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“But they commonly appoint three days of driving them, within fourteen days or thereabouts of the 2nd and 3rd of June, which while they are doing, some have observed a certain old one that seems to be somewhat more concerned than the rest, being clamorous, and striking down upon the very heads of the men ; which has given ground of suspicion that they have some government among them, and that this is their prince, who is so much concerned for its subjects. And it is further observed that when there is great plenty of them the lent corn is so much the better, and the cow pastures too, by reason they pick up all the worms and the ‘Fern Flyes.'”
BY “Wild Shooting” I mean—not pheasant shooting in the coverts, partridge shooting over the stubbles, grouse shooting on the moors, not even wildfowl shooting and snipe shooting—but a mixture of all, with a predominance of the wildfowl element. This is undoubtedly hard to obtain now, but there are places where it can be enjoyed in perfection. One such isdescribed in the following sketch. I regret that I dare not state its exact whereabouts. The shooting is free, or at least the permission of the tenants to go over the land is all that is required, and that is seldom withheld. I am far from wishing to cry down other modes of shooting. They are all enjoyable in their turn, but more enjoyable than all is wild shooting. In it alone is there that smack of adventure, of wandering, of novelty, which, to my mind, constitutes the cream of all sport. When you start in the morning you do not know what the day may bring forth. You cannot estimate the probable number of your bag or even its probable quality. It may be very small indeed, or it may by some stroke of fortune be very large. All is delightful uncertainty.
I well remember the first day's real wild shooting I had. It was not long after leaving school; and when I received an invitation to spend a few days one December with a friend who lived in one of the fertile Welsh valleys, and a promise of sport in abundance if I knew how to hold a gun straight, I greedily accepted it.
“The shades of night were falling fast ” as I drove up the long steep hill and gained the crest of the valley in whose wooded depths lay Pentrelyn Hall. The snow was falling lightly and slowly, and there was a sharpish frost. I knew that this would probably bring the wildfowl to the river, which flowed through the valley beneath me in long stretches of grey and white, glimmering in the light of the moon, which was just rising over the serrated edge of the pine wood on the top of the opposite hill. Soon I entered the drive, from the trees on either side of which several woodpigeons darted, startled at the noise of the wheels on
the gravel. A blaze of light from the open hall door, a hearty welcome from my host, and a good dinner were all most comfortable and proper things.
After dinner Mr. H— took me to what he called his study-save the mark! Here we were soon lost in the mysteries of guns and ammunition. “These,” said Mr. H, “are the very best things I have ever shot with,” pointing to some gun-cotton cartridges, then lately invented. “They shoot with such little noise, they do not foul the barrel, and they will kill a good five yards further than gunpowder. I have just invested in a thousand of them. You will see what they can do to-morrow.”
Now, I had heard but indifferent reports of these gun-cotton cartridges, so I said,
“Have you used many of them ?”
“No, only about a dozen ; I tried them at the rabbits this morning, but I am quite satisfied they are the best things out. Would you like to try them?”
“No, thanks; I will stick to my own powder cartridges."
We went out on to the drive. The snow had ceased, and the moon shone clearly and brightly.
“Would you like some shooting to-night ?” said my host.
“Yes, if you can give me any; but what can I shoot now?”
“Wood-pigeons, in the coppice yonder. They want thinning sadly. My tenants are complaining of the mischief they and the rabbits do. Now, if you take your gun and go quietly under the trees, you will see the pigeons roosting in the topmost branches, and you can make an easy pot shot. You may possibly kill three or four. I would come with you, but I have some letters to write."
Nothing loth, I started off across the paddock to the wood. It was composed of larch and fir-trees which grew rather wide apart, and permitted a good view aloft among the branches. The first thing that caught my eye was a pheasant roosting on a low branch. My fingers itched to pull the trigger, but I nobly refrained. It may be asked, if I could shoot woodpigeons while they were asleep, why not a pheasant ? The answer is, that wood-pigeons are so wary and difficult to approach in the daytime, that it is almost impossible to get a shot at them, except by lying in wait for them at certain times, so that when it is wished to kill them it is no mean advantage to take to surprise them while roosting. Even then the chances are many in their favour. The trees are high, and the branches are thick. The slightest noise alarms them;