Sometimes the strip of covert to be taken runs parallel with either a fairly broad or narrow woodland ride, and one gun walks along this ride whilst the keeper and the other gun walk through the underwood. If you are in the ride, you take the rabbits which cross it within forty yards distance. You will not be troubled much by creepers then perhaps. Walk along, not in the middle of the ride, but at the edge of the covert in which the keeper and the other gun are walking. You will fire at the rabbits which cross just as they are disappearing into the covert on the other side of the ride. In the case of very narrow paths through the covert, the shooting is undoubtedly extremely difficult. Even when, by the yelping of the dogs or the warning of the keeper, you know that a rabbit is coming towards you and is going to cross the ride, it is extremely difficult shooting, if, through the thickness of undergrowth, there is no chance to speak of that you may get a shot at him after he has crossed and is in the covert on the other side. He is across the narrow path of three or four feet in a flash, and you do not see him till he flies that path ! How is it to be done ? Well, sometimes you may undoubtedly get him by shooting at the spot in the covert on the other side of the ride where your brain telegraphs to your eye and hand that he is. I have had rabbits like this—but, ah, the many I have not had ! Often I have seen the very quickest gun beat by rabbit after rabbit crossing the narrow paths. I have seen a quick movement on the part of the shooter, but the gun has not been fairly swung on to the rabbit and never fired at all.
I have seen shooters standing in one of these paths, or in broader paths, with the gun actually pressed to the shoulder : they have been waiting for the rabbit to cross : and, I admit, I have stood thus in preparation myself now and then. I have got a few rabbits in this way, but I have felt all the while that it was not wise. It looks so bad; it is not workmanlike ; it is an over anxious device. Keep the gun down till the moment to raise, swing, and fire arrives, or you will be sure to fumble.
In shooting at rabbits in these very narrow paths, be sure, before you fire, that a dog is not in hot pursuit a foot or two behind the rabbit.
Pheasants, woodcocks, and hares live in the coverts with the rabbits, and add zest to the sport of rabbit-shooting. You will not get shots often at high-flying or very fast pheasants, unless the ground is very broken and you are walking now in deep wooded dells, now along or over steep hill and hanger. But you will find that some wild pheasants in covert, getting up in front of the dogs, offer by no means the simplest of shots at thirty-five or forty yards distance. When pheasants get up within short range, fifteen or twenty yards, there is a tendency on the part of some rabbit-shooters to be too quick on them. It is droll to see apparently the easiest shots imaginable at flying game missed now and then by even good performers. Sometimes the explanation is, I think, that the pheasant is shot at whilst it is still mounting and before it sails away. A certain cock pheasant which my dog put up in an open field I cannot forget. It happened more than eighteen years ago on a farm over which I was shooting by myself for several months. This farm held a fair head of partridges with some hares, whilst in the two or three small coverts and in the dense hedgerows there were a good many rabbits, some pheasants, and occasionally a woodcock. I remember missing a very fast quail which rose in some rough standing barley, and a twisting jack-snipe which was also in standing corn ; and I recollect dropping a partridge dead at just eighty yards distance—the longest shot I have ever made or am ever likely to make.
But this cock pheasant was a cruel humiliation, though there was no one near to witness it. He rose at about twenty yards distance out of a rough spot, and I had two barrels without touching a feather. Perhaps, if I had shut both eyes, I should have got him with the first barrel. He was a perfect haystack of a shot.
On another occasion, at home in the woods, my spaniels put up a woodcock which flew straight away slowly. Two barrels this time again, and nothing happened. My only comfort is that much better men than I am, now and then cannot touch these absurdly easy shots. It is comforting to know that the swells themselves fail sometimes ; that they miss their two-feet putts on the green, that they try the simplest " Whitechapel shot" on the billiard-table and ignominiously fail, that they fire two barrels at an old hedgerow cock pheasant, and that he sails joyfully away from them. Then there is a brotherly feeling between us and the swell performer: it is the touch of Nature that makes the whole world kin.
Give, then, the pheasant, put up by the dogs in covert, time ; or, to put it in another way, give yourself time. As for woodcocks, it is excusable if you shoot at them even a somewhat desperately long shot, should they rise wild. You will not often get a woodcock which is more than forty-five yards off, I think; but it is an easy bird to stop if you can manage to strike it. A very few shots kill a woodcock. In regard to winged woodcocks, I cannot say whether they will run or not. I have never known of a case, but keepers and others have told me they will run now and then when winged, a little way at any rate. Winged cock pheasants are rare sprinters; hens, on the whole, I think, less so. As to hares—may you kill yours outright. The cry of a wounded hare is not good to hear. Do not try long shots at hares ; especially desist if they are travelling away from you. Whilst in the coverts you may from time to time meet with barn as well as tawny owls, which rest by day in the ivied oaks, etc. Leave them alone; they are not for the sportsman's gun : neither are kestrels. At the carrion crow, another bird of the coverts, you will not, I fancy, often get a chance. The keeper has certain devices—which I cannot bring myself in the least to like—for keeping down the crows. We have only one this winter; all his companions are dead : he, grown cunning even beyond his kind, lingers on. He has nothing to fear so far as I am concerned.