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I think, will be found to answer best. The gunner will of course take care to be warmly clad with woollen clothing, with a light-coloured mackintosh, as an overcovering, to be used or laid aside as circumstances may suggest. He ought to have two pairs of thick woollen stockings on, and over these a good pair of long fisherman's boots, coming well up the thigh. Rather take extra clothing for night-work than insufficient, especially in frosty weather, as it may be frequently necessary to be stationary, when either expecting the arrival of wildfowl, or awaiting the most suitable state of the tide. If the big fisherman's boots be objected to on account of their weight, waterproof over-alls may be substituted, and the common shooting boot worn.
If cocks were more abundant, woodcock shoot ing would, I believe, take the precedence of even grouse shooting. As it is, I am one of those who infinitely prefer it to that or any other kind of shooting. There is so much variety attached to it; the spot in which you find the bird is so frequently unexpected; then his irregular manner of rising, the peculiar flap of his wings, which cannot be mistaken, electrically vibrating on the sportsman's ear, especially if it be the first cock of the season ; his varied flight when up, sometimes slow, heavy and oscillating, at other times direct and rapid as a hawk; then there is always an uncertainty as to the direction which he may take, whether he will go to the right or to the left, straight forward, or come exactly towards you ;- in fact, there is sometimes a suspense of several moments, first between your hearing and seeing him, next between your seeing and being able to decide when to shoot at him; at other times you hear, see, and shoot at him at the same moment, and although you had only an instant's glance at him, are as successful as if you had had him in sight for several moments. All these circumstances create an interest, and produce an anxiety with the keen sportsman which constitute the peculiar charm of woodcock shooting.
But as this combination of circumstances can only occur in a wild country, amongst rocks, heather, brushwood, dingles and dells, the excitement and the interest which I attach to woodcock shooting, may appear exaggerated to those who have simply shot this bird in England, where the uniform character of the cover is such, that the rising and flight of the woodcock may present little variety; but still I believe it is rare to find a genuine sportsman who is not more pleased at shooting a woodcock than any other bird. Those who have shot in wild countries, will thoroughly enter into my sporting feelings on the subject.
The woodcock is generally considered an easy shot; but, notwithstanding this opinion, there is no bird so frequently missed; and if the experience of good shots be appealed to, I think it will be admitted no great number of cocks has ever been killed consecutively.
To this it may be replied, numerous chance and long shots are taken, because the cock, being a bird of passage, and also a tender bird, and easily brought down, the remotest chance is taken advantage of; but still, apart from this consideration, I believe more fair shots are missed by even good shots, than at any other bird ; and, if this be the case, I think it fair to conclude, that he is not so easy a bird to kill as is generally supposed. If he would rise, like any other bird, at a fair distance, and be off at once, I believe he would rarely be missed; but this is not often the case, as he frequently rises so clumsily, and at the same time so near, that you cannot shoot immediately, but must await his departure, and are thus kept in a state of suspense, and sometimes of doubt, whether you will
even get a shot at all, as the direction he may take, when you are very close upon him, is always uncertain. And it not unfrequently happens, that a bird you thought as safe as bagged on rising, there being no apparent obstacle to your having the fairest shot in the world, by some extraordinary quick turn eludes all your skill. As you cannot shoot at ten or twelve yards, and as a cock often rises at this distance, you are obliged to wait, and just when you suppose you must have a certain shot, by his going either to the right or left, or straight forward, the coast being quite clear, in an instant he flies exactly towards your face, in so bungling a manner, that you could almost fancy he was wounded, or could not fly at all; and, as you turn round to bring your gun up, you either stumble, or your gun is impeded by a branch, or he turns out of sight behind a rock or a tree exactly as you pull the trigger, and you thus, in spite of yourself, shoot behind him, and he escapes; and, as an aggravation to your disappointment, all your efforts to find him again are fruitless.
But, on the other hand, it occasionally happens, that out of evil cometh good, for you not only find your lost bird, but, whilst in quest of him, a couple of others, and bag all three; and this in pursuing the direction of your lost bird over ground that you would not otherwise have tried, the two fresh
birds rising under your feet from places apparently the most unlikely, thus affording you more than compensation for your previous disappointment. It often happens, at the end of the day, when you want one more bird to make up a particular number of couples, that you find one, and flush him several times without being able to get a shot ; and after having searched in vain for more than half an hour after the last time you had flushed him, and having searched every favourable spot in the line of his flight where it was likely he might have dropped, you give up in despair, and feel somewhat vexed at not getting your last bird, and walk off homewards with your gun over your shoulder, devouring your disappointment, when up he gets off a piece of ground as bare as a road, but perhaps with a little rill in it, or one small bush on it, when down you bring him, thus appeasing your sportsman's ire, and making you fully satisfied with your day's sport.
In a rough, wild country, where there is a mixture of blackthorn, hazel, birch, ash and dwarf, scrubby oak, with rocks and heather, and where there are many steep, rugged acclivities, inaccessible to the best of beaters, good spaniels are indispensable, as it is impossible to flush cocks without them. Even tolerable spaniels would be useless in many of these places, as cocks will not rise except forced to do so by good, hard-working,