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ready to receive the spoil; if not, perhaps they conceal the sack till night-time, when one of the party comes and fetches it. Many covers are cleared in this manner without the knowledge of the keeper; and when the day arrives for the 'grande battue,' there is great disappointment, and the head-keeper looks very foolish, not knowing how and when he was duped, although he cannot deny the fact.
Poaching is also sometimes done in a small way by labourers on the land, by setting snares round the hedges; but these are soon detected if a keeper does his duty. Then comes the nightpoaching, with guns, which is most difficult to counteract or prevent, as the men who are engaged in this nefarious practice are generally the most desperate characters, and fully prepared to shoot a keeper with as little hesitation as they would a pheasant, should any obstacle be opposed to their proceedings; and as they frequently muster in greater numbers than the collective force of the keepers, and as the latter are generally unarmed, except with staffs, the attempt to secure these ruffians is rarely successful, always most dangerous, and not unfrequently attended with loss of life. If the keepers, under these circumstances, could identify the poachers, an important end would be answered; but this is generally most difficult, as the poachers frequently come from a distance, and are not known to the keepers, and, if known, take care to disguise themselves so as to avoid being recognised, and moreover generally threaten the lives of the keepers whenever they attempt to approach sufficiently near for the purpose. Some years ago a head-keeper in Suffolk was shot at and killed by a poacher on merely attempting to identify him, without in the slightest degree, in any other respect, having acted on the offensive; and, very unfortunately for the ends of justice, when the supposed delinquent was tried with those who were thought to be his companions, there was not sufficient legal evidence to convict any one of the miscreants, although there was no moral doubt either as to their identity or guilt.
Where pheasants are very thick, artificial ones, made of wood or straw, placed in the trees, will be useful in deceiving the poachers, and saving the lives of the birds. Sometimes pitfalls in covers, if the fact of their being made be promulgated, will make poachers shy of entering a cover. Furze and broom make a capital cover for a pheasantpreserve, only requiring a good look-out by day. The best food to attract pheasants, and keep them in one spot, is buckwheat, white peas, damaged raisins, and boiled potatoes. It is also a very good plan to sow some sunflowers, if there are any favourable spots for the purpose, as they are much liked by pheasants.
At the proper season of the year, when snipes are abundant and in good condition, they afford excellent sport; when out of condition they are sometimes as plentiful as at the height of the season, but only for a few days: they are then more difficult to kill, and show less sport, being wilder and less accessible, and more irregular in their flight. From the end of October till the end of January is their season. In November and December I have usually found them in the highest condition; but this will depend on the weather, as they are seldom plump and fat till after a few sharp frosts. In September and in March I have occasionally found them in great quantities: but in both these months they are thin and of indifferent flavour, especially in the month of March : they are then on their return passage to their native countries, and are not only thin, but have a strong, rank, disagreeable taste. In speaking of snipe shooting, I allude to that which is had in large marshes and bogs (where fifty, sixty, and more shots may be had daily), and not to the casual shooting of a few in frosty weather by the brook or rivulet side; and having had much experience in this sort of sport, and having killed many thousand snipes, I can speak with some degree of certainty on the subject. Ireland is celebrated for snipe shooting, snipes being very much more abundant there than in either England or in Scotland—twenty couple, and even more, being easily killed by one gun in a day. There are, however, fens in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire where excellent sport is to be had; and in some parts of the West of Scotland snipes are also very plentiful, particularly in the Isle of Harris.
I have had tolerable snipe shooting in Dorsetshire, Cambridgeshire, and also in Scotland; but the best I ever had was in France, and there I followed it regularly and consecutively for seven or eight years, killing upon an average from four to five hundred couple a year. In the year 1828 I first commenced operations in France, and during that winter killed 1,232 head of game, more than 1,000 of which were snipes, the remainder wildfowl. My head-quarters were at Montreuil (on the high-road to Paris, about forty miles from Boulogne). In the immediate vicinity of this place, I used to have very good shooting; but my best sport was obtained in a large marais, about eight miles distant, close by a village called Villeres. I also had very excellent sport in a marais at Nampont (this place is the first post on the road to Paris from Montreuil).
During the months of November and Decernber, these two marais, on particular days, yielded first-rate sport; in fact, so long as there was no continuously severe frost, snipes were always to be found in tolerable abundance. The arrival of the first large flights generally occurred at the end of October or» beginning of November; and on particular days subsequently, when the wind and weather were favourable, the quantity was considerably increased by further flights. If the wind were in the south-east at night, and remained there till morning, there was always a certainty of sport, more especially if the day were dull and damp—a fall of rain, with a slight breeze, was always in favour of sport.
On a very fine day, with sunshine, snipes always became scarce and wild. I have heard it asserted by some sportsmen that dogs are not necessary for snipe-shooting—that they can walk them up; but this is a very great mistake, the very best of dogs being requisite, no birds lying closer than snipes on particular days, especially when they are in good condition: wounded birds will frequently not rise till you almost tread upon them, if not found by the dog—consequently without a dog many would be lost.
Setters make the best snipe dogs, pointers being too delicate to endure the continual exposure to wet. The former are very easily broken to snipes. As it is necessary invariably, when you can do so,