it
in solitude, or at all events with one trusted companion.
The form that I really prefer is that which in my younger days prevailed
in Sussex, of bringing the rabbits out of their haunts with a small pack
of rough beagles, the charming cry of these little hounds adding greatly
to the pleasure of the day. About four couples are quite enough, and
they should be well under control or you may find yourself toiling
after your vanishing pack as they run the line of a hare, or even a fox.
Beagles which are wanted for this kind of work should be kept strictly
to rabbits and well exercised, so that they may be steady. Some
preparation is desirable for a day of this kind, and in order to keep
the rabbits above ground it is wise to run muzzled ferrets through the
burrows a day or two before. The rabbits will then lie above ground.
There is near my home a hill covered with patches of gorse, which we
keep for this kind of shooting. We are very careful about our invited
guns, as a careless shot easily mistakes a beagle for a rabbit. Indeed
this sport requires great care and steadiness. But to my mind it is one
of the most exciting and enjoyable of sports, the cry of the little
hounds, the ringing shots, the dart of the little brown forms with their
snowy patches of white down, the pleasure of success as the
neatly-killed "bunny" turns over dead in his tracks, make up a most
delightful whole for the enthusiastic gunner. The same kind of sport can
be followed by spaniels, free-tongued dogs of any race being the best.
Spaniels are better than any other dogs for working thick hedgerows,
into which rabbits have been previously bolted by ferrets. Some people
use terriers, but I only advise these when you have no other dogs handy.
It is most difficult to keep terriers above ground. They should at any
rate never be taken out in the spring, if you know of an earth in which
a vixen fox may have lain up, or into coverts where foxes are.
If you wish to enjoy the pleasures of deer stalking on a small scale,
take out a small rifle and stalk rabbits. You will find it a most
entrancing sport, calling out all your knowledge of woodcraft, and
teaching you much you did not know before. You will not shoot many
rabbits, but those you do get will be well earned. Remember, however,
that bullets from these rifles travel a long way, and that you should
always know what is behind the rabbit when you shoot. By the time you
can kill a rabbit fairly often, at from fifty to sixty yards with a
bullet, you will be a good shot.
From a Painting by Miss Maud Earl.
Of other kinds of shooting it is not necessary that I should write much,
for if you can shoot easily and well under the circumstances I have
spoken of, you will be able to fire at anything with a fair and
reasonable chance of hitting it. One form of shooting is both difficult
and interesting, and that is catching wood pigeons on the return flight
in the evening. Many a time have I waited an hour or more for a few
shots, though often returning home empty-handed after all. But when
successful, I have had the greatest possible pleasure in getting only
one or two pigeons, which have been due to really creditable shooting.
Dogs and dog-breaking. This is a subject on which I can speak with
enthusiasm, and with a certain amount of practical knowledge. Everyone
knows that in these days landowners have to consider all ways possible
of utilising their land, and of making money. Some years ago our home
farm came back on our hands in a very poor state. Never very good land,
the last tenant who had been insolvent for years, had not been able to
afford to keep the stock required, much less to use artificial manures.
My father and I decided to take it in hand ourselves, and to use it
partly as a game farm and partly as ground on which to break our dogs.
The cultivation of the farm was carried on in such a way as to form
covert for all sorts of game, and I may say that by care and personal
management, the farm is now one of the most profitable on the estate.
We always had some good retrievers, and we decided to increase the size
of our kennels, and to raise and break a certain number of retrievers
and setters for the market. My father and I reckoned that there was now
a real market for good thoroughly broken retrievers. I had seen enough
of keepers and their ways with dogs, to feel sure that very few of them
understood and cared for dogs, and I determined to see to the breaking
We have never shown, because we think the show bench and judging ring
are not good for dogs which are really meant for business, but we use
many of the leading prize strains. "Dinah," the best retriever I ever
had, and a bitch which seems to have the power of transmitting her
virtues to her descendants, is a black retriever of a well-known strain.
She is a model of intelligence and a beautiful worker. She watches the
birds fall, and is wonderfully good in marking the spot where they come
to the ground. No bird ever escapes her, unless it goes to ground, as
pheasants will sometimes, and you can call her up at any moment. I
attribute her obedience and docility to the fact that she has been my
constant companion, for retrievers cannot be too much with their
owners, and the first thing in training is to make friends with the
puppy, and get him thoroughly in hand before his field education begins.
Nothing is more fatal than a headstrong disposition, which I am
convinced is often the result of bad treatment. "In for a penny, in for
a pound," seems to be the reflection of a retriever, when looking back
at his raging master and evidently understanding that he will be beaten
in any case, he goes off for an entrancing chase after a hare, thus
perhaps spoiling half a day's sport for you. And vice once contracted is
most difficult to eradicate, indeed it was my bitter experience on this
point which led me to undertake the education of my retrievers myself.
As soon as I had attained to some skill in shooting, it was my custom to
take my gun with me whenever I went out for a walk. Now, there is a
small river which runs through our grounds, and at a part of its course
feeds a number of ponds in which probably were fish stews in the time of
the monks, who were our predecessors. There are one or two small islands
on these ponds. One day I had out with me a new purchase, a good-looking
black dog. He came to heel, and retrieved a rabbit I shot, fairly well.
It so happened, however, that not far from the river an old cock
pheasant got out of the hedgerow, and as it was late in the season and
we had done covert shooting, this was a chance for me, so I fired and
hit him. The bird, however, went on, towered and fell into one of the
ponds. Directly I gave the word off went my dog, and I began to think I
had got a treasure. He went straight for the water, plunged boldly in,
and swam direct to the bird, but then to my horror, he went off to the
island, and taking the pheasant ashore proceeded to eat it.
It was then and there that I determined to break my own dogs, and such
success attended my first efforts that we have since done it on a large
scale. "Dinah" was my first attempt. It so happened that a friend of
ours who used to breed retrievers for show purposes, took me to see a
wonderful litter of champion-bred puppies. There were eight, all black
except one which had a white star on her chest. This last, the owner
said, he was going to drown. "Oh! give it to me," I said, moved to pity
for the little round sleek victim. "Well, if you will take it away now,
you can have it." So I carried off "Dinah," and brought her up by hand.
From very early years I was able to teach her obedience, and to fetch
and carry, being greatly helped in her training, by her affection for
me. She has always lived in the house, and consequently understands a
great deal, and I had but little trouble with her. Her lessons in
seeking for hidden bits of meat were a delight to her, but I was very
careful never to allow her to chase. I believe if a dog once does this,
it is most difficult to cure, and that the vice is always liable to
break out again.
I break all the dogs to my own voice and whistle, being attended by a
kennel boy who manipulates the check cords. As to punishment, I carry a
small dog whip, the crack of which is generally sufficient. If a young
persistent offender requires a blow, three stripes will be found enough,
but my experience is that if I cannot break a dog without beating, he is
beyond my powers. The great secret of breaking, however, is
companionship, my retriever for the time being never leaves me, and I
have the kennel dogs in my company as much as possible. Above all, I
always take them out for a run, at least once every day.
The cardinal rules for retriever breaking are:
(a) To get the dog thoroughly obedient and under control.
(b) To make them perfect at the down charge before you attempt to
shoot over them.
(c) To make friends of them.
(d) To check faults at once, and never pass them over.
(e) If a dog shows real vice to get rid of him.
(f) To be patient, and not confound a headstrong disposition with
vice, for some dogs that are troublesome to break, turn out the best.
I believe in high feeding for sporting dogs, and hard work. The fewer
dogs you have and the harder you work them in reason, the better. The
kennel food of our dogs is really the same as that of a pack of hounds,
viz.: good Scotch oatmeal, after it has been kept for a year, horseflesh
or mutton—I dislike beef—with a certain proportion of cabbage boiled
up with it. Once a week I give a raw bone to each dog. No biscuits,
except as rewards.
As to the best kind of retriever, we have had of all kinds, and perhaps
the best after "Dinah" herself, is a cross-bred between her and an Irish
water spaniel. But we do not now keep cross-bred dogs, as they are no
use after the first generation, though you may often get very good ones
then. We now use curly and flat-coated blacks, bred from prize strains.
The grooming of sporting dogs, especially of setters and retrievers is
most important, and cleanliness, assisted by a good disinfectant, will
be found after all the chief element in kennel management.
I have not said anything about the breaking of pointers and setters,
because there is nothing to add to General Hutchinson's system.
Patience, kindness and perseverance will lead you to success, but the
patience required is often great, for it is sometimes not till the third
season that a dog is really at its best. On the other hand there is much
pleasure in it and some profit, and as time goes on, it becomes much
easier, for the young dogs not only inherit the capacities of their
parents, but learn a great deal from them in the field, especially from
Books. The general topics concerning shooting have been so ably dealt
with in several recent books, that it may be well to give a short list
of those likely to be of service to the beginner. I would especially
The Art of Shooting, by C. Lancaster. The diagrams in this book are
most valuable and practical, and there are many useful hints.
The Badminton Library, Shooting, 2 vols. The chapters dealing with
Pheasant shooting are particularly good.
The Fur and Feather Series, The Partridge, a book as delightful to
read as it is useful to study.
Hutchinson on Dog Breaking, a book which has never been approached,
much less surpassed.
Daniel's Rural Sports, to be found in most country house libraries, a
thoroughly useful and practical book from which many subsequent writers
have borrowed. It deals of course with sport from an old-fashioned point
of view, but is none the worse for that.
Tegetmeier's Pheasants, a first-rate standard work, by an expert.
Now let me give a few useful cautions to young shooters:
Don't point your gun at anything but the game you wish to shoot.
Don't risk a shot if you have doubts as to its safety.
Don't fire at birds when too near.
Don't try long gallery shots. It is cruel.
Don't fire at your birds, but in front of them. The exceptions to this,
are birds coming direct to you or going away.
Don't potter in your aim, but aim and fire quickly.
Don't, if you can help it, shut either eye.
Don't wound. If you can't kill neatly, don't fire.
Don't fire at a pheasant's tail feathers, but try to intercept his head.
Don't climb over stiles with a loaded gun.
Don't keep your cartridges in the gun, except when actually waiting for
Don't talk when shooting, or if you must do so, let it be in a low
Don't fire at fur going directly from or to you.
Don't talk about shooting except to sportsmen and sportswomen.
Don't stay out too long and get over-tired, or some or the foregoing
warnings may be forgotten.