pheasants, partridges, hares, and rabbits, an extra and unexpected prize, in the shape of a woodcock, may frequently be secured. In fact, in the winter, when the leaf is off, I don't know of prettier or more amusing sport than hedgerow and shaw shooting, with two brace of spaniels and a brother sportsman, in a country not overstocked with game, but where there is a slight sprinkling of everything, so that, with good shooting and a little fagging, a tolerable bag may be made. But this sort of old-fashioned shooting, which I partook of constantly in my younger days, and remember with pleasure, is now superseded by a different style of proceeding, consequent on the new and extensive system of preservation of game, but especially of pheasants.

In former days, if two guns killed their five or six brace of pheasants, with a mixture of partridges, hares, rabbits, and two or three woodcocks, the sport was considered most satisfactory; but now pheasants are all reserved for one or two great days, and if two or three hundred are not killed, 'the battue ' is thought nothing of; hence the number of pheasants, and loads of other game, sufficient for a winter's sport for two or three guns, which are sacrificed to the gratification of having one or two great days: and this vast slaughter is committed without the aid of any dogs, beyond, perhaps, a brace of retrievers, to the very small gratification of any genuine sportsman.

'The general mode of proceeding is to collect the best and most crack shots of the neighbourhood, bad shots being scrupulously avoided, as well as those who kill their game too near, and thereby render it unfit for the market, as these battues are generally a matter of business as well as pleasure. These being assembled, the covers are driven, by a number of men and boys, up to particular points, at which the guns are placed at intervals; and as there is generally a net round the cover and in different directions through it, so as to divide the beats, with perhaps a small outlet to the last beat, the sport is tolerably divided, and shots are generally secured at all sorts of game which the cover affords, and immense slaughter effected.

Pheasants, from their indisposition to rise and their predisposition to run, generally proceed towards the guns, so soon as the least noise takes place in cover; but few rise till they are driven into close quarters by the beaters, and compelled to take wing in self-defence. If there were no nets to stop them, almost every pheasant would run out of the cover, and few shots be had; as it is a singular fact, that when pheasants reach a net which is only a yard high, instead of flying over it, as they might easily do, after having made a few fruitless attempts to get through it, they return towards the beaters. Some few of the old cocks, who have had the good fortune to survive a few 'battues,' hop over the nets with the agility of a greyhound, and make their escape as fast as their legs will carry them. Their fate is, however, very possibly merely postponed to the end of the day, when the' grande finale ' takes place at some thick corner of the wood, with a deep ditch round it, into which these old fellows have skulked, with several of their equally old and cunning companions, to undergo their final ordeal, as there is generally some desperate work just at last.

Some, however, must escape, more birds frequently rising at the same time than can be shot at even by a dozen guns, and many escape during the loading or exchange of guns.

One gun may have an excellent day's sport with an old steady pointer, on the day succeeding a battue, in the vicinity of the cover, if there be any good turnip-fields or hedgerows. Those who have large preserves of pheasants object to their covers being beaten, or in any way disturbed, more than once or twice during the season, and hence the necessity of a ' battue.' There is some reason in this, as no bird is more easily disturbed than a pheasant, or who strays further without immediately returning, so that it would be a very losing game to disturb large covers frequently, merely for the sport of one or two guns; but still there are always parts in every cover, where a couple of guns with one steady pointer, or with a good retriever without a pointer, might have sport without much disturbing the cover or driving the game away: but this will depend entirely on circumstances, and on the relative position of the cover.

If a cover be full of hares, and in the midst of an open country, where the tenants are allowed to keep greyhounds, and it be desirable to preserve the hares for particular occasions, such a cover cannot be kept too quiet, as it cannot be disturbed in the slightest degree with impunity. Hence the necessity of a good look-out, as in a coursing country, tricks of all sorts are resorted to to make the hares leave the covers, in which case they make their forms on the fallows, stubbles, or elsewhere, according to the season of the year, and then are victimised by greyhounds; but if hares leave a cover, pheasants do so much more readily, and stray to a greater distance, sometimes as far as two or three miles: some of them will of course return in a few days to the cover where they have been in the habit of being fed, if they have not gone into an enemy's country, and their return intercepted.

It is very easy, in a favourable country for pheasants, to raise a large stock of them; but it is most difficult to keep them when you have got them, no bird being more easily poached, both by day and night; and as there is no bird whose exact place of resort is more easily ascertained by the poacher, all the latter requires is a couple of hours unmolested by day to clear a large plantation: hence the necessity of unremitting vigilance. To keep a large stock of pheasants together, you must feed regularly and in particular spots. The poachers are aware of this, and are as watchful of the movements of the keepers as the latter are of them; and when they learn that the keeper who has charge of a particular district is absent, they immediately repair to it, and commence their operations, one of which is called 'hingling.' If there are four men, they will, in a very short time, set two or three hundred snares at the end of a plantation, more or less, according to its size, and to the quantity of pheasants they know to be there; and when these are set, go round to the other end of the cover, and walk, at regular distances, slowly towards their snares, making a slight noise by cracking and breaking rotten branches, which will be quite sufficient to set all the pheasants in motion; and will be more effective than if they had a dog, as he would perhaps drive them too fast, and make them take wing. When the poachers reach the end of the cover, the pheasants are taken out of the snares and put into a sack, and the snares removed; they then proceed to another cover, if they think they have time, or move off, as circumstances may suggest. Perhaps they have a light-cart waiting in the nearest road,

« ForrigeFortsett »