Saturday, December 17, 2011

From the “Hints to Grown Sportsmen”

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.


  1. I like what you said about having to set your sensibilities aside. Reading about the care of the tragic little carcasses wouldn't be my cup of tea either.
    Its interesting what the writer of that book gives for his enjoyment of being out on a shoot.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Hi Sophia Rose! Yes, this is not the most pleasant of the subjects and when I'm reading their accounts I don't see a shred of sympathy for the poor creatures that they shoot. It's really awful but I thought that I should brave it, no matter how opposed to the whole idea I really am, if I want to use it for writing purposes. Thank you for stopping by!

  3. Okay, before you think we're all disgusting--and I'm not saying we're not disgusting because we probably are--but before you condemn us, remember that until fairly recently, any fowl one shot was going to be eaten. It was providing fresh meat for the table. So Georgian, Regency and Victorian hunters aren't out there in the freezing cold, the damp, the wet because they're incredibly stupid and wish to contract pneumonia. They're actually contributing to the cook's larder and feeding the family. And everything will be used. Today, we discard huge amounts of food. They didn't. They couldn't afford to. They used just about everything.

    Pheasant are incredibly common in the country--sometimes because of a lot of commercially run shoots nearby--sometimes just because they are. And they are without question the STUPIDEST birds known to mankind. But they do make good eating. The ratios per person are about one pheasant per woman and perhaps two for a large bloke. The greatest pheasant I've ever eaten was at a friend's Christmas party: pheasant pudding with venison stew. Who cared about dessert--it was ambrosia. ('Struth, I am such a foodie!)

    Quail is a lot smaller and has a milder flavour--very nice with a currant sauce. Patridge is beautiful--very pale meat, very smooth and often served hereabouts on Boxing Day with a pear compote. But the most beautiful, gorgeous, smoothest textured, delicious of them all is roast breast of wood pigeon. That is a delicacy fit for a king. (Forget the king, I'll have his.)

    Also remember that guns 200 years ago were horribly inaccurate. It's only in the late 18th century that Joseph Manton starts rifling the barrels, so that the ball comes spinning out instead of bouncing down the barrel. So unless your chap is using a Manton, probably he'll miss twice as often as he hits the mark.


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