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 into Smithereens.

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 London festivities.

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 occasion.

"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 felt.

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 ground.

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 accomplished.

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 wages.

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 Game-eater").

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 ground.

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 cunning.

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 shootings.

"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 my belongings.

"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.