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Argyllshire birds, it being a never-failing rule that when ground is overstocked the creatures deteriorate.' *
Their food consists of the young and tender tops of the heather, and of the mountain and bog berries, of which the country affords a great variety. The young brood continues with the hen till early in October, when they begin to pack, as it is termed, in large flocks, to the number of forty or fifty. This packing, however, occurs earlier or later, according to the season; and if the weather set in cold and stormy, even in mid-September the birds will get together; they then become wild and difficult to approach. When the winter is severe, and the snow lies deep on the hills, they descend in great numbers to the low ground in search of food, and fall easy victims to the snare and gun of the poacher.
The first mention we can discover of grouse, as a game bird, occurs in . Burt's Letters.' Captain Burt was quartered at Inverness about the year 1730, and it would seem that he and his brother officers, as men in country quarters continue to do, more majorum, took the field against the feræ naturæ of the neighbourhood. After relating that their diet consisted of salmon, partridge, grouse, hare, &c., and speaking of the tarmican as being like a grouse,' he goes on to say :
*Hares and the several kinds of birds above mentioned, abound even to exuberance-rather too much for a sportsman's diversion. ..... We often make presents to the inhabitants, who none of them will bestow powder or shot upon any of the game. You may sometimes buy partridges for a penny apiece : but there are not many except in snow, when there are sackfuls. I asked a magistrate why such poaching was allowed. He said, " Oh, if it wasn't 80, we should never get any for ourselves."
We may gather from this that grouse were game; that the gentry did not care to shoot them; and that the country people taking them was considered poaching, though it was not looked upon as a very heinous offence.
Our earliest sporting authorities are very meagre in their accounts of the grouse; and their instructions to the shooter amount to but little. Colonel Hawker, the great gun of his day, dismisses the subject with a few words only; and Mr. Daniel, whose admirable work, “Rural Sports' (1805), now almost forgotten, has nevertheless been the basis of many a later book on Field Sports, devotes but a few pages of his three ample quartos to the bird. He gives the following quaint warning of the work to be done in following grouse :
* Moor and Loch,' p. 112.
Up the hills, where a horse can travel, grouse-shooting is a noble diversion; to be undertaken otherwise demands constant hard labour, for the shooter is, during the course of the day, ascending; that is, if he finds a brood on the top of one eminence, they will swoop over the valley till they reach the summit of another, up which the sportsman has to climb.'*
The same author affords evidence, in a foot-note, that he, like ourselves, had looked in vain for any ancient records of grouse, since he is fain to content himself with a negative proposition, going only to the extent of proving the estimation in which the bird was not held in the fourteenth century:
"Neither this (the grouse),' he says, 'nor the blackcock, were at the feast of Archbishop Nevil, which is somewhat surprising, especially as both are found in Yorkshire : perhaps they were unaccustomed to the taste of them, or did not consider them a dainty : they are more highly esteemed when sent as presents to the south, both fresh and potted. The expedition of the mailcoaches has at least enabled the Londoners to receive the moor game sweeter than formerly.
"To show the abundance' (here speaks the true sportsman) rather than the exploit itself (which by a sportsman, it is to be hoped, will never be repeated), the Earl of Strathmore's gamekeeper was matched for a considerable sum to shoot forty brace of moor game in the course of the 12th of August, upon his Lordship’s moors in Yorkshire.'
*In 1801 a gentleman in Invernessshire shot fifty-two brace of moor game in one day, never killing a bird sitting, or more than one bird at a time.'
This latter feat he leaves without comment: perhaps he could not trust himself to express his feelings. He had never heard of a battue, nor read the modern chronicles of the first days of grouse-shooting in the • Inverness Courier.
Forty years ago the grouse and other winged game in the Highlands was hardly considered worthy of any care in its preservation; the gamekeeper's duties extended only to the protection of the deer ; for the proprietors were jealous of their forest rights, and waged fierce war against the poacher who soared at such high game. The grazings were for the most part let to small farmers; and the rental derived from these made up the aggregate income of the laird. To the latter the shootings on the ground were no source of profit, and they were of little good to the poor man, affording a few brace of grouse or a hare or two, perhaps now and then a stray deer, to those who had the activity and energy to capture them ; but this advantage was more than nullified by the habits of idleness and opposition to the law thereby engendered. Fowlingpieces, too, at that time were rare as they * •Rural Sports,' iii. 75.
were rude in manufacture among the poorer classes, and the moorgame was killed more by the snare than the gun.
We are tempted to introduce a communication made to us by a Highland friend, although it carries us back to a period more remote than that to which we refer:
*Donald Macdonald, a native of Braemar, who died about ten years ago, at, I believe, about eighty years of age, and who was gamekeeper for many years to the late Mr. Farquharson, of Finzean, and afterward's to the late Sir Alexander Duff, was, as I have often heard from himself and others, the first man in his native district who practised shooting grouse upon the wing. He did so, not as keeper, but for his own amusement, and as what would now be called a poacher ; but so little were grouse thought of in those days in that country, that his unauthorised shooting was never looked upon as an offence. On the contrary, Lord Fife's keeper in the Mar Forest used, he said, often to get his assistance in procuring such supplies of game as were ordered from time to time by his Lordship. The keeper himself, whose employment had reference not to the preservation of grouse, but of deer, was, it may be supposed, glad of such aid, seeing that the only notion he had of shooting grouse was potting them on the ground with a single-barrelled gun, rested on a forked stick, which he carried with him for the purpose. This may have been seventy or seventy-five years ago.
But while the smaller game was thus disregarded, or valued only in so far as it afforded an occasional day's amusement to the proprietor and his friends, the forest-rights, as we said before, were jealously asserted, and the rigorous enactments of the laws remained still in force, the complex nature of which often led to bitter family feuds, to personal quarrels, and to endless litigation among neighbours.
This state of things has been most ably and pleasantly delineated in . Forest Sketches, or Deerstalking and other Sports in the Highlands' Fifty Years ago. Into a tale, as well told as it is interesting in itself, the author has introduced what he modestly terms sketches, but which may rather be called finished drawings of forest adventure, deerstalking, otter-hunting, salmon-spearing, and other wild sports, all so truthfully and vividly coloured as to bring the scene of each adventure palpably before the reader. They remind us of the graphic descriptions of the late Charles St. John; and the connoisseur will see at a glance, from the handling of the subject, and the touch, and the finish, that the two artists were of the same school.
The author, in his introduction, takes a brief survey of the oid forest laws in Scotland, and, among other enactments, we find one to the effect 'that no man hunt or haulk who hath not a pleugh:
of land in heritage, under the pain of an hundred pounds.' * • This last Act,' he continues, still remains upon the statute book, but it is seldom enforced, except in the case of landless persons who apply for a game certificate with the object of trespassing on the ground of others, or, in other words, poaching with impunity.
It is a curious fact that the law of qualification, which was set aside in England by the new game-law, should still exist in Scotland. In France also the porte d'armes, or permission to carry a gun, is never granted unless the applicant can show that he has land of his own, or an authorisation to shoot over that of another person; and few right-thinking people, we submit, would be disposed to find fault with such an enactment, on the score either of wisdom or justice.
An English traveller was unpleasantly made aware of the existence of this law in France, some few years ago. Proposing to shoot his way through the Pyrenees, he applied at the Mairie for the necessary porte d'armes. M. le Maire himself heard the request, and politely requested to see the traveller's permission to shoot. When he confessed his utter ignorance of such a requirement, he explained that the permission to carry arms was one thing, the law of trespass another; that the former was never granted but to those who were able to show how it could be used without infringing the latter. Utterly taken aback by this unlooked-for bar to his shooting projects (for he was a stranger in the land), the Englishman was bowing himself out, when M. le Maire, after enjoying his embarrassment for a moment, told him in the most courteous manner that he would undertake to put him within the law, by giving him leave to shoot on his property.
The French game law does not go beyond the fixing the seasons at which game may or may not be killed; the law of trespass, however, is as stringent as it is well defined. It enacts that no one shall set foot on another man's land, on any pretence, without leave of the owner, and subjects the trespasser to cumulative penalties. There are no legal fictions ; no obligation on the part of the proprietor of the ground to swear to damage, to wit, to the value of three farthings ;' no question as to the object of the trespasser, whether in pursuit of game or not. It is enough that he shall be found where he has no right to be.
One more extract from Forest Sketches,' which bears more immediately on our subject. Speaking of the good feeling existing between landlord and tenant, and the common cause made by
both against the rights asserted by the great proprietors of forests, the author says :
Then most Highland proprietors had near relations among their tenants, to whom they considered themselves bound by ties always held sacred, and who were never denied the right to shoot and kill as much game as they chose. About the end of the last and beginning of this century, some of the kinsfolk of the laird materially helped to maintain their families and retainers by means of the river and the moor, and, besides, sold game to the amount of their small rents. The game certificate now required by every sportsman had not been very long imposed, was not thought necessary, and was seldom obtained.'
It is suggestive that the word grouse does not occur in the volume before us.
In order to form a just idea of the state of the country at the time to which we refer it behoves us to take a nearer view of the Highland economy then prevailing. The population, though sparse and scanty in proportion to the immense extent of territory, was already too large for the resources of a soil by nature unproductive and intolerant of cultivation. Families huddled together in wretched cabins, exposed to all the horrors of poverty and privation, contrived with difficulty to pick up a bare subsistence. Their very ignorance of the comforts and refinements of civilised life, and the narrow bounds set to their wants, rendered them happily insensible of their condition. The strong feeling of clanship lingered yet among the people; and their affection for their loved mountain-land was hardly exceeded by their attachment to their chieftain ; these two sentiments-instincts almost in the Highlander-contributed mainly to render their state bearable.
Dr. Macculloch says :
“The Englishman, to whom the habits and feelings of this people are unknown, will be surprised that such a state of things can exist at all, and not less so to find that it is difficult to apply a remedy. He expects that the natural overflowing of people in one place will, without effort, discharge its superfluity on those where there is a deficiency. He is unacquainted with the pertinacity with which the Highlanders adhere to their place of birth, and that, it would seem, in inverse ratio to all apparent causes of attraction. At the same time, it must be remarked that the insulated state, the peculiar habits, and the language of the people present additional obstacles to migration; and that many changes, yet far distant, must be made before such a free communication can be established as shall allow it to take place, without effort and without pain, before it shall become a current part of the system of action. Any expedients which shall break through these habits and destroy these bounds will facilitate this measure, so much to be