November Shooting

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 our yarns.

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.