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THOSE WHO HAVE MOOBS AND OTHEB SHOOTINGS TO LET,
WITH ADVICE TO THOSE WHO WISH TO RENT THEM.
Being an advocate for fair-play, I am induced to offer a few suggestions, which I trust may be as beneficial to those who have shootings to let as to those who are desirous of renting them. The interests of the two parties are so intimately blended, that any suggestion protective of the rights of the former cannot fail to be advantageous and beneficial to the latter. When these interests, which ought to be mutual, are disregarded by the unfair and greedy sportsman, or violated by the dishonest gamekeeper, both parties subsequently suffer, and great vexation and disappointment is the natural result.
Many sportsmen who have taken moors on the good faith of agents, have been terribly disappointed on the 12th of August. Some instances have occurred where the best of hills have been almost entirely cleared of grouse, to the amazement and unutterable vexation of those who have come from a distance, at a great expense, with friends, dogs, and servants,—the rent having been paid in advance: and yet it was partly their own fault, in not having ascertained the exact condition of the ground through the instrumentality of a competent person, before closing with the agent. The latter may have acted with perfect good faith, and himself have been deceived; for the hills may have been reduced to this state, on the last year of the tenancy of the previous occupant, by the dishonesty of the gamekeeper,— who, having remained on the ground after the party left, may have availed himself of the opportunity to kill and destroy by every means in his power, both fair and foul—by the gun and springes by day, and with nets at night.
To guard against such foul work, I would recommend the use of the form of lease which follows this chapter, with a few additional clauses. First, if the ground be let in the month of March, that the quantity of game be ascertained by competent persons, and it be agreed that the same amount be left at the end or expiration of the lease. Secondly, that no lease be granted for a shorter period than three years. Thirdly, that no game be killed except in a fair and sportsmanlike manner. In case of infraction of any of these conditions, there should be a heavy penalty, as two years' rent would be an inadequate compensation for the damage which might ensue from a reckless destruction of game during the last year's tenancy, by means inconsistent with fair sporting, and which have been sometimes employed.
There should also be a further condition, making s
the party renting the moor responsible for the conduct of the keepers; and in the event of any dispute arising at any time respecting the game, that either party be empowered to demand a reference, to come off within fifteen days; and in the event of the referees disagreeing, an umpire to be appointed by them, whose decision shall be final.
If conditions of this stringent but necessary character were introduced into all leases of moors, considerable disappointment would be prevented, and the fair and liberal sportsman would neither be sacrificed by foul play or greediness on the one hand, nor by the knavery of dishonest keepers on the other; for there are persons who take moors, as well as keepers, who ought to protect them, against whom precautions are equally necessary to be adopted. I refer to those who think themselves fully justified in the last year of their tenancy (without any grateful feeling for the good sport they have enjoyed, or without the slightest consideration for the landlord, or for those who may be subsequently tenants), in cutting down the game as closely as they possibly can,—and this not so much for the sport as for the profit derivable from the sale of game. Eestrictions as to the sale of game I think both unnecessary and unfair, as the tenant is fairly entitled to dispose of the produce of his ground in any manner he may think proper; and where very heavy expenses are incurred in preserving, a portion of the game may be reasonably applied to meet them. If moors are once well stocked, well looked after, and the vermin kept under, no fair sporting will ever injure them. Some proprietors limit the number of guns; but, with the conditions already named, such restriction is altogether unnecessary. I will now endeavour to give a few precautionary hints to those who wish to rent moors. If it be possible, never take a moor later than the months of February or March—for two reasons: the first is, because, as grouse pair in the month of March, you can easily, through the medium of a competent person and a brace of good dogs, make a fair estimate of the stock of birds on the ground; and in the next place, if that be satisfactory, and you decide on becoming tenant, you will have the best months in the year for the destruction of vermin which may be on the ground,—without which necessary operation the best prospects of sport might be seriously interfered with, especially if there be any accumulation of vermin, arising from previous neglect; but in any case, if there be a good stock of game on the ground, there will always be a certain amount of vermin to be disposed of in the months of February, March, and April. Cats, polecats, stoats, and weasels can only be kept under by regular trapping during these months,—and although hawks and other destructive birds can he destroyed at any season, the spring of the year, before they breed, is the most advantageous time; you will then get rid of a generation of enemies, and protect your game when breeding, which is most important. I will not say more on this subject here, as I have treated it fully in a chapter specially devoted to it.
Never take moors in June or July, unless you know them well, and are thoroughly satisfied as to the stock of game. You cannot try them at this period of the year with dogs; and if you take them, relying on the good faith of the agent, or on their previous high reputation, you may be woefully disappointed, for reasons which I have already given at the commencement of this chapter; but if you have no alternative, then send some competent person, upon whom you can depend, to go over the ground, and question the shepherds and gillies, and obtain all possible information; especially ascertain who was the previous tenant, as this may be important, and be a clue to your obtaining the information you desire. Although an experienced keeper, in this way, and by going over the ground carefully, might form some estimate as to the quantity of grouse, by certain infallible indications of their presence, still it might be far from an accurate one; but as