Some people are too amiably disposed towards the reckless gunner. The story of the beater who casually remarked to another beater, " Lord, how that gentleman there do put it into my gaiters !" is almost typical of the countryman who bears gladly with the gun fool. There are people who really seem to think that a little peppering is all in the day's sport: it is easier to understand the temper of the man who, on being peppered, ordered the gunner who fired that shot to hold up his hand, with the object of inflicting condign punishment on the offender.
Rabbit-shooting in thick places, where the members of the line cannot see one another by any means always, and where the line itself must often tend to become irregular, necessitates great care on the part of every gun. Make an absolutely hard and fast rule of never shooting down the line, even though you are morally sure from the nature of the ground that your charge will not scatter or glance. Get into the way of keeping yourself well informed as to the position of your right-hand and left-hand neighbours when you are slowly advancing with beaters or dogs, or both, in a line intended to be as regular as possible. Though, in rabbit-shooting in thick woods and commons, the bulk of every charge may safely enter the ground, especially when the ground is soft and covered by decaying dead leaves—the nearer you are to the rabbit (and I take it that the majority of rabbits in thick cover are killed at from, say, fifteen to five-and-twenty yards) the likelier is this to occur—you must never forget the glance shot. Though some of the force of this shot will necessarily be spent when it glances, it can do grave, even the gravest, harm. I have been stung by several glance shot myself, and, much worse than that, a glance shot from a charge fired by myself did, 1 cannot with courtesy doubt, once touch a neighbour. I shot at a rabbit which could not have been in a line with my neighbour, yet he called out that somebody had shot him. I was in the thick, he in the open. I ran out, half incredulous and half sick with horror. Infinitely relieved, I found him upright, more excited than hurt. He believed he had been hit in the thigh. It was a matter of a single glance shot, so I gathered ; but I hope I am right in saying that—like the glance shot which once struck me also on the thigh, some of which I found in my sock at night when I undressed—it did not pierce the skin.
As to keeping yourself informed where the two guns on either side of you are, it is not, of course, always easy. When my brother and I are shooting alone we constantly, by calling, keep in touch with each other in thick covert; and, to some extent, this is practicable where there are more guns than two. It has, no doubt, this disadvantage : game, furred and feathered, will often hear one's voice and avoid one. This is especially the case in rabbit-shooting with dogs. In walking through the covert you stop now and then at favourable open spots, and wait in order to get a clear shot at a rabbit, which, pressed by the dogs, will very likely cross there. After long experience of a wood or common you come to know all the best spots to take your stand at when the dogs are giving tongue. It goes against the grain, having reached such a spot, to call even in a low voice to your neighbour out of sight, or to respond to his call, "Where are you, So-and-So ? " Rabbits creeping about in the fern and brambles near by will, hearing your voice, be very shy of crossing the open space, and, even with the dogs or beaters hot upon them, will turn back or aside. Hence I have known keen sportsmen object to call at all in covert. But we do it at home, and we manage to get plenty of sport, plenty of shots of all descriptions at rabbits going at all paces. I like them best (though I may not get them oftenest)when they are going as hard as they can pelt.
If you are by yourself shooting rabbits, ferreted or driven by dogs out of hedges, never shoot into the hedge if there is the faintest likelihood of there being any one, hidden from you, on the other side. When two or more guns are shooting, one or more on either side of a hedge, never shoot into the hedge at all. I lay this down as a rule which ought to have no exceptions whatever. Don't be tempted by the deadly rabbit which is creeping or running along in the hedge. Wait till it comes into the open field, which it may for a few yards at any rate, even if to retire precipitately a few seconds later; it will be a cleaner, a more sporting, and a far safer shot in the open.
What I have said so far relates to the safety of the human members—shooters, beaters, and gamekeepers—of the shooting party. I turn now to the canine members, who deserve much more consideration than some shooters seem always ready to extend to them. When there are many dogs, and the covert is thick and rabbits abound, it is right to be very careful and sternly to decline a good many alluring shots. A few hours before writing this I was shooting with dogs. Three or four times I half got up my gun for a shot at a rabbit going hard, but dropped it; as many times I did not even half swing at the rabbit. In both cases the deterrent was the same—one or more dogs inconveniently near the rabbit as it bolted. Several of these rabbits might have been killed without a dog being hit, but it seemed to me in each case that there was risk, and I did not choose to take it. After all, a good dog is worth several score of rabbits, and besides there is always something more than the mere financial question—the value in pounds, shillings, and pence of the dog—to be considered. To pepper a dog is a deed to be ashamed of; it will even make you unhappy and uneasy with the gun for some time afterwards, though when you shot you had no means of knowing a dog was in a line with the rabbit.1 You may sometimes find it practicable to shoot at a rabbit though a perfect pack of dogs are at its heels. In such cases you do not shoot over the dogs or just in front of them, but you take the rabbit as he twists off from the dogs at something like a right angle from them; these are pretty shots, and, given a steady performer with the gun, safe ones.