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Colonel Hawker speaks highly in favour of it, and on this particular point I must refer my readers for information to the Colonel's admirable work.
In approaching widgeon in the sea-water lochs by day, the gunner must he guided by circumstances. Sometimes, when they are not wild, the best plan will be to allow the punt to drift gently down wind, till you get within shot, those in the punt keeping themselves as much out of sight as possible; at other times you must go up wind. But this is not always either an easy or successful operation, unless you have the tide in your favour; but where either ducks or widgeon have not been much shot at, and are not very wild, by good management they will be easily accessible on a day which is in every respect suitable, with a sufficient breeze.
The gunner, and those with him, will of course take care to be suitably clothed as to colour, this being as essential as in stalking. In approaching widgeon or wild ducks at night, you must on no account go down wind, as they would both wind you and hear you to a certainty, and be off before you came within shot of them; but having ascertained the precise places where they feed, you must advance up wind as quietly as possible. If the moon be up and facing you, so much the better, you will then have a good view of your birds on the mud, and be able to take a more deadly aim. Be sure to fire high enough, directing the point of your gun to the furthest birds on the line which you intend sweeping. The best moment, if the moon and night favour you, is just before the tide is beginning to flow, for by that time the birds will have been several hours feeding, and have become settled to their position. Should you arrive too early, your chance will not be so good; it will therefore be better to exercise a little patience, especially if the night be fine.
If there be a large flock of widgeon, you will hear them long before you see them. If the noise be continuous, it is a good sign; if it be only at intervals, it must be considered as a bad omen, indicating alarm and suspicion on their part,—you must therefore exercise more caution. When the whistling and purring is unbroken and continuous, you may conclude that the widgeon are busily engaged feeding, and settled to their ground without suspicion, so that, if you manage well, you will be sure to get a good shot. The sharp, whistling note proceeds from the cock bird, the harsher one from the hen. In the day-time the gunner will get many flying shots; and as some of these may be partially unexpected, while he is turning the corner of some creek or bay, it will be essential to success in these instances to have a man who thoroughly understands skulling, and who will,
on the emergency of the moment, give the punt the requisite and most advantageous directions.
When crossing those parts of the loch where there is no chance of a shot, and where the sea is at all rough, it will always be advisable to have the lock and the muzzle of the gun protected with coverings for the purpose, and also immediately after a shot: this precaution must not be neglected. It would of course be better to reload instantly; but where there are many cripples, the anxiety to secure them is too great to admit of this being done till the produce of the shot be bagged. You must therefore keep your big gun as dry as possible in the mean time, and perhaps it will not be a bad plan to wipe her out before re-loading. Your small gun may be safely slung under the side of the punt, protected by a waterproof covering, and so placed, that if it were accidentally discharged, it would do no injury; the best sized shot for the cripples is No. 7., as you get into very close quarters, to give them a coup de grace.
A common landing-net, such as is used for landing trout, will be found most useful to convey your dead birds from the water into the punt. A good retriever will be very serviceable, especially for night-work; but none of any but a very hardy breed would be of much use in cold, severe weather —the small Newfoundland, of the St. John's breed, I think, will be found to answer best. The gunner will of course take care to be warmly clad with woollen clothing, with a light-coloured mackintosh, as an overcovering, to he used or laid aside as circumstances may suggest. He ought to have two pairs of thick woollen stockings on, and over these a good pair of long fisherman's boots, coming well up the thigh. Rather take extra clothing for night-work than insufficient, especially in frosty weather, as it may be frequently necessary to be stationary, when either expecting the arrival of wildfowl, or awaiting the most suitable state of the tide. If the big fisherman's boots be objected to on account of their weight, waterproof over-alls may be substituted, and the common shooting boot worn.
If cocks were more abundant, woodcock shoot ing would, I believe, take the precedence of even grouse shooting. As it is, I am one of those who infinitely prefer it to that or any other kind of shooting. There is so much variety attached to it; the spot in which you find the bird is so frequently unexpected; then his irregular manner of rising, the peculiar flap of his wings, which cannot be mistaken, electrically vibrating on the sportsman's ear, especially if it be the first cock of the season; his varied flight when up, sometimes slow, heavy and oscillating, at other times direct and rapid as a hawk; then there is always an uncertainty as to the direction which he may take, whether he will go to the right or to the left, straight forward, or come exactly towards you; —in fact, there is sometimes a suspense of several moments, first between your hearing and seeing him, next between your seeing and being able to decide when to shoot at him; at other times you hear, see, and shoot at him at the same moment, and although you had only an instant's glance at him, are as successful as if you had had him in sight for several moments. All these circumstances create an interest, and produce an anxiety with the keen sportsman which constitute the peculiar charm of woodcock shooting.
But as this combination of circumstances can only occur in a wild country, amongst rocks, heather, brushwood, dingles and dells, the excitement and the interest which I attach to woodcock shooting, may appear exaggerated to those who have simply shot this bird in England, where the uniform character of the cover is such, that the rising and flight of the woodcock may