« PreviousContinue »
DUCK AND PUNT-GUNS.
In the shooting of game birds it is not considered sportsmanlike to use a larger bore than No. 12; but in the species of sport which we are now considering, the object is to get birds, never mind how; and, as a consequence, there is no limit to the bore, or to the charge which may be used, so that the sportsman is not knocked over by the recoil. For inland shooting, especially of “flappers," a common game-gun is sufficient; but for general winter shooting what is called a duck-gun must be chosen, it being capable, from its bore, of carrying a large charge, and of killing at greater distances than the game-gun—from its barrels being nearly a foot longer. Of course these increase the weight very considerably, and this point limits the two qualities above mentioned, according to the strength of the shooter. Few men are strong enough to carry a gun of more than twelve or fourteen pounds weight, and yet this is the lowest at which a duck-gun is fixed by Colonel Hawker. The following are his directions. The duck-gun “should weigh from 12 to 201bs.; should have a substantial stock, such as a fancy workman would be ashamed of; it should be made * so large at the breech, that neat gunmakers would laugh at it; the stock should rise well up to the eye, because you have not the power to lower your head when holding out a heavy weight; and, above all, the barrel should lie level, and well up to the eye, instead of being let down into the stock so as to pitch under the mark in quick firing. A duck-gun should have either no heel-plate at all, or one of a metal which will not rust after loading in a wet place. The advantage of a duck-gun is, that it will carry large shot more compactly, and may be fired with double or treble the charge for a piece of ordinary size. You are, therefore, enabled to use large shot with the same advantage that No. 7 may
be fired from a double gun; by which means, at a large object, you may kill considerably farther, and, in a flock, many more birds at a shot. The recoil of a duck-gun can only be checked by weight of metal; and there are two ways to dispose of it: the one, by immense thickness, whereby the
gun may be short, portable, and easily managed; and the other, by increasing the length, by which you may kill farther, and take more accurate aim. The former was the plan of Mr. Joseph Manton, the latter that of the late Mr. D. Egg; and, in order to partake a little of both advantages, I should steer between the two, and have barrels never less than three feet eight inches, nor more than four feet four inches, unless I used a rest. For pond and river shooting these guns may be from 12 to 161bs.; but more than that greatly fatigues the arm; and with a gun of this weight a good charge is carried a very considerable distance. A broad butt lessens the recoil, and a piece of sponge adapted to it will still further diminish that unpleasant feeling."
For marine shooting a punt-gun is employed, which is a small cannon, and cannot be shot without an apparatus to break the recoil. This is effected either by means of a rope, or a spiral spring—the latter being the invention of Colonel Hawker. A single gun for this purpose weighs from 60 to 80lbs., and a double as much as 120lbs. As, however, this kind of sport is a speciality in itself, I shall refer my readers to Colonel Hawker's book, which gives minute directions for all its details. It may be mentioned, however, that since the colonel's time a great improvement has been made in punt-guns, by the invention of the system of loading at the breech, which considerably facilitates the management of this otherwise unwieldy machine. One of the chief difficulties in the way of the puntsman consists in the necessity, under the old system, of running the gun in before loading, and also in the exposure of the person and ramrod to the view of the birds. This is done away with by the breech loader, which merely requires to be opened by one hand—the other, if necessary, using the paddle, and without altering the breech ropes at all. Hence a second shot is sometimes practicable at the same flock before it has got out of distance; but in any case much time is saved, and the operation of loading is conducted without anything likely to alarm the birds. Whether punt-guns made on this principle perform as well as muzzle loaders I do not pretend to say; but unless they are very inferior to them in strength of shooting, their manifest advantages already described must make them entirely supersede the old plan. Their construction will be found in the chapter devoted to puntguns, including muzzle loaders as well as breech loaders.
BEST DOG FOR WILDFOWL SHOOTING.
The small Newfoundland and the water-spaniel divide between them the favours of the wildfowl shooter, but the latter is generally preferred. In the second book the former is represented in the shape of the land-retriever, with a slight cross of the setter; and there will also be found an exact representation of the northern Irish water-spaniel and of the south-country dog as well, the latter being free from white. A considerable difference of opinion exists as to the dog most suited to wildfowl shooting; but there can be no hesitation in affirming that the following points are essential to success :In the first place, he must be hardy in constitution, with a woolly undercoat impervious to wet, and good powers of swimming. Then he should be completely under command, not requiring more than a look or movement of the hand to tell him what to do. Thirdly, he should be free from white, so as to be as little visible as may be, a liver colour being better than a black. Fourthly, a good nose must be superadded, and he must be taught to retrieve without injuring a feather. When these good qualities are combined in any animal, the shooter should not be inquisitive about his breed, nor should he care about appearances, which are often extremely deceitful. If, however, a water-retriever is to be reared and broken, the Irish water-spaniel, or the English dog of that breed, should be chosen, or the crost with the Scotch terrier and pointer, as recommended by Mr. Colquhoun, and represented among the retrievers. The small Newfoundland is very generally used, but his colour and size are against him.
FLAPPER SHOOTING. The young broods of the wild duck which are bred in this conntry are just fledged and barely able to fly about the end of July, earlier or later according to the season. The inethod of proceeding will depend upon the breeding ground, which may be either the banks of a small brook or of a lake. If the former, a good spaniel or setter must be employed to search the banks, and push out the ducks, the old one being generally the first to show herself, but usually out of shot, unless her brood are unable to fly, when she will often sacrifice herself in trying to draw off attention from them. On lakes or large rivers a boat or punt must be used, in which the shooter proceeds to the reeds on the banks, or on any small islets where he suspects the ducks to harbour; then sending his dog quietly into them, he picks off the flappers as they make their appearance. They are easily shot, No. 6 being quite sufficiently large, and a common game-gun is the proper one for the purpose. As the individuals composing the brood generally get up pretty quickly one after the other, a breech loader will be found to be a great convenience. Young ducks, a little older than to be called flappers, are often met with in August and September on the sinall pools where dogs go for water, either in grouse or partridge shooting.
WINTER WILDFOWL SHOOTING ON INLAND WATERS.
From the watchful nature of all wildfowl, they demand the greatest possible caution in approaching them, and to get a shot at them requires almost as much preparation as at a red deer in the forest. The shooter, dressed in the quietest colours possible, and provided with his well-trained retriever, his telescope, and his heavy double-barrelled gun, which should carry two ounces of shot, proceeds first of all to make out, by means of his glass, the exact position of the flock he is about to stalk; or if this is impossible, from the nature of the water, he must approach the bank as quietly as possible, and as near as may be to the most probable feedinggrounds. When at last he sees the surface of the water, he must be prepared for a quick shot either at a group on it, or at single birds on the wing. From the constant windings of narrow rivers and small streams, and from the disturbance on large ones caused by the traffic, it is seldom that sitting shots can be obtained on them, and the shooter must be content with flying shots, which are usually long ones and require a hard-hitting gun. On the lochs of Scotland, however, and the large inland waters of England, by careful stalking a flock may be approached, and the greater part of the two ounces of shot in each barrel may be brought into use. The art of stalking, however, is only to be learnt hy practice, and no written description will be of much avail. The shooter may nevertheless, be cautioned to get to leeward of the fowl; for, though it is doubtful whether their sense of smell is very acute, there can be no question that the slightest noise puts them on their guard. As soon as the approach can no longer be concealed, let the shooter suddenly rise, when in all probability the ducks will dive instead of taking wing, and while they are under the water a run may be made towards them, which will probably bring them within shot when they come to the surface again. At this moment a snap shot will often succeed in killing one or two, but the gun must be ready and almost at the shoulder, or they will be down again before the trigger is pulled. If a sailing boat can be launched on the water it is by far the best means of approaching wildfowl, as they will lie to it when a punt would immediately disturb them. For this kind of sport the shot must be large, and No. 4 will probably suit the best on the average. As all wildfowl fly fast, the aim must be from a foot to two feet in front of them, or they will inevitably be missed. Ducks rise almost perpendicularly, and therefore the aim must also be raised as well as directed forwards. In shooting teal on rivers, good sport may often be obtained; as they do not take long flights like the ducks, but soon alight again on the same river or brook. They fly very fast, and take a good deal of shooting; but to a practised hand and eye they afford extremely good sport when they happen to frequent any river of which he has the control. In marking them down the eye should be kept well forward after the teal appears to drop, as this bird is very apt to skim along the surface of the water for a long distance before he really settles. It is necessary, therefore, to send a man below, keeping him at some little distance from the bank till the teal Ay, when he should at once show himself and so stop them. Coots and water-hens are most difficult birds to catch on the wing, while they dive so quickly