by "Old Calabar"
Nearly three months have already passed away since the shooting season
began. I won't say the three best months, because snipe and woodcock
are coming in, and the cream of the pheasant shooting is yet to come.
For myself, much as I like knocking over grouse and partridges, give me
snipe shooting before all. It is the fox-hunting of shooting.
I know of nothing more exciting than getting on to a good snipe bog,
when they lay well and there are plenty of them. When they rise in
whisps, that is, several at a time, you may make up your mind
they are wild and difficult to approach. In snipe shooting always have
the wind on your back.
The snipe ever flies against the wind; therefore you have a much better
shot than you would have if he were to dart away down wind.
If you take a dog, let it be a cautious, knowing old pointer or setter;
the latter is the animal for this sport, because he stands the cold and
water better than the thin-skinned pointer; but I rarely take any dog
but my retriever.
As regards your dress, you are almost sure to get wet; therefore I
never think of putting on long waterproof boots; they are heavy and
tiring to walk in; and if you do get in over them, you are obliged to
turn yourself up to let the water out; but your misery does not end
here, the wet generally brings your worsted stockings down at heel, and
your heavy saturated boots rub the skin of your heels, or ankle bones,
which cripples you for days.
Put on a pair of thick worsted stockings, and a pair of your oldest and
easiest lace-up boots; if there is a hole or two in them so much the
better, they will let the water out all the quicker.
I never use gaiters, they only get wet and make you cold and
uncomfortable. I wear a pair of old trousers; but generally shoot in
nothing but knickerbockers and stockings.
If you have a long way to drive home, a change of stockings and
trousers is advisable, and instead of shoes or slippers, I put on a
pair of sabots and chaussettes: these can be procured at any French
depôt. They are most comfortable and warm, and no trouble to put on.
If you are shooting on heath, brown should be the colour of your dress;
this, indeed, is the best colour for all work.
Many places that were famous for snipe when I was a lad, are now
drained or built on. And a few years hence the snipe and woodcock will
be rare birds with us. There is still a land within easy reach where
they are to be found—Ireland—and there I go every year for a couple
of months, to a very wild part of the country, certainly, and where you
must rough it; but still I enjoy it intensely: and when I am sitting by
my turf fire, with my glass of potheen beside me, my old black clay
between my lips, and my tired setters stretched at their ease by my
feet, I feel thoroughly happy.
There is one thing I always take with me on these Irish excursions, and
that is a comfortable arm-chair. I have had it carried eleven miles
over the mountains for me, to the cabin or farm, or wherever I may be.
This is the only luxury I allow myself.
If you go farther afield than Ireland, and are in for nothing but snipe
shooting, then be off to America; South Carolina is your mark, and
where you may blaze away to your heart's content.
The woodcock flies exactly the same as the snipe; but it is not
necessary to be particular about the wind in his case. In beating large
covers or forests, never go far in, but try the edges. These birds are
also getting much scarcer, for they now take the eggs in Norway and
Sweden, and eat them as we do plovers' eggs.
In looking for woodcock in cold, wet weather, if you do not find them
in their usual haunts, try the sunny side of the wood or hill,
where it is sheltered from the wind; they are remarkably fond of being
where there are holly bushes.
In shooting forests or large covers use spaniels; but these dogs must
be perfectly broken and never go out of gun range. It is a very
common practice in France to have bells round their dogs' necks, so
that you may know where they are; but I do not like it, it frightens
the birds; and there is danger attached to it. The dogs are sometimes
hung up by the collars. I once remember a very good dog, belonging to a
friend of mine, being killed in this way—he was hung up in some thick
underwood, and when we found him, he was dead. No hunting dog should
ever wear a collar when out, under any circumstances.
November shooting is good shooting, and coverts should not, as a rule,
be beaten before then, as the leaves are not off enough; a quantity of
game is wounded and never found, and is left to linger and die. In
November, too, the walking is much better; it is cooler and the scent
lies stronger; birds may be wilder but they are in finer condition, and
remain so till the frosts come; but even then, unless it is very hard,
they keep their condition. It is snow that destroys all birds'
condition. A few days' snow, and birds not only fall miserably away,
but they get much tamer, and immense numbers are killed by poachers, as
well as rabbits and hares, which are easily tracked; and as they are
not able to go at any pace, a dog with a very moderate turn of speed
will run into them.
The best bit of shooting I ever had was a forest in France which I
hired; it was five thousand acres, famous bottom covert in it, and
noted for woodcock; there was a capital shooting lodge, furnished, four
large bed-rooms, two sitting-rooms, kitchen, back-kitchen, wood-houses,
&c.; cow-house, piggery, stable for fourteen or fifteen horses, orchard
of three acres, kitchen-garden, and small field, a gamekeeper's house,
and dog-kennel; in fact, as a shooting-box it was complete; for all
this I paid four hundred francs a year (£16).
The house stood in the centre of the forest; there was a good road to
it, and there was a village a mile off at which you could get anything.
I had it for some years, and I never enjoyed covert shooting so much;
there was fine partridge ground all round the forest, which I had leave
to go over; part of it was mine. There were a few roebuck in the
forest, foxes, and plenty of badgers; with these last we occasionally
had great fun. There was some very fair trout fishing, as well as duck
shooting, any quantity of rabbits; and I never went out without
bringing home a hare or two; there were quail in the season, and snipe
too, and the woodcock shooting was capital.
For a few days in November, thousands and thousands of wood pigeons
made their appearance, and were very tame from a long flight; these
were killed in great numbers. When they first arrived they were
miserably poor, but after a few days they picked up, and were difficult
to get at. I never enjoyed anything more than this bit of rough
shooting; everything was so convenient and comfortable; by the bright
wood fire of an evening we used to smoke, tell our stories, and spin
The game I killed, even at the small price it fetched, paid the rent
and my English keeper. I do not mean to say I sold it, but I exchanged
it away for other things wanted in the house.
November, although one of the dreariest months of the year, is one of
the best shooting months—certainly for general rough shooting.
I have had capital sport in Ireland in this month, especially with the
woodcock on the mountains, as well as with duck and snipe. I always
carried there a ten-bore gun, because I never knew what would get up,
as most of my shooting lay on the borders of Lough Corrib; sometimes a
duck or a goose would give me a shot, so I found a large gun better.
The golden plover are capital fun in November. I once killed twenty-one
at one shot. I was coming down Lough Corrib in my yacht, and discovered
an immense number of plover on one of the small stony flat islands. I
got the dingy out, and was sculled quietly down by one of the men. I
got within forty yards of them, when they rose, and I gave them both
barrels of No. 6 shot. I picked up one-and-twenty, but I think there
were one or two more I could not find. I have had very good
duck-shooting on the lake, in November, which is twenty-eight miles
long, and in one place ten miles wide. My shooting yacht was one of the
most comfortable ones I ever saw, only ten tons; but there was every
convenience in it and plenty of room. I used to go away for a week, and
the quantities of snipe, cock, and wild fowl I brought back astonished
the natives. I would run up some little creek or river of an evening
and anchor occasionally; we cooked on shore when the weather was fine;
we set the night lines, and had always plenty of pike, trout, and eels,
and in summer any quantity of perch, from three-quarters to three
pounds weight each.
I am very fond of wild pheasant shooting in November; the birds are
then strong, in good plumage, and worth killing.
Rabbiting, either shooting or ferreting, is capital sport; by November
the fern and under cover are generally dead, and you can see the little
grey rascals scudding along.
For some years I, in cover shooting,—in fact, all my shooting, have
used nothing but Schultze's wood powder; perhaps it may not be quite so
strong as the ordinary powder, but I am by no means assured of that; it
is quite strong enough for any purpose, and has these advantages over
the ordinary powder:
There is not nearly so much recoil, and in a heavy day's shooting you
do not give up with your head spinning and your shoulder tender.
The report is not so loud either.
The company say, "It shoots with greater force and precision;" this may
or may not be; but I am satisfied of this that it shoots well,
and certainly does not soil the gun nearly so much as other powders.
But there is one thing that alone recommends it to me; that is, the
smoke never hangs, and you can always use your second barrel. How often
in covert shooting, or in the open, on a mild or foggy day, when there
has been no breeze, has the smoke hung, and prevented you putting in
your second barrel? Hundreds of times to me! But with Schultze's powder
there is only a thin white smoke, which is no detriment or blind to the
shooter. And there is also another great advantage it possesses, if it
gets damp it can be dried without losing any of its strength. It suits
all guns and climates.