Snipe shooting-Epistle on snipe shooting, from Ned Copper
Cap, Esq., to George Trigger-George Trigger’s reply to
Ned Copper Cap-Black partridge.
“Si sine amore jocisque
Nil est jucundum, vivas in &more jooisque.”
“If nothing appears to you delightful without love and
sports, then live in sporta and love.”
I LOVE shooting. It is enjoyed in the open air. It removes one from the vicinity of flat-roofed, candle-pillared, sun-dried, brick-built, mulligatawny looking houses. You pursue it alone, or, in the society of a friend, equally well. Occasionally it is (I allow) rather hot work, but to a man whose particular taste may lead him to the viewing and enjoying the rays of that great luminary, the sun, shooting affords him the very best opportunity. A good day’s snipe shooting is however, in my opinion, sufficiently exciting to keep away all thoughts and fidgetings about either his power, influence or effects.
As yet old Phœbus has behaved with great liberality and kindness towards me, nor has he ever even shown an inclination in his hottest moments to quarrel. He has now, for some years past, thrown his burning beams pretty freely about my head when in pursuit of the snipe, and up to this day I am unscathed.
This, however, says nothing, for the old proverb hath it— “What is one’s man’s meat is another man’s poison.” But physicians could, if they would, prove distinctly that when the system is under one particular excitement it is not subject to another. Hence my impunity may be due to my enthusiastic fondness for the sport.
To pursue snipe effectually, the sportsman requires many qualifications, among which I note the following: unremitting fag and bottom, fortitude and some constitution. He should be almost impregnable to the approaches of diseases; to bogs, swamps, water, rain, sun, and chick-weed no stranger; be able to put up, comfortably and complacently, with wet feet, occasionally a wet jacket, sometimes a paucity of birds, a mahogany countenance, dry throat, and generally amphibious habits. All these enumerated qualifications are not drawbacks, but trifles in the estimation of the true sportsman; and, if I may speak for myself, or according to my feelings, doubting not but that I express those of most men devoted to the following of this elegant bird, I must say that snipe shooting is superior to every other department of the chase where fowling forms the medium of its enjoyment.
The following observations hastily thrown together on the habits and pursuit of the snipe may perhaps possess some interest.
On the snipe at home I have had such little opportunity of making observations that it would savour little short of presumption to assert that it is the same species we find in the Bengal jheels.
But such is my opinion. There are some slight differences, and to the best of my recollection and ability, I will describe them.
The bill of the Indian snipe* is rather of a lighter colour, and more green towards the nostril; the spoon a little broader, and apparently less sensitive.
The legs of a paler colour, less white on the breast: all differences of so slight a nature that possibly my fancy may have conjured them up. In every other respect he seems to me the same, arriving about the usual time, viz., September, seeking the same feeding ground, about the same
weight (when in condition), and flying very often as strong.
* [Scolopax gallinago.]
When I say” seeking the same ground,” it is not to be supposed I mean paddy lands; but in Egypt he is met with in the same identical sort of cultivation. There, as in Bengal, he feeds in the highly cultivated and overflowed rice fields. The khets (with us) are his favourite September haunts, and in this fine tufted grain, without a weed, you find him—on a rich soapy clay bottom as even as a dish of hasty pudding or paste just set—with his breast lightly resting on a dry root or stem; there he insinuates his sensitive bill, and explores with it the recesses of the soil for his food, which, if in abundance, he soon fattens, when he often requires to be kicked up, and becomes a pretty easy shot to any one at all accustomed to hold a gun straight.
It has been said of this bird that he ” fattens in one night “—an assertion I should not like the credit of having made. I have however shot them on the 5th and 6th of September in superb condition, both blow and feather, and I feel convinced they could not have been in above five or six days. The ground, I must observe, was of the finest description; most of it transplanted paddy, with about three inches of a week’s old water on it, all clear at bottom, not a thing to intercept the sight of the bird. Such patches of ground you fall in with at the edges of jheels from which the khets are irrigated. They are generally bounded lightly round, and when bordered with toot (mulberry) are still more likely for the snipe. The deep ditches that surround the mulberry khets are also generally well sprinkled with snipe. and the sportsman will always do right to beat the edges of them thoroughly.
For myself, I am always very curious in exploring such haunts, having found birds delight to settle there, and that they generally lie close.
In these sort of places I have often turned over three or four brace without scarcely moving from the spot,—circumstance which one day gave rise to a friend (who was shooting at s0me distance) observing of me-“Why, twist the fellow, he is firing at a mark.”
I rather query whether that distinguishing peculiarity of snipes invariably flying against. the wind so well authenticated, and so often described as an undeviating fact in the bird at home, is so apparent in those we meet with in this country. For my own part I should say not, feeling certain I have observed so many birds going down the wind as up it. Should this be right, it is therefore of little consequence whether the wind is at the sportman’s back or in his face, save one: the advantage of seeing your game better. There can be no doubt that the minute particles floating in the air, particularly when there is a true snipe breeze, and which are ever lit up on a sunny day, making you fancy the landscape is moving behind them, are more dazzling and annoying to the sight with the wind in your face than otherwise, and that their effect is to take away and destroy in a great measure that steadiness and precision of eye so requisite at times even to the best shots.
On Snipe Shooting.
To GEORGE TRIGGER, Esq.
My DEAR GEORGE,—What a pretty bird is a snipe, and what pretty shooting is snipe shooting! Seeing a spaniel flush a snipe is as pretty a thing as I could wish to sec. I allude to England. Ask a good sportsman what shooting he likes best, and he will tell you snipe shooting. Ask him why, and he will answer, that there is no poking work, no butchery, as with pheasants. In this country I invariably use dogs—I mean pointers—which, I believe, you do not; if so, I should recommend you to try them. Give it a fair trial,-one week’s work and you will be delighted. I think George Trigger possesses some black dogs which I should venture to say are of Spanish stock. In England I have shot snipe as early as September, which is very rare. In October and November I have repeatedly shot them; they, however, are not plentiful till December. Foggy days and moonlight nights make the best time for finding snipes: they travel by night and never leave in foggy weather. Depend upon it, that snipes almost invariably fly against the wind. So perfectly satisfied am I of it that if I have not my dogs with me, I send two men always to leeward and remain to windward, keeping the line; and I have almost invariably had the shot if it was put up by the farthest beater.
But that is only in tacking; for as long as I could go down wind, I should always prefer it, as I am sure of a side shot as they haul up to the breeze, and such shots are not easily missed. I have heard from a first-rate sportsman their reason for facing the breeze, and, I think it is sufficiently obvious the snipe is very thinly feathered about the back, rather, I should say, delicately,-not stiff enough to resist the wind, but their breast is very well provided with small close-set feathers; so by flying against the wind they get rid of the annoyance I mentioned,—the ruffling of the feathers. Now, Mr. George, I should like to try my hand with you in the same jheel, say, on a fine sunny snipe day, with strong north-east breeze, I shooting down wind, and you up.
I should get more shots than you would, and, consequently, more birds; for a snipe is a bird I very rarely miss. As for double shots, you would be blinded by the smoke of the first barrel. I would bet you trifle, I should kill three birds to your two. How useful is the pointer in picking up the stragglers; and really it is worth going out to see a good dog act! I think with you that the snipe of our shores is the same bird and species as the Bengal snipe. I think tho bird in this country flies slower than the bold Britisher, but that is very easily accounted for. I attribute it to better feed, and their consequent fatness, besides their being less disturbed, and consequently less wild. I can see no difference in the jack-snipe of the two countries. At home I have seen a jack-snipe give a person five hours’ shooting.
I think you would find No.8 a good substitute for 7,—No. 9 is meant for murder, not for sport. White is decidedly the worst colour for a shooting dress. I should recommend a light green or brown, and a ventilating topee, which keeps one’s head delightfully cool. Merely tal<e your card-cutter and punch half a dozen holes round the sides, just under the crown, and one in the centre of the crown; and if that does not feel a pound lighter at the end of the day, as well as keep out all pernicious effects of the sun, I’m a downright Lord William,—a Dutchman. I hope you never treat yourself to brandy and water out—I always find it increases my thirst. Now if I feel a little nervous I find the best sedative in a good cheroot. I hope you never begin before eleven, from which time till four they lie like stones—though you may spend the early part of the morning very profitably amongst th’ wild ducks and teal, of which I have seen something at home. I was watching the flight in amongst a lot more sailors apparently, and smugglers, on the southern coast of England. We were scattered all over the marsh—it was night. Bang went a gun, pitter patter came the shot all round me. Thinks I to myself this is really pleasant, but how shall I tell the fellow so? I preferred the argumentum ad hominem, and let fly both barrels in the direction where I had seen the flash of his gun.
His astonishment vented itself in oaths. He, not thinking it prudent to remain so near a Griff, went away.
Another I have seen, a son of the emerald isle, with a sand bag at the butt of his gun, taking a most deliberate aim, on his knees, which rather surprised me, as the birds were flying over him. The gun, however, did go off, and down fell Paddy.—” Why Paddy,” said I, “you must load pretty
heavy.”—” Oh, no matter of that, your honour, a matter of sax fingers at the iverige! “—” Well, but
what makes you kneel down when you fire? “—” Sure is it not that I have not so far to fall, your honour.”
I have repeatedly heard some people assert that they have seen snipe before rising. Credat Judœus ! I have shot many, but never saw one on the ground that was not dead. The real secret in
killing snipe is not to be flurried by that ominous cry of “scape, scape.” Knock him over directly he rises, or let him fly fifty yards, and he will have ceased twisting, and will fly steady; and a snipe
is never out of shot—l mean that a snipe may be killed at eighty yards.
I shall be most happy should you come this way to try my system of shooting snipe against yours, and if I come down your way, shall do the same, and will drink a bottle to the downfall of the intruder.
I am, my dear George Trigger,
With profound respect,
NED COPPER CAP.
To NED COPPER CAP, Esq.
My DEAR NED,—I am really quite delighted at hearing from one whose admiration and enthusiasm for that elegant sport, snipe shooting, appear equal to my own.
With, most probably, all your English feeling about you, you hail this as the first of shooting pleasures, and my own home recollections, I assure you, are equally vivid and warm 011 the subject of this elegant sport.
A cock, or four or five couple of snipe, ill my time, counted more in the sportsman’s bag, than four times the number of either hare, pheasant, or partridge, and I am happy in supposing that a dozen years have not altered the feelings and opinions of the lovers of the trigger on this particular pursuit.
After conning over very attentively your friendly and excellent communication, it did not appear to me that we differed materially on the peculiarities of the sport, and I came to the conclusion that when you have rubbed off a little of your English prejudices in our Bengal jheels, and become more acquainted with them—the bird of this country, his habits, &c.—that we may almost or entirely agree .
Many of your ideas appear to me (now take this kindly) to smack slightly of snipe shooting near the great City of Palaces, in the vicinity of which I have myself, as a “Ditcher,” partaken of the amphibious sport; perfectly” I think,” a different one in most of its details to what we enjoy in the
In the first place, I cannot be as orthodox as you wish me, and seem yourself to be, on the two crotchets: that the pointer is so valuable an addition to the sportsman when in pursuit of the bird, and that the snipe in this country invariably flies against the wind.
With respect to using pointers in pursuing them, my dear Ned, a little experience in the months of September and October will, no doubt, show you the absurdity and impossibility of doing so, either for the purpose of finding or retrieving. No pointer of good English blood, or even the best currency, can work an hour after ten 0′ clock ill either of the above months; independent of which, I defy him to find as he ought. Old Phœbus in September has his annual fever on him, and I declare that I think it is the hottest month in the whole year. This month and October are the two best for following the long bills, and you will further find, that one man to carry your powder-bag and charges, and one to work, is the” ticket for soup.”
For my own part, I would not take out one of my ” Spanish,” as you are pleased to call them, for four times his value. No, no; these tits are reserved for the whole quail that ought to be in during the whole of October. Daylight then sees me on the ground, enjoying in a degree English partridge shooting in miniature. Then, my delight is to see the good working and steadiness of the dogs. Again, with respect to using the pointer, suppose the dogs could both work and find, in how few jheels and paddy khets, where the birds lie, would the working be practicable! Were there fine watered savannahs, and should your dog be so beautifully broken to ranging that, as you say, “in shooting down the wind,” he makes those short quartering angles about thirty yards before you, thus placing the game between the shooter and himself, thereby giving him the chance of catching the wind and so finding, then I would give your system the preference in November—not before—making up my mind that numbers of birds beyond him must be flushed. The best dog could not help it.
Instead of such haunts the snipe is found often on the paddy in a depth of water perhaps matted much with long weeds, or else on a soft muddy bottom distressing to a dog beyond measure.
You are decidedly of opinion, you say, that snipe invariably fly against the wind, and advance in
support of’ it, that the feathers on the back are peculiarly fine and delicate in their formation.
This peculiarity has really never struck me on looking at the bird, and, if it is the case, nature must have been strangely deficient in a point affecting one of the bird’s greatest distinctions, viz., its migratory habits. It is supposed that snipe ill Europe breed principally in the large swamps of Germany and Switzerland, from whence, on their advent to our shores, they arrive with a driving east by northerly wind. Now, if the feathers of the back were really thus delicate (a peculiarity I have said I never remarked) the bird would be greatly annoyed—quite as much with the wind being on the quarter as dead astern.
Why, he would be “feathers up” all the way to Greenland, and most probably, on arrival, be laid up, either with lumbago, or the wind colic. The feather idea is a very pretty fanciful one when taken at first sight; but I think it may have more ingenuity in it than reality.
You say you would like to try your hand with me in the jheel with a good strong north·east wind blowing, and that you would get more shots than I. Come along, old cock; but mind, we must have dogs and all, and I my odds. I will take two couple out of twelve of you, for I am an indifferent shot.
Do not understand that I make it a rule to always shoot up the wind, giving the birds the advantage over me—if you are correct according to the invariable principle; no, I start off for the jheel and endeavour to get to it the nearest way I can. I step in, and if the wind is according to the old prejudice, perhaps so much the better—if not,”who’s afeard?” hold the gun straight, and shoot quick, which, with moderate luck, will generally show pretty good returns.
I find I kill my birds very clean with No. 10, and when they are wild, and there is lots of wind going, No.7.
A Guernsey frock, which flannels you down to the wrists, and a very thick solar topee in the shape of a hunting cap, I have found the best gear for the hot September shooting. Forgive me the cheroot, as you love me.” I seldom when at work, take “anything short,” but on my making my bow I generally slap down a good glass “before the coach starts,” fling on my shooting jacket, throw my leg over, and gallop home like bricks. I immediately apply very hot water to my feet, get a good rub down, after which, as soon as good Mister Bawarchee choses to give me dinner, I sit down, and often with appetite enough to consume the hind leg of an elephant if it was properly deviled.
Three o’clock is my hour for beginning to work. There are no dukes in our paddy khets to shoot at. The latter extend for miles with from three inches to three feet of water on them. When not disturbed, I believe the snipe paces very leisurely and at intervals, with his head erect; but he is so very vigilant that the moment he hears the slighest noise he squats. This may account for the great difficulty of ever getting a peep at him on the ground unless floored.
You make mention of my dogs. Have you ever seen them, and at what time? In the evening they are never unkennelled till nearly sunset; so it must have been a very late heure when you had your peep.
They are purely bred, and very thoroughly broken. Their steadiness to quail, especially to that lamplighter footed short-flighted puzzling in and out chap the bush or rain quail, may be the best
example I can give you of it.
Who was your friend who got five hours’ shooting at a jack-snipe?
He must have been a poker, or the breeze had made saucy Jack go like a butterfly-at which time he is most puzzling, I will allow.
You conclude by mentioning systems of snipe shooting. I am free to confess to you, I have none—
never had any, and I sincerely trust I may never be the slave of one.
I have never cared as yet whereabouts I was put down to commence shooting, so that there were
birds; what quarter the wind blew from; how hot the sun was; or what I bagged. Let there be birds and I’ll have my fair proportion.
In this particular I am not unlike” a rat catcher’s dog in a sink “—rough and ready, and as ready I shall always be to swipe a bottle of good ale in fellowship with Ned Copper Cap; and I hope he may soon come this way.
Yours very truly,
The Black Partridge.
” You may talk to me, Mr. George, what you like, about your still life, and dead game; but give me, ill preference, the flutter of wings and feathers in the grass covert, or the jheel side. So come along, and try the edge of that jungle to the left. I will be hanged but there is old ‘Rap’ in the next field, drawing better than ever you did in your life, old cock.” Such was the salutation I received one morning from a “brother sportsman,” as he cleared the deep ditch into the next field, followed by your humble. In spite of his bad taste, however, I took care that the beautiful plumage of the bird just shot, and which I had been apostrophising, should not be ruffled, determined to try my hand at a representation of him as he came down. And here you have it. Be was knocked over at a considerable distance from where we first found him, having ran; but his seat was so warm and grateful to the dog, that he remained immoveable, nor would ” Rap” believe that he was oft’ till his ear was saluted with the sharp crack of the gun, and he turned his head in time to see him purl over.
If he had been an alderman of twenty wards he could not have made more fuss in getting up; but he was hit by my friend handsomely and clean.
His plumage was of the most superb description, and he was more handsomely marked, I think, than any bird I ever before met with. The head was of the true game cut; the beautiful snowy ring round the neck, like the male pheasant at home; the velvet pall-like blackness of his starry spotted breast; the elegant yellow legs, with spurs just budding; he long pinion feathers, eyed to their tips, similar to the painted snipe, and indeed the whole contour was the perfection of a game bird.
I think that if Solon had ever seen the black partridge, he would have included him along with the pheasant in his well-known remark” that having once seen the beautiful plumage of that bird, he never could be astonished at any other finery in the world.”
In this country it is seldom or ever (at least in Bengal) that the sportsman can get anything like good partridge shooting in the open—although the bird is similar in habit to the bird in England. Where cultivation and water are abundant there the bird best thrives and is found. Before the dawn the cock leaves the jungles to feed in the open; never flying any distance from there, he alights and immediately commences calling, which you will hear answered from the jungle in all directions; gradually they are at feed and watering.
Among the cut indigo, the young flowering kaly, and tufts of uncleared grass, they are to be met with from daylight till 11 or 12 o’clock. The slightest noise has the effect of turning their heads to the jungle, and the only way of beating up the ground is to keep the cover, either on your right hand or left; never work up to its face.
I have often remarked, in a day’s shooting, you will find nothing but cock birds in your bag. Can these be males that, for want of mates, have packed and kept close together from the breeding season, and perhaps awaiting the newt pairing?
Both partridge and quail delight in a rather sandy soil.
“Ah what avails his gloesy varying dyes,
His jetty breast sparkling with snowy eyes;
His painted wings and game-like neck and head,
The vivid colours over all thus spread.