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be too particularly directed to this point, both for security and effective shooting. Cartridges are frequently employed, but as the amount of shot used is large, it being often a pound, the paper which forms the envelope must be strong, and on this account I think they are objectionable, and loose shot preferable, as I am pursuaded that there is a very great uncertainty as to the distance at which they may burst, and that sometimes they do not burst at all, so that some of the finest chances may be lost. I have frequently known this to have been the case, and loose shot will answer every purpose when the fowl are not very wild, and obviate disappointment too frequently consequent on the use of cartridges.
For widgeon and ducks, No. 1., I think, will be found most effective, although double and single B. are frequently used; your chance, however, of killing numbers with these is somewhat diminished, except when fowl are very wild. The sportsman must therefore be guided by circumstances as to the size of his shot. There is a coarse powder prepared and sold specially for these large guns, which must be secured; the quantity will be the exact measure of the loose shot used, so that the rule applicable to ordinary fowling-pieces holds good with these larger guns.
Some skill and tact are necessary in firing a large punt-gun, so as to avoid the recoil, which is sometimes severe, and I should recommend the beginner to practise first with a small quantity of powder, increasing it progressively till he arrives at the full charge, and can manage the same skilfully. In taking his aim, he must lay himself down in the punt, having his left hand on the stock of the gun, so as to direct it, his cheek slightly resting upon it; with the right hand he will pull the trigger, taking care at the same time to let the stock of the gun pass under his right arm, sufficient pressure being given by his left for this purpose. A very small stock is necessary, as far as the butt end is concerned, about half the length of a usual fowling-piece, as it is not intended to put this stock to the shoulder.
If the gun be properly managed at the time of firing, the rope breeching will be found sufficient to counteract the effect of the recoil, without any other apparatus, provided the gun be of moderate size, and not overloaded. From the largest size guns the recoil was found to be so great, that a contrivance of some sort in addition to the rope breeching was found to be necessary to counteract it, and Colonel Hawker invented a spring swivel for the purpose, the gun at the same time resting on a stanchion fixed to the bottom of the punt. How this answered I am not able to say, never having either seen or used one; but Colonel Hawker speaks highly in favour of it, and on this particular point I must refer my readers for information to the Colonel's admirable work.
In approaching widgeon in the sea - water lochs by day, the gunner must be guided by circumstances. Sometimes, when they are not wild, the best plan will be to allow the punt to drift gently down wind, till you get within shot, those in the punt keeping themselves as much out of sight as possible; at other times you must go up wind. But this is not always either an easy or successful operation, unless you have the tide in your favour ; but where either ducks or widgeon have not been much shot at, and are not very wild, by good management they will be easily accessible on a day which is in every respect suitable, with a sufficient breeze.
The gunner, and those with him, will of course take care to be suitably clothed as to colour, this being as essential as in stalking. In approaching widgeon or wild ducks at night, you must on no account go down wind, as they would both wind you and hear you to a certainty, and be off before you came within shot of them ; but having ascertained the precise places where they feed, you must advance up wind as quietly as possible. If the moon be up and facing you, so much the better, you will then have a good view of your birds on the mud, and be able to take a more deadly aim. Be sure to fire high enough, directing the point of your gun to the furthest birds on the line which you intend sweeping. The best moment, if the moon and night favour you, is just before the tide is beginning to flow, for by that time the birds will have been several hours feeding, and have become settled to their position. Should you arrive too early, your chance will not be so good ; it will therefore be better to exercise a little patience, especially if the night be fine.
If there be a large flock of widgeon, you will hear them long before you see them. If the noise be continuous, it is a good sign; if it be only at intervals, it must be considered as a bad omen, indicating alarm and suspicion on their part, — you must therefore exercise more caution. When the whistling and purring is unbroken and continuous, you may conclude that the widgeon are busily engaged feeding, and settled to their ground without suspicion, so that, if you manage well, you will be sure to get a good shot. The sharp, whistling note proceeds from the cock bird, the harsher one from the hen. In the day-time the gunner will get many flying shots; and as some of these may be partially unexpected, while he is turning the corner of some creek or bay, it will be essential to success in these instances to have a man who thoroughly understands skulling, and who will, on the emergency of the moment, give the punt the requisite and most advantageous directions.
When crossing those parts of the loch where there is no chance of a shot, and where the sea is at all rough, it will always be advisable to have the lock and the muzzle of the gun protected with coverings for the purpose, and also immediately after a shot: this precaution must not be neglected. It would of course be better to reload instantly; but where there are many cripples, the anxiety to secure them is too great to admit of this being done till the produce of the shot be bagged. You must therefore keep your big gun as dry as possible in the mean time, and perhaps it will not be a bad plan to wipe her out before re-loading. Your small gun may be safely slung under the side of the punt, protected by a waterproof covering, and so placed, that if it were accidentally discharged, it would do no injury; the best sized shot for the cripples is No. 7., as you get into very close quarters, to give them a coup de grace.
A common landing-net, such as is used for landing trout, will be found most useful to convey your dead birds from the water into the punt. A good retriever will be very serviceable, especially for night-work; but none of any but a very hardy breed would be of much use in cold, severe weather - the small Newfoundland, of the St. John's breed,