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Francis Wharton.

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thousands of keen eyes, some 300 yards of open water :
surely no very formidable obstacle with a well-handled
craft. So we thought, and so a fair experience of ducks
and their ways at home justified us in thinking. Alas !
for misplaced confidence : hardly had our bows shot clear
of the last sheltering fringe of rush than the nearer birds
began to rise, and spread the alarm through the deep ranks
beyond. Quickly the danger-signal was communicated
to the furthest outposts : the roar of wings increased, and
in a few seconds the whole mass lifted off the water as one
might lift a carpet by the corner — not a living thing re-
mained afloat, while the heavens grew dark with quivering
pinions and gyrating clouds, and resonant with a babel of
bird-music.

Thus ended the first attempt in conspicuous failure ;
and a second, third, and fourth shared a like fate : we
were never within measurable distance of succeeding, and
began to realize that what our native fowlers had reported
was only too near the truth. It is fair to add that Vas*
quez's handling of the punt, after a few preliminary trials,
left little to be desired ; his aptitude for the new work was
surprising. He held a capital course, steered accurately to
signal, and got a ** way " on the boat that would have
satisfied Hawker.

The very numbers of the ducks proved, to some extent,



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400 WILD SPAIN.

a safeguard ; the smaller packs could occasionally be out-
manoeuvred under cover of some reed-bed — but this only
with thirties, forties, or fifties ; the area covered by the
larger bodies outflanked even the most extensive juncales.
On the open water we have never yet succeeded (though
we jhave tried a hundred times) to approach these main
armies of duck, and believe now that it cannot be done.
Why this should be so is another question, and a curious
one. The nature of the duck-tribe is the same in Spain
as in England : wherever they are found they are among
the wildest and most wary of birds. Here, however, we
had them in numbers surpassing anything we have seen on
British waters, and frequenting, too, a region which seemed
pre-eminently adapted for the use of punt and big gun.
Yet we found them, on the desolate Spanish marismas,
many- fold more inaccessible to a punt than on the harassed
and heavily-shot harbours of England. The only reason
we can suggest is that, these waters never being traversed
by boats of any kind, the fowl are inclined to avoid a
gunning-punt as readily as they do a human being.*

The impossibility of obtaining a good shot by fair means
being demonstrated, as a final resource we laid up the
punt among the sedges, at a point where the fowl were
wont to congregate. Here, at the end of two hours, we
had about a thousand birds before the gun: wigeon,
shovelers, and a few garganey, all mixed, with about a score
of pintails and three or four gad wall ; but, whether purposely
or by accident, they kept at very long range from our
sedgy shelter, and when at last, owing to a leaky seam

♦ This failure of the giinning-punt in Spain is the more inexphcable
as in Egypt — the only other southern land in which, to our knowledge,
this sport has been attempted — the very reverse was the case. An
Englishman who took out apimt to the Nile abandoned the pursuit, as
he foimd no difficulty in taking the craft to such close quarters that
he bagged fifty to sixty each shot. Similarly, Lord Londesborough
found the fowl in the Eg^'ptian lagoons so easily accessible that, after
securing 2,290 geese and 1,800 ducks in the season (sixty-four geese
being his biggest shot), he abandoned further operations as lacking
the one essential condition — that of difficulty. (Badminton Library, —
" Shooting : Moor and Marsh," pp. 261-2.)



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THE STANCHION-OUN IN SPAIN. 401

and evening coming on, we were obliged to risk a long
shot, only some six or eight duck were secured.

To complete this sketch of Spanish punt- gunning, we
will briefly narrate the incidents of two other days' sport,
as follows : — February 28th. Started at daybreak, taking
both the punt and a cahresto pony. The first shot was at
eleven teal, of which eight fell to the two barrels (12-bore) ;
the second shot realized seven more teal and a marsh-
harrier. The latter capture afforded rather a curious



'THE BITER AND THE BIT."



incident : six teal lay dead, the seventh, being a lively
cripple (which could fly some distance), I sent Vergara
after him in the punt, while we proceeded along-shore
w^ith the pony. A large hawk, however, had at once
"spotted" the cripple, and an exciting chase ensued —
the hawk making stoop after stoop, the teal as often escap-
ing by diving. But the dives grew shorter and shorter,
and at last we observed that the bird of prey had pre-
vailed, for he remained suspended betwixt wind and water

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402 WILD SPAIN.

and was evidently making good his hold. Then with
heavy flight he bore his burden straight towards where
we crouched, watching, behind the pony, and settled on the
shore. Him we then approached in the customary way,
and as the fierce-looking aguibtclw stood on his victim,
crushing out what remained of life, a charge of No. 4
secured both the biter and the hit.

Harriers are so numerous in the open marisma that four
or five may often be seen at once, slowly drifting about
over the waste, and marvellous is the speed with which
they detect a disabled fowl. With a lively cripple, it is
often a race between the human and the feathered raptor
for rights of possession, and in flight-shooting the wounded
are carried off under one's very eyes.

After another cahresto-shot, which added ten wigeon to
the bag, we reached the broad Arroyo de la Madre, which
was " paved " with wildfowl in numbers that we cannot
estimate. Mere numerals convey nothing — unless it be a
suspicion of exaggeration — and any other attempt would
only involve the use of inadmissible superlatives. SufiSce
to say that for leagues that broad water was a Uving carpet
of birds. We now entrusted our fortunes to the ** Boadicea "
and her big gun. The boat lay near the junction of a
creek with the main channel ; the nearer water was dotted
with teal, garganey, and wigeon ; a little further off, the
white livery of the shovelers was conspicuous, and beyond
again, with the glasses, we could distinguish, among acres
of wigeon, a sprinkling of pintails, gadwall, and a few
white-eyed pochard and mallard. On the slob-land in
front, fed nine spoonbills; a small herd of flamingoes
on the left, and near them a grey line of geese, whose
sonorous clamour was distinguishable above the medley of
bird-notes. Ducks, however, of all kinds are silent enough
by day.

Once more the punt proved a failure. No sooner had
she emerged from the cover of the armajos (samphire),
than the nearer teal and wigeon began swimming out,
scattering away to right and left in lines all radiating
from the focus of alarm. Ere anything like fair range



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THE STANCHION-GUN IN SPAIN. 408

was reached, not a single solid point presented itself to our
aim. Opportunities there were to kill, say, a dozen or
more, but these paltry chances were dechned without
second thought. In the result, some two or three hours*
careful work — " flattened " on our chests all the time — were
not rewarded by a single shot from the big gun.

Towards evening we observed flights of duck — chiefly
wigeon — ^pouring in constant streams towards some low
mud-islets which afforded cover for approach. Behind
these we lay for an hour, awaiting the gloaming, but the
short southern twilight proved a serious obstacle. In
the few minutes occupied in "shoving out" from our
shelter towards the floating phalanxes in front (we had
awaited the last possible moment) the light had disappeared,
and it became impossible to distinguish objects on the water,
though those in air were yet clear enough. There were,
we knew, hundreds of ducks before the gun; but the
shot — like nine-tenths of those fired at haphazard — was
a failure. Fifteen wigeon and two pintails lay dead ; the
cripples, if any, it was impossible to recover in the gloom ;
and we sadly started to " pole " the long leagues home-
wards, reflecting on the singular uncertainty of sports
mundane.

This day thus realized 42 ducks — 17 to the punt and 25
to the cabresto : though, had we followed the latter system
alone, the total would have been much heavier, while every
available chance was given to the punt-gun, which never,
imtil after dark, produced a feather.

As a contrast we will briefly outline the results of our
next day's shooting, employing the trained pony alone.
The artillery used was a single 4-bore and a double 12 : six
shots were fired, and the net result was 82 duck, besides
minor spoils. The day was perhaps more favourable, since,
March having now commenced, the fowl were congregating
into those closely-packed corros, or hordes, which mark
the preliminary stage to departure. Thus, one broadside
to-day realized 32 wigeon, and another should have done
better, but for a '* hang-fire." Still there was nothing
exceptional about the day's results. We have often much

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404 WILD SPAIN.

exceeded the total named, but select this particular day
merely because it followed in immediate sequence to that
last described.*

Since writing the above, the experience of two more
winters has served to confirm its correctness. From a
dozen or fifteen up to twenty ducks may occasionally be
secured at a shot, but the huge bodies of wildfowl on
open water remain actually inaccessible, and the visions
of heavy shots — 80 or 100 — of which we had dreamed,
no longer disturb our midnight slumbers.

=•' Our biggest shot with the cabres to -]^ome8 realized 74 ducks and
teal ; guns, a single 4- and a double 8-bore.



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405



CHAPTEE XXXVI.

DEER-DRIVING IN THE PINE FORESTS.

My Fibst Stag.

By a rush-girt glade in the heart o! the pinales, or
pine-region, stands the lonely shooting-lodge of La Maris-
miUa. The sombre forests which surround it are a chief
stronghold of the Spanish red deer, which find shelter in
the abundant underwood and rich pasturage in the grassy
dells. The wild pig prefers the more isolated thickets which
lie towards the outskirts of the forest.

The system generally adopted for shooting the forest-
deer is *' driving." The sylvan geography of these great
JGureas of -pines, devoid to a stranger of landmark, point, or
path, is intimately known to the foresters, who mentally
map out the whole into sections for the purpose of the batida,
or drive. The exact boundaries of each section vary, of
course; from day to day in accordance with the wind ; for
the red deer is gifted with a fine sense of smell, and in-
stantly detects the human presence when '^ betwixt the
wind and his nobility." Perhaps the readiest means of
conveying an idea of this sport of forest-driving will be to
relate the vicissitudes that befell the writer before succeed-
ing in bagging his first stag.

My first puesto^ or post, was in the face of a sand-ridge
clad with tall pines, and there were, I think, three guns on
my right, four on the left. All these, even my nearest neigh-
bours (200 yards away), were of course invisible amidst the
broken ground and masses of brushwood which intervened ;
and their positions were only approximately indicated by



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406 WILD SPAIN.

sundry long lines traced in the sandy soil by the gun-stock of
the old forester, Juan Espinal, before leaving me at my post.
These lines served to indicate both the positions of the
adjoining guns, and also the limits within which a shot
might not be fired. It is obviously a paramount necessity
in this class of shooting never to shoot forward — i.e., into
the beat ; the game must be allowed to pass right through
and well clear of the line before a shot can be thought of :
a circumstance which adds vastly to the difficulty of
placing one's bullets on the right spot.

The first thing when one is left alone in the solitude of
the forest is to survey carefully one's field of action, to
consider all possible contingencies, and prepare accordingly ;
the most essential point being so to place oneself as to
see without being seen.* My first impression, in this case^
was one of wonder as to where I could possibly place a
bullet at all. My post, as already mentioned, was in the
face of a ridge, or rather in a hillock forming part of
the ridge, and having a deep pass on either hand. Thus
the receding ground sloped away so as to disappear from
sight just at the entrances of the passes, forty or fifty
yards away. In short, the possible lines of fire intersected*
the probable course of the deer, if any came, at exactly
the point at which I should lose sight of them altogether.
It was unsafe to move my position backwards, and in front
I could find no convenient cover; so returning to my
allotted post, I bethought myself to record my fears, and
plot out the situation in my pocket-book. Then I settled
down in the small redoubt of cut bushes I had put together,
and waited* The sohtude of the forest was dehcious, and the
silence only broken by the gentle fluttering of some small
birds in the pines overhead. Continually there fell upon

* The following note, being made from experience and on the spoti
may be worth inserting : — In driving large game of any kind, be care-
ful to make a good screen : there is always time to build up a breast-
work either of branches, or rocks, or snow, or whatever the material .
at hand may be. If placed behind a thick bush, cut a deep nick into it
with the hmiting-knife, so that one stands tvell haclc — i.e., right into the
bush, and appears to form an integral part thereof. How glad one id
of these little precautions when game appears !



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DEBR-DRIVINO IN THE PINE FORESTS. 407

and around me small objects from above — it was a party
of hawfinches peltmg me with scales of pine-cones, broken
oflf in their search for seeds. These and the crossbills are
shy and wild, and, except on such occasions whw unaware
of one's presence, seldom allow of approach. For half an
hour I watched their active movements, the tree-creepers
and fire-crests, and the antics of a «mall animal, I think a
genet, that was performing fantastic feats on a sunny knoll
in front : meanwhile the distant shouts of the beaters were
becoming more distinct, and at last I thought I could
recognize the excited cry of ¥a val ya va / — there he goes !
The genet vanished down a burrow, the birds ceased to
pelt me, and a few moments later, to my excited eyes, the
whole green expanse of juniper and heath-scrub before me
appeared alive with great tawny beasts, all bounding for-
ward directly towards my position. As the deer approached
the hillocks I observed that a specially fine stag, with two
smaller ones and some hinds, would pass on my right,
while three more stags were making for the pass on the
left. I concentrated all attention on the first, which slowly
trotted past my front within thirty yards ; but, as I had
foreseen, had already more than half disappeared ere he
reached the firing point and my bullet sped towards him ;
then, turning sharp round, I sent the second barrel at the
last of the other three stags, just bounding from sight into
the deep pass on the left. The results were of course
invisible ; both were snap-shots, but I thought I had laid
on true, and was musing on the possibilities, more than half
incUned to be ecstatic at having, or believing I had, really
" pulled oflf " a clean right and left in my first interview
with the Spanish red deer, when a rustling in the brush-
wood in front disturbed these happy cogitations, and
another stag with three hinds appeared. They came
forward quite slowly, evidently suspicious of danger ahead,
and stopping at intervals to look back towards the noisy
beaters. They rose my hillock at a foot's pace, the stag
leading — an eight-pointer— and at last stood actually within
five yards. There was, in fact, nothing between us but
the single pine and the slight breastwork of bushes I had,



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408 WILD SPAIN.

built up as a screen. The stag stood for some seconds
gazing backwards over his shoulder ; then, as he turned to
advance, he caUght sight of me crouching beneath the
junipers, almost under his nose — and the bound he took
at that instant was a sight to remember. Away they
dashed, all four, straight along the line of guns ; but,
turning outwards, shortly after leaving my sight, the
stag fell to the rifle of my next neighbour.

Then the beaters came up, and eagerly we went oflf to ex-
amine the result of my two shots. Alas ! no ingentia corpora
lay there, and on following their tracks for some distance,
it was quite clear that both stags had escaped scatheless.
The only relief to deep disappointment was that little
memorandum I had made beforehand, foretelling the
catastrophe, which was indeed more attributable to an ill-
judged position than to any want of care.

Then, shortly afterwards, when I did manage to place
my bullet in a fine stag of fourteen points, a wide and
splendid head, the coveted trophy was again lost to me by
the rules of sport, owing to the fact that another leaden
messenger had preceded mine. This stag passed through
the line far to my right, receiving a shot in the stomach
as he passed, the effect being to turn him to me, and he
passed at full speed not thirty yards behind. A ball
through the heart rolled him over; but the first wound, in
his left side, was unquestionably fatal. After this, for a
long time, no luck fell to my share ; only hinds broke near
inypiiestoHy and, though they were most interesting objects,
with their timorous graceful movements, their great supple
ears inflected hither and thither, and large affectionate
eyes, which gave me infinite pleasure to watch, yet they
were not available quarry, and passed on unmolested. One
hind, which passed within ten yards, was followed (January
8th) by a tiny fawn. Occasionally a stag came forward,
cautiously feeling his way, step by step, to make sure
of avoiding danger ahead ; but these always managed
to detect something in time, and broke back, or passed
through at some other point. One of these stood for some
seconds almost within touch, only a thick bush between us,



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DEER-DRIVING IN THE PINE FORESTS. 409

and others had all bat reached the fatal line ere they
bhanged then* coarse.

One chance, however, I certainly lost by my own fault.
A bazzard came sailing along the pine-tops towards
me ; I was posted on a small plateau crowning an
isolated hillock, and overlooking a sea of dark green
pines. Promiscuous shooting is, of course, debarred ; but
the hatida was nearly finished; I had seen the beaters
cross a ridge wdthin a quarter-mile, and determined to
have the hawk. Just as the buzzard approached a fair
range, I observed that a good stag had ascended my
hillock, and for some twenty yards ran in full view.
Then he dropped down from sight just before it was
possible for me to exchange guns. A downright bungle !
I would fain have hidden my disgrace in silence, but
it is a distressing feature of sport on this tell-tale sandy
soil, that it is impossible to conceal or to mitigate
one's *^ chamhonadas*' — call them misfortunes. Nothing
moves but leaves behind it an indelible mark, and no
mark ever escapes the keen eyes of the forest-guards.
**Look here!" exclaims Anillo, "here has passed a
good stag — aqui ha pasado nn huen vetiado ! ** why did
not his worship fire ? " Why indeed !

Some days passed and I began to fear the campaign
might close without a change in my luck. Nor were
these deep forests particularly interesting omithologically :
at first sight they appeared rather devoid of bird-life —
that is in winter : we have often ridden for hours without
seeing more than a few ravens or a kite. Among the
thick bushy tops of the stone-pines were the hawfinches
and crossbills, with a few other species, but these were
remarkably shy and difficult of approach. On afternoons
when our ** drives " were finished before dark, I took the
opportunity of trying to obtain some of the forest-haunting
birds; but in this a singular difficulty occurred. In
Andalucia the sun gives us an hour or two more of his
company than on a winter's day at home. All day long he
shines in a blue and cloudless sky ; but when he sets, it is
night. Hardly has his rim sunk behind the distant pines



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410 WILD SPAIN.

than it is dark, and the nocturnal concert of frogs and owls
has commenced ; a clear, strangely deceptive darkness, for
on the ground one cannot see to shoot a rabbit or a low-
flying woodcock, yet overhead it is still light, and day is
prolonged for half an hour more. The sunset effects on
the western skies are gorgeous displays of rich colour, and
even in the east there is a rosy reflection which rapidly
fades away.

But there is none of that pleasant half-light we enjoy in
our northern clime. The transition from day to night is
startlingly sudden, twilight lasting only a few minutes.
The feathered race is well aware of this and prepare for
the event by going to roost a full half-hour before sun-
down. One of the first signs of approaching night is the
flight of the ravens. Perhaps one has not realized the fact
that the day is far spent, and is cmunded of it by their dark
files slowly crossing the heavens towards their roosting-
places while it is yet broad daylight. The same habit is
observable with the smaller birds. All day long they haTe
been abundant enough ; but during the last half-hour of
daylight not one is to be seen, and when their retreat is
eventually found they are buried, some in the pine-tops,
others in thickets of myrtle or lentiscus-scrub — fast asleep
in daylight. Hence these half-hours at dusk produced but
little. One evening, while wandering among the pines, a
buzzard dipped down from a lower branch and silently sped
away till a shot in the wing brought him down. This bird
proved to be one of the remarkably handsome pale varieties
of Buteo rnkfaris, the whole plumage of a warm cream-
colour, slightly mottled and splashed above with dark
brown ; irides dark and claws white. My brothers (H.
and A.) obtained buzzards in somewhat similar plumage in
Germany (adults, shot at the nest) in the spring of 1878,
but I have not otherwise met with the variety in Spain, the
Spanish type being generally dark. Waiting on the line
of the raveii's flight, I dropped a pair of these birds : and
shortly afterwards observed two very large tawny-coloured
eagles flap heavily into a pine, but failed to approach
within shot, or anything like it.



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DEER-DRTVING IN THE PINE FORESTS. 411

To return to our deer, and the delightful days spent
among the pinales, revelling in the lovely winter weather.
Luck at length returned : after a long day, during



SPANISH GUNS.



which several stags and one pig had been bagged,
we reached a small manclia known a« **E1 Eincon del
Cerro Trigo." This was a small. beat, and the last of the



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412 WILD SPAIN.

day ; nor was it expected to be productive, as our beaters
on a former drive must have skirted the outer edge of the
Eincon. My position was on the brink of a steep sand-
slope, perhaps fifty feet in height, its summit level with
the tops of the pines in the mancha below. Outside there
stretched away open barrens, some small corrales alone
serving to break the monotony of utter desolation. Hardly-
expecting a shot, I was sitting idly under cover of a bushy
pine-top which protruded, half-deawi, from the verge of the
steep descent, when a hind mounted the slope and broke close
at hand. This aroused me, and a few seconds later she was
followed by two stags — eight-pointers — slowly crossing out
over the open, a lovely shot. They were only fifty yards oflF ;
but, owing to the irregular outline of the mancha, my posi-
tion was somewhat embayed, and it was necessary to give
the stags extra law to clear that part of our line which bent
backwards. I watched them traverse nearly fifty yards



Online LibraryFrancis WhartonWharton and Stillé's medical jurisprudence .. → online text (page 31 of 36)