WILD-FOWL SHOOTING
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WILD-FOWL SHOOTING

WILD-FOWL SHOOTING




      

WILD-FOWL SHOOTING


WILD-FOWL SHOOTING. When the rigidities of the northern pole are in full sweep; when the towering ice-bergs display their snow-clad tops; when the surface of the ocean, arrested even in its mountainous turbulence, becomes a frozen world; and the leviathan and the whales no longer are the terror, nor of benefit to man ; then our more blessed genial climes are the resort of the feathered race, compelled by overwhelming nature to seek for food and life in other spheres—receiving, with the imperative necessity an unerring instinct that directs them where softer breezes prevail, and where the fluxes and refluxes of the sea continue in undisturbed regularity.

It would be endless to enumerate the varieties of this migration. In few words, however, it may be said to embrace every species of sea-fowl, from the majestic swan to the diminutive teal; for it is well known to all naturalists that the Arctic regions are the natural climate for their generation. The most numerous class of visiters from those shores is the black or brent goose, which constitutes the principal object of the punters. They appear in such immense flocks on the coasts of Norfolk and Essex as to darken the atmosphere, and are observable in a combined line of flight apparently without end. As the tide flows, they gradually boom from the horizon; and when it recedes, you begin to see separating gaps in the figure, and can easily trace various parties or detachments directing their course to different quarters of the oozy coast. These movements are closely observed by the looker-out; and, according to circumstances, prepare for their nightly occupation; preferring that to the day, although they are ready for any opportunity : they are always in great masses; create an immense disturbance when they pitch; and, when they fly again, raise a scream, which with the noise of the rising wings you may hear ten miles off in a still night.

" Bright star-light,'' says Colonel Hawker, " is the very best of all times for getting at birds, as the tide flows over the mud; particularly if there be not too strong a breeze to blacken the water. Widgeon are easier approached in moonlight than in hazy weather. In white frosts widgeon are often restless; in rain they are constantly flying and pitching; in very dark weather they are suspicious; but if the wind blows fresh enough to drown the noise of a launching punt, some heavy shots may now and then be made, by sweeping the surface of the mud to the sound of where the flock is walking and feeding—a leading feature of attention in an observing gunner. The thicker the weather, the more silent when pitched. A shrill clear pipe denotes a single cock widgeon, as does a long loud ' purre' a hen ; but when the call of the cock is one short soft note, and not so often repeated, you may expect to find a company. If so, you will probably soon hear the birds 'all in a charm,' (that is in full concert) —here requires patience, and a quick ear. W hen the ' charm ' is in full force, they are not minding you; but when silence reigns, and you are sure of a flock, they are suspecting an enemy. At this moment you must keep still, till they open again, and then in starlight you generally get near enough for a large gun to give them a royal salute."

Shore-shooting offers, perhaps, superior sport for those who are partial to this species of diversion. The coast of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight is peculiar, consisting, at ebb-tides, of vast muddy flats, covered with green sea-weed; and they afford the fowler an opportunity of practising arts which are not resorted to elsewhere. Sea-fowl generally feed by night, when, in vast numbers, they visit these flats. Their approach is accompanied by a noise, directing the attentive fowler to their course; and when they have alighted, he edges his boat as near to them as possible, frequently favoured, in his approach, by the winding of some creek. The sportsman is generally prepared with two guns, one of which he directs towards the place where they are feeding, and fires at a venture, and instantly catching up the other gun, discharges it as the flock rises on the wing. Mud pattens (flat square pieces of board tied to the feet) are employed for the purpose of traversing the shore and picking up the game. This amusement is attended with considerable danger, as the sportsman is liable, without great care, to be fixed in the mud, and thus becomes an inevitable prey to the returning tide.

The danger of following wild-fowl in small craft is muchincreased when there is ice in the rivers, which sometimes encircles the boats, generally ill calculated to sustain pressure against their sides. Those, therefore, who follow this diversion, drop down by night with the tide, taking the advantage of the wind, moon, &c. Guns of an immense size are used, which carry as large a load as a small cannon, and these are laid with the muzzle over the stern of the boat, in a hitch, which regulates the line of aim: the sportsman lies at the bottom of the boat on his belly, and gets as near the game, that are upon the water, as possible: when within range, he rattles with his feet against the bottom of the boat, and just at the moment when the birds spring, he pulls the trigger, and cuts a lane through their ranks.

The best time for wild-fowl shooting in rivers is the first or second day's thaw after a severe frost, and when deep snow has long covered the ground ; the fowl are then flying in every direction to dabble in the fresh water, which, at such periods, seems very inviting to them. Another favourable opportunity is at the commencement of a frost, with the wind strong at east, and sleet or snow falling: the birds are more easy of approach in such weather, and always fly lower than when the atmosphere is clear. As far as relates to what may be considered as the real amusement or diversion of wild-fowl shooting, there is, perhaps, no part of Great Britain where it can be enjoyed in greater perfection than in the Highlands of Scotland. Great numbers of birds breed on such of the lakes in these parts as are fringed with cover, or where there happens to be small spots or islands in the midst of them; and in winter these places are visited by winged emigrants from other countries, particularly those lakes which have a communication with the sea. The rocky shores, too, contain immense numbers of wild-fowl at almost any period of the year, and there likewise rock-pigeons are found in abundance.

This amusement is never likely to be held in general estimation; yet, in'the severity of a hard winter, it will afford diversion of a secondary order, or enliven a dull season when superior field-sports are not to be obtained; when, in fact, from the state of the weather, the pursuit of the fox and the hare are out of the question; and when, indeed, the pursuit of the partridge, &lc. may be considered, at least, as very unseasonable, and, frequently, abortive : in a hard frost, pointers cannot range, nor greyhounds coarse, nor hounds hunt; the state of the ground being such as very soon to cut their feet to pieces. situation, bog spavin, thorough pin, capped hock or capulet, windgalls of the knee-joint and of the e1bow. The diseased enlargement of the bursae mucosa; arises from hard work, and, if we attempt a cure, this must be discontinued. Horses once affected in this way are always liable to a return if worked hard again. Let it be particularly remembered that this tumour is never to be opened; the worst consequences would follow such a step. Pressure by flannel bandages and pads, placed between the folds upon the tumour, and continued a considerable time, with strict rest, will often cure, and should be first tried in all cases. Then, if not successful, blister the part; or perhaps firing it would be better, as the marks of the iron leave a contraction in the skin, which acts as a bandage perpetually. In using pressure by bandage and pads, a solution of sal ammoniac and vinegar should be poured upon it occasionally, so as to wet the bandage through. Goulard water may be used in the same manner. Sheldrake, or Burrow - Duck Shooting, The month of July is the time for this diversion, when the young broods have exchanged their native rabbit-holes for the water, and can fly a gun-shot or so at a time. At this period, the flesh of the young is very tolerable eating, whilst that of the old ones is ever rank enough to scent a whole house from the ground-floor to the attics. Cautiously approached, the timid brood will sometimes admit of the advance of a boat within shot, when, as they will often " duck at the flash " with astonishing celerity, it is advisable to let them rise, which they commonly do so close together, as to present a grand mark to the fowler. This, however, is the only chance probably he will have at them on the wing, their remaining resources consisting in diving, at which few birds are so expert at this early age. When close pressed, they will often, in smooth water, keep under the boat, with their beaks only above the element for respiration. But the most remarkable circumstance in these birds at this age, and which I suppose peculiar to them, is that of their swimming occasionally, and making no inconsiderable way, with their bodies completely immersed, and with the head and part of the neck only above the water. It is amusing also to see with what art, agility, and perseverance these ducklings maintain their situation in the event of falling water, and when the ebbing of the tide in the channels between mud-lands (as in certain places) equals the rush from a mill-dam.

At this period, the mid-water being too impetuous for their operations, they avail themselves of the sides, where the stream is less rapid, and where they paddle along with incredible celerity, till they meet with an opportunity of gaining the edge of the mud-land, where they lay like stones, with outstretched necks and couched bodies, presenting to the gunner the fairest mark imaginable, provided the boatman is dexterous and strong enough to keep the boat accordingly. Most creeks near the sea, having mud-lands visible at low water, are visited by burrow-ducks at pairing-time; but for the sport above mentioned, Pool Harbour, in Dorsetshire, formerly noted as affording some of the best feed in England for wild-fowl of all sorts, stands pre-eminent. There, in the season, as above mentioned, these young birds assemble from a wide scope indeed. In addition to numerous natives (that is, those bred in the holes on the sand islands, which occur in this expansive scene), many broods are led hither by the parent birds, from a large freshwater lake near, called Little Sea, and the creeks near that celebrated sporting spot, Arne, and the neighbouring coast.

In wild-fowl shooting, fourdrachms of powder to one ounce of shot is the usual charge. See Guns, ShootIng, and Shot.

Harewood, Harry. A Dictionary of Sports. London: T. Tegg and son, 1835.

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