Partridge Manors and Rough Shooting
by "Old Calabar"
Bright, beautiful, glorious June!
I have often been asked which of the four seasons I like the best; my
answer has ever been the same: "The hunting, shooting, fishing, and
racing." One season I detest (the very name of it gives me the cold
shivers)—the London one; defend me from that; for if there is a
particular time which is calculated to make "Paterfamilias" miserable
and more out of humour than another, it is that abominable period of
shopping, dinners, evening parties, operas, theatres, concerts,
flirtations, flower-shows, and the dusty Row, with its dangerous holes.
I hate the formality—the snobbism of the "little village." I begin to
think Napoleon I. was right when he said we were "a nation of
shop-keepers." I do not mind a good dinner, when I can get one; but
there is the rub, I never do get a good dinner; the English do not know
how to dine. After twenty years' residence on the Continent, I have
come to the conclusion that John Bull is miserably, hopelessly
behindhand with our French neighbours on all matters pertaining to
eating and drinking; but then I balance the account in this way—Mossoo
is not a sportsman; and although he will tell you he is a "chasseur
intrépide," "un cavalier de première force," he does not
shine either in the hunting or shooting field.
But the French ladies? Ah, they can dress; they beat us there again
I am not like a bear in the hollow of a tree, who has been sucking his
paws all the winter to keep him alive; I have been enjoying most of our
country amusements, and I may say the winter has passed pleasantly.
Of late years a deaf ear has been turned to hints thrown out "for a
change of air, things wanted," &c. Busily engaged in building,
draining, planting, and so on, little time could be given by me to
The last attack was made in a somewhat ingenious manner.
"Frederick, poor Alice wants her teeth looking at. I think she had
better go up to town for three weeks or a month, and be put under the
care of a good dentist."
This was as much as to say, "We are all to go;" but I was equal to the
"By all means, my dear, let her go. My sister is there for the season,
and will only be too delighted to have her; but as for my leaving the
place at present, with all I have to do, it is an utter impossibility."
This was a settler.
Somehow or other I begin to feel more lively as spring comes on. As a
rule, about the middle of May I require a little spring medicine and a
change of air. I find that the breezes of Epsom Downs agree famously
with me, although my better-half always declares I "look vilely" on my
return. Absurd nonsense! But I love my own quiet country life; its wild
unfettered freedom. Away from the smoke, dust, and tumult of
over-crowded cities—away from late hours and the unwholesome glare of
gas, and I am happy.
A trip to Ascot and Goodwood with my family keeps matters all straight.
A break now and then, and the quiet monotony of country life is not
June, bright, beautiful, glorious June, has peculiar attractions for
me. I am a shooter. I have not a grouse moor, for the simple reason
that I cannot afford one; as my old keeper says, "It is master's
terrible long family and expenses that prevents his going into shooting
as he would like."
I am obliged to content myself with a partridge manor; and, after all,
I believe I like partridge and snipe shooting better than any other.
As I remark in my notes on "November Shooting," a friend of mine once
said he considered snipe-shooting "the fox-hunting of shooting,"
and I am disposed to agree with him.
But, to return to June, from the 5th to about the 20th of the month,
most of the forward hatches come off, and are seen basking and
bathering round their mother.
But there are other hatches much later, for cheepers are often found in
September quite unfit to shoot at.
I can only account for this, that the old birds have had their eggs
destroyed in some way or other.
A partridge manor is not one quarter the expense of pheasants and
coverts. The latter birds not only require constant attention, night
and day, but feeding forms a very serious item. Pheasants are very
costly, and only within reach of the rich man.
A partridge manor, to have a good head on it, though, must be well
looked after, the vermin kept down, and your keeper with a sharp eye to
all poachers and suspicious characters.
With a net at night they often sweep off the birds wholesale; but there
is a very easy way of baffling them. Put sticks, about eighteen inches
high, fifteen, twenty, or thirty yards apart, over the ground the
partridges generally roost on; these, as the net is drawn along, lift
it up, and the birds easily escape.
It is a good plan to walk the fields of an evening with a brace of
dogs, where you know they roost, and disturb them; they may probably
then take to the gorse, if any, potatoes, seed clover, and other safe
In May and June I wage war with the crows, magpies, jays and hawks,
shooting or trapping the old hen birds. Always kill the male bird
first; this is easily done by waiting patiently within shot, under
cover of some tree or hedge where the nest is, which is generally built
in some pretty high tree; the hen will not desert if sitting hard,
which you should allow her to do; her death is then easily
I never allow poison to be used, for I hold that a keeper who cannot
destroy all vermin by means of his gun and traps is not worth his
To have any quantity of game, it is better that you and your keepers
should be on good terms with your neighbours; they will do as much good
as half a dozen watchers.
In May and June I always keep a lot of light broody hens ready to sit,
for during the mowing season many partridge nests are cut out. The eggs
are brought warm to me, and are instantly set under one of the hens.
The people who bring me in the eggs I invariably reward, but they are
never encouraged or allowed to look for nests. Now, if these men were
not paid a trifle, and a horn of ale given to them, they would not
trouble themselves or lose their time. It would be very easy to put
their foot on the eggs and crush them.
I am not an advocate for hand-reared birds, as there is some trouble
and expense feeding them, and they do not grow strong and vigorous
nearly so quickly as wild ones.
In one year alone, some four or five seasons back, I had six hundred
eggs cut out, and over five hundred birds were reared.
Chamberland's food is the best for them, as well as for pheasants.
Of course the hens should be cooped. There is one thing you must be
most particular about, and that is never to place the coops near an old
bank, or where there are rabbit-burrows, for these spots are not only
the haunts of stoats and weasels, but there is an animal quite as
dangerous, who loves a young partridge—the hedgehog. Many are of
opinion that the hedgehog is harmless, but this idea I have proved
to be erroneous (see "Over Turf and Stubble"—"The Hedgehog a
My life has been spent following up the sports of the field and
observing the habits of different animals.
The better way is, when your birds are young, to have them on your
lawn, or in a field close to the house.
The coops must be closed at night, to keep vermin and cats (deadly
poachers) from getting at them. It is a mistake to let them out too
early of a morning. The drier the ground the better partridges do when
young. As they get stronger, remove them with their coops to a potato
or clover field, cutting a swath through the latter to put the coops on
and feed them. Place the coops twenty or thirty yards apart, or the
birds, when young, will be straying into the wrong coops, and the hens
will kill them, for they well know their own family.
I like a clover-field the best, because there is lots of cover, and
they escape the sharp eye of hawks and other vermin.
In taking a partridge manor, ascertain first, by going over it
yourself, if there is a fair head of breeding stock on the
A wise "old saw" informs us that, "if you want anything done well, do
it yourself;" and this I certainly advise in this case, unless you have
a keeper you can really trust.
Do not take a manor that has too much grass land. There ought to be
plenty of cover—turnips, clover, potatoes, rape, stubble, heath, &c.,
to insure good sport; for, if your ground is bare, although you may
have plenty of birds, it will soon be impossible to get at them, for,
as you enter a field, they will be away at the other end, and not
having any cover to drive them to, you may follow them for hours and
never get a shot.
A manor, too, should not be all low ground, or the enclosures too
small. In such a country, good, fast and free-going dogs soon become
cramped in their range and potterers. It is, in an enclosed country,
impossible to mark the birds; and constantly getting over stiff fences
not only tires you, but it unsteadies your hand, which will lose its
A partridge country should be as open as possible; then you can see
your dogs work, which, in my humble opinion, constitutes the greatest
charm of shooting.
Farms are often let at eighteenpence an acre, which is an absurd
price—a shilling is quite enough; but in many counties you can get as
much good ground as you like at sixpence, but not near London. I hired,
some two years ago, some capital rough shooting in North Wales at less
than threepence an acre, but it was too cold for my better half to
reside in during the winter months. Whatever county you may fix on,
avoid the red-legs; though a very handsome bird, and much larger than
ours, they are not nearly so good for the table as the grey ones, being
dry and tasteless; and they will spoil any dog, as they never take wing
unless hardly pressed, but will run field after field. I destroy their
eggs wherever I meet them.
In Norfolk, Suffolk, and particularly Essex, there are large quantities
of them; they not only ruin your dogs, but they drive the grey birds
away. I would not have a manor where there were any quantity of
red-legs at a gift.
Having now told you how to go to work, I will, in the garb of
narrative, which, nevertheless is true, show you how shooting, with
other sport, may be had at little cost by those who love it and prefer
a country life. I give it you as related to me by a very dear old
friend of mine.
"Lenox and myself were boys at school, and afterwards at college
together. A fine handsome fellow he was too, and doatingly attached to
all field sports; he was not a rich man, quite the contrary, £300 a
year at his father's death was all he had left to him, yet he managed
to keep up a tolerable appearance even in London, and was engaged to
one of the most beautiful girls I ever saw, and with a nice little
fortune of her own.
"Lenox was very fond and very proud of her, as well he might be;
everything was arranged, the day fixed, trousseau bought, and his
pretty little cottage in Hampshire newly and tastefully furnished to
receive its new mistress. But, lo! a week before their wedding the
young lady eloped with a nobleman, and they were married before Lenox
knew anything about it.
"He said little, but felt it deeply; all were sorry for him, for he was
a great favourite.
"Shortly after his pretty little cottage was sold, and with his effects
Lenox vanished mysteriously no one knew whither.
"I went abroad, and was away many years, and, therefore, had no means
of finding out where he had betaken himself to, or what he was doing.
"After more than twenty years' absence I returned to the old land; I
had been satiated with sport of all kinds in different parts of the
globe, and did not feel inclined to give the high prices asked for
"My wife was somewhat delicate, and required a mild climate, so I took
'the galloper,' ran down to Plymouth, and from thence to Cornwall,
determined, if I could, to buy a place there. I roamed about the
country looking at different estates, and at last hit on a beautiful
spot, with a nice house on it, convenient to the rail, and not too far
from a good country town or schools.
"One day during my peregrinations with the agent who had the selling of
the property, I came on one of the most lovely little cottages I ever
saw, placed on a slope, well sheltered from the winds, myrtles and
fuchsias growing luxuriously and abundantly about, with its jessamine
and honeysuckle covered porch, thatched roof, well-kept grounds,
gardens, and brawling stream at the end of the lawn. I thought it one
of the most fairy-looking little spots I had ever seen.
"'Whose cottage is that?' I asked. 'It is not on this property, is it?'
"'Oh, no, sir, just off this land; it belongs to Mr Lenox.'
"'Lenox,' I breathlessly asked, 'Horace Lenox'?
"'That's it, sir—one of the nicest gentlemen in these parts, and a
rare sportsman: it is not his own property, only hired on long lease,
but he has done a deal to it; three thousand acres of good mixed
shooting and capital fishing, with that cottage, is not dear at fifty
pounds a year, is it, sir?'
"'I should think not, indeed. Mr Lenox is one of my oldest friends. I
must go and call on him,' which I did.
"I was told, on asking at the door, that he was out fishing, but would
be home to dinner at six o'clock.
"'Give him this card,' I said to the respectable old servant who had
answered the ring, 'and tell him, I shall be here at six to dine with
him. Is he married?'
"'Oh dear no, sir, master is a single gentleman. I don't think he cares
much about the women folk,' she added, in her quaint Cornish way.
"The time hung heavily on my hands that day, so impatient was I to see
my dear, valued old friend, and half past five saw me walking up the
well-kept walk towards his house.
"As I approached, a figure issued from the porch, surrounded by four or
five beautiful setters.
"A fine, handsome-looking man of three or four and forty advanced
towards me, but quite grey; there was no mistaking, though, his honest,
beaming, well-known face.
"'Frederick, old fellow,' said he, grasping me by the hand, 'this is
indeed kind of you; hundreds of times have I wondered what had become
of you, and if you were still in the land of the living.'
"'And I the same, Lenox; by mere chance have I found you out. I
inquired at all the old haunts when I returned to England, and could
never learn where you were.'
"'Then you are the gentleman, I suppose, that has been looking at the
estate next to me, with a view to purchase?'
"'Just so, Horace, ecce homo.'
"'You could not do better, old fellow; I will put you in the way. I
know every inch of the ground—rare shooting—but come in, and I will
tell you all about it after dinner. Margaret, my servant, is in the
devil's own way, for it is rarely I ever have any one to dine with me.'
"The inside of the cottage was just as pretty as the outside; his
dining-room was a study for a sportsman: guns, rods, sporting pictures,
&c., here hung all round the walls in endless profusion; it was the
very essence of comfort and taste.
"'Now, Horace,' said I, as I threw myself into one of the comfortable
arm-chairs beside the open window, and he into another, 'tell me all
that has happened since we last met.'
"'That is easily done,' he returned, drawing up a small table between
us, with a bottle of claret on it, that sent its aroma all over the
apartment as he drew the cork.
"'You know how I was served in London?' and his face assumed a hard,
stern expression as he asked the question.
"'Well, yes,' I replied; 'but you have forgotten all that, Horace?'
"'I have not forgotten it. I never can forget it; it was a dreadful
blow to me; but I have forgiven it years ago, and am content with my
lot. I left London in disgust, wandered about, and at last found this
little spot. I have the shooting of three thousand acres of land—ten
acres for my two cows—I am as happy as possible. I breed lots of
those,' pointing to his setters, who were lying about; 'and they pay me
well. I have poultry, pigs, shooting—the woodcock and snipe shooting
is particularly good in the season—and fishing in abundance; as good a
cob as any man need possess; deny myself nothing in reason, and never
know what a dull hour is. But you will sleep here, for I have already
found out where you were, and sent for your things.'
"I never passed a happier evening than I did with my long-lost friend;
we smoked our cigars and talked of old times and old things that had
happened years ago, passed never to return again.
"'So your eldest boy is sixteen,' he remarked, after one of the pauses.
'Well, you must buy this place, Frederick, it is as cheap as dirt, and
will pay you well. I will make your lads sportsmen—but I suppose you
have done that yourself. I want companions now—no female ones,' he
added, laughingly, 'your wife excepted; but some one to fish and shoot
with me—the partridge-shooting is capital.'
"I was delighted with all I saw the next day; the place was lovely, and
I was induced to spend a week with him. At the end of that time I was
the purchaser of the property, and left to bring down my family and all
"I have never regretted the step; though far away from the busy hum of
the world, we are as happy as may be. Horace and I fish and shoot away;
there is a calm quietness which I love. I, like my friend, have had
some ups and downs in life, but the memory of them, in my country
retreat, is gradually 'fading away.'"
It is all very well for men who have long purses and large possessions
to take expensive shootings; they can afford it and why should they
not? What might I not be tempted to do if I had the chance? I cannot
say, and, therefore, I will not speculate.
To my young readers who are not au fait at all these matters, I
would urge them never to be too hasty in deciding on taking any
shooting. If they are not in easy circumstances, they must go very
cautiously to work; but that fair partridge and general shooting is to
be had at a moderate figure I can prove.
It is not generally known, but there are many parts of Scotland where
there is first-rate partridge-shooting, and arrangements can be made to
have it after the grouse-shooters have done and returned to England. I
know several men who have made this arrangement, and get their sport at
a very moderate cost.
But gadding about to places is not my form. I prefer to remain on the
spot, and then I can always see how matters are going on.
In taking a rough bit of shooting, only one keeper is necessary; one
good man will do the work far better than half a dozen bad ones. It is,
I admit, a difficult thing to get such a man, but they are to be had.
I have written this paper solely for the guidance of those whose means
are limited; the rich can do as they like; money is often no object to
them; but this I have known to be a fact, that the man who has only
spent two or three hundreds, and often very much less, on his shooting
has had far better sport than many of those who have spent thousands.