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DESTEUCTION OF VERMIN.
The preliminary measure towards the preservation of game is the destruction of vermin; without it, other efforts and expense will prove entirely unavailing; and as this end can be attained by the adoption of proper means through the instrumentality of assiduous and competent keepers, I will endeavour to explain some of the methods which I have known to have been adopted with the greatest success. I will, in the first place, commence with ground vermin, viz. common cats, polecats, stoats, weasels, badgers, &c., these being the greatest enemies of grouse, partridges, pheasants, and hares. After having disposed of these, I will invite attention to flying vermin.
Of all ground vermin, the common cat, when once addicted to prowling, is by far the worst and most destructive to game, especially to partridges when they are breeding. A keeper must therefore make a point of destroying these prowlers on the very first opportunity, as when once given to prowl, they never relinquish the habit, and prefer killing their own food to being fed at home; fortunately for preservers of game, they are easily caught. For them, as well as for all other ground vermin, no trap is superior to a common steel trap. Care and judgment are requisite in setting it, so as to answer your purpose and not to take game, or to admit of its being interfered with by sheep or cattle.
The best trap is one of the ordinary size, about four inches in breadth, and five inches in length. Be particular, when you buy your traps, to select such as are properly made, as they are frequently put together in so careless a. manner as to be almost useless. The strength and temper of the spring must be ascertained; it should be curved, and fixed to the bottom plate by an iron pin. The curved springs will last for years, and seldom or never break, their tension being general; whereas the flat springs, from the tension being chiefly in the centre, are constantly giving way, and thus occasioning expense and disappointment. When the trap is set, the drop or plate should lie evenly and horizontally between the teeth; if it be either below, or above, or oblique, it is faulty, and ought to be rejected. In setting, the catch must be regulated by the weight of the vermin you expect to take; it can be set so lightly that a mouse may spring it, or otherwise, according to circumstances. A keeper who understands his business will easily find out where cats or any kind of ground vermin are in the habit of resorting, by carefully examining, on the morning after a shower, and on all other suitable occasions, the gateways, roadways, and other passes, for the footmarks of the enemy, and, when found, he will do well to set his trap under the hedge, wall, or by the side of the nearest ditch to the pass or run. The trap must never be set in a run or pass, as it might take game; and it is not at all necessary to be placed there, as any vermin, in passing a run, will scent a well-baited trap at a long distance.
The best season for trapping is during the months of February, March, and April; the vermin are then on the move, and by killing them at this period of the year, before they commence breeding, you get rid of a generation of enemies. Having selected a favourable spot, you will cut away the earth so as exactly to receive the trap, in such a manner as, when set, will admit of its lying perfectly even with the surface of the ground; you will then drive the stake, to which your trap is fastened by a chain, firmly into the ground. After having done this, if your hand be not sufficiently strong for the purpose, place your foot carefully on the spring of the trap, gradually contracting it; you will then easily fix the catch over the side of one of the jaws to the drop or plate, so as to hold it firmly in its proper position.
Whilst you are removing your foot or hand from the spring, to secure your fingers from the risk of being caught, in the event of the trap being accidentally sprung, place a small stick under the plate; this will hold it firmly, and enable you to set your trap as you desire, and cover it in such a manner as not to be perceived. When this is done, you may carefully withdraw the stick from under the plate. Not only the trap, but the chain and top of the stake must be perfectly covered, so as not to be in the slightest degree perceptible, either with grass or moss, or with whatever the land contiguous may be covered. The grass which covers the plate and teeth must be cut with a sharp knife into minute portions, so that on the trap being sprung it may close without impediment, and no part of its covering remain between the teeth. The bait ought to be on the top of a stick, inserted firmly into the ground, in the rear of the trap, from four to six inches above it, by which means it is scented at a long distance on either side of it. If the trap be set under a wall, large stones may be placed on either side and over it; if stones be wanting, then bushes; so that the vermin cannot get at the bait without passing over the plate of the trap. In a country where there are walls you will always have stones at hand for the purpose; there is no place equal to the side of a wall for a trap, especially at the corner near any ditch,— under a wall and the sides of a ditch being favourite runs for vermin. A few yards distant from where a drain passes under a wall is also an excellent place.
If the trap be set in any open place it must be surrounded by bushes, leaving one small opening. The keeper must visit his traps regularly every morning at daybreak, so as to prevent the escape of any vermin that may be only slightly caught, and also in order to prevent their being interfered with by boys or other persons who may be on your grounds. The best bait is the inside of a rabbit or fowl, part of a wild duck or green plover; if you cannot get these a blackbird will do, but it is not so attractive a bait as the former. A wild duck will make four baits, a plover two. The same bait will sometimes last a week or ten days. If no vermin be caught, the traps had better be sprung and reset every second or third day; as by their remaining in one position any length of time they may become inoperative from rust. The man who attends to them should always have in his game-bag a file, a small hammer, and a bottle of oil, all which articles are required in extensive trapping. The same system of trapping can be adopted on the moors, placing the traps near large heaps of stones, or near rocks, or by a ditch or rivulet side, great care being taken to protect them from the encroachment of sheep.
In large woods where traps are kept up per