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much reduced as not to be worth shooting. It is curious to observe how few days of very hard weather reduce a woodcock to something very much like a skeleton; and also how few days of open weather restore him to excellent condition. A woodcock feeds in an extraordinary manner; he seems never to be at rest for a second of time, running very fast, and poking his beak into the ground with a degree of rapidity almost inconceivable. I don't know what they feed upon, but think their natural food consists of small worms and insects. In very hard weather, however, he will poke his beak into almost any soft substance. A few years ago, during a severe frost, my cook went out one forenoon to the meat-larder, which is at a distance of about fifty yards from the house, for a roast of beef, to be prepared for dinner; having cut what she required, in the hurry of the moment she left the remainder on a block of wood which is by the larder, returning to the house ; in about three minutes she paid a second visit to the larder for the purpose of cutting a steak, when the beef had disappeared and was not to be found. It appears that the shepherd was passing by with his dog, which ran off with the beef. Missing his dog, the man called and whistled, upon which the dog dropped the beef and returned to him. Late in the afternoon a sportsman who was staying with us, on returning home from shooting, stepped over a low wall enclosing a small plantation close to this house, when three woodcocks rose almost from under his feet. He shot at two and killed one; at his feet he found the missing piece of beef, and brought it home, completely perforated by the woodcocks' beaks. I had in the morning beaten the plantation, of scarcely an acre in extent, very carefully; found four cocks in it, and killed three of them—two of the three which he saw must have come from adjacent plantations in search of food. It has often occurred to me that there exists much less sympathy between woodcocks than between any other birds I have shot. In most other game birds I have observed that they generally, when flushed, pursue nearly the same course, and if one of two or more be wounded, the other, or others, very often sympathize so much with their comrade as to light near the spot where he, from exhaustion, pitched. In my experience I never have seen any instance of the sort in woodcocks. Woodcocks, even paired for the purpose of breeding, when flushed, pursue courses as nearly opposite as possible.
“A woodcock is the most silent bird I know. Other game birds very generally call when flushed-a black-cock, however, very seldom, except in covert. A woodcock occasionally, though very seldom indeed, calls. When I have beard him do so, it has generally been at the approach either of night or of a heavy fall of snow. The call is not musical, though magically game-like-once heard never again to be mistaken for the call of any other bird. In flight-time at night and morning they constantly call, and may be heard a long time before they are seen.
“In this country woodcocks are found either in covert or in long heather. A strange peculiarity exists with regard to the finds for woodcocks—in covert, generally on the sunny side, on banks facing the south-east; in the heather, very nearly invariably the reverse is the fact you won't find one cock in long heather, on the sunny side of a heathery hill, for some hundreds you will find on the side which never sees the sun in the winter time. On those shaded hill-sides, and in the adjacent heathery and brushwooded burns, I have enjoyed most excellent sport.
“I think a woodcock is generally more easily brought down in covert than in the open. In covert you take great pains to do it well; in the open you imagine the shot to be a much more simple one than it is.”
A south-country sportsman has also given us the results of his experience in the same periodical in the following terms:
“On bright moonlight nights woodcocks all leave the thick coverts of wood and copse about the hour of twilight, and betake themselves to the open downs and hills, meadows, fields, and plains, to feed, returning in the morning as daylight appears to their former coverts. At the head of a long wooded valley, in the twilight if a moonlight night, the woodcocks may be seen, many of them together, to play about like swallows in the air at about the height of a church tower for
some minutes, and then depart to their several feeding-places on the hills and downs; and towards the morning's dawn, upon their return, they will again circle around in company at the head or entrance of the goil or valley ere they retire to their separate quarters in the woods. This they will do night after night during the continuance of the moon, if not disturbed in their passage by being fired atma too common practice, I am sorry to say, on moonlight evenings in this neighbourhood. But the gun is not the only engine of destruction awaiting the poor cocks on their moonlight peregrinations.
“ It used to be the constant practice on all the hill downs in these parts to place cut underwood or furze, about a foot in height, to a very great extent along the ground, in the shape of the letter V, at the apex of which an opening would be left where a hair-noose or springle would be set, which seldom failed to yield the pot-hunter a nightly supply, as the cock would run along the side of the brushwood feeding, not taking the trouble to top over it, until he was led into the snare; but this plan is now, owing to the scarcity of cocks when compared with former years, very seldom practised.
“But to return to my point. On regaining the woods, after his moonlight wanderings, the woodcock drops like a stone into his bush, and immediately goes to sleep, continuing immovable, unless disturbed, until about three o'clock in the afternoon, when he begins to move a little round his cubiculum. On these days, after moonlight nights, woodcocks are very difficult to find in covert—that is, they lie very close, frequently allowing man and dog to pass within a very few feet of them without moving; and now it is when a first-rate cocker is invaluable, and manifests his superiority in winding the sleeping cock on coming within a gun-shot of him, when perhaps ten other cockers, first-rate dogs for finding the cock by the scent which his running and feeding leaves behind im, will pass by within a few feet without noticing the bird in the slightest degree.
"On dark nights the woodcock never leaves the covert, nor does he feed at all during the night, but sleeps throughout the silent hours; but on the first dawn of day he begins
to move about and feed without leaving the wood or copse, and generally without taking wing at all, working his way for the most part upwards if the covert is in a valley or on the side of a hill. On bright days they do not move nearly so much as on dark days; and I have invariably found, as a rule, that my sport has been inferior on bright sunny days to what it has been on dark and gloomy ones.
“In decidedly misty weather the woodcocks are much more on the move than even on dark and gloomy days, and certainly take wing continually, feeding for an hour perhaps in one place, then flying on for about 100, 200, or more yards, then feeding again, and then taking another flight; and generally, I think, working up towards the open country. On these misty days I have been sometimes disappointed in finding the cock at all, especially if not out in the morning, though perhaps I have hit on two or three places where he has been feeding during the previous part of the day; though frequently, on the other hand, by knowing the ground well, I have at last overtaken him.
DOGS EMPLOYED IN COCK SHOOTING.
Spaniels of all kinds are used in cock shooting; but the smaller kind known as cockers, from being devoted to this sport, are most suited to it, in consequence of their being able to follow out the runs in the thick coverts better than the larger kinds generally known as springers, and kept for pheasant shooting. Two or three couple of cockers are hunted together, and when well broken they afford good sport, but the most successful cock shooters prefer using beaters almost unassisted by the dog. An excellent nose is a sine qua non in the cocker ; but more than this is wanted, as is very ably shown by the writer above alluded to under the signature of “Jam Satis."
“ There are some dogs," he says, “that seem to have a most extraordinary instinct for finding the sleeping or lying cock, and get greatly excited, and rush towards his hidingplace, and flush him with a spring and a howl of delight. These are the dogs for finding a cock that has dropped into short thick gorse, and will, as a rule, never fail to find him a second time in covert if they have seen, or have the direction of his flight given them. The dogs I have had, endowed with this faculty, have been generally half-bred, sometimes between a spaniel and a setter; but they are very few and far between. I think much depends on their having firstrate brains, noses of a ne plus ultra quality of course, carrying their heads high in the air, and being entered and kept to cock shooting, and little else, with constant practice; and I have observed that the dog that finds the sleeping cock in the way above described, finds him in a similar manner, although he may have been running about the woods feeding all the day, and left a quarter of a mile of trail and scent in his path behind him—finds him, that is, not by hunting up his scent, but by a kind of instinct." The
group which faces this page consists of an old-fashioned Welsh cocker, which closely resembles the Devonshire dog, both being of a rich liver colour; and an ordinary liver-andwhite cocking spaniel, such as is met with throughout England without any peculiar designation, and variously bred. Indeed, with the exception of the Welsh and Devonshire strains, there are no cockers now with any pretensions to purity of blood.
THE GUN FOR COCKS,
The ordinary covert gun, as described at page 59, is the weapon which is used for this kind of sport. Cocks do not carry off much lead, and therefore a particularly hard hitter is not required. Nor is a breech loader so pre-eminently serviceable as in pheasant shooting, because the cocks are not driven up into one corner, as they are in the battue; still, it is occasionally serviceable, from the power of loading it more quickly than the muzzle loader. No. 7 is the proper size of shot.
THE FINDING AND KILLING OF WOODCOCKS.
Mr. Colquhoun is so practised a hand not only in finding and killing cocks, but also in describing what he has seen and done, that I cannot do better than let him speak for himself in the matter. He says: