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In the overflows, or artificial pieces of water, the huttier, who is generally provided with long marais-boots, walks into the water, and secures his ducks immediately, without any difficulty, especially if he has a dog to assist him, which most of them have, and then returns to his hut, reloads, and is ready forthwith for another chance. He ought to reload in the first instance; but no Frenchman ever thinks of loading his gun, in any sort of shooting, till he has bagged his game. The man who is surrounded by deep water cannot proceed with equal celerity, as it sometimes requires time to secure his wounded birds; however, rather than risk a delay by pursuing wounded birds too long, whereby he might lose a favourable opportunity for another shot, he secures the dead birds, and as many others as he can on the spot, leaving the remainder till morning, when he has no difficulty in finding most of them, with the assistance of his dog, in the contiguous reeds and rushes. Some, however, of course, escape, and become prizes for the snipe shooter who may chance to beat the marais on the succeeding day. I have bagged many in this way, and shot more which had been only slightly wounded, and could fly very well, but, from having been touched, had not left the marais, but taken refuge in thick rushes and water: these birds generally lie very close to a point. The huttiers sometimes, how
ever, beat the marais themselves at daybreak, with their dogs, in quest of their wounded birds, when they have shot into large flights during the night, and fancy any of them are lying in the vicinity of their huts, and often in this respect very much interfere with the sport of the snipe-shooter, who is, perhaps, advancing to commence his sport just as they have finished theirs : however, on a favourable day for snipe-shooting, the snipes don't leave the marais when disturbed—they merely change their ground, and when not shot at soon drop again, but they don't lie quite so well after having been once flushed. As soon as it is light in the morning, snipes lie remarkably close; and in the short days of November the sportsman cannot commence too early. I have often commenced as soon as I could see, and continued till dark.
November and December are the two best months for the huttier. Ducks are then most abundant, are in the best condition, and fetch the highest price. January is sometimes as good, if the weather be not too severe. 'Les huttiers' generally take possession of their huts about half an hour before dark, so as to be prepared for the first flight. When I was in France, and in the daily habit of snipe-shooting in the marais during the autumn, I used constantly to meet these nocturnal sportsmen proceeding to the scene of their operations, with their baskets of decoyducks upon their backs; and before I had left the marais, the quacking resounded from one end of the valley to the other, relieved by an occasional shot.
The majority of the huttiers remain all night, and, after the evening flight is over, go quietly to sleep and await the morning flight: some go home after the evening flight, if their cottages be close at hand, and return before break of day for the morning flight.
The birds used as decoy-ducks, although tame and domesticated, are, I believe, of the wild breed; they have their exact size, shape and make, colour and plumage, and the same fineness of the web of the foot; hence their efficiency for the purpose for which they are used: their quacking is incessant, and I presume intelligible to their wilder brethren in the heavens, as it is constantly responded to by them, and occasions their descent.
Some of the huttiers adopt the plan of having one mallard in the hut with them, one of his legs being secured by a lengthy cord, so that they may occasionally let him out to stimulate the quacking, when it has from any unknown cause momentarily ceased.
Common English ducks would be useless for the purpose of hut-shooting, even if you could induce them to quack as incessantly as these foreigners, as their invitation would not be responded to by birds of passage, their language probably not being intelligible. This fact has been ascertained by experiment, and may be verified by those who have large pieces of water suitable for wildfowl, by procuring a few brace of common French ducks, breeding from them, and confining them to these localities. Koostingplaces may be made for them amongst the reeds, on the sides of the water, or on an island if there be one, so that they may be on the water at all times when their instinct may take them there; and it will then be seen that as soon as the passage of wildfowl, in the early part of winter, commences, your Frenchmen will have numerous companions.
If the pool be extensive, places of concealment suitable for the breeding of fowl, away from any thoroughfare, should be made, so that the wildfowl may not be disturbed, and of course not shot at. Many will remain to breed, both ducks and teal; they breed in Scotland in the heather, and amongst rushes contiguous to the fresh-water lochs, and give very good sport in the months of July and August; after which they make their way down to the sea-water lochs, and remain there for winter sport during the day, returning at night to feed by or near some stream or freshwater loch.
But to return to the system of 'hutting'
in France—I must not omit to mention that nets instead of guns are sometimes used, and with success. These are fixed in a frame of slightlymade woodwork, with two wings, one on either side of the piece of water, the decoy-ducks heing in the centre; the huttier having a small cord fastened to the stick which supports either net, by the removal of which both nets fall simultaneously, enclosing whatever wildfowl may be in the centre. If this plan were well carried out, it would be much more productive than the gun; but it would seem that there are difficulties in the way, from its not being generally adopted.
I recollect a Frenchman telling me of a friend of his, a huttier, living on the coast near Etaples, having on one occasion enclosed so large a quantity of ducks that his net gave way in all directions, and he only succeeded in securing seven or eight of them: his loss of course was considerable, and his friend observed, 'II en a pleure du chagrin.' The probability is that the net was some old fishing-net, half-rotten; but the fact of his having been able to enclose so large a number of wildfowl 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 de