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chapter in reference to the management of the muzzle-loader are equally applicable to the breech-loader, a few additional hints, suggested by recent observations, reflection, and experience may possibly not be unacceptable to the sportsman, as anxiety to excel as a shot in the present day is too strongly exhibited in the various matches and handicaps at Hornsey Wood and elsewhere to admit of a doubt or question.
With this view of the subject it may be as well to state the conditions on which successful shooting depend, and these are equally of a scientific and practical nature, so that to attain the desired end, the theory must be thoroughly understood before the practice can be effectually and successfully carried out. How to direct the gun under the various positions relatively to the game to be shot at, before an expectation of becoming a first-rate shot can be legitimately entertained, must be thoroughly learnt and ascertained; in fact, the sportsman or pigeon shooter who is desirous of killing whatever he shoots at, must learn so to direct his gun that the object.aimed at is hit with the centre of the charge. This is the main point—to hit birds without killing them will not answer the purpose; attention may therefore be very properly invited in the first instance to the preliminary part of the business—i.e. the theory, which comprehends the laws of gravitation, the flight of birds, form of gun, its elevation, and other minor particulars.
In reference to gravitation it must be observed that, agreeably to that law, the shot on leaving the muzzle of the gun gradually descends from the line of trajection till it reaches the earth, and at a distance of forty yards descends from eight to twelve inches, so that it is evident, if the line of sight were parallel with the axis of the barrels of the gun, and a correct aim were taken at any bird at a distance of forty yards, it would inevitably be missed, but as the barrels are much thicker at the breech end than at the muzzle, and as there is sometimes an elevated rib lying between the two barrels, somewhat higher than their surface, the line of sight can never be parallel with the axis of the barrels, and must intersect the line of trajection at the muzzle; so that if the experiment could be made of extending the lines of sight and trajection to the distance of forty yards, it would be found that the latter was from eight to twelve inches higher than the former, thus overcoming the difculty arising from gravitation. But there are other difficulties to which attention must be directed, notwithstanding the theory which I have just laid down as a general one. The point blank distance of most guns cannot be relied on beyond twenty-five or thirty yards; the sportsman must therefore always endeavour to shoot over all birds
going straight away from him which are beyond that distance; in which case, if the aim be correct, he will strike whatever he shoots at with the centre of the charge; and when birds are at from fortyfive to fifty-five yards distance, the elevation must be increased, and in all side shots at long distances the same practice must be attended to, as well as that of shooting well forward, from one, two, and sometimes three feet in advance—and sometimes even more—if the birds are in full flight and going rapidly down wind, as will frequently be the case at the end of the season; as it must be remembered that grouse, partridges, and black game are much stronger on the wing, and proceed with much greater rapidity in their flight in November and December than in August and September, especially in windy weather. Those who have had much experience in wild shooting are well aware of the necessity of shooting well forward at all crossing birds late in the season, having frequently received practical instruction on this point by killing birds in the rear of a covey when their aim was directed at the foremost birds, which have escaped intact. Three feet before a crossing bird seems a long distance, but when the pace at which a grouse is flying down wind in November or December be taken into consideration, as well as the fact that a small interval must elapse between the pulling of the trigger and the shot reaching the point aimed at—although the gun be brought up exactly three feet before the bird, and the trigger finger obeys and sympathises with the sight—the distance is in reality not so great, indeed it is sometimes insufficient. Guns are frequently found fault with when the sportsman alone is to blame, not having shot sufficiently high or sufficiently in advance; the consequence of which want of skill is, that what is shot at is hit with the outside instead of with the centre of the charge. First-rate shots generally praise their guns for hard and strong shooting, second-rate shots are frequently undecided on this point; but the difference really exists between the men, and not between the guns.
It is a bad plan to bring the gun up to the shoulder too soon. When birds rise within a moderate distance, the direction which the bird is taking must in the first instance be observed, and the gun not be put to the shoulder till the bird has reached the proper distance to be shot at, and the sportsman has decided how he intends shooting; the gun will then come up exactly as the sportsman wishes it, if he be under the influence of no physical defect. If a bird has risen at thirty-five yards distance, and is flying rapidly to the right, it will be advantageous to bring the left foot well forward before bringing the gun to the shoulder: the sportsman will then be able to direct the gun as he desires, and at the same time obtain an easy shot. A shot at a bird flying swiftly to the right is rather a difficult one, because the sportsman must be in a cramped position, especially if the right leg be in advance, in which case he is unable to shoot sufficiently forward.
The embarrassment consequent on this cramped position all sportsmen who have had much cockshooting in difficult covers have often experienced. I have frequently been subject to it when out woodcock shooting either in very rough covers, or walking on the shingle along the sea-shore, where I found it was advisable to walk slowly, so as to have the command over my legs in the event of a woodcock suddenly rising, giving me a difficult shot. When birds fly to the left, there is no difficulty in getting the gun well up to the shoulder and in being able to shoot sufficiently forward. The sportsman ought never to shoot at a bird in the act of crossing him, if he can obtain a fair shot at him either as he is advancing or after he has passed. Either of these two oblique shots is easier than the one at the crossing bird, but when there is no alternative, this is one of the cases in which the gun cannot well be directed too much in advance, especially if the flight of the bird be rapid. In the case of birds coming immediately towards the sportsman, his best