« PreviousContinue »
between the dogs and their master, and none except deerstalking is more trying to the wind and muscles. If carried on sleepily and unscientifically, few shots will be obtained during the day, so that it is scarcely to be wondered at that it is abandoned by those gentlemen who only occasionally indulge in rural amusements.
HEDGEROW PHEASANT SHOOTING
Early in the season, pheasants may often be found in the hedgerows near the coverts, especially if these are hunted in the morning, about eight or nine o'clock, when the birds are returning from their feed. The spaniels should be made to hunt them from the covert, or the birds will run before them into their secure retreats, and refuse to rise. If the hedge is a high one, a shooter should be on each side, or if there is only one gun, he should be on the ditch side. Pheasants also are fond of small ash-beds and other coverts of trifling extent, where they remain quiet until they are driven into the more secure preserves by the keepers. In such places they are often to be killed in the first days of October, at a time when the larger coverts are too full of leaf to admit of their being beaten.
The WOODCOCK (Scolopax rusticola) presents one of the most difficult shots which can fall to the lot of the British sportsman. This arises partly from the nature of the thick coverts which he frequents, and partly from the quick shoots which he makes round the trees as he rises from the ground. This bird occasionally breeds in Great Britain, but the bulk of those found in the winter here have migrated from the north of Europe, arriving in flights early in October, and leaving us in March. Mr. Campbell, of Kilberry, who is one of the most successful cock shooters of the day, is of opinion that within the last ten years they leave Scotland earlier than formerly, and be has known them during that period pair in the middle of February. Mr. Selby, who made his observations in Northumberland, observes “that the first flights of these birds, which seldom remain longer than for a
few days, and then pass southward, consist chiefly of females ; whilst, on the contrary, the subsequent and latest flights which continue with us are principally composed of males. It has been noticed by several authors, that the arrival of the males, in a number of our summer visitants, precedes that of the females by many days; a fact from which we might infer, that in such species a similar separation exists between the sexes during their æquatorial migration." The woodcock is essentially a nocturnal bird, remaining by day under thick bushes or other dense covert on the ground. In the evening it leaves its retreat, and flies silently to its feeding-ground, where worms and insects are carefully sought for in the moist earth by boring with the bill. The nest is built on the ground in dry grassy situations. The female lays three or four eggs, similar in size and shape to those of the plover; in colour, of a pale yellowish white, the larger end blotched with ash grey and reddish yellow brown; length one inch and three-quarters, breadth one inch four lines. Yarrell's description of the woodcock is as follows :—Beak dark brown at the point, pale reddish brown at the base, and generally about three inches long; the irides dark brown; eye large, convex, and prominent; from the beak to the eye a dark-brown streak; the colour of the plumage is a mixture principally of three shades of brown-namely, pale wood brown, chesnut brown, and dark umber brown; each feather on the upper surface of the body contains the three shades, but so disposed as to produce a beautifully variegated appearance. The cheeks pale wood brown, spotted with dark brown; the forehead to the top of the head greyish brown, occiput and nape rich dark brown, transversely divided into three nearly equal patches by two bars of yellow wood brown, each feather of the neck below pale brown, edged with dark brown; the back, greyish brown varied with reddish brown, and dark umber brown; all the
1 wing coverts reddish brown, with open oval rings of dark brown ; primary quill feathers blackish brown, with triangular spots of pale reddish brown along the margins of each web; secondaries and tertials of the same ground colour, blackish brown, but the light-coloured marks are more elongated, and extend from the margin of the web to the shaft of the feather; rump and upper tail coverts chesnut brown, tinged with grey and barred transversely with dark brown; tail feathers black above, tipped with pure dark grey ; chin very pale yellow brown; neck in front, breast, and all the under surface of the body wood brown, transversely barred with dark brown, both shades on the under surface becoming lighter in old birds; under wing coverts pale brown barred with dark brown, under surface of the quill feathers dry slate grey, the triangular markings yellowish grey; under surface of the tail feathers nearly black, tipped with delicate snow white ; legs and toes livid brown, claws black. The length of the bird is about fourteen and a half inches. The females are larger than the males, and have the upper part of the back more black, and the lower part of it more red than in males. These latter have also a more grey forehead, and the chin white. The weight varies a good deal according to the condition ; seven ounces is probably the lowest weight, and twenty-seven ounces are recorded as having been the weight of one killed in 1775, at Narborough, on the authority of Lady Peyton, who saw it weighed. This is quite exceptional, and sixteen or seventeen ounces are, I believe, quite the outside weights. Woodcocks are occasionally met with pied, and also of a buff or dirty white colour. It is now generally admitted, that the woodcock carries her young on her feet from her resting place to the feeding ground.
THE HAUNTS AND HABITS OF THE WOODCOCK.
In the south of England it is useless to look for these birds anywhere except in coverts, some of which are known to be annually frequented by them, while in others they are rarely met with. They prefer large woodlands with plenty of brushwood, where they can be undisturbed, but are sometimes found in small coppices close to the habitations of man. In the north they are sometimes to be seen in considerable numbers in long heather, where, Mr. Campbell remarks, they generally choose the shady side, the reverse being the case in covert. The following observations on this subject are from the pen of Mr. Campbell, as recorded in The Field of
April 21, 1859, and that gentleman having recorded in his game book 4102 cocks as bagged to his own gun, may be received as a high authority in this, as indeed in all other departments of the sport :
" In ordinary weather, unless a cock has already been flushed on that day, he sits very close ; but if once flushed, he is difficult of approach in covert; and if he takes to the heather 'by chance, you may happen to get a shot at him the second time he is flushed; but after then you
had much better give it up-it is only waste of time. Other game birds which I have shot often are brought into subjection-even the wildest of grouse and black-cocks-by perseveringly following and shooting at them. They begin wild and end tame; but the woodcock pursues the other course, beginning tame and ending wild. You shall see grouse, black game, partridges, and woodcocks occasionally flushed by being walked over by cattle or sheep. Of all those the woodcock flies by far the shortest distance invariably. He appears to consider his having been disturbed an accidental circumstance, and in the first instance takes it as such; but if he has any idea that there is any trick in it' he will very soon show you that he is rather better up to tricks than you are.
“A woodcock is always more difficult of approach in a thaw than in any ordinary weather. The greatest number of woodcocks I ever have seen in a day have been flushed on the first day of a thaw succeeding a long frost. In that weather I often have seen a great many woodcocks. Next day go and hunt the whole country, high and low, and you wont see one cock. In that weather I have been driven home twice in the course of a very short day-wet to the skin from wet snow, almost blinded by a gale of wind-in order to wash out my gun, which had frequently missed fire. I think I must have had fifteen or twenty miss-fires. On this occasion I sent twenty-seven woodcocks into the game-larder. I went out next morning and beat the whole country round, high and low land, and did not see the feather of a cock. In similar circumstances I have found it invariably so. “ I have often heard it remarked that a woodcock is a
stupid bird because he will sometimes fly right at you. I don't think a hare is a stupid animal, yet she will often run directly towards you. I have observed that the position
in the head of the eyes of a hare and of a woodcock are very similar. I have heard that that circumstance prevents either animal from seeing straight before it.
“So far from being a stupid bird, I know of no bird which possesses sagacity to be compared with that of a woodcock. The means of escape to which, when pursued, he resorts are worthy of the highest meed of commendation which his pursuers can bestow on him. At present I abstain from quoting remarkable instances which have come under my personal observation of the sagacity displayed by woodcocks whilst engaged in the natural act of self-preservation, for the reason that the facts which would be read with great interest by men who know what woodcock shooting is, might probably not command the same degree of respect from those who are not conversant with the subject, and whose acquaintance with the woodcock has either been in a poulterer’s shop or on the table.
“How often have I heard the absurd remark, in talking of a covert, 'Oh yes, it must be capital covert for cocks, it is 80 full of springs.' What has a cock to do at a spring, except in a long and severe frost, when he may be starving? Like all our land-birds, except a snipe, a woodcock likes to lie dry, and, unless disturbed, remains in his resting-place during the day; towards night flying often to a great distance to his feeding-ground, which generally is open, soft, grassy land, particularly that pastured by cattle, as muddy adjacent ground, springs, or the rivulets flowing from them, are not the natural feeding-places of a woodcock.
“In ordinarily open weather a woodcock satisfies himself with food at his natural feeding-places during the night, returning in the morning to his dry resting-place; but often it happens that is very severe frost he is unable to feed himself to his satisfaction during the night, and goes about during the day also, seeking for some soft grounds into which he can poke his beak, which, of course, he does not find except at or near a spring; but when he is found trying to feed at a spring during the daytime you will find he is so