« ForrigeFortsett »
qualities of the talbot have been sacrificed in his degenerate successor, the fox-hound of modern days, to acquire the great desideratum speed.
Never gralloch a roe near a favourite pass, unless you wish it to be forsaken.
When a moor is regularly shot over, and the large packs thinned, grouse are less apt to flock early, which is often occasioned by several large packs joining company. Late in the season, before they are tamed by a frost, a windy day generally produces the heaviest gamebag to a good quick shot. When his dog points, the sportsman has generally a shrewd idea where to expect the pack, as they collect behind rocks and hillocks, most frequently on the lee side. They keep all together, so there is no danger of stragglers; and as they don't hear so well in windy weather, he may often pop upon them close enough for a capital right and left.
An indifferent or poking shot should choose a sunny calm day at this time of the year; for although birds rise at a longer distance, yet their flight is so much slower than during a breeze of wind, that the length of the shot to him, in both cases, would most likely be pretty much upon a par.
Added to which, in windy weather, they are apt to fly as twisting and irregular as snipe.
In a breezy day, never range near those parts of your marches where the wind strikes fair from your own to the adjoining moor. If you do, most of the birds will fly out of your bounds, notwithstanding every effort to intercept them.
WOODCOCKS AND SNIPES.
THE habits of woodcocks and snipes cannot fail to interest every one who has opportunity for observing them. There is a method in their movements which arrests the attention of a naturalist, but, unless he is a sportsman too, they are less apt, than many other birds, to come under his notice.
The first few woodcocks generally arrive about the beginning of October. Their approach is always made known by the red-wing, which bird one cannot help connecting with the woodcock, as guests who commonly arrive together, however unlike in other respects. When woodcocks first come, they keep to the open ground, taking refuge in brushwood, rushes, or heather. At this time they are constantly found and pointed on the moors ; comparatively few frequent the coverts, at least in the daytime—towards dusk, I have seen them come down to the springs. The first frost, however, drives them to the woods, where the ground is of course less hard. Should the weather continue severe, many take refuge under thick hollies or junipers, especially where these bushes are surrounded by plashy ground. It is worth notice, that if a woodcock is found at one of the covert springs, about dusk in October, he is sure to be at the same place in the daytime when the frost sets in. Each bird has its own fa
vourite evergreen retreat, which it does not abandon till the weather becomes open. A good beater well knows that this bush should be struck smartly on the opposite side from the gun, or the woodcock is warned, and flies away hidden by the boughs.
During a long-continued tract of frost and snow, most of the woodcocks leave the inlands for the oak and larch belts on the coast, in order to feed upon the sea-worms within tide water-mark. This sea-ground, of course, is seldom much affected by frost, and is the last resource of the woodcock during a storm. In the severe winter of 1838–9, hardly a stray cock was to be found in the inland coverts after the first few weeks of hard frost. Numbers were seen, dead and dying of starvation, among the plantations which skirted the sea, even the sea-worm having failed about the end of that long.continued storm.
The passages of the woodcocks, either at evening flight, or from one part of a coppice to another, when flushed, seldom vary twenty yards. In beating large coverts, shots who are aware of this have a great advantage. After once seeing the bird fly, they can form a shrewd guess
where to place themselves next time. By facing the beaters, and securing any opening that the cock may have skirted, they will rarely be disappointed, as every woodcock will be found next day at its former post, and take precisely its former course, if sprung in the same direction. Should the bush or tree be beaten on the opposite side to what it was the day before, the woodcock has likewise a wellknown flight the reverse way.
So certain is this propensity, that, even in long narrow strips of plantation, every woodcock flies to the side (unless prevented by bungling irregular beating) a short time after being
flushed—the sharp flyers a little further on, and the tame proportionally nearer. The flight of both can be easily calculated : and if there are two pairs of experienced shots outside the wood, one pair for the wild and the other for the tame birds, scarcely any escape without being fired at.
There are, however, many plantations, and these often the most noted haunts of the woodcock, which it is impossible to beat by the above methods. Few sportsmen would even walk through some of our tangled coverts in the Highlands, and shooting is out of the question
Where, sunk in copse, your furthest glance
Assistance from the hand to gain." It is in such places that cockers and springers are of real service. The woodcocks generally fly straight over the tops of the trees, and drop down near the opposite side of the covert. Sometimes they take the whole round, and pitch close to where they were sprung.
Should one of these large circular belts be placed on the steep side of a hill, there is a capital opportunity for taking a lesson in the tactics of this bird. By placing yourself upon an opposite knoll, every flushed woodcock is immediately seen, and his course traced without the possibility of subterfuge or evasion. Many sportsmen place a marker upon this point; and are thus directed to the very spot where all the sprung birds have pitched. But if they had the patience to watch a few times for themselves, they would be amply rewarded by insight into the maneuvres of this interesting visitant. If sprung fairly, most of them will top precisely the same trees, and fly past the same
openings every time. Some will make it their rule to pitch down after taking one stretch across; others, by wheeling about, take two; while a few lazy ones may content themselves with a flight only half through the wood. If flushed a second time, however, their movements, for that day, are not so much to be depended on. Should the party of beaters be numerous and noisy, many of the woodcocks will drop down outside the covert; especially if much persecuted and driven about. Some sly old fellows try this ruse after their first flight. The sportsman, therefore, should always walk round the plantation, outside, before quitting it. But, as most of the birds will fly sharp, he must be prepared for snaps. The extreme regularity of the woodcock's flight has been proved to me, even after putting him
the second time. We flushed one in the Kilmun coverts, out of reach. He flew straight for a bit of marshy ground; some woodcutters were at work there, and prevented his settling. In a short time we noticed him come back, and light close to the same spot where he was first put up. He again rose wild; but my beater reminded me of the woodmen. So we stationed ourselves in the line of his return progress, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing him, as we expected, and I shot him flying over
In overgrown larch plantations, with long bare stems, it is impossible to fire too soon; as all the shots must be taken before the birds rise to the branches. If, on the contrary, the covert is low, the cock should be allowed to get among the tree-tops; and there will, most likely, be opening enough for a quick shot. Otherwise, pick a snap through the thinnest screen of tree-tops and branches. To do all this, mechanically, requires both self-command and