As we have seen, you do not in shooting at running or flying game aim as you do at stationary objects. The sight is not used : I don't see how the sighting-plate between the barrels can be used either; at any rate, I am not conscious of having used it. Now, in trying an unloaded gun, and in aiming with it at small birds flying—without meaning to shoot—one has often seen people following up the moving object and trying to get the sight on it. This is what you must not do in real shooting. You must on no account follow objects up with the gun. It is a sure sign of a bungler, and of a man, moreover, who should be given a wide berth in field or covert. Do not get the gun up till the moment has come to fire. Then raise the gun rapidly and easily to the shoulder, swing it in the direction required, and fire even as you swing. It is, as it were, all part of one movement. I am not at all sure that there is not an essential similarity in this respect between the correct way of using a sporting gun and a golf driver or brassey. If the swing of the gun, by the way, were arrested before the shot was fired, it would surely be more difficult, in case of a miss with the first barrel, to succeed with the second.
I have said quite enough about this matter, and will but add that, since writing all but the last paragraph or two, I have read what Mr. Sydney Buxton says in his charming book,1 and have spoken of the matter to one whom I have shot with for many years, and who is a good performer. Mr. Buxton's notion of how it is done is not unlike mine. What has here been said of the sub-conscious goes not ill, I think, with Mr. Buxton's remark that there is not " much conscious aiming, or consciousness of the existence of the gun as such. There is much truth in the remark, ' If I aim, I poke ; if I poke, I miss ; the days I shoot best are the days on which I don't know what I am doing.'" Now for my other friend. I asked him: " Can you tell me what you do when you shoot a fast rabbit. Do you aim at it ?" "No," he replied. Then I asked him if he could say what he did. But all he could say was that he put the gun to his shoulder, and, if in good form, got his rabbit! " It's a matter of eye, you know," he added, and beyond this I could get no enlightenment from him.
A few remarks about the sort of gun that is now commonly provided for young beginners and the shooter's outfit may be convenient here, before we turn out for a day's sport in the covert, farm land, or common.
Muzzle-loaders for beginners are now, I take it, practically unknown; a few years from now indeed they will be obsolete, seeing that excellent and— contrary to what some people believe—perfectly safe breech-loaders can be bought for a few sovereigns.1 Personally, I have never shot with any gun but a 12-bore — unless the gardener's boy's muzzle-loader mentioned in "Beginning to Shoot" had a smaller bore : I am not sure about this—but I did not begin till I was about sixteen, and did not shoot regularly in cover till I was eighteen. Most boys of thirteen or fourteen, I am told, now begin with a single-barrelled breechloader of either 20 or 16 bore. The age at which beginners can comfortably handle a double-barrelled gun depends of course on their strength : some can use one at fourteen.
1 "Fishing and Shooting," by Sydney Buxton, M.P. (Murray, 1902).
Here are some weights of the single and the double barrelled guns sold at the Army and Navy Stores Gun Department:—
Single—20-bore weighs about 4 3/4 lbs. 16-bore „ „ 5 „ 12-bore „ „ 5 1/4 „ Double—16-bore ,, 6
20-bore from 5 1/4 to 5 1/2 lbs.
As regards prices, single-barrelled guns (with hammer) begin at -£4, 18s. A single-barrelled hammerless gun, 12-bore or smaller, will cost about £12. A gun such as the latter is likely no doubt to prove serviceable much longer than one of the smaller bored guns with a hammer, for it may be kept and occasionally used after a double gun has been adopted. There are other guns, single and double, suitable for beginners, of various prices intermediate between the .£4, 18s. and the £12 gun : one, for instance (hammerless double), at £8, 8s.; another at £10, 10s. I am inclined to think that a 12-bore is the most serviceable of these guns to start with, but am not at all inclined to lay down the law in the matter. With the smaller bores you will have to be more accurate in your aim than with the 12-bore gun : I do not describe this as a disadvantage though.
1 A keeper's double-barrel gun, with rebounding hammers, central fire, 12-bore—a good, sound weapon i believe—can be bought for under six pounds.
After shooting is over for the day, you should take your gun to pieces—I mean separate the stock from the barrels, and clean it yourself. Tow is the best material to pass through the barrels. After you have done this two or three times you may pass through the barrels the cleaning-brush, which is attached to a rod or else to a string. Those parts of the gun about the locks should be oiled a little now and then, and always after a wet day's shooting. And they should be kept clean and bright. For my part I find the cleaning of my gun after a day's shooting by no means a nuisance ; it is a light and not at all an unpleasant labour. It is better to take the gun to pieces after the day's shooting and keep it in the case. A cartridge-bag and a cartridge-extractor are indispensable. The former will cost a little under half-a-guinea—I do not recommend cheap bags, as the wet soon destroys them—the latter a shilling or so. An extractor, which is one of the trifles of the shooting outfit in regard to price, and which must not be left at home, is very useful when the cartridges stick, as the best of them will at times. I have seen people actually use their teeth for tugging out obstinate cartridges when they have neither extractor nor any other implement that will serve at a pinch, but I do not recommend the practice; the cartridge may loosen the tooth instead of the tooth the cartridge. When I first began shooting with a breech-loader I filled my own cartridges. Many an hour of my life in those days I spent pouring powder and shot and ramming greasy wads into green, blue, aye and even brown cartridge-cases which had already been used more than once. As a consequence those cartridges would stick rather often : the vexation when one of them stuck very fast, and I had forgotten to bring out my extractor !