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brown. If not found until the breeding season, they are then easily shot at the nest.
Some gentlemen disapprove of keepers carrying a guii at any season of the year, and think that all vermin can, and ought to be, killed by trapping. I cannot say I subscribe to so unsound an opinion; on the contrary, I think that a keeper ought never to be without his gun when going his rounds, especially during the spring and summer; for, however assiduous and skilful he may be in trapping, it is impossible he can destroy all the flying vermin without the use of his gun; and if he is constantly on his ground, as he ought to be, innumerable unexpected fair chances and opportunities will present themselves of his destroying hawks and other birds of prey, which he could not otherwise have availed himself of.
I shall be happy to be informed how the henharrier, falcon, and merlin are to be destroyed, without having recourse to the gun. The most expert trapper may take a few, but he cannot take all of them, and without his gun will lose many of the most favourable opportunities; besides, it frequently happens that many of the above hawks are only visitors on your grounds, in. quest of game, and roost and breed on the adjoining moors. It will therefore be necessary for the keeper to be on the alert, and avail himself of every opportunity and chance which may occur to prevent his ground being devastated by these daily visitors, either by watching their arrival, or by awaiting their return; and this he can only do by having his gun constantly with him. If a keeper is not to be trusted with a gun, he is not fit to be on the ground.
I have known extensive grounds on which the hen harrier never bred, but which were constantly visited by them from the adjoining moors in quest of game: and if they are successful, which they invariably are if there be any amount of game, you are sure to receive a daily visit from them; and as they generally pursue the same line of country, they may be shot to a certainty by awaiting their arrival in concealment. In these instances I have known traps succeed, baited with larks, as before suggested. But it frequently happens that there is no suitable spot for setting a trap, owing to the ground being overrun by sheep and cattle, in which case the gun is the only remedy.
One writer on this subject, who is very adverse to keepers carrying guns, and thinks the practice ought on no account to be allowed, advises you to leave hawks unmolested till the young birds are fledged, and then to take them out of their nest, secure them within bushes on the ground u
near the nest, traps being set all round the bushes for the purpose of taking both the old birds. Admitting, for argument's sake, this plan to be completely successful, I cannot think the success would repay, or compensate for, the delay, as the number of grouse which would be destroyed on a good moor by a brace of lien-harriers or falcons, between the time of the old birds sitting upon the eggs and the young birds being fledged, would be ruinous. Each falcon and each hen-harrier would have at least one grouse or black game a day—two, if they could get them; and those who have seen these birds at work, will be more inclined to believe in their success than in their failure: besides, the evidences of their success are to be found in all directions on the moors where they have been allowed to remain unmolested, however short the time may have been. I am therefore decidedly of opinion, that the moment these birds are seen on your ground, the keepers ought to be unremitting in their efforts to destroy them, as each day's delay, at this season of the year, involves a most serious loss, not of single birds, but of packs. Traps set for the falcon on the points of rocks near the nest, where they have been observed to have alighted) may sometimes be successful; but as the falcon builds in the highest and steepest rocks, where access to the nest and these resting-places is always most difficult, and sometimes impossible, the only certain alternative is the gun.
The hen bird may be shot by the keeper's lying in concealment near the nest, if he can find a good position; but, having once placed himself, he must on no account move until a certain chance presents itself, as, if once detected, he would have great difficulty in getting a second chance. Before the keeper conceals himself, it is a good plan, and one which I have known adopted with immediate success, for two persons to accompany him to the spot, and, after having located him in concealment, to walk quietly off to a distance. The hen bird, thinking the coast clear, will descend to her nest within a few minutes; but as she will make many evolutions in the air above the nest, so as thoroughly to inspect the contiguous ground before she ventures to settle near the nest, the keeper must exercise every caution, and be prompt in availing himself of the first fair chance. If he succeed in killing the hen bird, and is not subsequently equally successful with the cock, the latter will most probably leave the ground, and will only return immediately in the event of his finding another female; but should he fail in this respect, he may not be visible till the ensuing spring, when he will be accompanied by another hen bird. As the hen-harriers build on the ground, they
may be either shot or trapped early in the breeding season; but, as I have before insisted, the sooner the better, as each day's delay involves a serious loss of game, especially after the young hawks are hatched, and require food. I know an instance of seven young grouse, as I have mentioned elsewhere, being found in a hen-harrier's nest, after the keeper had killed the old birds; the young hawks were fledged at the time, as it happened to be late in the season when this nest was found.
My opinion as to the policy of killing the hen bird immediately you can do so, is confirmed by each succeeding year's experience. I have recently killed four female hawks from the nest, one of them a falcon; the four were either laying their eggs or sitting upon them, I could not tell which, as the places selected for their nests were altogether inaccessible, being in high, rugged, precipitous rocks. A fortnight has elapsed since my killing them, and I have been constantly on the hills in the immediate vicinity of the nests, but not one of the cock birds has since been visible; from which fact, I think it may be fairly inferred they have left the ground, not having found hen birds.
It is now in the beginning of the month of May: the cock birds may return again with female birds this season; but they have rarely