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“ Irrespective of the woodcock being the most difficult bird to bring down which Scotland affords, there is a sort of charm attached to cock shooting which even to a penman would, I think, be difficult to describe. In the first place,
I the almost extra high physical condition which the bracing and invigorating air, peculiar to this coast, imparts in the enjoyment of this fascinating sport, independently of increased mental energy and higher spirits; the great variety of rugged, wild, grand scenery which is presented; the unmistakeable rattle of the cock's wivgs as he rises, followed by the magically-sounding words, Mark cock! are, when taken together, rather apt to produce an effect contrary to that of strengthening the nerves.
I have met with many men, particularly young ones, and especially when over their wine, who attempted to lay down the law at great leugth• Let me assure you, old fellow, you are mistaken; there is no bird more easily shot than a cock.' I never yet have seen one of those talkers whose performances on the following, or on any other day, did not present a sad contrast to his professions. But they are always handy with excuses of various descriptions: 'The effects of the smoking room on the previous evening;' "That infernal toasted cheese;' and, if nothing else will go down, the gunpowder is damp'I won't have any more of that fellow's gunpowder.'
“Those excuses may be well enough got up, but are of no use, because there is no doubt of the woodcock's being the most difficult bird to shoot of all those we know in Scotland.
“Ask the best shot you know—one who has had great experience in all sorts of shooting which Scotland affords— ask him how many hill or low-ground game birds he ever has consecutively bagged, taking all birds as they rose within shot? Then ask him how many woodcocks he has under the same circumstances bagged? You will find the latter one to the former three. Then, it will be said, that in covert woodcocks are protected by the trees; so they often are, but trees nearly as often present an obstacle as a protection to them.
“For many years past I have observed most accurately the slooting of a man who, I think, is a very good shot. I have seen him bag some thousands of both woodcocks and
moor and other game; I have seen him, in circumstances extremely disadvantageous to himself, bag twenty-nine grouse and old black-cocks in as many consecutive shots, taking every bird as he rose; he then stopped early in the day and went home. The thirtieth bird required the second barrel, and that broke the ice. Although I have seen him bag thousands of woodcocks, I never saw him bag more than nine consecutive shots, taking every bird as he rose within shot. I saw him on one day, in difficult covert, flush twelve woodcocks and a snipe only; he took every bird as it rose, and brought them all home-only the ninth cock was the better of the second barrel. I have seen him have nearly fifty fair shots at woodcocks in a day; but never have seen him bag more than nine cocks consecutively; and I never have seen any other man kill as many.
“The difficulty of woodcock shooting is so evident to every one who has had experience in it as to render any remarks of mine on the subject unnecessary; but to those sportsmen who, to their own loss, have not had much of this sport,
may remark that the flight of a woodcock is very much quicker than a novice would be led to suppose, from the apparently slow movement of his wings; then, in about the best of woodcock ground, your footing is very insecure; and, when the frozen-over brooks and pools of water, which you must continually cross, are covered with a coating of snow, you require quite as many hands and legs as you are possessed of to save your gun and your head from destruction.
“In moor and general open game-shooting there is very little variety in the appearances of shots which are offered to you. The variation is between a shot going right away, and one crossing you either more or less; but in woodcock shooting there is an almost endless variety of shots offered, very seldom indeed two of the same description presenting themselves in succession—now descending almost perpendicularly over your head from a high overhanging cliff, with a degree of rapidity almost inconceivable; then descending from the top of a precipice, over which you are standing, with equal velocity, to a very great depth below; again, suddenly appearing within five yards of you, flying (at the same rate) right at you, and passing over your head within
a few yards of you, almost instantly dodging behind a rock or tree, and no more seen of him.
“It would be endless to attempt to describe the variety of shots which present themselves to a woodcock shooter in this country. I neither pretend nor presume to interfere with the observations of gentlemen who have been accustomed to shoot woodcocks in champagne districts, such as in plantations of larch or fir of a moderate height; but to do even that well requires practice. My woodcock-shooting experience extends little beyond a very rugged part of the West Highlands of Argyllshire, comprising a good deal of open shooting in heather and short brushwood; but I can't say
it is easier than shooting in covert.
“Woodcock shooters enjoy two considerable advantages — the one is, that very little shot brings the bird down, and the other is, that a wounded woodcock, if unable to fly, is the least running of all birds I have shot, and is easily recovered.
“I have generally shot woodcocks alone, and have been accustomed to make all my arrangements; consequently, if anything goes wrong I know who is to blame. I like to use No. 7 shot, and to be accompanied by three beaters and a well-nosed, slow-going dog of the retrieving species. My bcaters must be strong and active men, well fed and well clothed, and wearing strong leather gloves, each carrying a stout walking-stick, with which the trees and stones are smartly struck as the man goes along. never allow a word to be spoken, except "Mark !"—that remnant of ignorance, “Whirr cock,” is, I am glad to observe, fast falling into disuse, and for many years past has been totally disused in my coverts. The sound of all the bacchanalian-like screecheswhich I so often have been condemned to listen to-tends directly to defeat the object of the yellers. In a covert so beaten I have observed that roe-deer, hares, and pheasants sit close, allowing the howlers to pass them, when they start and run back. Woodcocks also sit close, and when the beaters have passed, take wing and fly back.
If a gamekeeper wishes to save his birds, let him instruct bis beaters to make as much noise as they can; but if the object is to show game, even the foot-fall (if possible) of a man should
not be heard; a sharp crack of a stick against the trees, but not too frequently repeated, will show you more game by far than the howling system.
"I have had forty consecutive years of experience of woodcock as well as all other shooting which Scotland affords. I never have kept a note of birds killed by me except of woodcocks, and of them only for the last thirty-three seasons. During that space of time my sport has been extremely variable, from want of favourable seasons and other circumstances. In three seasons, taken together, I have killed 43 woodcocks; and in three others, 885. I have my register by me; and in the last thirty-three years find I have bagged, besides all other sorts of game, 4102 woodcocks; and
may remark that during that space of time I never have seen anything occur worthy of remark beyond my having often missed when I did not expect to have done so, and sometimes killed when I did not think I should have done so. My two best consecutive days, “shooting alone,' were 37 cocks one day and 27 the other—64 birds in two days. I killed 130 cocks in ten consecutive days' shooting."
Rabbit shooting is a different affair altogether from shooting bares, and affords, in my opinion, the very best sport in covert of all, excepting only wild pheasant and woodcock shooting. This, of course, has reference to the hunting them with dogs, and shooting them while going at their best pace, which is undoubtedly a racing one. Rabbits breed in warrens, in hedgerows, and in covert, and multiply very fast indeed. There are said to be several distinct varieties; but I believe there is no truth in the assertion, the kind of food only causing a temporary difference, and not permanently causing a distinct variety. Warren rabbits removed to a covert, and there allowed to breed, soon attain the same characters as the prior nizens of the same locality. The sport of shooting rabbits is never carried on in the warrens, because the warrener does not wish his property wasted, and prefers trapping them, for obvious reasons—rne being, that the wounded rabbits often escape into the holes and die out of reach. In hedgerows, they may be hunted with spaniels or terriers, and shot as they come out; but they generally have holes in the banks, and then soon reach them in safety. When driven to their fastnesses, the ferret is the only resource; and these animals, after being muzzled, soon drive them either to the gun or into bag-nets placed over the holes. But it is to the covert-shooting of rabbits that I wish to draw attention, that being the only kind of rabbit shooting which is to be considered deserving the attention of the true sportsman, and which, I have already remarked, is really worth it. Rabbits are now much encouraged in large pheasant preserves, partly for the sake of the keepers, whose perquisite they are, but chiefly because they afford food for the foxes preserved for fox hunting, which would otherwise prey upon the pheasants. The keeper feeds foxes when young regularly upon rabbits wounded and left near their earths; and, consequently, these rabbit-fed animals keep to the same fare, and are thus prevented from interfering with the pleasures of the battue. The keeper continues to shoot a few outlying rabbits round the covert, and those which are thus wounded suffice to keep up the supply for the foxes, in addition to those which the keeper may purposely leave for him, or the fox may himself succeed in Jaying hold of. When the pheasant season is over, and the foxes also have been thinned, it will be found that the rabbits must be kept down on account of the young crops, which they begin to bite off most cruelly. In February and March, therefore, good sport is usually afforded by this thinning of the rabbits, several hundred couple being often killed in a single preserve. At this time a great number of rabbits lie above ground, preparing for their young, or driven to seek the pleasures of love, or from other causes, of which we, in our ignorance of their language, have not yet fathomed the motive. However, there they are; and in the springfalls of a large wood they may be found lying in tussocks of grass, or in little bushes. For these the vermin terriers of the keepers are the best dogs, as they hunt them very quietly, yet strongly, and your regular springers or cockers would be utterly spoilt for pheasant or cock if allowed to hunt rabbit. By sending the keeper and his terriers into the wood, the rabbits are driven