Believe it or not but I'm still on the subject of shooting and I'm quite determined to remain here until I know my way. At the moment I'm wading through a thicket of birds (there are so many of them – so many I've never even heard of!) one can shoot during the season but I'm not at all ready to talk about them just yet. That's why I'm turning back to my earlier notes that deal with bringing them down and disposing of them in a proper way. It sounds awfully bloodthirsty and cruel and I keep my sensibilities locked away so that they don't stand in the way of my research.
I've mentioned in one of my previous posts that “Hints to Grown Sportsmen” is a curious little book, because it's written as a series of chats between friends during the actual sport, where an accomplished sportsman instructs his less accomplished friends in the art of shooting. Here is one such example:
- Look at these broken stones – the birds sit there in general, and are hardly perceptible from their similarity of colour. You may pass them many times without being aware of it. Let us hunt the soft moss upon this bare and bleak-looking hill. Now see, the dogs are quite desponding, and never having found game in such a place, barely hunt. Are you satisfied?
- Indeed I am! Let us return.
- No; we cannot go back without finding one covey. Let us try that cairn, and place our men so, that if we do find any, they may mark them. Look, our attendant to the left is making signs, they are wild as hawks. They are up – we shall find them with difficulty. Up again!
- Did I do right to fire?
- Perfectly; you might have killed – and you have, too! See, the bird you shot is falling at the turn of the hill, and a leading bird too! Now we shall get them – let us make the most of the covey.
- I think I counted six brace and a half; we have five brace, and two are gone out of bounds. I have a mind to have a brace of these preserved; how shall I carry them?
- Smooth their feathers, and lay them in your handkerchief, roll it up carefully, taking care there is no blood; now a little heather over and under, I think will do.
The next bit is probably my favourite part, because it allows us to penetrate into the thoughts and feelings of a sportsman after a day of sport:
Let us send our men home, and spend the end of this lovely day by ourselves. I confess I feel a sort of annoyance at travelling all day with a servant behind; and I cannot help looking back with some pleasure to those times, when all my little arrangements were begun and completed without assistance. The dogs seemed more under my own control when let out of the kennel by their master, and each partridge, as it went into the pocket, had an individual value – (here, with the quantity we bring home, we cannot be so independent,) – and this, I think, gives a great zest to those days when we start late after rain, and can only try for an old black cock, or endeavour to get within distance of a buck. On these occasions how delightful is it to make the gun but a sort of excuse for our wandering, and, seated, upon one of the rocks in the wildest spot to be found, ponder over auld lang syne; the company we are in, the weather, the wildness of the scene, can make a moderate bag all that we desire… See, the snow falls in clouds, home we must go; the dogs are frozen. How we cling to that we like, when the thing itself – nay, even the capability of enjoying it, is no more! Many, many will be the recollections we shall experience of this our trip!
Ah! Nice, isn't it?
Farida Mestek is the author of “Margaret's Rematch” (newly edited and with a gorgeous new cover), “A Secret Arrangement” and “Lord Darlington's Fancy” - romantic stories set against the backdrop of Regency England. You can learn more about her books at her blog Regency Sketches.