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"THE OPENING DAY."
ENGRAVED BY J. H. ENGLEHEART, FROM A PAINTING BY
A reference to the communication of “ our own reporter," Mr. Hawthorne, will show that " the opening day" is hardly expected this year to be quite so good as usual. For a wonder, too, the northern papers even admit that the grouse are by no means so plentiful as they have been. The sportsman, then, who has made up his mind for the moors, must also prepare for far more to do. His bag may not sound so astounding when he comes to count it over, and he may altogether have his genuine love of sport rather hardly tested. There are few though, we trust, who take their shooting on the same calculation as a butcher might his sheep-at so much a head. They have something more to appreciate than just the mere amount of carnage committed-something more to enjoy when Dido gives her first signal of there being one or two, at any rate, to be accounted for on "the opening day."
THE APPROACHING GROUSE SEASON IN SCOTLAND.
D'ye like, brother sportsmen, the hills wild and free,
D'ye like, brother sportsmen, the wild moor afar,
D'ye like, brother sportsmen, the wild mountain lake,
Scotland," in the words of a popular writer on field sports, surpasses every other country of Europe in the abundance and variety of its animal life. The country seems to have been made for the production of birds, beasts, and fishes; it has every imaginable requisite for the maintenance of a prodigious number of wild animals, and every single requisite in the highest possible perfection. It has seas that teem with fish, and salt-water lochs that seem to be so disposed as to bring the finny tribe' to the very door of the human population. It has rivers of unsurpassed beauty, alternating with pool and stream, swarming with
the silvery salmon and beautifully and brightly speckled trout. It has lochs where there are large trout, burns where there are small ones; it has sea rocks, where the round-headed and half intelligent-looking seal basks lazily in the sun, and rocky shores where the otter may be seen plunging in startled haste into the briny refuge; it has cliffs, where the birds of prey hold habitation, like castled robbers watching the passage of peaceful travellers."
Yes! Scotland has mountain ranges where the red deer stalks along in his athletic pride, woods where the graceful and nimble-footed roe may be seen crossing the tender foliage. It has the mountain for the ptarmigan, the moor for the grouse, the fern brake for the blackcock, the dark pine wood for the capercailzie, the bog for the snipe, the coppice for the pheasant and woodcock, the fertile fields for the partridge, the hill for the hare, and hole for the badger; it has land fowl and water fowl, from the eagle to the teal; it has cormorants and gulls, kattiewakes and divers, long-legged herons, short-legged puffins, gannats in thousands, ducks innumerable, the raven and the glede, the curlew and the sandpiper, the plover and the oyster-catcher, and a hundred others that decorate the wild scenery of Scotland. As a game country, Scotland has certainly no equal in Europe, nor, perhaps, taking all things into consideration, has she an equal in the world. India may have her tigers, her antelopes, her wild hogs, and her prodigious variety of the true game birds. Africa may have her lions, elephants, giraffes, spring-bocs, water-bocs, blue bocs, and her countless herds of the larger objects of the chase. America her deer, buffaloes, bears, wolves, prairie hens, wood grouse, and wild turkey, water fowl, and so forth; but in all these countries the chase, for the most part, is an arduous labour, requiring a special and perhaps distant expedition, and in general separating the sportsmen, at least for the time, from amenities of civilized life. It is there not a recreation, but downright hard work, differing as much from the chase in Scotland as whale fishing differs from the dexterous capture of the silver salmon with the slender rod and artificial fly. In other countries sport may be more exciting, attended with more perils and hazards, calling forth a greater amount of daring and presence of mind; but in all that relates to elegance, convenience, and what may be termed the fine arts of the chase, Scotland is pre-eminent: her game, like her scenery, is condensed into the smallest compass, as the eye that looks on her landscape can command mountain and plain, hill and valley, sea, river, loch, and burn, leafy woods and barren moors, and all visible at once; so that the different varieties of game, following the different varieties of ground, may be found within a very short distance of each other, and may be brought to bag by the sportsman in one single day's shooting. We have known a true sportsman kill, in one single day, in Scotland, roe deer, hare, rabbit, grouse, blackcock, partridge, pheasant, woodcock, snipe, plover, wild duck, and teal. But it is not merely in variety, within limited boundaries, that Scotland excels: she surpasses all other countries in the equal distribution of her animal life. There is scarcely an acre of land in Scotland that does not produce some animal worth looking at, some feather or fur in which the sportsman or the naturalist is interested. When the Scot, fresh from his native hills, woodlands, or prolific lowlands, traverses the forests of Germany, or the plains of
France, he is struck with the singular absence of animal life. The Scottish sportsman for the most part can make a respectable bag anywhere, from the Tweed to the Orkneys, always respectable in quality, and equally so in quantity. The German, on the contrary, except in the parks where the boar and deer are enclosed, and where they are slaughtered, not hunted, displays to the astonished eyes of the Briton the result of his field practice, consisting, perhaps, of a cat, a squirrel, an owl, or a hedgehog; while the French angler, after a very fluent oration on his own skill and dexterity, electrifies the fly-fisher by the exhibition of a basket of frogs, which he has angled with a hook and bit of red cloth. The commonest feats of our own country, either in salmon fishing or grouse shooting, are absolutely incredible to the foreigner, whose most romantic exaggerations are completely extinguished by the narration of an ordinary day's sport on the moor or stream of ancient Caledonia.
Perhaps this paper may, in due course of time, meet the eye of some of our true brother sportsmen who are now "far away in a foreign land," and fighting hard the battles of their country; but among all the bloodshed and bustle of war, we know many there, who when the merry month of August comes again, will recall to memory the "many happy, happy days" they have spent on the hills. But we must hasten on to the wild face of the Grampians, and send a true report of what grouse is likely to be furnished for the approaching season on our "bonnie brown moors.'
We are sorry to be the harbinger of bad tidings; but the truth must be told; and although thousands of birds were left after the close of the last grouse-shooting season in Scotland, we are much afraid, even at this present writing (July 21st), if there are as many birds, either old or young, as were on the Grampians at the end of last season; this we are confident is not the case on the front range of the Grampians. Never was there a better appearance, as regarded the " grouse family," than in the spring months of the present year; but disease came among many of the old birds after the middle of April, and in May the heavy rain and hail storms destroyed many of the young broods. Within these last few days we have been over some well-preserved moors, and although we saw a good number of birds, they were by no means so plentiful as we would have wished or expected to have seen them after so many old birds being left to breed on the moors. In our wanderings over the mountains, it was a common occurrence to put up more barren birds than we ever remember having seen in July on the hills; then what old birds we saw that had broods were small in size, and also small in numberstwo, three, and four birds were all that could be seen in a brood. But the readers must not suppose from the above that there are NO grouse on the Grampians. What we mean to impress on the practical sportsman is, that his anticipations for the approaching grouse season will come far short of what was honestly expected from the great quantity of game left from last season on the moors. HAWTHORNE.
Grampians, 21st July, 1854.