« PreviousContinue »
ON GETTING UP A HEAD OF GAME.
Among the various topics which are discussed in your interesting publication, perhaps none has been so little touched upon as that of getting up (as it is called) a good head of game. Yet surely it must be allowed on all hands to be a most important one to a sportsman; for all that has been written, and written so ably, by many of your correspondents on various other subjects relating to shooting, will have been written in vain, if this subject is not treated of. Let me then, Mr. Editor, with your permission, bestow upon you a few of my ideas and a little of my experience on this somewhat neglected subject. And here let me observe, once for all, that I do not presume to write for the instruction of sporting veterans, but merely in order to give a few hints to any of your readers who may happen to be at all green on the subject: but at the same time I do not think that any veteran will find anything to quarrel with in any of my observations, as they are drawn entirely from my own experience. Therefore, as Hamlet
“ No more--but to the matter." Hinc canere incipiam.
I will begin with partridges, because being more numerous, and thicker on the ground than any other kind of game. The sport of partridge-shooting, for that reason, falls more within the reach of most men than the shooting of perhaps any other kind of game; and I may, therefore, reasonably conclude that a few words on this subject will possess more general interest for the majority of your readers than on any other topic. We will begin with the breeding season, the most important time of the year to a man who is anxious to “get up a good head of game." We will suppose the partridges to have paired some time, and to be about to lay. About this time almost the only active step that it is in one's power to take is, to get into one's interest the shepherds and other farming servants, who are most in the habit of being out at all hours, and are therefore most likely to know of partridges' nests as soon as the birds begin to lay. It is as well to give them some trifling douceur as soon as they give information of a partridge's nest; but they should, by all means, have a much larger one promised them as soon as the birds run. This will, of course, make it their interest to see that the eggs are neither robbed nor disturbed, and will tend more than all the watchers in the world to put a stop to the practice of egg-stealing, now unhappily, and to the great disgrace of large game-preservers, so prevalent in many parts of the country. By the way, speaking of this practice, I inay just mention here that a friend of mine in one of the eastern counties has for several years regularly lost more than half his covies, owing to this very practice; the children being, as it seems, regularly brought up to the trade of egging, as they call it, as their most profitable profession. There is, however (and it is, in my opinion, the one advantage of the new game laws), a summary method of dealing with such offenders; for, on conviction before a justice of the peace, every person so offending is liable to a fine of five shillings, or a week's imprisonment in default of payment. But to return to the subject of which I was speaking. About this time of the year, when the birds are laying, it is almost needless for me to remind any sportsman not to take out his dogs with him (particularly spaniels and terriers) anywhere but on the high roads. Even there it is not always safe, as, if the weather in April and May is bright and sunny without rain, the birds will, from the want of other cover, betake themselves to the hedgerows to breed in; and in this way nests might fall in the way of dogs, even by the road-sides. Many is the covey of partridges which I have known destroyed at this time of the year, owing to dogs being allowed to follow their masters into the fields; for, as soon as the birds have begun to sit close, they will, as every one must have observed, allow a dog to catch them on the nest, almost without an effort to escape.
Let us turn now to a very important part of our subject; I mean that of eggs mown over in the hay-field. If the exact spot in a field is known where a partridge is sitting, it is better to put a stick in the ground about a foot or two from the nest, and then to give directions to the men who are to mow, not to mow within two or three yards of the stick. It is surprising, to a person who has never previously observed it, to see how small a quantity of grass, if left standing around a nest, will suffice to prevent the bird from forsaking, when sitting hard. I have seen numerous cases where the grass has been left standing around the nest for not more than a foot in each direction; and yet, if the fallen grass has been removed to another part of the field, and the haymakers been prevented from disturbing the bird, in spite of all the noise and disturbance going on about her, the young birds have run. At the same time, it is worth while remarking, that there is another danger most carefully to be guarded against when a patch of grass has been left, as I was saying, standing round the nest. The danger I allude to is from the crows or rooks (for which of the two are the culprits, I do not pretend to say), which will to a certainty suck the eggs, if the greatest care is not taken to prevent it. The inquisitiveness (if I may use the term) of the whole of this tribe of birds is very great, as every one who has lived much in the country, and is anything of a naturalist, must have observed ; and their sharp-sightedness is quite equal to their curiosity. When, therefore, they observe such an unusual object as a single patch of grass, a few feet square, standing by itself in a field, their natural curiosity leads them to examine it more narrowly; and as their sharp eyes will not be long in detecting the sitting bird, the eggs will hardly fail soon to become their prey. The best means of guarding against this is, to put a boy on guard somewhere, not far from the nest; and the crows, rooks, et hoc genus omne, having far too much worldly wisdom to venture within reach of the formidable tube, will be pretty sure to keep at a respectful distance, without the urchin's being reduced to the necessity of firing, which would frighten the sitting bird. I may add, in conclusion, that this danger froin crows, rooks, &c., is by no means an imaginary one, as some of your readers might, perhaps, be inclined to think; on the contrary, I remember a circumstance, where three nests in one field which had been left, as I was saying, with a small patch of grass round each, were in this way robbed, in the course of a few hours, by the rooks or crows, and that, too, while the mowers were in the same field, and occasionally shouting to drive them off. It is annoying enough, certainly, to have eggs mown over; but I know no means of avoiding it; and the only thing to be done is, when they are mown over, to get them hatched as carefully as possible. It has been said that grass-bred birds will themselves also breed in grass. Whether this be true or not, I cannot say, but am rather inclined to doubt it; for if this were the case, partridges would almost have disappeared in many parts of the country, towards the close of the late war, when so much pasture ground was broken up, owing to the extravagant price of corn at the time. But that partridges have not forsaken such parts of the country, I can vouch for from my own knowledge; for I know many districts, which (having been previously grass lands) were ploughed up at the time I am speaking of, and on which, nevertheless, a fair show of partridges is to be found at present.
However, I have heard of some persons who believe so devoutly in the truth of the doctrine that birds bred in grass will breed in grass themselves, that they have recourse, year after year, to the practice of drawing loaded ropes over every grass field in which partridges show any inclination to breed. I say, I have heard of such persons; for I never knew any one yet who had tried the experiment, nor should I think it one deserving of imitation ; for whether the theory I have alladed to be true or not, I think it is highly probable, if the manor of the gentleman who tries such experiments should happen to be at all narrow, that the birds will take it into their heads to breed on his neighbour's land, if he attempts too pertinaciously to prevent them from breeding in his own. But let us return to the subject of eggs mown over.
It is true that, in spite of all the care that may be taken to prevent it, one must often have several covies mown over in the course of the summer; but still, if a man does not mind taking a little trouble about it, I think he may contrive to come off not a loser, but a gainer by such accidents. Many persons, however fond of shooting, will not put themselves to the trouble (which is really very great) of having a nest of partridges' or pheasants' eggs hatched, and of afterwards attending to the young birds, and will, therefore, whenever they happen to have a nest mown over, readily allow any one, who wishes to have the eggs, to dispose of them as he pleases. Nor is this so uncommon a case as might be supposed; indeed, on almost every manor, where a regular active kecper is not employed, it will be found that neither landlord nor tenant will be at the trouble of hatching the eggs so mown over. To show how much game is destroyed in this way, I may here just mention, that a farmer in my native county told me, two or three years ago, that his men had mown over, in one field,
no less than six pheasants', besides several partridges' nests; which were, he assured me, all thrown away. Do not some of your readers feel inclined to exclaim, “ I wish to heaven I had had thein?' Let me recommend, therefore, every man who knows of any manor in his own neighbourhood, wliere, as I was saying, the eggs are not regularly put under hens (after having first, of course, obtained leave from the proprietor), to beg the tenants on the manor to send him all the eggs which may happen to be mown over; and these, if I mistake not, will, if the half only should be hatched, make a very respectable addition to the show of game on the first of September or October. Sed de his rebris jum satis. I will only add, that should any one of your readers be anxious to increase the quantity of game on his estate, lie will find it to be one of the most effectual, as well as most legitimate means of doing so, to make all possible inquiries in his neighbourhood, whether the eggs mown over are usually hatched or not; and if the latter should anywhere be the case, eagerly to seize every opportunity of getting them into his own hands. But whether from his own or his neighbour's land, we will suppose bim to have obtained possession of a nest of partridge's eggs. We will now pass to the subject of hatching and rearing them. If a hen that wants to sit should not be easy to be obtained immediately, I need hardly say that great care must be taken that thie eggs are not chilled, particularly if they happen to be sat upon, which indeed is generally the case with eggs mown over, as in most parts of the country thie hay-harvest does not begin till the beginning or middle of July. The instant they (i. e., the eggs) are mown over, they should be wrapped in flannel, and laid at a moderate distance from the kitchen fire; but towards 'night, should, at least if the fire is allowed to go out during the night, be removed nearer to the fire-place, as, if the heat to which they have once been exposed is allowed to decrease, the young birds, if hatched, would be much injured by it. I have seen cases where, from the neglect of this precaution, the young birds, although they have eventually turned out well, have been always weaker when young, and required more care and attention than other birds. After a hen has been obtained, and it has been ascertained that she really does want to sit, the next thing to be thought of is the nest. In making the nest, the best plan is to place it in a slight hollow, so that the top of the nest may be level with the floor of the barn or out-house where the hen is to sit. The reason for this is, that if the young birds were hatched during the night, they might, if the nest were higher than the floor, escape from under the hen, not be able to climb back into the nest, and in consequence get a chill, from which they would never recover. It should also be observed, that straw will make a better nest thau hay, as it is stiffer, and keeps its position better. Care should be taken that the place in which the ben sits is free from rats. After all this has been attended to, the hen should be turned into the place; they having previously been put in some conspicuous place where slie will easily find them.' N.B.' It will better to turn her in early in the day, as it will then be casy to see whether she takes to the eggs or not. Should she be placed with them towards nightfall, it would be hardly
possible to judge whether she will sit at all; and, even if she should begin to sit, she might forsake them during the night, when no one would be at land to put them again within reach of the friendly warmth of the fire. If, however, she begins to sit on them in the morning, and continues to do so throughout the day, it is pretty certain that she will then sit upon them in real good earnest.
Also I may remark, that if a lien could not be obtained for even two or three weeks, it will be of no consequence, if the eggs are kept warm; for they will hatch just as well at the kitchen fire, as under the hen. And if the hen, when she has been procured, does really want to sit, she will brood the young birds just as carefully and as affectionately as if they were of her own hatching. In conclusion, let me add, that your reader, if any thing of a farmer, might have been spared this long dissertation on the hatching of eggs, as he will find the old hen-wife who presides over his poultry-yard much more eloquent and learned on these subjects than I can pretend to be; and to him, therefore, let me offer my humble apologies for dwelling so long on this topic ; hoping, at the same time, that he has not failed to leave all that I have written on the subject unread.
Ξενος. . March 18, 1845.
IIIND-HUNTING IN DEVON AND SOMERSET.
It is with a mingled feeling of regret and pleasure that the pen is taken up for the purpose of recording any events which, replete with much enjoyment in themselves, yet carry with them evident signs that the time is fast approaching when such events, and the pleasure which is their attendant, must become a subject for memory only to deal with : the pleasure of speaking of present enjoyment is strong ; but the regret that perhaps the writer is sounding a knell of past delight, not again to be felt, by far counterbalances the more agreeable feeling
It is in such a mood that I speak of the past season in West Somerset: never were there finer or perhaps so fine hounds in the country, or more controllable ; the men being as efficient and as well mounted as necessity requires; the sport not to be surpassed, if equalled within the recollection of the oldest and most bigoted of the stag hunters, who with a sigh recall the old system, when more grandeur and fewer runs were afforded. Yet at the same time, the retrospect
of the season is anything but satisfactory to me; for I must add, that our ancient hunters were more jealous of their character as legitimate sportsmen, if they were more slow in their movements and less anxious for the gallop, which is at present, and not with total injustice, esteemed the grand desideratum of the day.
Necessarily in a limited country it is a great difficulty to preserve a number of animals sufficient for the purposes of a regular hunt,