My intent is to allow the reader to walk down the lanes of old London (before it burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666) and feel as if you are actually there. You can smell and touch the nuances of London. You'll know what it's like to work your way through the City and its the conflicting laws where religion played in important part of everyday life. So sit back and enjoy the ride.

Oh, and then there's my French Revolution novel.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Guns & English Shooting (Part II)

18th Century Bird Hunt
Last installment discussed the beginning of an old book I found: The Art of English Shooting, published in London 1777. This second part will continue the discussion.

If you missed the first part, you can scroll down below this page.

As previously stated, the title is rather long. The author used its length to show the reader what is discussed within the volume. We are going through the title breakdown. Last installment discussed as follows:

Of the Knowledge of a good Fowling-Piece.
The ordering and managing the Fowling-Piece.

This installment will start with The Appendages of the Fowling-Piece and end with Of Pheasant-Shooting.

The Appendages gives a clear description of an antique rifle. This is good for those who are interested in yester-year shooting pieces, and authors who find it difficult to explain what a protagonist is doing while working with a gun. The problem is, some of the terms in this volume are impossible to find (in my personal library and elsewhere), and never seemed to have made it to the dictionaries.

The internet doesn't have explanations, so I must ask someone who knows guns to help me figure it out. What is a britch-pin for example? I found an expert who stated, “Today, we call it a breech-pin.”

Now, off we go... (spelling and punctuation as shown in book)

Page (11)

"The Appendages of the Gun.

"The necessary appendages in the Fowling-piece are, an iron rod, with a screw or worm at one end, and a scrape (to clear rust or caked powder) at the other, which rod is to be used for the washing and dry-cleaning the inside of the barrel, and turn-screw should be kept for the use of the lock.

As a visual person, I would like to see pictures of this. There are none in the booklet. To solve the problem, I printed or copied data, then took it a gun shop that had an antique selection. I've been known to clap strong eyes on the pieces, all the while pointing and asking questions. But I digress.  

To continue... 

"A flask, or horn, for the carriage of the powder, the size and shape of which may be according to fancy; however, it will be proper to have the measure of the charge to hold the exact quantity (powder) the gun is found to carry.

"A leather pouch, or small canvas bag, to carry the shot; with a tin, or other measure, that will hold the exact charge of the gun: this article of the exact measure for the powder and shot should be particularly observed; as it not only saves trouble, but is charging with more certainty and exactness.

"The Choice of Powder, Shot, and Flints.

"The best sort of Powder is small-grained, hard to crumble between the finger and thumb, and of a bluish cast; which should be the only sort used, by rights, for the Fowling-piece.

"The shot should be round and solid; and the more it has these properties the better it is: the size must be according to the shooting that it is intended for; there is from No. 1 to 6, and smaller, which is called mustard-seed, or dust-shot; but No. 5 is small enough for any shooting whatsoever; the No. 1 may be used for wild-geese; the No. 2, for ducks, widgeons, and other water-fowl; the No. 3 for pheasants... and all fen-fowl; the No. 4, for partridges, woodcocks, etc. and the No. 5, for snipes, and all the smaller birds.

"As to the choice of flints, the clear ones are the best; but whether the dark or light sort, is immaterial, as there are good of both kinds: the size should be suited to the lock of the gun, and be neither too large and thick, nor too small and slight; the first will not give fire freely, and the other will be very apt to break."

Didn't know that about flints, did you? And what does ‘clear’ flint mean? See through? Very interesting.

The next section will consist of how to shoot partridge. According to this small volume, by Act of Parliament, partridge hunting season was from September 1st to February 12, of the Gregorian calendar. Keep in mind England went from the Julian to Gregorian in 1752 with the rest of the world, so the dates are as they would be as today's.

The author of this tome states partridge shooting was deemed the most genteel and best sport in England which is good for Georgian/Regency readers and authors. It's a great help to understand background detail in the stories.

17th Century
"Of Partidge-Shooting.

"In the beginning of the season, they haunt the wheat, barley, oat, peas and bean stubbles; but the wheat-vetch is their favourite: they also lie in turnips, clover-feed, on fallow-land; and indeed, at times, are found any where.

"The most proper dog, and what is generally used for Partridge-shooting, is the pointer, a dog extremely well calculated for the sport; as Partridges can seldom or ever be seen on the ground, if the stubble, etc. be but three or four inches high: if the pointer be staunch, and have a good nose, he will seldom pass in common fields within forty yards of a covy, without intimating by a point pretty near the exact line they lie in.

"A brace, or leash of dogs, are sufficient, where the fields are not uncommonly large; if they are, two brace or more will be preferable."

I can already see a sub-plot form in my mind's eye...

"The small light dogs are, for many reasons, to be preferred to the large, heavy, Spanish breed; as they hunt the ground over quicker; quarter it better; and will go over two or three times as much as the heavy sort, without being tired, or loosing the skin off their feet.

Remember, I have not made any corrections. What you read is what was printed in 1777.

Below is a very suspenseful moment in the hunt…
"...Now appears the difference between the good and bad sportsman; the greatest coolness and composure are now necessary: when they rise, lift your gun deliberately to your shoulder; single out that bird which flies most separate from the rest, and when you find your aim true and steady, and not before then, fire; observing carefully the way the rest of the covey take, and mark, as nearly as you can, where they go down.

"As to rules for shooting flying, they are of little or no signification: a good gun, a cool and steady aim, and practice; for the nice difference in aiming at or before the mark, must all contribute to make a good flying marksman.

"The best of Partridge-shooting, in the sportsman's esteem, is, when the birds take to the hedges, (as we term it) … in the time of rain, for shelter; where they will lie for some time after the rain is over: when it is fair, and not before, take two or three spaniels, or rather, a brace of good hedge-pointers, and hunt the hedges near where you know the covey lies: two persons should go together in this sport, one on each side the hedge; the bird being reckoned his shot, on the whole side of the hedge it flies out. The birds will soon separate, and afford excellent diversion, by rising singly, and near you, giving time for the better aim.

"When pointers are used, the birds are frequently obliged to be beat out, by striking the bush where the point is made, and they will often lie and suffer themselves to be taken by both spaniels and pointers; so stupid and lazy are they after rain...”

There’s room for one more:

“Of Pheasant-Shooting.

“This sport begins, by Act of Parliament, on the first of October, and lasts till the first of February.

“The Pheasant’s brood is called an eye, as the brood of the Partridge is a covey. They are of late years become much more scarce than formerly; however, they are found in the woods in most of the counties of England, more or less: they afford very pretty shooting, though far more fatiguing and tiresome than partridge-shooting; owing to the bushes, briars, and other disagreeable circumstances of the woods.

“Spaniels are to be used in this sport: and two, three, or four brace, may be taken together into the wood: the number of persons together should not exceed three or four, and they should go regularly up and down the wood, and spread at about thirty or forty yards distance: the dogs should not be of the wild sort, but keen-nosed, and apt to give their tongue, (i.e. bark or yelp) when they come on the scent.

“Keep as near the dogs as possible; and when they spring, one or more, let such only fire at the bird as to whom, in point of rising, it belongs; which rule should be always observed in all sorts of shooting in company. In pheasant-shooting, the trees frequently interfere, therefore forbear firing till you have a clear aim at the bird; which, if it cannot be had, it is better to let him escape for another chance.”  

In other words, once the birds are flushed from the bushes, make certain you do not shoot your hunting buddies while trying to aim at the birds. If they fly free before you can steady your gun and shoot, then let the birds live. 

So ends Part II of proper gaming in Georgian England.
Next Installment: Of Woodcock-Shooting

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