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sea-water lochs, receding far inland amidst woods and rocks, with various nooks, corners, bays, creeks, and other favourite places of resort of fowl—sometimes small islands, having nooks and bays partially sheltered by overhanging rocks.
All these spots are of easy access to the ' gunner ' with his punt in moderately fine weather; and as many of them, on the retiring of the tide, afford first-rate feeding-ground for widgeon, the weed of which they are fond being produced in abundance, the opportunity for sport is sure to present itself most favourably whenever the moon, tide, and wind may be suitable. But even in the daytime wildfowl of all kinds are easily approached in these localities with a punt by judicious management, if there be a slight breeze, and the day be in other respects favourable, inasmuch as, from being rarely fired at by any casual shooters, they are neither shy nor wild.
The first year I was on the western coast of Scotland, during the autumn and winter I frequently observed flocks of widgeon, from three to five hundred together, day after day, in the same sea-water lochs, which might have been easily approached with a punt; but as neither I nor those who were with me had either punt or any gun beyond common shoulder-guns, the widgeon remained unmolested, and appeared to take little notice of numerous shots fired at snipes and other game in the immediate vicinity of the lochs. They would, however, when disturbed by fishermen sometimes fly from one loch to another during the day, as there were two large lochs parallel to each other and almost immediately proximate, being separated only by a small intervening promontory. These two lochs were also equally their place of resort by night, as the mud, which was accessible at low-water, was covered with that particular seaweed to which widgeon are partial. In these two lochs there were about a thousand widgeons; they made their appearance at the end of October, and remained during the winter. When occasionally disturbed by boats, or by the arrival of vessels, they took flight as far as two small islands, about a mile out in the open sea; here, on several occasions, a few brace were killed by common fowling-pieces, the facility of proximate access being great, owing to the favourable nature of the sides of the islands; but a large punt-gun, both here and in the two lochs, would have done wonderful execution.
These islands were also much resorted to by wild geese, especially as a roosting-place, although I have occasionally found them there during the day, and killed a few. The geese arrive in this part of Scotland generally as early as August, and do much mischief to the farmers' oats, which they attack at daybreak, or perhaps earlier, and then retire to the islands to roost; they, however, sometimes remain in the oats during the whole day, if not disturbed.
The coast in this part of the Highlands is so very flat, that scarcely any chance of sport is afforded to the sportsman with any ordinary fowling-piece; the punt and big gun must therefore be resorted to. A large-sized punt, about 22 feet in length, is the most convenient, as it will hold three persons, will carry a sail, and in moderately fine weather is perfectly safe. If a punt be well made, she cannot be upset by any sea; the only liability is of taking water in, when either sailing fast before the wind, owing to her extremely sharp, narrow, and shallow stern, or by being exposed to a heavy side sea. But a punt may be so constructed that she cannot sink, even if filled with water, by having air-pipes round her sides and in her forepart.
The best materials for a punt are oak, elm, Norway deal of the best quality, and withy—oak or elm for her bottom, Norway deal for her sides, withy for her deck and bulwarks, and tough ash for her timbers; all the fastenings and metalwork to be of copper. I have, however, seen and used a very excellent punt built entirely of Norway deal; she was light and buoyant, sailed well, and answered every purpose for which she was intended; she was twenty-two feet in length. A clever country boatbuilder completed her under three weeks, with the assistance of two persons to do the rough work. Having witnessed her construction at intervals during its progress, I will give the best explanation I am able as to the modus operandi. I must, however, refer those of my readers who are desirous of obtaining fuller information to Colonel Hawker's admirable work. He is, in fact, the parent of these gunning-punts, having, I believe, originated and most unquestionably brought them to perfection; and the sporting world are much indebted to him for the elaborate and perspicuous manner in which he has conveyed his communications.
The punt whose construction I witnessed was built after Colonel Hawker's last model, but entirely of Norway deal, save the timbers, which, of necessity, were of ash :—length from stem to stern, 22 feet 7 inches; at bottom, 21 feet 10 inches. The bottom planks were half an inch thick, the centre plank not being thicker than the others, as in Colonel Hawker's, this being a deviation from his plan. He recommends the centre plank to be 1^ inch thick, for the purpose of receiving the stanchion; but when it is intended only to use a single gun, it can be supported by the deck, with the assistance of a copper rest at the stem of the punt, and moved as the gunner may wish—subject, however, at all times, to the salutary restraint of a powerful rope-breeching. A small block may be fixed for the reception of the mast. After the bottom planks are fastened together, and reduced at their extreme ends to their proper shape, a strong cord is then tied round tightly in several places, so as to give to the bottom a slight convexity of shape; because, if the bottom were perfectly flat, the punt would neither sail so well, pass so easily through shallow places, nor be moved to and from the shore with the same facility. If the convexity were too great, it would make the punt less safe; but it ought to be so slight as to be scarcely perceptible, in which case it will not diminish its security in the slightest degree.
During the time the bottom remains fastened (two days will be sufficient for the purpose), the sides may be prepared; these may be threeeighths of an inch in thickness—height at bow A\ inches, astern 10 inches. They must be inclined outwards, so as to admit of the deck amidships being 9 inches wider than the bottom, i.e. 4 feet 9 inches, the bottom being 4 feet in width. This external inclination of the sides is very essential to security. After the sides are added to the bottom, the timbers, which must be of tough ash, steamed or boiled, so as to render them pliable, may be fastened with copper nails, and securely riveted; they must be at intervals