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wild fowl is sufficient evidence that the principle was good, and that his want of complete success arose solely from his bad tackle.
I have occasionally been in these huts, but never had much sport; but even if I had had, I should never have become attached to this description of shooting, as I dislike the confinement so much that no amount of game would be any compensation. As a continuous pursuit, the greatest charm in shooting appears to me to consist in the inducement to exercise, imparting health, vigour of body and mind, and good spirits, not in the amount of game slaughtered. Of course every sportsman likes to kill a certain quantity of game as a reward for his exertions, but I don't think the large amount killed is always an evidence of the pleasure and sport that have been had.
For my own part, I would much rather shoot over a wild country where there was a mixture of game, where the result of the day's sport depended upon my own exertions, and when in the morning, before starting, I should be in a pleasing state of doubt and uncertainty as to the quantity or kind of game I might kill,—than shoot over highly preserved land, where the amount to be killed was limited and fixed before starting, so that I should know nearly to a certainty how much I could kill, as well as the description of game. But "de gustibus non est disputandum," so I will say no
more upon this point, but return to my relinquished ground in the marais and to the operations of the huttiers thereon.
As long as the weather remains fine and open, they go regularly every night to their huts; but when there is no moon, and the nights are very dark, their chances of sport are much reduced, as the twilight is of very short duration, and when night once sets in, the obscurity is so great that although they hear the ducks in the water before them they are not at all times able to discern them so as to take a shot, and are therefore compelled to await with patience their chance at daybreak; but as one good shot repays them, they seldom desert their posts.
When a frost takes place, if it only lasts a few days, it does not much interfere with their sport, or, rather, success. They break the ice with a pole, fix their decoy-ducks, and keep the centre as clear and open as they can, and sometimes make some capital shots. When the frost continues beyond two or three days, the nocturnal part of the business is relinquished, and they merely go to their huts in the morning, an hour before daybreak, and try their chance; after which, they resort to the river, which in a severe frost gives admirable sport, and attracts a host of chasseurs, especially on Sunday: then every man who has a forte <Parme is sure to be out, and a great many who have not, immediately make a rapid retreat on the appearance of a gendarme.
From Montreuil to Etaples, a distance of about three miles, the latter being on the sea-coast, there is an excellent river for wild fowl shooting, in every respect suitable. In the first place, it is not more than from forty to sixty yards in breadth, till within a mile of Etaples, where it empties itself into the sea, in this latter distance being about double its former breadth; in the next place, it pursues a very circuitous and serpentine course, forming inviting angles, corners, and nooks for wild fowl to drop in, and, as throughout the distance the banks are high and overhanging, every opportunity is afforded to the sportsman of close approximation to the objects of his search, when either observed from a distance in the river, or seen to drop.
The numerous turns and bends in the river (the banks being high) afford also endless places of concealment as the wild fowl approach from the sea, either at the usual hours of flight or at the rising of the tide, and first-rate sport might always be had during a frost, if not marred by the superabundance of chasseurs. Early in the morning, and sometimes during the day, when the weather was very severe, I have had capital sport; the flights of fowl were numerous and large, and when the tide rose they came inland in quick succession, following the course of the river, and generally within gun-shot, some dropping in the river, others pursuing their aereal course.
By keeping concealed behind a bank, I have fired on these occasions a series of very productive double shots in succession, and found Ely's common cartridges very successful; but although I have frequently fired into the middle of very large flocks of widgeon, and almost constantly killed two birds with each barrel, I seldom killed more with the cartridge. But the advantage of the cartridge is found in actually killing your birds, there being no plunging or diving in the water. Nine times out of ten they fall dead; whereas, although with loose shot more birds might be brought down, four out of five would be winged birds, and occasion much trouble, loss of time, and subsequent sport, even with a good retriever. For single birds, at long distances, I found Ely's cartridges unexceptionable.
During several severe winters at Montreuil, the flights of wild fowl were large and abundant, combining an endless variety. I killed many birds that were unknown to me, besides ducks, teal, widgeon, sheldrake, wild goose, and swan: of wild geese there were many large flocks. I also saw several flights of swans; in one there were as many as twenty-one. I happened to get a shot at one which was alone in the river, and killed him. The common and red widgeon were very numerous, but the most abundant in very severe weather was the black widgeon, which the French call "pilet." The flights of these are large, there being sometimes as many as from twenty to fifty together. They are very tough and difficult to kill, and when only winged give the retrievers much difficulty; in fact, without the further assistance of the gun, they would escape, as their power of diving and keeping under water is very great, and even as a sitting shot in the water, at a moderate distance, put the best of guns to the test—so much so, that it is better to avoid a sitting shot, although close, when you have a probability of securing a double shot on their rising, especially if the flight be a large one. These birds are, however, strongflavoured, and not worth cooking.