This method of walking the low underwoods and shooting with dogs resembles in the main partridge-shooting where the birds are not driven ; except that in walking up partridges, as I am accustomed to this sport, dogs are not used : only a retriever is taken to secure wounded birds or hares. Not having a regular retriever, when shooting quite alone over the farms, the sporting rights of which we rented or reserved, I used generally to take with me a couple of spaniels ; but this was because there were some spinneys and very thick hedgerows, out of which one counted on getting a few rabbits. The dogs I kept in at heel whilst walking through the root crops, etc.: an obedient dog alone can be tolerated when you are partridge-shooting; an ill-trained dog is far worse on the farm lands than in covert.
A party of three will work a field of turnips, clover, etc, just as they work the covert. When the three have walked to within a short distance of the end of the strip of covert or the field of turnips, etc, they are taking, one gun stands still whilst the other gun and the keeper or beater swing round to come into line again, and take a fresh strip back, or to the right or left, as may be arranged.
Partridge-shooting is, I suppose, held by most gunners to be a better sport than rabbit-shooting. I should find it hard to declare a decided preference for one or the other. Both are delightful. In rabbiting in the coverts and commons, there is always the chance of a shot or two now and then at pheasants, hares, above all at a woodcock : that cry in covert of " Mark cock !" when a woodcock is flushed, makes you tremendously keen. Then the quick snapshots at rabbits going hard in thick spots are great sport, especially when they "come off".
On the other hand the right and left, which we so constantly get at walked-up partridges, is an experience comparatively rare in rabbiting in covert. The thing is to go in for both, and never to trouble about which is the better sport of the two. In rabbiting in covert, absolute silence on the part of the guns is not by any means always desirable where the wood is high and thick, and the members of the party cannot well keep in touch with each other except through the voice; this matter has been touched upon in the warnings contained in the first chapter of " Guns".
But absolute silence is desirable in partridge-shooting. The sound of voices will make the partridges rise wild from their lay, and out of range. Keep quiet, then, whilst you are walking up partridges.
When a covey rises within range, never fire into the thick or " the brown " of the birds. Choose a particular bird outside " the brown," and, if you bring him down with your first barrel, choose another outside for your second, should the covey by then still be within range—forty-five yards or so. If your bird or birds fall, on no account must you rush forward to pick them up. Steady yourself, and reload at once ; there well may be some isolated birds crouching near by in the turnips or whatever the lay may be, and these, by rushing forward, you will put up, and so lose the chance of getting. Complete coolness and command over yourself are essential to excellence in shooting. When a covey rises within range, and all the shots that are practicable have been fired at the birds which comprise it, or when a covey rises out of gunshot, you stand still and mark carefully where it goes to. " Mark! Mark ! " is the imperative of the moment—the only talking which is permissible out partridge-shooting.
Partridges marked down are sometimes pursued at once, sometimes left till the field they rose from is well shot over. When presently you come near the spot where the birds were seen to alight, be ready for a shot or shots at any moment, but do not get your gun up till the birds are up and the time has come to cover them and fire. It looks ugly, just as it does in covert shooting, to see a man holding his gun to his shoulder before the game is up. The swing is the thing here as in snap-shooting at rabbits.
The prettiest sport of the day is when a covey of partridges scatters in a field of clover or roots, and the isolated birds are picked up one by one as they rise. Some people, when the birds are wild and rising out of range, will fire a long shot at them on the chance of scattering the covey ; but this, in my experience, is not often a success. When you are walking up very wild and wary partridges, you must avail yourself of every scrap of cover in the way of hedges and trees, and must study what is the best chance of getting within range of the birds. As a rule, you will prefer to walk with the wind in your face rather than at your back, as the latter of course would serve to carry the sound of your footsteps to the birds.
It is good sport when a covey, or a portion of a covey, scatters in a hedgerow and lies close there ; but this is not a very common occurrence. Often the covey seems to go into a hedge, when in reality the birds have stopped just short of it, and will rise wild when you approach the spot.
Do not suppose that the birds which you have marked down will, when you draw near, necessarily rise from the particular spot you have your eye upon. Very often the birds upon alighting will run for many yards before stopping and crouching.
In partridge-shooting, as in all other methods of shooting, a gun should take only his own birds. You must not shoot across at birds which have risen nearer to your companion or companions than to yourself. From time to time no doubt there must occur cases where it is impossible at the moment to say to whom a bird or a rabbit or hare belongs ; and game in this neutral zone of fire may be shot at by two guns, but as a rule it is quite simple to distinguish clearly between meum and tuum out shooting.
We will now turn back to the woods and the commons, as I have something to say about three distinct and capital branches of sport among wood-pigeons and rabbits.