Sporting for Men of Moderate Means

by "Old Calabar"

For your wealthy noblemen, or large landed proprietors, it matters little what sport of any kind costs them, whether in horses, hounds, shooting, fishing, yachting, racing, or coursing.

Yet very many rich men are the greatest screws possible—carrying out the old adage of "the more you have, the more you want." Love of sport is one of the boasted and general characteristics of an Englishman; but I am inclined to think that, after all, young England is not such an ardent sportsman or such a hard man as his father and grandfathers were. As a rule, they are more of the feather-bed and hearth-rug sort; but this by no means applies to all, for I know many good and indefatigable men, and there are hundreds I do not.

Our forefathers were, no doubt, earlier than we are—that is, they did not, in spite of their hard drinking at times, turn night into morning as we do. They went early to bed, and got up early; began hunting before daylight, and managed to kill their fox as twilight fell. Their soul was in sport, and we love to talk and hear about the grand, generous, though illiterate old squires of a hundred and fifty years ago. Men who always stirred their ale with a sprig of rosemary, and drank posset before going to bed; dined at one o'clock when they were at home; smoked their "yard of clay," wore topboots, buckskins, and a blue coat with brass buttons—regular Squire Westerns, but perhaps a little more refined than that worthy was. But education—and that wonderful thing, "steam," which enables us to travel from one end of the kingdom to another in the course of a few hours—soon stamped the old country gentleman out. What should we think if we now saw the queer-fashioned coach, with its four long-tailed black horses, doing about five miles an hour? Some of our London swells, who cannot stoop to pick an umbrella up, would fall down in a fit, especially if the inmates of the said coach were any friends or relations of theirs.

Yes, the good old days are gone by—passed for ever. Men now smoke their cigars, hunt and shoot for a couple of hours, and look with horror on the portraits of their ancestors with a pigtail, and whisp of white cambric round their necks.

Many, very many country gentlemen of a century ago never saw London; they might have heard of it, but it was the work of a week to get up, and another to get back, and a visit to London about once or twice in their lives was as much as many could boast of, and gave them food for gossip for years and years after.

Shootings in those days were not of much value, and a man might have had a great deal of sport for a very little money; but now all is changed, though it is only within the last thirty or forty years that Scotch shootings have risen in value; some moors that were rented then for fifty pounds per annum are now nearer five hundred.

Directly people found out they could get down to Scotland at comparatively little cost and trouble, the prices of shootings went up—and they will continue to rise. England is much wealthier than she was. Commerce is much more extended; money is easier; speculation is more rife; more gold discovered, which I cannot see makes one iota difference; yet in spite of all this, and the heavy taxes we groan under—many raised and "thrust upon us" for the purpose of maintaining a lot of hungry foreigners, who, by the way, have the pick of all the good things. Well, well! that game will be played out before very many years are gone by; there will be a most signal "check-mate," a "right-about," and the usual "Who'd have thought it?" "Knew it was coming," "Always said so," and so on. But to my mutton. Despite of the heavy price of things, heavy taxes, heavy rents, the Englishman is still a sportsman to his heart's core. If he does not make such a labour of it as his forefathers, he loves it just as well; his hounds and his horses are faster—he is faster, in many senses of the word; his guns do not take half an hour to load, and his pointers or setters can beat a twenty-acre field of turnips in something less than four hours; in fact, in many places dogs are going out of fashion, and the detestable system of "driving" coming in. I hate a battue, and call it sport I cannot, and never will. It is true I go to them occasionally, get into a hot corner, and have the "bouquet"—but still I cannot call it legitimate sport.

The man with moderate means must give up all idea of Scotch shooting, unless he goes very far north and gets some of the islands that are difficult of access; then it may still be done. Wild shooting, in many parts of Wiltshire, Dorsetshire, Devonshire, and Cornwall may be had at reasonable prices: thirty years ago ground—and good ground—could be got at sixpence an acre; now it is eighteenpence and two shillings.

Very fair rough shooting may be rented in North or South Wales for about threepence an acre, and it is here, or in Ireland—which I shall presently touch upon—that the man of moderate means may have both shooting and fishing.

In the first place, house-rent is cheap in Wales; in fashionable spots, of course, it is not; but those are the very places a sportsman must avoid: he must leave fashion, youth, and beauty behind him, and go in for sport, and sport only.

Having found a house and ground, he must then get a good keeper and dog-breaker.

Here he exclaims, "Ah! a keeper! here's the commencement of expenses!"

Patience, my friend, and I'll tell you how your keeper shall pay himself, and put money into your pocket as well.

Of course, with wild shooting or any other you will want dogs; and for this purpose I recommend setters. Of course I presume you are a sportsman, and know all about it, for it would never do if you did not. You must also, if you possibly can, get ground where there are plenty of rabbits—these are what pay; they cost nothing to keep, and are no trouble—every good rabbit is worth nearly a shilling to you to sell.

Your setters must be of a fashionable and first-class strain; you must have three or four breeding bitches; and the produce of these setters will not only pay your keeper, but your rent as well. You must advertise your puppies to be sold, and keep yourself before the public by constant advertisements. Your keeper will break at least four brace of setters for you to sell each year; and these dogs, according to their goodness and beauty, will be worth from fifty to a hundred guineas a brace, and even more. So you will not only be able to pay your man, but a good part of your rent and expenses as well: but you must go systematically to work, and make it a business combined with pleasure. You must understand that good and trustworthy keepers are like angels' visits, few and far between—but still they are to be had; and when you have one, regard him as the very apple of your eye, and never let a few pounds stand in the way. If you have a large extent of ground, a man who understands his business well will break more than four brace of dogs a year—aye, double the quantity, but it is better to have fewer done—and done well; get a good name for having the correct article, and you will always be able to dispose of more dogs than you can breed or break. Destroy all the crooked and weakly pups, keeping only those that will make braces, or any others that are really handsome. You can also break a couple of brace yourself—that is, if you have temper and patience. February is the time to commence with your young dogs. You can keep them at work for six weeks or two months; by that time good fishing will be in. I care not to commence fishing too early.

One of the first things you must do is to put up a good serviceable kennel, where your dogs can lie dry and warm. It must be well drained—if possible, with a stream of water running through it. You need not go to any great expense, but it must be well paved, and constantly hot-lime washed, to keep it sweet and wholesome, and the ticks and vermin under.

I will not here give any directions how they are to be made, because that depends a great deal on the place you have—the space, convenience, and so forth—but wherever you build them, let there be a good large yard for the dogs to run about in. Let the benches they lie on fold back against the wall, so that you may wash under them; and made with a flap in front, that the dogs, when tired, cannot crawl under them, which they will very often do. Benches are generally made in bars three inches wide, with an inch space between each, to let all the dust, small bits of straw, &c., through. Your dogs must always be well bedded—if straw is expensive and difficult to get, good dry fern will do very well. In Wales and Ireland I always had a lot of this cut every year at the proper time, stacked and thatched. Your kennel must be kept scrupulously clean and washed out every morning.

Feeding is a very important thing, and must be judiciously and regularly done, and always at the same hour; but as every one has his own ideas on this point, I will say no more about it.

The place, of all others, for good wild shooting and fishing is Ireland. Here a man with moderate means may have all he wants—cheap house-rent; taxes few; living at much less cost than in England, and sport to his heart's content. It is, I admit, a wild life; but then it is a very pleasant, happy one.

The sea-voyage is nothing: those splendid steamers which run from Holyhead to Kingstown cross in a few hours, and you hardly, unless there is heavy weather, know you are at sea.

For the man whose heart is in sport, I know of no place so well adapted as Ireland. Wild ducks, snipe, grouse, and capital woodcock shooting; hares, rabbits, partridges and pheasants; all that you want is the ground properly looked after.

Wherever you go, if economy is your object, you must never attempt hand-reared pheasants; the cost of feeding is very great, and, as I have often and often said before, a hand-reared pheasant, killed in December, costs little less than half a sovereign. Near a covert, if there is rough ground, it may be broken up, and barley or buck-wheat sown; this must not be cut, but left standing for the birds to go to whenever they are so inclined. This is a very inexpensive way of feeding. They are very fond of small potatoes, but these will do for your pigs.

What you require in Ireland is plenty of poultry of all sorts; a couple of Kerry cows, which may be had for little money, and a good sort of pig—some of Peter Eden's breed; fellows that are fattened at comparatively little cost. You must have cows—or be able to get buttermilk somewhere—for your puppies will not do without it.

There is no great sale for dogs in Ireland, but they may always be taken over to England, and sold at the proper time—in June or July. Numbers now go to America.

But there are many other spots, if you choose to go farther afield. There is very decent shooting to be got in France, and there are always Government forests to let.

Were I a young man, the place of all others I should go to again would be to Hungary. Sport of all kinds is to be had there; but this even has been found out, and many English reside there now for boar and stag-hunting and shooting.

But in England, if you watch your chance and have agents on the look out, you may occasionally come across a good bit of shooting at a moderate figure; or you may take a good manor, and do as a great many do—that is, have so many guns to join you. If you hire on your own account, either in England or Scotland, you can charge the guns anything you like for shooting and board—that is, anything in reason, and that they are likely to pay. You may then get your own shooting at little or no cost; for there are many men who will pay a hundred for a month's good sport. They are in business, or in some profession, and cannot spare more time.

A man who has time, is really fond of sport, knows something about it, and goes the right way to work, can get both his shooting and fishing at a very moderate rate.

Many imagine it is necessary to have their brace of breech-loaders, and a lot of useless and expensive paraphernalia. One gun is all that is needed, except you have wild-fowl shooting. You must have a gun for that, either for punt or shoulder, according to the shooting.

A large quantity of dogs that are not wanted, and are utterly useless, are often kept. For a moderate scope of ground, two brace of setters are quite sufficient, unless you are breeding dogs. Then you must, of course, have your brood bitches as well. I should have mentioned, it will be a great saving to you if you keep a first-rate stud dog. You will not only have his services, but you can advertise him as a stud dog; and he can form one of your working team likewise.

I must impress on my readers that puppies can hardly be kept too well. They must have little or no meat during their puppyhood, but plenty of milk and oatmeal, the latter always to be well boiled. Feed them three times a day for the first three or four months, and twice a day till nine months old. After that one good meal a day is sufficient.

A large volume might be written how to keep and feed dogs, on kennels, &c. This has often been done before; but things are now altered, and we must keep pace with the times.

I have never been able to afford an expensive shooting, and being abroad from the time I was twenty-one till I was middle-aged, I never had the chance; but, coming over to England every year, as I did, and shooting in all parts, it enabled me to know the localities, and where shooting at a reasonable price was to be had.

It is a large house and servants that swallow up one's income. A bachelor sportsman only requires a sitting-room and a bed-room, with his tub in some corner or outhouse close at hand.

There is nothing I like more than a real sportsman's den. There he has his guns, his rods, his different sporting paraphernalia, his pipes, his cigars, his powder and ammunition, and everything handy. As I am writing this I can see all my traps around me. I am rather proud of my sanctum. I have a place for everything, and everything in its place. My books—of which I have some hundreds of volumes—are before me. On one side of the wall are all my fishing things; over the mantelpiece, on racks, are my guns, and a goodly collection of pipes; in a three-cornered cupboard all my ammunition, and some hundreds of cartridges; in another cupboard are cigars, and odds and ends; in another a lot of nets, and a sort of fixed washing-stand; two luxurious old-fashioned arm-chairs on either side of my fire-place, into which I can pop and take a smoke when I am tired of writing. And at this present moment there are three setters and a couple of Dandie Dinmonts curled up on the hearth-rug before my fire; but my dogs are always clean in their habits; if not, they would not find a place in my room. The rain is pattering against my windows, and it is a wild wet night; but still I am contented, and looking out for to-morrow, when I am going to have a day's rabbit-shooting, and beat a favourite snipe marsh.

I like to have my dogs about me, although I am not a single man, and have boys as tall as myself. Yet my dumb animals are companions to me—shooting alone for so many years in vast forests and thinly-inhabited countries, and often far away from friends and civilised life, has made me somewhat lonely in habits.

It sometimes makes me laugh to hear some men talk on sporting matters. I have often been trudging home late at night, wet through, or in a heavy snow-storm, with my tired dogs "at heel," when others have had a good dinner, a skinful of wine, finished their third glass of toddy, are beginning to talk rather thick, and find their cigars won't draw. I was obliged to content myself with a cup of sour cider, black rye-bread and eggs, and up and away before daylight again. Certainly I need not have done so; and sitting here, before my comfortable fire, I think how soft I was. But young men will be young men; and it was my love of sport that made me lead the wild and solitary life I did.

But there is no occasion for any one to do as I did. I have gained experience with years. I do not think I should ever have given it up but for one reason. One night I left Quimper in Lower Brittany, and walked down the river (it was a tidal one) to a favourite spot for ducks. I had on my mud boots, and was well wrapped up. I got to the spot I intended, and there I lay waiting, lying down on a bit of board, with my famous black retriever Di beside me. It was bitterly cold, and I took a nip every now and then from my flask. If it had been full, which it was not, there would not have been more than a small wine-glassful in it, for it went into my waistcoat pocket; but, little as it was, that and the cold made me drowsy, and I fell asleep. I was awakened by an icy feeling under me, and my retriever tearing at my coat. I found the tide was coming up, and I was in six or eight inches of water. My poor dog was in a terrible state. I made my way to land, which was not more than fifty yards from me; but I was in such agony I could hardly get on, and, to make matters worse, it began to snow heavily. However, I managed to get to the road, and into Quimper; but I was laid up four months with ague, fever, and rheumatism, and never left my room during that time. Luckily, it was at the fag end of the season.

On another occasion after this attack—the next year—I was woodcock shooting with a friend of mine—an Englishman, now dead and gone. A better sportsman did not exist. We had got into a flight of woodcocks, and we had killed nine couples and a half, and were just on the point of returning home, when I was seized with ague again. We were about eight miles from Quimper at the time. My poor friend carried me three miles on his back before we could get a cart to take me home; but I soon recovered from this attack. I once in a day killed forty-four woodcocks, and on another occasion twenty-five. I had many narrow escapes and adventures. In my book of "Over Turf and Stubble," there is a full and exhaustive account of sporting in France, and how you are to go to work, with a list of places where sport is to be had, and what you require. Woodcock and snipe shooting is not so good as it was, in consequence of the eggs of the former being taken and eaten, as our plover eggs are, and also from the ground being more drained. Still there are spots and haunts where they are to be found and killed in numbers. I once killed sixty couples of snipe in some paddy fields abroad.

As regards fishing, the man of moderate means must not think of a river in Norway or Scotland. He must be contented with trout and general fishing; and the place for this is, no doubt, Ireland. There is very fair fishing in many parts of England, but for real sport go to Ireland. The white trout fishing is superlatively good there; so is the pike fishing. I know of a place now in Ireland to let—about five thousand acres of mountain, with eight or nine lakes, a beautiful river, with good pools, in which there are salmon, and white and brown trout. The fishing on the lakes is very good. In some of them the trout are small, but there are any quantity. It is in a very wild, lonely spot—four Irish miles over the mountains, and nothing but a herd's hut to go to when there. The shooting, grouse, hare, snipe, and cock, and a few partridges, was very fair. All this was to be had on lease, or by the season, for £20 per annum, and is now, I believe. Had I remained in Ireland I should have taken it, and put up a little place of two rooms, or added a bit on to the herd's cabin. But I think I should have made a little crib on one of the islands of the lake; there is a beautiful site for one. Here no keeper would be required; merely a Jack-of-all-trades. No lady, unless she were a good walker, could get up to this place, for the mountain is difficult and in places boggy; but could ride it on a pony. I used to enjoy my visits there. Sitting on a three-legged stool before the bright turf-fire of a night, with my pipe and whisky and water, talking of my day's work, I was thoroughly happy. A small boat would be requisite on all the lakes, and a larger one for the big lake, by which I proposed to build a cottage. I could have done all this at very little expense, as there was plenty of stone.

There is no necessity for the fisherman to be bothered with a lot of expensive and useless tackle; and as to flies, if I do not make them myself, I always buy them of local men, who know what are required. They tie them beautifully in Ireland, and know the required colours.

There is capital fishing in Lough Corrib, Galway. I had a small yacht there of ten tons, and many a fishing expedition I have had in her of a bright, warm summer's day. I sometimes had great sport with the perch, which run to three pounds. I have hauled them in, when we have come across them, sculling, as fast as I could let out line and pull it in. There is a great deal of shooting and fishing to be had in this way.

There is also great fun with the lake trout, which run very large; so do the pike and eels. I always used to set night lines for the latter. Great quantities of ducks, too, are to be got on Lough Corrib.

There is capital fishing and shooting to be got at Killaloe, County Clare. I have had rare sport there. It is by going about and making inquiries that I have always been able to have good sport, and find out favoured spots for woodcock and snipe.

Hundreds of men are taken in by answering advertisements, which set forth the fishing or shooting in glowing colours—how miserably have they been deceived! You may depend the only way is to go over the ground yourself with a brace of good dogs, always taking the contrary direction which you are told to go. If you cannot spare the time, let some one do it for you that you can thoroughly trust.

I remember once a gentleman taking a salmon river in Norway, paying, of course, in advance; when he got there the river was dry, or nearly so. On expostulating with the agent, and demanding his money back, he was told that the proprietor really could not be answerable for the water, and that he had better stop till rain came, and that, probably, the fish would come with it.

A man in these days cannot be too sharp in taking either shooting or fishing; how many are "done" in hiring Scotch moors! They answer a flowing advertisement, take it haphazard, pay their money, and when they get there find there are no grouse or deer either. This happens year after year, and yet, with these facts before them, many will not take warning.

Hunting I will not touch on, because that is an expensive amusement; but I can say this, my hunting never cost me a farthing. I used to buy young horses, make them, and sell them at good prices. But a man must not be only a good rider, he must be a good judge of a horse as well.

I know many men who hunt, shoot, and fish, and their amusement costs them little or nothing.

Now a few words as to yachting. That we all know is a very expensive amusement too; but even this is to be managed—of course not in the style of very many of our noblemen. I knew a man who bought a schooner of one hundred and twenty tons, and laid out some money on her besides; this yacht he let for three months during the season, and did so well by her, that, in two years, he had his purchase-money back and something more to boot. The remainder of the season he used her himself. Still, a vessel of this size requires a number of hands, and it is a risk. He kept a small yacht for his own amusement as well.

A man with moderate means may have a great deal of pleasure out of a boat of fifteen or twenty tons, or even less; and if he chooses to make it his home, it will cost no more than if he hired lodgings and dined at home, or at his club. Supposing he does not like knocking about in winter time, which is not agreeable, he can always lay her up in some nice harbour, and still live on board. If he is fond of his gun, he can take her to many places and lay her up—where he can get shooting as well, always living on board—South Wales, Ireland, France, and many parts of England and Scotland. And besides sea-fishing, he may get other fishing in the same way.

At the end of the yachting season there are hundreds of boats to be bought at a very moderate figure, sometimes almost for nothing. For the purpose I have named, you want no wedge-like racing craft, but a boat with a good floor, good beam, and light draft of water, with summer and winter sails, in fact, a nice roomy seaworthy boat.

But in buying you must be cautious, and have some one with you who thoroughly understands the business, otherwise you may invest in a craft whose timbers are rotten, and the planking no stronger than brown paper; there is nothing that one who does not thoroughly understand the matter is easier taken in with than boats.

Having now told you how shooting, &c., may be got on moderate means, perhaps a short account of my little yacht I had on Lough Corrib, Galway, and what I did, may not be uninteresting.

After I had been a short time in Galway—that is, a couple of miles from the town—I found a very nice boat of about ten tons that was to be sold. I made enquiries, and discovered she was nearly new, and that more than a hundred pounds had been spent on her in making a cabin and fitting her out. I bought her for eight pounds, spent twenty more on her, and had the most complete little fishing and shooting craft I ever saw. I had a rack for my guns and rods, and lockers for all my things; there were places to put away game, provisions, and liquor, and a good stove, of modern contrivance, for cooking. This last was in my cabin, for she was too small to have a forecastle. In summer we cooked on shore, on the stones or what not. She was only partly decked—what is called a welled boat. Over this well at night there was a perfectly water-tight tarpaulin, which was fastened down by rings. In this well, which was a large one, my captain slept, and the other man nestled in the sail-room, which was right astern. I bought a brand-new dingy for thirty shillings, and was all complete; the whole affair costing me thirty pounds. As I was living on the banks of Lough Corrib, the boat was moored close to my house, and from my window I could see her.

In this boat I used to go to all parts of the lake, which is forty-eight miles long, and ten wide in one place. There were several rivers I could get up, and innumerable little bays, and places where one could anchor for the night. On Lough Corrib, there are no end of islands, some of them large; it is said there is an island for every day in the year, viz., 365. There was capital shooting on some of these islands, and on many parts of the marshes, on the banks of the lake, I had leave to shoot. One marsh or bog was seventeen miles long, and three or four wide. Most of this country was undrained, and snipe were in thousands. It makes my mouth water to think of the snipe and duck shooting I sometimes had there, as well as wild geese; but I got ague and rheumatism again; lost one of my children, and the life was too lonely for my better half. We were away from home and friends, and as I was some three or four years over forty, I gave it up, reluctantly, I must say, and returned to the old land.

Lough Corrib is difficult to navigate, and you must have a man with you who knows it thoroughly, otherwise you will come to grief. My captain knew it well, and was a good sportsman into the bargain. My old sailor, who had been all his life about those wild, desolate, and God-forgotten islands, "the Arran," was a rare fisherman. He always managed the night lines, and when we have been anchored at the mouth of the Clare Galway river for the night, of a morning the lines have been loaded with eels, some of four and even five pounds in weight. If we baited for them, sometimes we had large catches of pike and trout.

I think cross-line fishing, or an otter, is still allowed on the lake; but I never went in for this, you require a licence for it.

Of a night, at flight time in July, the young ducks—they were more than "flappers"—used to come up from the lake and marshy grounds in numbers to the cornfields, and we generally gave it to them hot, morning and evening; and in parts of the lake we used to get "flapper" shooting. It was endless amusement to me, roaming about on the different islands knocking over a few rabbits, or sometimes a duck or snipe. I always carried a ten-bore gun with me, shooting four drachms of powder and two ounces of shot. I never knew what was going to get up; occasionally I had a crack at an otter asleep on the stones. Sometimes a duck would spring when I least expected it; there was no knowing. In winter we were obliged to be very careful, for the wind comes off the mountains in gusts and is very treacherous, and accidents soon happen unless you have your weather eye open.

There is some capital snipe and duck shooting on Lord Clanmorris's property, on the banks of the Clare Galway river. I do not know if it is yet let, or leave now given; but I think it is not let. The white trout fishing is first rate in Connemara, but what a wild desolate place it is! The salmon fishing is said to be very good in the Clare Galway river, but though I have seen plenty of fishermen on it, and there are no end of fish, I never saw very much done; it is a sluggish river, and wants a good curl on the water to get a rise.

As I have said, I have had some of the best duck and snipe shooting at Killaloe I ever enjoyed; but snipe and woodcock shooting depend a great deal on the season. Some years there are any quantity, another season comparatively few; it is the same everywhere.

The golden plover shooting is very good all round Galway, and if you know the "stands," that is, where they roost of an evening, you can always get two or three shots. I have seen killed on one of the little islands on Lough Corrib, at one shot, twenty-one, which were picked up, and I believe there were one or two more that were not found.

There is good shooting and fishing about Cork, and Limerick as well; in fact, all over Ireland it is to be had; but remember, the nearer you are to Dublin, or any large town, the dearer things are. It is to the wild, desolate spots you must go for real sport, and if a man can manage to put up with such a life, all well and good. Several Englishmen bought estates round Galway, but I suppose they got tired of it, or were afraid of the little pot shooting that an Irishman occasionally takes at one, just "pour passer le temps," as they are, or were, to let.

I had capital sport in Lower Brittany, France; there are plenty of woodcock and snipe in parts, and the living at the time I speak of was very cheap; but, alas! there is a railway now, so, of course, like all other places, it has gone up in price. In these days, it has become a somewhat difficult matter to particularise which are the best places to go to for sport. If you do not mind distance, Hungary is the place. If you want to be near home, Ireland or France.

Take my advice, as an old sportsman who has been at it all his life, and has now seen nearly half a century; if you are a man of moderate means take your time in hiring a place, and when you have found one to suit you, rent on a long lease, if you can; if you wish to give it up, it will not remain on your hands any time. Do not be inveigled into buying a lot of useless guns, rods, or sporting paraphernalia; a real sportsman does not require them.

I think I have now pretty well exhausted the subject, and told you how to go to work.