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east, and the covers being filled with numerous springs which are never frozen, may be the united causes of their attracting cocks in severe weather, their instinct apparently directing them to the most suitable localities.
During a severe frost I have seen as many as forty cocks in a day—nine out of ten of them in those parts of the cover which faced the southeast. There are two obvious reasons for this preference—viz., the small comparative quantity of snow to that which is found on the other aspects, and the warmth derived from the morning and midday sun. In fact, during the short days, the covers which have a northern aspect scarcely get any sun, and the snow lies, notwithstanding the sea-air, till a thaw arrives. But even when there is no frost, I have invariably remarked that covers with a north-west aspect are not much frequented by cocks, although apparently in every other respect suitable. Amidst the open heather, where the ground is broken, and there are a few springs, I have frequently found them: in fact, I believe a very large proportion of cocks drop amongst the heather upon the mountains, in springy ground, on their first arrival, and remain there until the severe weather drives them down into the covers.
I have already recommended spaniels for this sport, and I am convinced no dogs are so suitable: in fact, they will find more game of any sort than any other description of dog, and are most agreeable to shoot to, being such vivacious and lively companions; but they must be thoroughly broken, and kept well in subjection, or they become very mischievous and destructive of sport. An old pointer that you cannot spoil, and who will keep close to you, is an excellent accompaniment to spaniels, and will point many a cock which you would otherwise have passed. Spaniels, to do their work thoroughly well and efficiently, ought to be attended by a beater who can manage and control them, and go with them through thick places as far as it is practicable, as there are many steep, rocky, and precipitous places through which no man can pass, and which can only be thoroughly investigated by first-rate spaniels. And when you arrive at these you must always give your dogs time to work: if you hurry them you may pass many a cock.
In covers which can be beaten by men, they of course are preferable to any dogs, with one retriever to find your wounded and dead birds. This method is however expensive, but the advantage is great; you find almost every bird, and you are almost certain of having a fair shot within a moderate distance; which is not always the case with spaniels, as they frequently flush cocks out of distance. This, however, in a wild country, is unavoidable, as there are so many places which are inaccessible to the sportsman within shot. He has therefore no alternative but to send his spaniels into them, and take his chance of getting a shot; which can be generally managed, if there be two guns, by one keeping with the spaniels, the other going forward in the direction to which you are beating. But if you are going down wind, the second gun had better keep in the rear, as nine birds out of ten will go up wind: so that, generally speaking, the second gun will have the best chance. When your dogs flush a cock out of distance down wind, immediately stand still, and in all probability he will come straight as a line back towards you: when you can take him either as he approaches, or let him pass you. Either is an easy shot, but the former is the easier of the two, if you have acquired the habit of shooting birds as they come towards you.
The best shot for woodcocks is No. 7, with No. 6 in the second barrel for long shots, or for other game. With No. 7, if you merely get a glimpse of the cock through the thickest cover, and hold right, you will be sure to kill. With large shot you may easily miss him; and there is no compensating advantage for the use of large shot, as you seldom get long shots in cover: and moreover, when you take a small bird full with it, you terribly disfigure him; which is an annoyance to good sportsmen, who always desire to kill their birds clean. A good marker in cock-shooting is invaluable, as cocks frequently drop in such singular places that you would never think of looking for them if you had not been told where they had dropped; and also because, when you search in the right direction, you might also, in beating at the usual pace, occasionally pass them if you had not known exactly where they had been marked down: as, after being shot at, they will sometimes lie until they are almost trod upon before they will rise, and therefore very close beating is requisite; and also, after being shot at and wounded in the body, and though apparently not touched, they drop dead after a long flight. The experienced eye of the old sportsman soon however perceives, by the peculiar flight of the bird, when he is body hit, and will observe him as long as he remains within sight; but as woodcocks soon escape from your view, it only remains to follow the line of their flight, which is generally direct when they are body hit and fall dead: still many dead birds would be lost without a good marker judiciously placed; in fact, even when you see a bird fall dead, if it be at a distance, he is very difficult to be found, although you fancied you had marked him down to an inch.
I have often seen men and dogs a long time at fault, when everyone expected to pick up the bird the moment they arrived at the spot where they thought the bird must have fallen; and when at last found, all were mistaken as to the distance, although all were in line. But a bird is sometimes very difficult to be seen, especially a woodcock, when lying flat with his back only exposed to view. It is sometimes wonderful to observe how near the best of dogs will pass to dead birds without winding them; in fact, I have seen dogs run over dead birds, actually treading upon them without finding them, although at other times I have seen them wind them at a long distance. But equally good dogs in other respects differ much in the faculty of finding dead birds. There is no difficulty in finding a running bird with a good retriever, be he either Newfoundland or spaniel; the dead bird is the only puzzle. But some Newfoundlands are wonderfully sagacious even in this respect, marking the places where the wounded and dead birds drop to a nicety, and going immediately you order them to the very spot. Spaniels I have seen nearly as good, as they have quite as good noses as the Newfoundland, but they are deficient in the sagacity of the latter.