(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "The confessions of a poacher"

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2007 with funding from 

IVIicrosoft Corporation 



http://www.archive.org/details/confessionsofpoaOOwatsrich 



" Poaching is one of the fine arts — how ^ fine ' only 
the initiated know." 




THE SOUIRE S KEEPER. 



^he 




of a 




EDITED BY 

JOHN WATSON, F.L.S., 

Author of " Nature and Woodcraft," " Sylvan Folk," &c., &c. 
ILLUSTRATED BY 

JAMES WEST. 

LONDON: 
The Leadenhall Prefs, 50, Leadenhall Street, E.G. 

Stmpkm, ^Mar shall ^ Hamilton^ Kent & Co., Ltd'. 
V^ew York : Scribner & Welford, J43 & J4S^ Broadway. 

1890. 



^M^ 




The Leadenhall Press, 
50, leadenhall street, london, e.c. 

T 4,463. 



W3 



EDITORIAL NOTE. 



^w^ 



IS no im- 



r /\^^HE poacher of these " Confessions " ij 
\Ag/ aginary being. In the following pages I have 
^''*' — ^ set down nothing but what has come within 
his own personal experience ; and, although the little book 
is full of strange inconsistencies, I cannot, knowing the man, 
call them by a harder name. Nature made old " Phil " 
a Poacher, but she made him a Sportsman and a 
Naturalist at the same time. I never met any man 
who was in closer sympathy with the wild creatures 
about him ; and never dog or child came within his 
influence but what was permanently attracted by his 
personality. Although eighty years of age there is still 
some of the old erectness in his carriage ; some of the 
old fire in his eyes. As a young man he was handsome, 
though now his features are battered out of all original 
conception. His silvery hair still covers a lion-like head, 
and his tanned cheeks are hard and firm. If his life has 
been a lawless one he has paid heavily for his wrong 
doings. Great as a poacher, he must have been great 
whatever he had been. In my boyhood he was the 
hero whom I worshipped, and I hardly know that I 
have gone back on my loyalty. 



ivi313145 



CONTENTS. 



CHAPTER, PAGE. 

1. The Embryo Poacher 7 

2. Under the Night - - - - - 19 

3. Graduating in Woodcraft - - - - 32 

4. Partridge Poaching 45 , 

5. Hare Poaching 57 

6. Pheasant Poaching 74 

7. Salmon and Trout Poaching - - _ 90 

8. Grouse Poaching- - - - - - 109 

9. Rabbit Poaching 123 

10. Tricks 1^5 

11. Personal Encounters - - - - - 151 



THE 
CONFESSIONS OF A POACHER. 




r 



if^'Sr^ 



Q\aprer" 




The Embryo Poacher. 

T/^^0 not remember the time when I was 
C 1^ not a poacher ; and if I may say so, I 
beUeve our family has always had a 
genius for woodcraft. 

I was bred on the outskirts of a sleepy 
town in a good game country, and my depre- 
dations were mostly when the Game Laws 



8 The Confessions of a Poacher. 

were less rigorously enforced than now. Our 
home was roughly adorned in fur and feather, 
and a number of gaunt lurchers always 
constituted part of the family. An almost 
passionate love of nature, summers of birds' 
nesting, and a life spent almost wholly out of 
doors constituted an admirable training for an 
embryo poacher. If it is true that poets are 
born, not made, it is equally so of poachers. 
The successful ^'moucher" must be an inborn 
naturalist — must have much in common with 
the creatures of the fields and woods around 
him. 

There is a miniature bird and animal fauna 
which constitutes as important game to the 
young poacher as any he is likely to come 
across in after life. There are mice, shrews, 
voles, for all of which he sets some primitive 
snare and captures. The silky-coated moles 
in their runs offer more serious work, and 
being most successfully practised at night, 
offers an additional charm. Then there are 
the red-furred squirrels which hide among the 
delicate leaves of the beeches and run up their 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 9 \ 

grey boles — fairy things that oflfer an endless 

subject of delight to any young savage, and ! 
their capturing draws largely upon his inventive 

genius. A happy hunting ground is furnished j 

by farmers who require a lad to keep the birds I 
from their young wheat or corn, as when their 

services are required the country is all like a ^ 

garden. At this time the birds seem creatures ' 

born of the sun, and not only are they seen in ; 
their brightest plumage, but when indulging in 

all their love frolics. By being employed by ' 

the farmers the erstwhile poacher is brought \ 
right into the heart of the land, and the know- 
ledge of woodcraft and rural life he there 
acquires is never forgotten. As likely as not 

a ditch runs by the side of the wheat "\ 

fields, and here the water-hen leads out : 

her brood. To the same spot the birds come j 

at noon to indulge their mid- day siesta^ and in j 

the deep hole at the end of the cut a shoal of ' 

silvery roach fall and rise towards the warm ' 
sunlight. Or a brook, which is a tiny trout 

stream, babbles on through the meadows and \ 

pastures, and has its attractions too. A stream \ 

B3 ; 



lo The Confessions of a Poacher. 



is always the chief artery of the land, as in it 
are found the life-giving elements. All the 
birds, all the plants, flock to its banks, and its 
wooded sides are hushed by the subdued hum 
of insects. There are tall green brackens — 
brackens unfurling their fronds to the light, 
and full of the atoms of beautiful summer. At 
the bend of the stream is a lime, and you may 
almost see its glutinous leaves unfolding to 
the light. Its winged flowers are infested with 
bees. It has a 
dead bough al- 
most at the bot- 
tom of its bole, 
and upon it there 
sits a grey-brown 
bird. Ever and 
anon it darts 
for a moment, 
hovers over the 
stream, and then returns to its perch. A 
hundred times it flutters, secures its insect 
prey, and takes up its old position on the 
stump. Bronze fly, bluebottle, and droning 




l^he Confessions of a ^Poacher, 13 

iDee are secured alike, for all serve as food 
to the loveable pied fly-catcher. 

It is the time of the bloom of the first June 
rose ; and here, by the margin of the wood, all 
the ground by fast falling blossom is littered. 
Every blade teems with life, and the air is in- 
stinct with the very breath of being. Birds' 
sounds are coming from over and under — from 
bough and brake, and a harmonious discord is 
flooded from the neighbouring copse. The 
oak above my head is a murmurous haunt of 
summer wings, and wood pigeons coo from 
the beeches. The air is still, and summer is 
on my cheek ; arum, wood-sorrel, and celan- 
dine mingle at my feet. The starlings are 
half buried in the fresh green grass, their 
metallic plumage flashing in the sun. Cattle 
are lazily lying dotted over the meadows, and 
the stream is done in a setting of green and 
gold. Swallows, skimming the pools, dip in 
the cool water, and are gone — leaving a sweet 
commotion in ever widening circles long after 
they have flown. A mouse-like creeper alights 
at the foot of a thorn, and runs nimbly up the 



14 The Confessions of a Poacher. 

bark ; midway it enters a hole in which is its 
nest. A garrulous blue-winged jay chatters 
from the tall oak, and purple rooks are picking 
among the corn. Butterflies dally through the 
warm air, and insects swarm among the leaves 
and flowers of the hedge bottoms. A crake 
calls, now here, now far out yonder. Blue- 
bells carpet the wood-margin, and the bog is 
bright with marsh plants. 

This, then, is the workshop of the young 
poacher, and here he receives his first im- 
pressions. Is it strange that a mighty yearning 
springs up within him to know more of nature's 
secrets ? He finds himself in a fairy place, 
and all unconsciously drinks in its sweets. See 
him now deeply buried in a golden flood of 
marsh marigolds ! See how he stands spell- 
bound before saxifrages which cling to a 
dripping rock. Water avens, wild parsley, 
and campions crowd around him, and flags 
of the yellow and purple iris tower over all. 
He watches the doings of the reed-sparrows 
deep down in the flags, and sees a water-ouzel 
as it rummages among the pebbles at the 



The Confessions of a T^oacher. 15 

bottom of the brook. The larvae of caddis 
flies, which cover the edge of the stream, are 
a curious mystery to him, and he sees the 
kingfisher dart away as a bit of green hght. 
Small silvery trout, which rise in the pool, 
tempt him to try for them with a crooked pin, 
and even now with success. He hears the 
cuckoos crying and calling as they fly from 
tree to tree, and quite unexpectedly finds the 
nest of a yellow-hammer, between a willow 
and the bank, containing its curiouly speckled 
eggs. 

Still the life, and the ''hush," and the 
breath go on. Everything breathes, and 
moves, and has its being ; the things of the 
day are the essence thereof. On the margin 
of the wood are a few young pines, their deli- 
cate plumes just touched with the loveliest 
green. An odour of resinous gum is wafted 
from them, and upon one of the slender sprays 
a pair of diminutive goldcrests have hung their 
procreant cradle. These things are enough to 
win any young Bohemian to their ways, 
and although as yet they only comprise ''the 



1 6 The Confessions of a Poacher. 

country," soon their wondrous detail lures 
their lover on, and he seeks to satisfy the 
thirst within him by night as well as by day. 

Endless acquaintances are to ' be made 
in the fields, and those of the most pleasur- 
able description. Nests containing young 
squirrels can be found in the larch tree tops, 
and any domestic tabby will suckle these 
delightful playthings. Young cushats and 
cushats' eggs can be obtained from their 
wicker-like nests, and sold in the villages. A 
prickly pet may be captured in a hedgehog 
trotting off through the long grass, and colo- 
nies of young wild rabbits may be dug from 
the mounds and braes. The skin of every 
velvety mole is one patch nearer the accom- 
plishment of a warm, furry vest for winter, 
and this, if the pests of which it is comprised 
are the owner's taking, is worn with pardonable 
pride. A moleskin vest constitutes a gradua- 
tion in woodcraft so to speak. Sometimes a 
brace of leverets are found in a tussocky grass 
clump, but these are more often allowed to 
remain than taken. And there are almost 



The Confessions of a T^oacher. 1 7 



innumerable captures to be made among the 
feathered as well as furred things of the fields 
and woods. Chaffinches are taken in nooses 
among the corn, as are larks and buntings. 
Crisp cresses from the springs constitute an 
important source of income, and the embrowned 
nuts of autumn a harvest in themselves. It is 
during his early days of working upon the 
r^ p^ ^ . land that the erstwhile 
poacher learns of the 
rain-bringing tides ^ 
of the time of 
migration of 
birds; of the 
evening gambol- 
ing of hares ; of 
the coming to- 
gether of the 
partridge to 
roost ; of the 
spawning of 
salmon and 
trout ; and a hun- 
dred other scraps 




1 8 The Confessions of a T^oacher, 

of knowledge which will serve him in good 
stead in his subsequent protest against the 
Game Laws. 

Almost every young rustic who develops into 
a poacher has some such outdoor education as 
that sketched above. He has about him 
much ready animal ingenuity, and is capable 
of almost infinite resource. His snares and 
lines are constructed with his pocket knife, out 
of material he finds ready to hand in the woods. 
He early learns to imitate the call of the game 
birds, so accurately as to deceive even the 
birds themselves ; and his weather-stained 
clothes seem to take on themselves the duns 
and browns and olives of the woods. A child 
brought up in the lap of Nature is invariably 
deeply marked with her impress, and we shall 
see to what end she has taught him. 




p t ^r 2 




Under the Night. 

Now came still evening on, and twilight gray 
Had in her sober liv'ry all things clad. 

H6C^ the embryo poacher has once 
tasted the forbidden fruits of the 
land — and it matters not if his 
game be but field-mice and squirrels — there is 
only one thing wanting to win him completely 
to Nature's ways. This is that he shall see 
her sights and hear her sounds under the night. 
There is a charm about the night side of nature 
that the town dweller can never know. I 



20 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

have been once in London, and well re- 
member what, as a country lad, impressed me 
most. It was the fact that I had, during the 
small hours of the morning, stood alone on 
London Bridge. The great artery of life was 
still ; the pulse of the city had ceased to beat. 
Not a moving object was visible. Although 
bred among the lonely hills, I felt for the 
first time that this was to be alone ; that 
this was solitude. I felt such a sense as 
Macaulay's New Zealander may experience 
when he sits upon the ruins of the same stu- 
pendous structure ; and it was then for the 
first time I knew whence the inspiration, and 
felt the full force and realism of a line I had 
heard, '^ O God ! the very houses seemed to 
sleep." I could detect no definite sound, only 
that vague and distant hum that for ever 
haunts and hangs over a great city. Then 
my thoughts flew homeward (to the fells and 
upland fields, to the cold mists by the river, to 
the deep and sombre woods). I had never ob- 
served such a time of quiet there ; no absolute 
and general period of repose. There was. 



The Confessions of a T^oacher. 21 

always something abroad, 
some creature of the 
fields or woods, which 
by its voice or move- 
ments was betrayed. 
Just as in an old ram- 
bling house there 
are always strange 
noises that cannot 
be accounted for, so 
in the night-paths of 
nature there are in- 
numerable sounds which can never be localised. 
To those, however, who pursue night avocations 
in the country, there are always calls and cries 
which bespeak life as animate under the night 
as that of the day. This is attributable to 
various animals and birds, to beetles, to night- 
flying insects, even to fish ; and part of the 
education of the young poacher is to track 
these sounds to their source. 

I have said that our family was a family of 
poachers. The old instinct was in us all, 
though I believe that the same wild spirit 




22 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 



which drove us to the the moor and covert at 
night was only the same as was strongly im- 
planted in the breast of Lord , our 

neighbour, who was a legitimate sportsman 
and a Justice of the Peace. If we were not 
allowed to see much real poaching when 

we were young 
we saw a good 
deal of the pre- 
parations for it. 
As the leaves 
began to turn in 
autumn there 
was great activ- 
ity in our old 
home among 
nets and snares. 
When wind and 
feather were 
a vourable, 
late after- 
noon brought home my father, and his wires 
and nets were already spread on the clean 
sanded floor. There was a peg to sharpen, or 




The Confessions of a Poacher. 23 

a broken mesh to mend. Every now and then 
he would look out on the darkening night, 
always directing his glance upward. The two 
dogs would whine impatiently to be gone, and 
in an hour, with bulky pockets, he would start, 
striking right across the land and away from 
the high road. The dogs would prick out 
their ears on the track, but stuck doggedly to 
his heels ; and then, as we watched, the dark- 
ness would blot him out of the landscape, and 
we turned with our mother to the fireside. In 
summer we saw little but the '' breaking " of 
the lurchers. These dogs take long to train, 
but, when perfected, are invaluable. All the 
best lurchers are the produce of a cross 
between the sheep-dog and greyhound, a 
combination which secures the speed and si- 
lence of the one, and the ''nose " of the other. 
From the batches of puppies we always saved 
such as were rough-coated, as these were 
better able to stand the exposure of long, 
cold nights. In colour the best are fawn or 
brown — some shade which assimilates well to 
the duns and browns and yellows of the fields 



24 T^he Confessions of a T^oacher. 

and woods ; but our extended knowledge of 
the dogs came in after years. 

The oak gun-rack in our old home con- 
tained a motley collection of fowling pieces, 
mostly with the barrels filed down. This was 
that the pieces might be more conveniently 
stowed away in the pocket until it was 
policy to have them out. The guns showed 
every graduation in age, size, and make, and 
among them was an old flint-lock which had 
been in the family for generations. This heir- 
loom was often surreptitiously stolen away, 
and then we were able to bring down larger 
game. Wood pigeons were waited for in the 
larches, and shot as they came to roost. The 
crakes were called by the aid of a small 
'' crank," and shot as they emerged from the 
lush summer grass. Large numbers of green 
plover were bagged from time to time, and 
often in winter we had a chance at their grey 
cousins, the whistling species. Both these fed 
in the water-meadows through winter, and 
the former were always abundant. In 
spring, ''trips" of rare dotterel often led us 



7 he Confessions of a Poacher. 25 

about the higher hills for days, and sometimes 
we had to stay all night on the mountain. 
Then we were up with the first gray light in 
the morning, and generally managed to bring 
down a few birds. The feathers of these are 
extremely valuable for fishing, and my father 
invariably supplied them to the county justices 
who lived near us. He trained a dog to hunt 
dotterel, and so find their nests, and in this 
was most successful — more so than an emi- 
nent naturalist who spent five consecutive 
summers about the summits of our highest 




mountains, though without ever coming across 
a nest or seeing the birds. Sometimes we 
bagged a gaunt heron as it flapped heavily from 



C2 



26 The Confessions of a Poacher. 

a ditch — a greater fish poacher than any in the 
country side. One of our great resorts on 
winter evenings was to an island which bor- 
dered a disused mill-dam. This was thickly 
covered with aquatic vegetation, and to it 
came teal, mallard, and poachard. All through 
the summer we had worked assiduously at a 
small '^ dug-out," and in this we waited, snugly 
stowed awav behind a willow root. When the 
ducks appeared on the sky-line the old flint- 
lock was out, a sharp report tore the darkness^ 
and a brace of teal or mallard floated down 
stream, and on to the mill island. In this way 
half a dozen ducks would be bagged, and, dead 
or dying, they were left where they fell, and 
retrieved next morning. Sometimes big game 
was obtained in the shape of a brace of geese, 
which proved themselves the least wary of a 
flock ; but these only came in the severest 
weather. 

Cutting the coppice, assisting the charcoal 
burners, or helping the old woodman — all gave 
facilities for observing the habits of game, and 
none of these opportunities were missed. In 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 27 

this way we were brought right into the heart 
of the land, and our evil genius was hardly 
suspected. An early incident in the woods is 
worth recording. I have already said that we 
took snipe and woodcock by means of '' gins " 
and '' springes," and one morning on going to 
examine a snare, we discovered a large buzzard 
near one which was '' struck." The bird en- 
deavoured to escape, but, being evidently held 
fast, could not. A woodcock had been taken 
in one of our snares, which, while fluttering, 
had been seen and attacked by the buzzard. 
Not content, however, with the body of the 
woodcock, it had swallowed a leg also, around 
which the nooze was drawn, and the limb was 
so securely lodged in its stomach that no force 
which the bird could exert could withdraw it. 
The gamekeepers would employ us to take 
hedgehogs, which we did in steel traps baited 
with eggs. These prickly little animals were 
justly blamed for robbing pheasants' nests, and 
many a one paid the penalty for so doing. 
We received so much per head for the capture of 
these, as also for moles which tunnelled the 



28 The Confessions of a Poacher, 

banks of the water meadows. Being injurious 
to the stream sides and the young larches, the 
farmers were anxious to rid these ; and one 
summer we received a commission to exercise 
our knowledge of field-craft against them. But 
in the early days our greatest successes were 
among the sea ducks and wildfowl which 
haunted the marram-covered flats and ooze 
banks of an inland bay a few miles from our 
home. Mention of our capturing the sea 
birds brings to mind some very early rabbit 
poaching. At dusk the rabbits used to come 
down from the woods, and on to the sandy sa- 
line tracts to nibble the short sea grass. As 
twilight came we used to lie quiet among the 
rocks and boulders, and, armed with the old 
flint-lock, knock over the rabbits as soon as 
they had settled to feed. But this was only 
tasting the delights of that first experience in 
^' fur " which was to become so widely de- 
veloped in future years. Working a duck 
decoy — when we knew where we had the 
decoyman — was another profitable night ad- 
venture, which sometimes produced dozens 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 29 

of delicate teal, mallard and widgeon. Another 
successful method of taking seafowl was by 
the ^^fly" or '^ring" net. When there was 
but little or no moon these were set across 
the banks last covered by the tide. The 
nets were made of fine thread, and hung 
on poles from ten to twenty yards apart. Care 
had to be taken to do this loosely, so as to give 
the nets plenty of '' bag." Sometimes we had 
these nets hung for half a mile along the mud 
flats, and curfew, whimbrel, geese, ducks, and 
various shore-haunting birds were taken in 
them. Sometimes a bunch of teal, flying down 
wind, would break right through the net and 
escape. This, however, was not a frequent 
occurrence. 

There is one kind of poaching, which, as a 
lad, I was forbidden, and I have never indulged 
in it from that day to this. This was ^gg 
poaching. In our own district it was carried 
on to a large extent, though I never heard 
of it until the artificial rearing of game 
came in. The squire's keeper will give six- 
pence each for pheasants' eggs, and fourpence 



30 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

for those of partridges. I know for certain 
that he often buys eggs (unknowingly, of 
course) from his master's preserves as well as 
those of his neighbours. In the hedge bottom, 
along the covert side, or among broom and 
gorse, the farm labourer notices a pair of 
partridges roaming morning after morning. 
Soon he finds their oak-leaf nest and olive 
eggs. These the keeper readily buys, winking 
at what he knows to be dishonest. Plough- 
boys and farm labourers have peculiarly fa- 
vourable opportunities for tgg poaching. As 
to pheasants' eggs, if the keeper be an honest 
man and refuses to buy, there are always large 
town dealers who will. Once in the coverts 
pheasants' eggs are easily found. The birds 
get up heavily from their nests, and go away 
with a loud whirring of wings. In this species 
of poaching women and children are largely 
employed, and at the time the former are os- 
tensibly gathering sticks, the latter wild flowers. 
I have known the owner of the '^ smithy," who 
was the receiver in our village, send to London 
in the course of a week a thousand eggs, every 



The Confessions of a T^oacher. 31 

one of them gathered off the neighbouring 
estates. 

When I say that I never indulged in Qgg 
poaching I do not set up for being any better 
than my neighbours. I had been forbidden to 
do it as a lad because my father give it 
the ugly name of thieving, and it had never 
tempted me aside. It was tame work at best, 
and there was none of the exhilarating fascin- 
ation about it that I found in going after the 
game birds themselves. 






t^rir^^j^^i?^^; 




■Kz r. 




Graduating in Woodcraft. 

We hear the cry 

Of their voices high, 
FaUing dreamily through the sky ; 

But their forms we cannot see. 

flUST as the sportsman loves '^ rough 
V^ shooting," so the poacher invariably 
chooses wild ground for his depre- 
dations. There is hardly a sea-parish in the 
country which has not its shore shooter, its 
poacher, and its fowler. Fortunately for my 
graduation in woodcraft I fell in with one of the 
latter at the very time I most needed his in- 
structions. As the '' Snig," as I was generally 
called, was so passionately fond of '' live" 
things, old '' Kittiwake " was quite prepared to 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 33 

be companionable. Although nearly three 
score years and ten divided our lives, there 
was something in common between us. Love 
of being abroad beneath the moon and stars ; 
of wild wintry skies ; of the weird cries that 
came from out the darkness — love of every- 
thing indeed that pertained to the night side 
of nature. What terrible tales of the sands 
and marshes the old man would tell as we sat 
in his turf-covered cottage, listening to the 
lashing storm and driving water without. Oc- 
casionally we heard sounds of the Demon 
Huntsman and his Wish-hounds as they crossed 
the wintry skies. If Kittiwake knew, he would 
never admit that these were the wild swans 
coming from the north, which chose the 
darkest nights for their migration. When my 
old tutor saw that I was already skilled in the 
use of *' gins " and '' springes," and sometimes 
brought in a snipe or woodcock, his old 
eyes glistened as he looked upon the marsh- 
birds. It was on one such occasion, pleased 
at my success, that he offered what he had 
never offered to mortal — to teach me the whole 



34 T^he Confessions of a T^oacher. 

art of fowling. I remember the old man as he 
lay on his heather bench when he made this 
magnanimous offer. In appearance he was a 
splendid type of a northern yeoman, his face 
fringed with silvery hair, and cut in the finest 
features. One eye was bright and clear even 
at his great age, though the other was rheumy, 
and almost blotted out. He rarely undressed 
at nights, his outward garb seemed more 
a production of nature than of art, and was 
changed, when, like the outer cuticle of the 
marsh vipers, it sloughed off. It was only in 
winter that the old man lived his lonely life on 
the mosses and marshes, for during the summer 
he turned from fowler to fisher, or assisted in 
the game preserves. The haunts and habits of 
the marsh and shore birds he knew by heart, 
and his great success in taking them lay in the 
fact that he was a close and accurate observer. 
He would watch the fowl, then set his nets and 
noozes by the light of his acquired knowledge. 
These things he had always known, but it was 
in summer, when he was assisting at pheasant 
rearing, that he got to know all about game 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 35 

in fur and feather. He noted that the hand- 
some cock pheasants always crowed before 
they flew up to roost ; that in the evening the 
partridges called as they came together in the 
grass lands ; and he watched the ways of the 
hares as they skipped in the moonlight. These 
things we were wont to discuss when wild 
weather prevented our leaving the hut ; and 
all our plans were tested by experiment before 
they were put into practice. It was upon 
these occasions, too, that the garrulous old 
man would tell of his early life. That was the 
time for fowl ; but now the plough had in- 
vaded the sea-birds' haunt. He would tell of 
immense flocks of widgeon, of banks of brent 
geese, and clouds of dunlin. Bitterns used to 
boom and breed in the bog, and once, though 
only once, a great bustard was shot. In his 
young days Kittiwake had worked a decoy, as 
had his father and grandfather before him ; 
and when any stray fowler or shore-shooter 
told of the effect of a single shot of their big 
punt-guns, he would cap their stories by 
going back to the days of decoying. Although 



2)6 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

decoying had almost gone out, this was the 
only subject that the old man was reticent 
upon, and he surrounded the craft with 
all the mystery he was able to conjure up. 
The site of his once famous decoy was now 
drained, and in summer ruddy corn waved 
above it. Besides myself, Kittiwake's sole 
companion on the mosses was an old shaggy 
galloway, and it was ahnost as 'eccentric and 
knowing as its master. So great was the num- 
ber of gulls and terns that bred on the mosses, 
that for two months during the breeding 
season the old horse was fed upon their eggs. 
Morning and evening a basketful was col- 
lected, and so long as these lasted Dobbin's 
coat continued sleek and soft. 

In August and September we would capture 
immense numbers of '' flappers " — plump wild 
ducks — but, as yet, unable to fly. These were 
either caught in the pools, or chased into nets 
which we set to intercept them. As I now 
took more than my share of the work, and 
made all the gins, springes, and noozes which 
we used, a rough kind of partnership sprung 



The Confessions of a T^oacher, 37 

up between us. The young ducks brought us 
good prices, and there was another source of 
income which paid well, but was not of long 
duration. There is a short period in each year 
when even the matured wild ducks are quite 
unable to fly. The male of the common wild 
duck is called the mallard, and soon after his 
brown duck begins to sit the drake moults the 
whole of its flight feathers. So sudden and 
simultaneous is this process that for six weeks 
in summer the usually handsome drake is quite 
incapable of flight, and it is probably at this 
period of its ground existence that the as- 
sumption of the duck's plumage is such an aid 
to protection. Quite the handsomest of the 
wildfowl on the marsh were a colony of shel- 
drakes which occupied a number of disused 
rabbit-burrows on a raised plateau overlooking 
the bay. The ducks were bright chestnut, 
white, and purple, and in May laid from nine 
to a dozen creamy eggs. As these birds 
brought high prices for stocking ornamental 
waters, we used to collect the eggs and hatch 
them out under hens in the turf cottage. This 



38 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

was a quite successful experiment up to a 
certain point ; but the young fowl, immediately 
they were hatched, seemed to be able to smell 
the salt water, and would cover miles to gain 
the creek. With all our combined watch- 
fulness the downy ducklings sometimes suc- 
seeded in reaching their loved briny element, 
and once in the sea were never seen again. 
The pretty sea swallows used to breed on the 
marsh, and the curious ruffs and reeves. These 
indulged in the strangest flights at breeding 
time, and it was then that we used to capture 
the greatest numbers. We took them alive in 
nets, and then fattened them on soaked wheat. 
The birds were sent all the way to London, 
and brought good prices. By being kept 
closely confined and frequently fed, in a fort- 
night they became so plump as to resemble 
balls of fat, and then brought as much as 
a florin a piece. If care were not taken to kill 
the birds just when they attained to their 
greatest degree of fatness they fell rapidly in 
condition, and were nearly worthless. To kill 
them we were wont to pinch oflf the head, and 



The Confessions of a T^oachcr. 39 

when all the blood had exuded the flesh re- 
mained white and delicate. Greater delicacies 
even than ruffs and reeves were godwits, which 
were fatted in like manner for the table. 
Experiments in fattening were upon one oc- 
casion succesfiilly tried with a brood of grey- 
lag geese which we discovered on the marshes. 
As this is the species from which the domestic 
stock is descended, we found little diflSculty in 
herding, though we were always careful to 
house them at night, and pinioned them as the 
time of the autumnal migration came round. 
We well knew that the skeins of wild geese 
which at this time nightly cross the sky, calling 
as they fly, would soon have robbed us of our 
little flock. 

In winter, snipe were always numerous on 
the mosses, and were among the first birds to 
be affected by severe weather. If on elevated 
ground when the frost set in, they immediately 
betake themselves to the lowlands, and at these 
times we used to take them in panties made of 
twisted horsehair. In preparing these we 
trampled a strip of oozy ground until, in the 



40 The Confessions of a Poacher. 

darkness, it had the appearance of a narrow 
plash of water. The snipe were taken as they 
came to feed on ground presumably contain- 
ing food of which they were fond. As well 
as woodcock and snipe, we took larks by 
thousands. The panties for these we set some- 
what differently than those intended for the 
minor game birds. A main line, sometimes as 
much as a hundred yards in length, was set 
along the marsh ; and to this at short intervals 
were attached a great number of loops of 
horsehair in which the birds were strangled. 
During the migratory season, or in winter 
when larks are flocked, sometimes a hundred 
bunches of a dozen each would be taken in a 
single day. 

During the rigour of winter great flocks of 
migratory ducks and geese came to the bay, 
and prominent among them were immense 
flocks of scoters. Often from behind an ooze 
bank did we watch parties of these playing and 
chasing each other over the crests of the 
waves, seeming indiff'erent to the roughest seas. 
The coming of the scoter brought flush times, 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 41 

and in hard weather our takes were tremen- 
dous. Another of the wild ducks which 
visited us was the pochard or dunbird. We 
mostly called it ''poker" and "redhead," 
owing to the bright chestnut of its neck and 
head. It is somewhat heavily made, swims 
low in the water, and from its legs being 
placed far behind for diving it is very awkward 
on land. In winter the pochard was abundant 
on the coast, but as it was one of the shyest of 
fowl it was always difficult to approach. If 
alarmed it paddles rapidly away, turning its 
head, and always keeping an eye to the rear. 
On account of its wariness it is oftener netted 
than shot. The shore-shooters hardly ever 
get a chance at it. We used to take it in the 
creeks on the marsh, and, as the matter is 
difficult to explain, I will let the following 
quotation tell how it was done : 

" The water was surrounded with huge nets, 
fastened with poles laid flat on the ground 
w^hen ready for action, each net being, perhaps, 
sixty feet long and twenty feet deep. When 
all was ready the pochards were frightened off 

D2 



42 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

the water. Like all diving ducks they were 
obliged to fly low for some distance, and also 
to head the wind before rising. Just as the 
mass of birds reached the side of the pool, one 
of the immense nets, previously regulated by 
weights and springs, rose upright as it was 
freed from its fastenings by the fowler from a 
distance with a long rope. If this were done 
at the right moment the ducks were met full 
in the face by a wall of net, and thrown help- 
less into a deep ditch dug at its foot for their 
reception." 

In addition to our nets and snares we had 
a primitive fowling-piece, though we only 
used it when other methods failed. It was an 
ancient flint-lock, with tremendously long 
barrels. Sometimes it went off"; oftener it did 
not. I well remember with what desperation 
I, upon one occasion, clung to this murderous 
weapon whilst it meditated, so to speak. It is 
true that it brought down quite a wisp of 
dunlins, but then there was almost a cloud of 
them to fire at. These and golden plover 
were mainly the game for the flint-lock, and 



The Confessions of a T^oacher, 43 

with them we were pecuHarly successful. 
If we had not been out all night we were 
invariably abroad at dawn, when golden 
plover fly and feed in close bodies. Upon 
these occasions sometimes a dozen birds were 
bagged at a shot, though, after all, the chief 
product of our days were obtained in the 
cymbal nets. We invariably used a decoy, 
and when the wild birds were brought down, 
and came within the workings of the net, it 
was rapidly pulled over and the game secured. 
For the most part, however, only the smaller 
birds were taken in this way. Coots came 
round in their season, and although they 
yielded a good harvest, netting them was not 
very profitable, for as their flesh was dark and 
fishy only the villagers and fisher-folk would 
buy them. 

A curious little bird, the grebe or dabchick, 
used to haunt the pools and ditches of the 
marsh, and we not unfrequently caught them 
in the nets whilst drawing for salmon which 
ran up the creek to spawn. They had 
curious feet, lobed like chestnut leaves, and 



44 ^he Confessions of a T^oacher, 

hardly any wing. This last was more like a 
flipper, and upon one occasion, when no less 
than three had caught in the meshes, a dispute 
arose between us as to whether they were able 
to fly. Kittiwake and I argued that whilst 
they were resident and bred in the marshes, 
yet their numbers were greatly augmented in 
autumn by other birds which came to spend 
the winter. Whilst I contended that they 
flew, Kittiwake said that their tiny wings could 
never support them, and certainly neither of us 
had ever seen them on their journeyings. Two 
of the birds we took a mile from the water, 
and then threw them into the air, when they 
darted off" straight and swift for the mosses 
which lay stretched at our feet a mile below. 




Cfiaprer^. 




Partridge Poaching. 

HS, bloom on the brambles ; the ripening 
of the nuts ; and the ruddiness of the 
corn all acted as reminders that the 
^' fence" time was rapidly drawing to a close. 
So much did the first frosts quicken us that it 
was dfficult to resist throwing up our farm work 
before the game season was fairly upon us. 
There was only one way in which we could curb 
the wild impulse within. We stood up to the 
golden corn and smote it from the rising to the 
going down of the sun. The hunters' moon tried 



46 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

hard to win us to the old hard life of sport ; 
but still the land must be cleared. There was 
a double pleasure in the ruddy sheaves, for 
they told of golden guineas, and until the 
last load was carried neither nets, gins, nor the 
old duck-gun were of any use. The harvest 
housed the game could begin, and then the 
sweet clover, which the hares loved, first 
pushed their shoots between the stubble stalks. 
But neither the hares on the fallows, the 
grouse on the moor, nor the pheasants on the 
bare branches brought us so much pleasure as 
the partridge. A whole army of shooters love 
the little brown birds, and we are quite of 
their way of thinking. 

A long life of poaching has not cooled our 
ardour for this phase of woodcraft. At the out- 
set we may state that we have almost invariably 
observed close times, and have rarely killed a 
hare or game-bird out of season. The man 
w^ho excels in poaching must be country bred. 
He must not only know the land, but the 
ways of the game by heart. Every sign of 
wind and weather must be observed, as all 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 47 

help in the silent trade. Then there is the 
rise and wane of the moon, the rain-bringing 
tides, and the shifting of the birds with the 
seasons. These and a hundred other things 
must be kept in an unwritten calendar, and 
only the poacher can keep it. Speaking from 
hard experience, his out-door life will make 
him quick ; will endow him with much ready 
animal ingenuity. He will take in an immense 
amount of knowledge of the life of the fields 
and woods ; and it is this teaching which will 
ultimately give him accuracy of eye and judg- 
ment sufficient to interpret what he sees aright. 
To succeed the poacher must be a specialist. 
It is better if he directs his attention to '' fur," 
or to '' feather " alone ; but it is terribly hard 
to resist going in for both. There is less 
scope for field ingenuity in taking game birds ; 
but at the same time there is always the proba- 
bility of more wholesale destruction. This 
arises from the fact of the birds being gre- 
garious. Both grouse and partridge go in 
coveys, and pheasants are found in the com- 
pany of their own kind. Partridges roost on 



48 The Confessions of a T^oacher, 

the ground, and sleep with tails tucked 
together and heads outwards. Examine the 
fallow after they have left it in a morning, and 
this will be at once apparent. A covey in this 
position represents little more than a mass of 
feathers. It is for protective reasons that 
partridges always spend their nights in the 
open. Birds which do not perch would soon 
become extinct were they to seek the pro- 
tection of woods and hedge-bottoms by night. 
Such ground generally affords cover for 
vermin — weazels, polecats, and stoats. Al- 
though partridges roam far by day, they 
invariably come together at night, being par- 
tial to the same fields and fallows. They run 
much, and rarely fly, except when passing from 
one feeding ground to another. In coming 
together in the evening their calls may be 
heard to some distance. These were the 
sounds we listened for, and marked. We re- 
membered the gorse bushes, and knew that 
the coveys would not be far from them. 

We always considered partridge good game, 
and sometimes were watching a dozen coveys 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 49 

at the same time. September once in, there 
was never a sun-down that did not see one of 
us on our rounds making mental notes. It 
was not often, however, that more than three 
coveys were marked for a night's work. One 
of these, perhaps, would be in turnips, another 
among stubble, and the third on grass. Ac- 
cording to the nature of the crop, the lay of 
the land, wind, ^c, so we varied our tactics. 
Netting partridges always requires two persons, 
though a third to walk after the net is helpful. 
If the birds have been carefully marked down, 
a narrow net is used ; if their roosting-place is 
uncertain a wider net is better. When all is 
ready this is slowly dragged along the ground, 
and is thrown down immediately the whirr of 
wings is heard. If neatly and silently done, 
the whole covey is bagged. There is a terrible 
flutter, a cloud of brown feathers, and all is 
over. It is not always, however, that the draw 
is so successful. In view of preventing this 
method of poaching, especially on land where 
many partridges roost, keepers plant low 
scrubbv thorns at intervals. These so far 



50 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

interfere with the, working of the net as to 
allow the birds time to escape. We were 
never much troubled, however, in this way. 
As opportunity oflfered the quick-thorns were 
torn up, and a dead black-thorn bough took 
their place. As the thorns were low the dif- 
ference was never noticed, even by the keepers, 
and, of course, they were carefully removed 
before, and replaced after, netting. Even 
when the dodge was detected the fields and 
fallows had been pretty much stripped of the 
birds. This method is impracticable now, as 
the modern method of reaping leaves the 
brittle stubble as bare as the squire's lawn. 
We had always a great objection to use a 
wide net where a narrow one would suit the 
purpose. Among turnips, and where large 
numbers of birds were supposed to lie, a 
number of rows or ^' riggs " were taken at a 
time, until the whole of the ground had been 
traversed. This last method is one that re- 
quires time and a knowledge of the keeper's 
beat. On rough ground the catching of the 
net may be obviated by having about eighteen' 



The Confessions of a T^oacher. 51 

inches of smooth glazed material bordering 
the lowest and trailing part of it. Some of 
the small farmers were as fond of poaching as 
ourselves, and here is a trick which one of 
them successfully employed whenever he heard 
the birds in his land. He scattered a train of grain 
from the field in which the partridge roosted, 
each morning bringing it nearer and nearer to 
the stack-yard. After a time the birds became 
aceustomed to this mode of feeding, and as 
they grew bolder the grain-train was continued 
inside the barn. When they saw the golden 
feast invitingly spread, they were not slow to 
enter, and the doors were quickly closed 
upon them. Then the farmer entered with a 
bright light and felled the birds with a stick. 

In the dusk of a late autumn afternoon a 
splendid '' pot " shot was sometimes had at a 
bunch of partridges just gathered for the night. 
I remember a score such. The call of the 
partridge is less deceptive than any other game 
bird, and the movements of a covey are easily 
watched. This tracking is greatly aided if the 
field in which the birds are is bounded by 



52 The Confessions of a Poacher, 

stone walls. As dusk deepens and draws 
to dark, they run and call less, and soon all is 
still. The closely-packed covey is easy to 
detect against the yellow stubble, and resting 
the gun on the wall, a charge of heavy shot 
fired into their midst usually picks off the lot. 
If in five minutes the shot brings up the keeper 
it matters little, as then you are far over the 
land. 

Partridges feed in the early morning — as 
soon as day breaks, in fact. They resort to one 
spot, and are constant in their coming, es- 
pecially if encouraged. This fact I well knew^ 
and laid my plans accordingly. By the aid of the 
moon a train of grain was laid straight as a 
hazel wand. Upon these occasions I never went 
abroad without an old duck-gun, the barrels of 
which had been filed down. This enabled me 
to carry the gun-stock in one pocket, the 
barrels in the other. The shortness of the 
latter in nowise told against the shooting, as 
the gun was only required to use at short 
distances. The weapon was old, thick at 
the muzzle, and into it I crammed a heavy 



The Confessions of a T^oacher. 53 

charge of powder and shot. Ensconced in the 
scrub I had only now to wait for the dawn. 
Ahnost before it was fully light the covey 
would come with a loud whirring of wings, and 
settle to feed immediately. This was the 
critical moment. Firing along the line a single 
shot strewed the ground with dead and dying ; 
and in ten minutes, always keeping clear of the 
roads, I was a mile from the spot. 

I had yet another and a more successful 
method of taking partridges. When, from the 
watchfulness or cleverness of keepers (they are 
not intelligent men as a rule), both netting and 
shooting proved impracticable, I soaked grain 
until it became swollen, and then steeped it in 
the strongest spirit. This, as before, was 
strewn in the morning paths of the partridge, 
and, soon taking effect, the naturally pugnacious 
birds were presently staggering and fighting 
desperately. Then I bided my time, and as 
opportunity offered, knocked the incapacitated 
birds on the head. 

One of the most ingenious and frequently 
successful methods I employed for bagging 



54 ^h^ Confessions of a T^oac/ier, 

partridge was by the aid of an old setter 
bitch having a lantern tied to 'her neck. 




Being somewhat risky, I only employed it 
when other plans failed, and when I had a 
good notion of the keeper's whereabouts. 
The lantern was made from an old salmon 
canister stripped of its sides, and contained a 
bit of candle. When the bitch was put off 
into seeds or stubble she would range quietly 
until she found the birds, then stand as 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 55 



stiffly as though done in marble. This shewed 
me just where the covey lay, and as the light 
either dazzled or frightened the birds, it was not 
difficult to clap the net over them. It some- 
times happened that others besides myself 
were watching this strange luminous light, and 
it was probably set down as some phenomenon 
of the night-side of nature. Once, however, 
I lost my long silk net, and as there was 
everything to be gained by running, and much 










, iii'i/yf- .ti'ip'- 



56 The Confessions of a T^oacher, 

to be lost by staying, I ran desperately. Only 
an old, slow dog can be used in this species of 
poaching, and it is marvellous to see with 
what spirit and seeming understanding it 
enters into the work. 



^.hhfiHu^ry' 




a\'pue'V-S 



Hare Poaching. 

The merry brown hares came leaping 

Over the crest of the hill, 
Where the clover and corn lay sleeping 

Under the moonlight still. 

/^ U^ hare season generally began with 
\iy partridge poaching, so that the coming 
of the hunter's moon was always an in- 
teresting autumnal event. By its aid the first 
big bag of the season was made. When a 
field is sown down, which it is intended to 
bring back to grass, clover is invariably sown 

E2 



58 The Confessions of a ^oache7\ 

with the grain. This springs between the corn 
stalks, and by the time the golden sheaves are 
carried, has swathed the stubble with mantling 
green. This, before all others, is the crop 
which hares love. 

Poaching is one of the fine arts, and the 
man who would succeed must be a specialist. If 
he has sufficient strength to refrain from general 
*' mouching," he will succeed best by selecting 
one particular kind of game, and directing his 
whole knowledge of woodcraft against it. In 
spring and summer I was wont to closely scan 
the fields, and as embrowned September drew 
near, knew the whereabouts of every hare in 
the parish — not only the field where it lay, 
but the very clump of rushes in which was its 
form. As puss went away from the gorse, or 
raced down the turnip-rigg, I took in every 
twist and double down to the minutest detail. 

Then I scanned the '' smoots " and gates 
through which she passed, and was always 
careful to approach these laterally. I left no 
trace of hand nor print of foot, nor disturbed 
the rough herbage. Late afternoon brought 



The Confessions of a T^oacher. 59 

me home, and upon the hearth the wires and 
nets were spread for inspection. When all 
was ready, and the dogs whined impatiently to 
be gone, I would strike right into the heart of 
the land, and away from the high-road. 

Mention of the dogs brings me to my fastest 
friends Without them poaching for fur would 
be almost impossible. I invariably used 
bitches, and as success depended almost 
wholly upon them, I was bound to keep only 
the best. Lurchers take long to train, but 
when perfected are invaluable. I have had, 
maybe, a dozen dogs in all, the best being the 
result of a pure cross between greyhound 
and sheepdog. In night work silence is essen- 
tial to success, and such dogs never bark ; 
they have the good nose of the one, and the 
speed of the other. In selecting puppies it is 
best to choose rough-coated ones, as they are 
better able to stand the exposure of cold, 
rough nights. Shades of brown and fawn are 
preferable for colour, as these best assimilate 
to the duns and browns of the fields and 
woods. The process of training would take 



6o The Confessions of a Poacher. 

long to describe ; but it is wonderful how soon 
the dog takes on the habits of its master. They 



' '■>,„ ,,»? 



'mm 




soon learn to slink along by hedge and ditch, 
and but rarely shew in the open. They know 



The Confessions of a T^oacher. 6i 

every field-cut and by-path for miles, and are 
as much aware as their masters that county 
constables have a nasty habit of loitering about 
unfrequented lanes at daybreak. 

The difficulty lies not so much in obtaining 
game as in getting it home safely ; but for all 
that I was but rarely surprised with game 
upon me in this way. Disused buildings, 
stacks, and dry ditches are made to contain 
the '' haul " until it can be sent for — an office 
which I usually got some of the field-women 
to perform for me. Failing these, country 
carriers and early morning milk-carts were 
useful. When I was night poaching, it was 
important that I should have the earliest inti- 
mation of the approach of a possible enemy, 
and to secure this the dogs were always trained 
to run on a few hundred yards in advance. 
A well-trained lurcher is almost infallible in 
detecting a foe, and upon meeting one he runs 
back to his master under cover of the far side 
of a fence. When the dog came back to me in 
this way I lost not a second in accepting the 
shelter of the nearest hedge or deepest ditch 



62 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

till the danger was past. If suddenly surprised 
and without means of hiding, myself and the 
dog would make off in different directions. 
Then there were times when it was inconvenient 
that we should know each other, and upon 
such occasions the dogs would not recognise 
me even upon the strongest provocation. 

My best lurchers knew as much of the habits of 
game as I did. According to the class of land 
to be worked they were aware whether hares, 
partridges, or rabbits were to constitute the 
game for the night. They judged to a nicety 
the speed at which a hare should be driven to 
make a snare effective, and acted accordingly. 
At night the piercing scream of a netted hare 
can be heard to a great distance, and no sound 
sooner puts the keeper on the alert. 

Consequently, when *' puss " puts her neck 
into a wire, or madly jumps into a gate-net, 
the dog is on her in an instant, and quickly 
stops her piteous squeal. In field-netting rab- 
bits, lurchers are equally quick, seeming quite 
to appreciate the danger of noise. Once only 
have I heard a lurcher give mouth. *' Rough" 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 63 

was a powerful, deep-chested bitch, but up- 
on one occasion she failed to jump a stiff, 
stone fence, with a nine-pound hare in her 
mouth. She did not bark, however, until she 
had several times failed at the fence, and when 
she thought her whereabouts were unknown. 
Hares and partridges invariably squat on the 
fallow or in the stubble when alarmed, and re- 
main absolutely still till the danger is passed. 
This act is much more likely to be observed 
by the dog than its master, and in such cases 
the lurchers gently rubbed my shins to apprise 
me of the fact. Then I moved more cau- 
tiously. Out-lying pheasants, rabbits in the 
clumps, red grouse on the heather — the old 
dog missed none of them. Every movement 
was noted, and each came to the capacious 
pocket in turn. The only serious fights I ever 
had were when keepers threatened to shoot 
the dogs. This was a serious matter. Lurchers 
take long to train, and a keeper's summary 
proceeding often stops a whole winter's work, 
as the best dogs cannot easily be replaced. 
Many a one of our craft would as soon have 



64 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

been shot himself as seen his dog destroyed ; 
and there are few good dogs which have not, 
at one time or other, been riddled with pellets 
during their lawless (save the mark ! ) career. 
If a hare happens to be seen, the dog some- 
times works it so cleverly as to "chop" it in 
its ''form" ; and both hares and rabbits are not 
unfrequently snapped up without being run 
at all. In fact, depredations in fur would be 
exceedingly limited without the aid of dogs ; 
and one country squire saved his ground game 
for a season by buying my best brace of lurch- 
ers at a very fancy price ; while upon another 
occasion a bench of magistrates demanded to 
see the dogs of whose doings they had heard 
so much. In short, my lurchers at night em- 
bodied all my senses. 

Whilst preparing my nets and wires, the 
dogs would whine impatiently to be gone. 
Soon their ears were pricked out on the track, 
though until told to leave they stuck doggedly 
to heel. Soon the darkness would blot out 
even the forms of surrounding objects, and our 
movements were made more cautiously. A 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 65 

couple of snares are set in gaps in an old 
thorn fence not more than a yard apart These 
are delicately manipulated, as we know from 
previous knowledge that the hare will take one 
of them. The black dog is sent over, the 
younger fawn bitch staying behind. The 
former slinks slowly down the field, sticking 
close to the cover of a fence running at right 
angles to the one in which the wires are set. 
I have arranged that the wind shall blow from 
the dog and across to the hare's seat when the 
former shall come opposite. The ruse acts ; 
''puss" is alarmed, but not terrified ; she gets 
up and goes quietly away for the hedge. The 
dog is crouched, anxiously watching ; she is 
making right for the snare, though something 
must be added to her speed to make the wire 
efiective. As the dog closes in, I wait, bowed, 
with hands on knees, still as death, for her 
coming. I hear the brush of the grass, 
the trip, trip, trip, as the herbage is brushed. 
There is a rustle among the dead leaves, 
a desperate rush, a momentary squeal — and the 
wire has tightened round her throat. 



66 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

Again we trudge silently along the lane, but 
soon stop to listen. Then we disperse, but to 
any on-looker would seem to have dissolved. 
This dry ditch is capacious, and its dead 
herbage tall and tangled. A heavy foot, with 
regular beat, approaches along the road, and 
dies slowly away in the distance. 

Hares love green cornstalks, and a field of 
young wheat is at hand ; I spread a net, twelve 
feet by six, at the gate, and at a sign the dogs 
depart different ways. Their paths soon con- 
verge, for the night is torn by a piteous cry ; 
the road is enveloped in a cloud of dust ; and 
in the midst of the confusion the dogs dash 
over the fence. They must have found their 
game near the middle of the field, and driven 
the hares — for there are two — so hard that 
they carried the net right before them ; every 
struggle wraps another mesh about them, and, 
in a moment, their screams are quieted. By a 
quick movement I wrap the long net about my 
arm, and, taking the noiseless sward, get 
hastily away from the spot. 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 67 

In March, when hares are pairing, four or 
five may frequently be found together in one 
field. Although wild, they seem to lose much 
of their natural timidity, and during this month 
I usually reaped a rich harvest. I was always 
careful to set my wires and snares on the side 
opposite to that from which the game would 
come, for this reason — that hares approach 
any place through which they are about 
to pass in a zig-zag manner. They come on, 
playing and frisking, stopping now and then to 
nibble the herbage. Then they canter, making 
wide leaps at right angles to their path, and sit 
listening upon their haunches. A freshly im- 
pressed footmark, the scent of dog - or man, 
almost invariably turns them back. Of course 
these traces are certain to be left if the snare 
be set on the near side of the gate or fence, 
and then a hare will refuse to take it, even 
when hard pressed. Now here is a wrinkle to 
any keeper who cares to accept it. Where 
poaching is prevalent and hares abundant, 
every hare on the estate should be netted^ for it 
is a fact well known to every poacher versed 



68 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 



in his craft, that an escaped hare that has 
once been netted can never be retaken. 
The process, however, will effectually frighten 
a small percentage of hares off the land al- 
together. 

The human scent left at gaps and gateways 
by ploughmen, shepherds, and mouchers, the 




wary poacher will obliterate by driving sheep 
over the spot before he begins operations. On 
the sides of fells and uplands hares are difficult 
to kill. This can only be accomplished by 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 69 

swift dogs, which are taken above the game. 
Puss is made to run down-hill, when, from her 
peculiar formation, she goes at a disadvantage. 
Audacity almost invariably stands the poacher 
in good stead. Here is an actual incident. 
I knew of a certain field of young wheat in 
which was several hares — a fact observed 
during the day This was hard by the keeper's 
cottage, and surrounded by a high fence of 
loose stones. It will be seen that the situa- 
tion was somewhat critical, but that night 
my nets were set at the gates through which 
the hares always made. To drive them the 
dog was to range the field, entering it at a 
point furthest away from the gate. I bent 
my back in the road a yard from the wall 
to aid the dog. It retired, took a mighty 
spring, and barely touching my shoulders^ 
bounded over the fence. The risk was justi- 
fied by the haul, for that night I bagged nine 
good hares. 

Owing to the scarcity of game, hare- 
poaching is now hardly worth following, and I 
believe that what is known as the Ground 



70 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

Game Act is mainly responsible for this. A 
country Justice, who has often been my friend 
when I was sadly in need of one, asked me 
why I thought the Hares and Rabbits Act 
had made both kinds of fur scarcer. I told 
him that the hare would become abundant 
again if it were not beset by so many enemies. 
Since 1880 it has had no protection, and 
the numbers have gone down amazingly. A 
shy and timid animal, it is worried through 
every month of the year. It does not 
burrow, and has not the protection of the 
rabbit. Although the colour of its fur re- 
sembles that of the dead grass and herbage 
among which it lies, yet it starts from its 
*' form " at the approach of danger, and from 
its size makes an easy mark. It is not un- 
frequently *^ chopped " by sheep-dogs, and m 
certain months hundreds of leverets perish in 
this way. Hares are destroyed wholesale 
during the mowing of the grass and the reaping 
of the corn. For a time in summer, leverets 
especially seek this kind of cover, and farmers 
and farm-labourers kill numbers with dog and 



The Confessions of a T^oacher, 71 

gun — and this at a time when they are quite unfit 
for food. In addition to these causes of scarcity 
there are others well known to sportsmen. 
When harriers hunt late in the season — as they 
invariably do now-a-days — many leverets are 
^' chopped," and for every hare that goes 
away three are killed in the manner in- 
dicated. At least, that is my experience 
while mouching in the wake of the hounds. 
When hunting continues through March, 
master and huntsman assert that this havoc is 
necessary in order to kill off superabundant 
jack-hares, and so preserve the balance of 
stock. Doubtless there was reason in this 
argument before the present scarcity, but now 
there is none. March, too, is a general 
breeding month, and the hunting of doe-hares 
entails the grossest cruelty. Coursing is 
confined within no fixed limits, and is pro- 
longed far too late in the season. What has 
been said of hunting applies to coursing, and 
these things sportsmen can remedy if they 
wish. There is more unwritten law in con- 
nection with British field-sports than any other 



72 The Confessions of a Poacher. 

pastime ; but obviously it might be added to 
with advantage. If something is not done the 
hare will assuredly become extinct. To pre- 
vent this a ''close time" is, in the opinion 
of those best versed in woodcraft, absolutely 
necessarv. The dates between which the 
hare would best be protected are the first 
of March and the first of August. Then we 
would gain all round. The recent relaxation 
of the law has done something to encourage 
poaching, and poachers now find pretexts for 
being on or about land which before were of 
no avail, and to the moucher accurate obser- 
vation by day is one of the essentials to 
success. 

Naturalists ought to know best ; but there has 
been more unnatural history written concerning 
hares than any other British animal. It is said 
to produce two young ones at a birth, but ob- 
servant poachers know that from three to five 
leverets are not unfrequently found : then it is 
stated that hares breed twice, or at most thrice, 
a year. Anyone, however, who has daily ob- 
served their habits, knows that there are but 



7he Confessions of a T^oacher. 73 

few months in which leverets are not born. 
In mild winters young ones are found in 
January and February, whilst in March they 
have become common. They may be seen 
right on through summer and autumn, and last 
December I saw a brace of leverets a month old. 
Does shot in October are sometimes found to 
be giving milk, and in November old hares are 
not unfrequently noticed in the same patch of 
cover. These facts would seem to point to 
the conclusion that the hare propagates its 
species almost the whole year round — a startling 
piece of evidence to the older naturalists. Add 
to this that hares pair when a year old, that 
gestation lasts only thirty days, and it will be 
seen what a possibly prolific animal the hare 
may be. The young are born covered with 
fur, and after a month leave their mother to 
seek their own subsistence. 



F2 




^a p re i 






Pheasant Poaching. 

(/^^^H^iPUGHl'dte summer and autumn the 
Vj5^ poacher's thoughts go out to the 

early weeks of October. Neither 
the last load of ruddy corn, nor the actual 
netting of the partridge gladden his heart as 
do the first signs of the dying year. There are 
certain sections of the Game Laws which he 
never breaks, and only some rare circumstance 
tempts him to take immature birds. But by the 
third week of October the yellow and sere of 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 75 

the year has come. The duns and browns are 
over the woods, and the leaves come fitfully 
flickering down. Everything out of doors 
testifies that autumn is waning, and that winter 
will soon be upon us. The colours of the few 
remaining flowers are fading, and nature is be- 
ginning to have a washed-out appearance. The 
feathery plumes of the ash are everywhere 
strewn beneath the trees, for, just as the ash is 
the first to burst into leaf, so it is the first to 
go. The foliage of the oak is already as- 
suming a bright chestnut, though the leaves 
will remain throughout the year. In the oak 
avenues the acorns are lying in great quantities, 
though oak mast is not now the important 
product it once was, cheap grain having 
relegated it almost exclusively to the use of 
the birds. And now immense flocks of wood 
pigeons flutter in the trees or pick up the food 
from beneath. The garnering of the grain, the 
flocking of migratory birds, the wild clanging 
of fowl in the night sky — these are the sights 
and sounds that set the poacher's thoughts off 
in the old grooves. 



76 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 



Of all species of poaching, that which en- 
sures a good haul of pheasants is most beset 
with difficulty. Nevertheless there are silent 
ways and means which prove as successful in the 
end as the squire's guns, and these without break- 
ing the woodland silence with a sound. The 
most successful of these I intend to set down, 
and only such will be mentioned as have stood 
me in good stead in actual night work. Among 
southern woods and coverts the pheasant 
poacher is usually a desperate character ; not 
so in the north. H( 
the poachers are 
more skilled in 
woodcraft, and 
are rarely sur 
prised. If thi 
worst comes 
to the 
worst 
it is a 
fair 

stand-up fight with fists, and is usually blood- 
less. There is little greed of gain in the night 




The Confessions of a T^oacher, jj 

enterprise, and liberty by flight is the first 
thing resorted to. 

It is well for the poacher, and well for his 
methods, that the pheasant is rather a stupid 
bird. There is no gainsaying its beauty, how- 
ever, and a brace of birds, with all the old 
excitement thrown in, are well worth winning, 
even at considerable risk. In a long life of 
poaching I have noticed that the pheasant has 
one great characteristic. It is fond of wan- 
dering ; and this cannot be prevented. Watch 
the birds : even when fed daily, and with the 
daintiest food, they wander off, singly or in 
pairs, far from ihe home coverts. This fact I 
knew well, and was not slow to use my 
knowledge. When October came round they 
were the very first birds to which I directed 
my attention. Every poacher observes, year 
by year (even leaving his own predaceous paws 
out of the question), that it by no means follows 
that the man who rears the pheasants will 
have the privilege of shooting them. There is 
a very certain time in the life of the bird 
when it disdains the scattered corn of the 



7 8 The Confessions of a T^oachei\ 

keeper, and begins to anticipate the fall of 
beech and oak mast. In search of this the 
pheasants make daily journeys, and consume 
great quantities. They feed principally in the 
morning ; dust themselves in the roads or 
turnip-fields at mid-day, and ramble through the 
woods in the afternoon. And one thing is 
certain : That when wandered birds find 
themselves in outlying copses in the evening 
they are apt to roost there. As already 
stated, these were the birds to which I paid 
my best attention. When wholesale pheasant 
poaching is prosecuted by gangs, it is in 
winter, when the trees are bare. Guns, with 
the barrels filed down, are taken in sacks^ 
and the pheasants are shot where they 
roost. Their bulky forms stand sharply out- 
lined against the sky, and they are invariably 
on the lower branches. If the firing does not 
immediately bring up the keepers, the game 
is quickly deposited in bags, and the gang 
makes off. And it is generally arranged that 
a light cart is waiting at some remote lane 
end, so that possible pursuers may be quickly 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 79 



outpaced. The great risk incurred by this 
method will be seen, when it is stated that 
pheasants are generally reared close by the 
keeper's cottage, and that their coverts immedi- 
ately surround it. It is mostly armed mouchers 
who enter these, and not the 
more gifted (save the mark !) 
country poacher. And there 
are reasons for this. Oppo- 
sition must alwavs be an- 
ticipated, for, speaking 
for the nonce from the 
game -keeper's stand- 
point, the covert never 
should be, and rarely 
^ 7 is, unwatched. Then 
-' there are the certain re- 
' suits of possible capture to 
be taken into account. This 
affected, and with birds in one's 
possession, the poacher is liable 
to be indicted upon so many concurrent charges, 
each and all having heavy penalties. Than this 
I obtained my game in a different and quieter 




8o The Confessions of a T^oacher, 

way. My custom was to carefully eschew the 
preserves, and look up all outlying birds. I never 
went abroad without a pocketful of corn, and 
day by day enticed the wandered birds further 
and further away. This accomplished, pheasants 
may be snared with hair nooses, or taken in 
spring traps. One of my commonest and most 
successful methods with wandered birds was to 
light brimstone beneath the trees in which they 
roosted. The powerful fumes soon overpowered 
them, and they came flopping down the trees 
one by one. This method has the advantage 
of silence, and if the night be dead and still, 
is rarely detected. Away from the preserves, 
time was never taken into account in my 
plans, and I could work systematically. I was 
content with a brace of birds at a time, and 
usually got most in the end, with least chance 
of capture. 

I have already spoken at some length of my 
education in field and wood-craft. An im- 
portant (though at the time unconscious) 
part of this was minute observation of the 
haunts and habits of all kinds of game ; and 



The Confessions of a T^oacher, 8 1 

this knowledge was put to good use in my 
actual poaching raids. Here is an instance of 
what I mean : I had noticed the great pug- 
nacity of the pheasant, and out of this made 
capital. After first finding out the where- 
abouts of the keeper, I fitted a trained 
game-cock with artificial spurs, and then took 
it to the covert side. The artificial spurs were 
fitted to the natural ones, were sharp as 
needles, and the plucky bird already knew 
how to use them. Upon his crowing, one 
or more cock pheasants would immediately 
respond, and advance to meet the adversary. 
A single blow usually sufficed to lay low the 
pride of the pheasant, and in this way half-a- 
dozen birds were bagged, whilst my own 
representative remained unhurt. 

I had another ingenious plan (if I may say 
so) in connection with pheasants, and, perhaps, 
the most successful. I may say at once that 
there is nothing sportsmanlike about it ; but 
then that is in keeping with most of what I 
have set down. If time and opportunity offer 
there is hardly any limit to the depredation 



82 The Confessions of a Poacher, 

which it allows. Here it is : A number of 
dried peas are taken and steeped in boiling 
water ; a hole is then made through the centre, 
and through this again a stiff bristle is threaded. 
The ends are then cut off short, leaving only 
about a quarter of an inch of bristle projecting 
on each side. With these the birds are fed, 
and they are greedily eaten. In passing down 
the gullet, however, a violent irritation is 
set up, and the pheasant is finally choked. 
In a dying condition the birds are picked up 
beneath the hedges, to the shelter of which 
they almost always run. The way is a quiet 
one ; it may be adopted in roads and lanes 
where the birds dust themselves, and does 
not require trespass. 

In this connection I may say that I only 
used a gun when every other method 
failed. Game-keepers sometimes try to outwit 
poachers by a device which is now of old 
standing. Usually knowing from what quarter 
the latter will enter the covert, wooden 
blocks representing roosting birds are nailed 
to the branches of the open beeches. I was 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 83 

never entrapped into firing at these dummies, 
and it is only with the casual that the ruse 
acts. He fires, brings the keepers from 
their hiding places, and is caught. Still an- 
other method of bagging '' long-tails," though 
one somewhat similar to that already set 
down : It requires two persons, and the exact 
position of the birds must be known. A black 
night is necessary ; a stiff bamboo rod, and a 
dark lantern. One man flashes the concen- 
trated light upon the bare branches, when 
immediately half a dozen necks are stretched 
out to view the apparition. Just then the 
*' angler " slips a wire nooze over the craned 
neck nearest him, and it is jerked down as 
quickly, though as silently as possible. Number 
two is served in like manner, then a third, 
a fourth, and a fifth. This method has the 
advantage of silence, though, if unskilfully 
managed, sometimes only a single bird is 
secured, and the rest flutter wildly off into 
the darkness. 

Poachers often come to untimely ends. 
Here is an actual incident which befell one 



84 ^he Confessions of a Poacher. 

of my companions — as clever a poacher, and 
as decent and quiet a man as need be. I saw 
him on the night previous to the morning of 
his death, though he did not see me. It was 
a night at the end of October. The winds 
had stripped the leaves from the trees, and 
the dripping branches stood starkly against the 
sky. I was on the high road with a vehicle, 
when plashes of rain began to descend, and a 
low muttering came from out the dull leaden 
clouds. As the darkness increased, occasional 
flashes tore zig-zag across the sky, and the rain 
set to a dead pour. The lightning only served 
to increase the darkness. I could just see the 
mare's steaming shoulders butting away in 
front, and her sensitive ears alternately pricked 
out on the track. The pitchy darkness in- 
creased, I gave the mare her head, and let the 
reins hang loosely on her neck. The lightning 
was terrible, the thunder almost continuous, 
when the mare came to a dead stop. I got 
down from the trap and found her trembling 
violently, with perspiration pouring down 
her flanks. All her gear was white with 



The Confessions of a ^oache't. 87 

lather, and I thought it best to lead her on 
to where I knew was a chestnut tree, and 
there wait for a lull in the storm. As I stood 
waiting, a black lurcher slunk along under the 
sodden hedge, and seeing the trap, immediately 
stopped and turned in its tracks. Having warned 
its master, the two reconnoitered and then 
came on together. The ''Otter" (for it was 
he), bade a gruff '' good-night " to the en- 
shrouded vehicle and passed on into the 
darkness. He slouched rapidly under the 
rain, and went in the direction of extensive 
woods and coverts. Hundreds of pheasants 
had taken to the tall trees, and, from beneath, 
were visible against the sky. Hares abounded 
on the fallows, and rabbits swarmed every- 
where. The storm had driven the keepers to 
their cosy hearths, and the prospect was a 
poacher's paradise. Just what occurred next 
can only be surmised. Doubtless the ''Otter" 
worked long and earnestly through that terrible 
night, and at dawn staggered from the ground 
under a heavy load. 



88 The Confessions of a Poacher, 

Just at dawn the poacher's wife emerged 
from a poor cottage at the junction of the 
roads, and after looking about her as a hunted 
animal might look, made quietly off over the 
land. Creeping closely by the fences she 
covered a couple of miles, and then entered a 
disused, barn-like building. Soon she emerged 
under a heavy load, her basket, as of old, 
covered with crisp, green cresses. These she 
had kept from last evening, when she plucked 
them in readiness, from the spring. After two or 
three journeys she had removed the *' plant," 
and as she eyed the game her eyes glistened, 
and she waited now only for him. As yet she 
knew not that he would never more come — 
that soon she would be a lone and heart-broken 
creature. For, although his life was one long 
warfare against the Game Laws, he had always 
been good and kind to her. His end had 
come as it almost inevitably must. The sound 
of a heavy unknown footstep on his way home, 
had turned him from his path. He had then 
made back for the lime-kiln to obtain warmth 
and to dry his sodden clothes. Once on the 



The Confessions of a T^oacher, 89 

margin he was soon asleep. The fumes dulled 
his senses, and in his restless sleep he had 
rolled on to the stones. In the morning the 
Limestone Burner coming to work found a 
handful of pure white ashes. A few articles 
were scattered about, and he guessed the rest. 
And so the ''Otter" went to God , . . . T^^ 
storm cleared, and the heavens were calm. In 
the sky, on the air, in the blades of grass were 
signs of awakening life. Morning came bright 
and fair, birds flew hither and thither, and the 
autumn flowers stood out to the sun. All 
things were glad and free, but one wretched 
stricken thing. 



G 2 




CF\a pf'er^ 



Salmon and Trout Poaching. 

Flashes the blood-red gleam 

Over the midnight slaughter ; 
Wild shadows haunt the stream ; 

Dark forms glance o'er the water. 
It is the leisterers' cry ! 

A salmon, ho ! oho ! 
In scales of light, the creature bright 

Is glimmering below. 

\^\X /uST country poachers begin by loving 

<z:J,.U^ V Nature and end by hating the Game 

Laws. Whilst many a man is 

willing to recognize ^* property" in hares and 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 91 



pheasants, there are few who will do so with 
regard to salmon and trout. And this is why- 
fish poachers have always swarmed. A sea- 
salmon is in the domain of the whole world 
one day ; in a trickling runner among the hills 
the next. Yesterday it belonged to anybody ; 
and the poacher, rightly or wrongly, thinks it 
belongs to him if only he can snatch it. There 

are few fish poachers 
who in their time 
have not been anglers ; 
and anglers are of two 
kinds : there are those 
who fish fair, and those 
who fish foul. The 
I'wil^-^^-t^, first set 



mM are phil- 




losophi- 
cal and 
cultivate 
^patience: 
the sec- 
ond are 
pre da- 



92 The Confessions of a Poacher, 

tory and catch fish, fairly if they can — but 
they catch fish. 

Just as redwings and field-fares constitute 
the first game of young gunners, so the loach, 
the minnow, and the stickleback, are the prey 
of the young poacher. If these things are 
small, they are by no means to be despised, 
for there is a tide in the affairs of men when 
these '^ small fry " of the waters afford as 
much sport on their pebbly shallows as do the 
silvery-sided salmon in the pools of Strathspay. 
As yet there is no knowledge of gaff or click 
hook — only of a willow wand, a bit of string, 
and a croocked pin. The average country 
urchin has always a considerable dash of the 
savage in his composition, and this first comes 
out in relation to fish rather than fowl. See 
him during summer as he wantons in the stream 
like a dace. Watch where his brown legs 
carry him ; observe his stealthy movements as 
he raises the likely stones ; and note the primi- 
tive poaching weapon in his hand. That old 
pronged fork is every whit as formidable to the 
loach and bullhead as is the lister of the man- 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 93 

poacher to salmon and trout — and the wader 
uses it almost as skillfully. He has a bottle on 
the bank, and into this he pours the fish unhurt 
which he captures with his hands. Examine his 
aquarium, and hidden among the weeds you 
will find three or four species of small fry. 
The loach, the minnow, and the bullhead are 
sure to be there, with perhaps a tiny stickle- 
back, and somewhere, outside the bottle — 
stuffed in cap or breeches pocket — crayfish of 
every age and size. During a long life I have 
watched the process, and this is the stuff out 
of which fish-poachers are made. 

It is part of the wisdom of nature's economy 
that when furred and feathered game is ^' out," 
fish are ''in." It might be thought that 
poachers would recognize neither times nor 
seasons, but this is a mistake. During fence 
time game is nearly worthless ; and then the 
prospective penalties of poaching out of season 
have to be taken into account. Fish poaching 
is practised none the less for the high preserva- 
tion and strict watching which so much prevails 
now- a- days; it seems even to have grown 



94 T^he Confessions of a T^oacher, 

with them. In outlying country towns with 
salmon and trout streams in the vicinity, 
poaching is carried on to an almost incredible 
extent. There are men who live by it and 
women to whom it constitutes a thriving trade. 
The '^ Otter," more thrifty than the rest of us, 
has purchased a cottage with the proceeds of 
his poaching ; and I know four or fiwt families 
who live by it. Whilst our class provide the 
chief business of the country police courts, and 
is a great source of profit to the local fish and 
game dealer, there is quite another and a 
pleasanter side, to the picture. But this later. 
The wary poacher never starts for the fishing 
ground without having first his customer ; and 
it is surprising with what lax code of morals 
the provincial public will deal, when the silent 
night worker is one to the bargain. Of course 
the pubhc always gets cheap fish and fresh fish, 
so fresh indeed that sometimes the life has 
hardly gone out of it. It is a perfectly easy 
matter to provide fish and the only difficulty lies 
in conveying it into the towns and villages. I 
never knew but what I might be met by some 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 95 

county constable, and consequently never 
carried game upon me. This I secreted in 
stack, rick, or disused farm building, until 
such time as it could be safely fetched. Country 
carriers, early morning milk- carts, and women 
are all employed in getting the hauls into town. 
In this women are by far the most successful. 
Sometimes they are seen labouring under a 
heavy load carried in a sack, with faggots and 
rotten sticks protruding from the mouth ; or 
again, with a large basket innocently covered 
with crisp, green cresses which effectually hide 
the bright silvery fish beneath. Our methods 
of fish poaching are many. As we work 
silently and in the night, the chances of success 
are all in our favour. We walk much by the 
stream side during the day, and take mental 
notes of men and fish. We know the beats 
of the watchers, and have the water-side by 
heart. Long use has accustomed us to work 
as well in the dark as in the light, and 
this is essential. During summer, when the 
water is low, the fish congregate in deep 
^^dubs." This they do for protection, and 



96 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

here, if overhung by trees, there is always 
abundance of food. Whenever it was our 
intention to net a dub, we carefully examined 
every inch of its bottom beforehand. If it had 
been '^thorned," every thorn was carefully 
removed — small thorn bushes with stones 
attached, and thrown in by the watchers to 
entangle nets. Of course fish-poaching can 
never be tackled single-handed. In ^Mong- 
netting" the net is dragged by a man on each 
side, a third wading after to lift it over the 
stakes, and to prevent the fish from escaping. 
When the end of the pool is reached the 
salmon and trout are simply drawn out upon 
the pebbles. This is repeated through the 
night until half-a-dozen pools are netted — 
probably depopulated of their fish. Netting 
of this description is a wholesale method of 
capture, always supposing that we are allowed 
our own time. It requires to be done slowly^ 
however, as if alarmed we can do nothing but 
abandon the net. This is necessarily large, 
and when thoroughly wet is cumbersome 
and exceedingly heavy. The loss of one of 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 99 

our large nets was a serious matter, not only in 
time but money. For narrow streams, a narrow 
net is used, this being attached to two poles. 
It is better to cut the poles (of ash) only when 
required, as they are awkward objects to carry. 
The method of working the *' pod-net" is the 
same in principle as the last. The older fish 
poachers rarely go in for poisoning. This is a 
cowardly method, and kills everything, both 
great and small, for miles down stream. 
Chloride of lime is the agent mostly used, as 
it does not injure the edible parts. The lime 
is thrown into the river where fish are known 
to lie, and its deadly influence is soon seen. 
The fish, weakened and poisoned, float belly 
uppermost. This at once renders them con- 
spicuous, and they are simply lifted out of the 
water in a landing-net. Salmon and trout 
which come by their death in this way have the 
usually pink parts of a dull white, with the 
eyes and gill-covers of the same colour, and 
covered with a fine white film. This substance 
is much used in mills on the banks of trout- 
streams, and probably more fish are '^poached" 



lOO The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

by this kind of pollution in a month than the 
most inveterate moucher will kill in a year. 

It is only poachers of the old school that 
are careful to observe close times, and they do 
their work mostly in summer. Many of the 
younger and more desperate hands, however, 
do really serious business when the fish are out 
of season. When salmon and trout are spawning 
their senses seem to become dulled, and then 
they are not difficult to approach in the water. 
They seek the highest reaches to spawn and stay 
for a considerable time on the spawning beds. 
A salmon offers a fair mark, and these are ob- 
tained by spearing. The pronged salmon spear 
is driven into the fleshy shoulders of the fish, 
when it is hauled out on to the bank. In this 
way I have often killed more fish in a single day 
than I could possibly carry home — even when 
there was little or no chance of detection. 
There is only one practicable way of carrying 
a big salmon across country on a dark night, 
and that is by hanging it round one's neck and 
steadying it in front. I have left tons of fish 
behind when chased by the watchers, as of all 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 103 

things they are the most difficult to carry. The 
best water bailiffs are those who are least seen, 
or who watch from a distance. So as to save 
sudden surprise, and to give timely warning 
of the approach of watchers, one of the 
poaching party should always command the 
land from a tree top. 

The flesh of spawning fish is loose and watery, 
insipid and tasteless, and rarely brings more 
than a few pence per pound. In an out-lying 
hamlet known to me, poached salmon, during 
last close time, was so common that the cottagers 
fed their poultry upon it through the winter. 
Several fish were killed each over 20 lbs. in 
weight. Than netting, another way of securing 
salmon and trout from the spawning redds is by 
^* click" hooks. These are simply large salmon 
hooks bound shaft to shaft and attached to a 
long cord ; a bit of lead balances them and 
adds weight. These are used in the ^^dubs" 
when spearing by wading is impracticable. 
When a salmon is seen the hooks are simply 
thrown beyond it, then gently dragged until 
they come immediately beneath ; when a 

H 



I04 T^he Confessions of a T^oacher. 

sharp click sends them into the soft under 
parts of the fish, which is then dragged out. 
As the pike, which is one of nature's poachers, 
is injurious to our interests as well as those of 
the angler, we never miss an opportunity of 
treating him in the same summary manner. 
Of course, poaching with click-hooks requires 
to be done during the day, or by the aid of an 
artificial light. Light attracts salmon just as it 
attracts birds, and tar brands are frequently 
used by poachers. A good, rough bulls -eye 
lantern, to aid in spearing, can be made 
from a disused salmon canister. A circular 
hole should be made in the side, and a bit of 
material tied over to hide the light when not in 
use. Shooting is sometimes resorted to, but 
for this class of poaching the habits and beats 
of the water bailiffs require to be accurately 
known. The method has the advantage of 
quickness, and a gun in skilful hands and at 
short distance may be used without injuring 
the fleshy parts of the fish. That deadly bait, 
salmon row, is now rarely used, the method of 
preparing it being unknown to the younger 



The Confessions of a ^'Poacher, 105 

generation. It can, however, be used with 
deadly effect. Although both ourselves and 
our nets were occasionally captured, the 
watchers generally found this a difficult matter. 
In approaching our fishing grounds we did 
not mind going sinuously and snake - like 




through the wet meadows, and as I have said, 
our nets were rarely kept at home. These 
were secreted in stone heaps, and among bushes 
in close proximity to where we intended to use 
them. Were they kept at home the obtaining 
of a search warrant by the police or local 



H 2 



io6 The Confessions of a Poacher, 

Angling Association would always render their 
custody a critical business. When, upon any 
rare occasion, the nets were kept at home, it was 
only for a short period, and when about to be 
used. Sometimes, though rarely, the police 
have discovered them secreted in the chimney, 
between bed and mattrass, or, in one case, 
wound about the portly person of a poacher's 
wife. As I have already said, the women are 
not always simply aiders and abettors, but 
in the actual poaching sometimes play an 
important part. They have frequently been 
taken red-handed by the watchers. Mention of 
the water-bailiffs reminds me that I must say a 
word of them too. Their profession is a hard 
one — harder by far than the poacher's. They 
work at night, and require to be most on the 
alert during rough and wet weather ; especially 
in winter when fish are spawning. Some- 
times they must remain still for hours in 
freezing clothes ; and even in summer not 
unfrequently lie all night in dank and wet 
herbage. They see the night side of nature, 
and many of them are as good naturalists as 



The Confessions of a T^oacher, 107 



the poachers. If a lapwing gets up and 
screams in the darkness the cleverer of them 
know how to interpret the sound, as also a 
hare rushing wildly past. I must add, however, 
that it is in the nature of things that at all points 
the fish poacher is cleverer and of readier wit 
than the river watcher. 
Looking back it does 
not seem long 
since county 
constables first 
became an insti- 
tution in this part 
of the country. 
I remember an 
amusing incident 
connected with 
one of them who 
was evidently a 
stranger to many 
of the phases of 
woodcraft. We 
had been netting a deep dub just below a stone 
bridge, and were about to land a splendid haul. 




io8 T^he Confessions of a T^oacher. 

Looking up, a constable was watching our 
operations in an interested sort of way, and for 
a moment we thought we were fairly caught. 
Just as we were about to abandon the net and 
make off through the wood, the man spoke. 
In an instant I saw how matters stood. He 
failed to grasp the situation — even came down 
and helped us to draw the net on to the bank. 
In thanking us for a silvery five-pound salmon 
we gave him he spoke with a southern 
accent, and I suppose that poachers and 
poaching were subjects that had never entered 
into his philosophy. 




CKc^p"^ 



Grouse Poaching. 

r I ^ O'R pleasurable excitement, to say nothing 
^ ^ of profit, the pick of all poaching 
is for grouse. However fascinating 
partridge poaching may be ; however pleasur- 
able picking off pheasants from bare boughs ; 
or the night-piercing screams of a netted hare 
— none of these can compare with the wild 
work of the moors. I am abroad on the heather 
just before the coming of the day. My way lies 
now along the rugged course of a fell ''beck," 



no The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

now along the lower shoulder of the mountain. 
The grey dissolves into dawn, the dawn into 
light, and the first blackcock crows to his grey 
hen in the hollow. As my head appears above 
the burn side, the ever-watchful curlews whistle 
and the plovers scream. A dotterel goes 
plaintivel-y piping over the stones, and the 
*' cheep, cheep," of the awakening ling-birds 
rises from every brae. A silent tarn lies shim- 
mering in a green hollow beneath, and over its 
marge constantly flit a pair of summer snipe. 
The bellowing of red deer comes from a 
neighbouring corrie, and a herd of roe are 
browsing on the confines of the scrub. The 
sun mounts the Eastern air, drives the mists 
away and beyond the lichen patches loved by 
the ptarmigan — and it is day. 

A glorious bird is the red grouse ! Listen 
to his warning '' kok, kok, kok," as he eyes the 
invader of his moorland haunts. Now that it 
is day his mate joins him on the '^ knowe." 
The sun warms up his rufus plumage, and the 
crescent-shaped patch of vermilion over the 
eye glows in the strong light. It is these 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 1 1 1 

sights and sounds that warm me to my work, 
and dearly I love the moor-game. Years ago 
I had sown grain along the fell-side so as to 
entice the grouse within range of an old flint- 
lock which I used with deadly effect from 
behind a stone wall. Then snares were set on 
the barley sheaves and corn stooks, by which a 
brace of birds were occasionally bagged. In 
after years an unforseen grouse harvest came 
in quite an unexpected manner. With the 
enclosure of the Commons hundreds of miles of 
wire fencing was erected, and in this way, 
before the birds had become accustomed to it, 
numbers were killed by flying against the 




1 1 2 The Confessions of a T^oacher, 

fences. The casualties mostly occurred during 
*' thick" weather, or when the mists had 
clung to the hills for days. At such times 
grouse fly low, and strike before seeing the 
obstacle. I never failed to note the mist- 
caps hanging to the fell-tops, and then, bag in 
hand, walked parallel to miles and miles of 
flimsy fence. Sometimes a dozen brace of 
birds were picked up in a morning ; and, on the 
lower grounds, an occasional partridge, wood- 
cock, or snipe. 

Grouse are the only game that ever tempted 
me to poach during close time, and then I only 
erred by a few days. Birds sold in London on 
the morning of the ''Twelfth" bring the big- 
gest prices of the season, and to supply the 
demand was a temptation I could never resist. 
Many a '' Squire," many a Country Justice 
has been tempted as I was, and fell as I fell. 
It is not too much to say that every one of the 
three thousand birds sold in London on the 
opening day has been poached during the 
*' fence" time. In the north, country station- 
masters find hampers dropped on their plat- 



The Confessions of a T^oacher, 113 

forms addressed to London dealers, but, as to 
who brought them, or how they came there, 
none ever knows. 

The only true prophet of the grouse-moors 
is the poacher. Months before the ''squire" 
and keeper he knows whether disease will 
assert itself or no. By reason of his out-door 
life he has accuracy of eye and judgment suf- 
ficient to interpret what he sees aright. He is 
abroad in all weathers, and through every 
hour of the day and night. His clothes have 
taken on them the duns and browns of 
the moorlands ; and he owns the subtle in- 
fluence which attracts wild creatures to 
him. He has watched grouse '' at home " 
since the beginning of the year. On the first 
spring day the sun shines brightly at noon. 
The birds bask on the brae, and spread their 
wings to the warmth. As the sun gains in 
power, and spring comes slowly up the way, 
the red grouse give out gurgling notes, and 
indulge in much strutting. The fell " becks " 
sparkles in the sun ; the merlin screams over 
the heather, and the grouse packs break up. 



114 "The Confessions of a Poacher, 

The birds are now seen singly or in pairs, and 
brae answers brae from dawn till dark. The 
cock grouse takes his stand on some grey rock, 
and erects or depresses at pleasure his ver- 
milion eye-streak. Pairing is not long con- 
tinued, and the two find out a depression in 
the heather which thev line with bents and 
mountain grasses. About eight eggs are laid, 
and the cock grouse takes his stand upon the 
" knowe " to guard the nest from predaceous 
carrion and hooded crows. If hatching is 
successful the young birds are quickly on their 
legs, and through spring and summer follow 
the brooding birds. They grow larger and 
plumper each day, until it is difficut to detect 
them from the adult. Meanwhile August has 
come, and soon devastating death is dealt out 
to them. The sport, so far as the poacher is 
concerned, begins at the first rolling away of 
the morning mists ; and then he often makes 
the best bag of the year. It was rarely that I 
was abroad later than two in the morning, and 
my first business was to wade out thigh-deep 
into the purple heather. From such a position 



The Confessions of a T^oacher. 1 1 5 

it is not difficult to locate the crowing of the 
moorbirds as they answer each other across the 
heather. When this was done I would gain 
a rough stone wall, and then, by imitating the 
gurgling call-notes of cock or hen I could 
bring up every grouse within hearing. Some- 
times a dozen would be about me at one time. 
Then the birds were picked off as they flew 
over the knolls and braes, or as they boldly 
stood on any eminence near. If this method 
is deadly in early August, it is infinitely more 
so during pairing time. Then, if time and 
leisure be allowed, and the poacher is a 
good '^ caller," almost every bird on a moor 
may be bagged. 

The greatest number of grouse, and con- 
sequently the best poaching, is to be had on 
moors on which the heather is regularly burned. 
Grouse love the shoots of ling which spring up 
after burning, and the birds which feed upon this 
invariably have the brightest plumage. On a 
well-burnt moor the best poaching method is 
by using a silk net. By watching for traces 
during the day it is not difficult to detect 



1 1 6 The Confessions of a Poacher. 

where the birds roost, and once this is dis- 
covered the rest is easy. The net is trailed 
along the ground by two men, and dropped in- 
stantly on the whirr of wings. The springing 
of the birds is the only guide in the darkness, 
though the method skilfully carried out is most 
destructive, and sometimes a whole covey is 
is bagged at one sweep. Silk nets have three 
good qualities for night work, those made of 
any other material being cumbersome and 
nearly useless. They are light, strong, and 
are easily carried. It is well to have about 
eighteen inches of glazed material along the 
bottom of the net, or it is apt to catch in 
dragging. Where poaching is practised, keepers 
often place in the likeHest places a number of 
strong stakes armed with protruding nails. 
These, however, may be removed and re- 
planted after the night's work ; or, just at dusk 
a bunch of white feathers may be tied to point 
the position of each. 

The planting of grain patches along the 
moor-side has been mentioned, and on these in 
late autumn great numbers of birds are bagged. 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 119 

Grouse are exceedingly fond of oats, and in 
the early morning the stooks are sometimes 
almost black with them. A pot shot here 
from behind a wall or fence is generally a 
profitable one, as the heavy charge of shot is 
sent straight at the *' brown." Black-game 
are as keen as red grouse on oats, and a few 
sheaves thrown about always attracts them. 
Although the blackcock is a noble bird in 
appearance, he is dull and heavy, and is easily 
bagged. Early in the season the birds lie 
until almost trod upon, and of all game are the 
easiest to net. They roost on the ground, and 
usually seek out some sheltered brae-side 
on which to sleep. If closely watched at 
evening, it is not difficult to clap a silk net 
over them upon the first favourable night, 
when both mother and grown young are 
bagged together. That there are gentlemen 
poachers as well as casuals and amateurs, the 
following incident relating to black - game 
shows : '' On a dull misty day they are easily 
got at : they will sit on the thorn bushes 
and alders, and let the shooter pick them oflf 



I20 The Confessions of a Poacher. 

one by one. I remember once, on such a day, 
taking a noble sportsman who was very keen 
to shoot a blackcock, up to some black game 
sitting on a thorn hedge. When he got within 
about twenty-five yards he fired his first barrel 
(after taking a very deliberate aim) at an old 
grey hen. She took no notice, only shaking 
her feathers a little, and hopping a short dis- 
tance further on. The same result with the 
second barrel. He loaded again and fired. 
This time the old hen turned round, and 
looked to see where the noise and unpleasant 
tickling sensation came from, and grew un- 
easy ; the next attempt made her fly on to where 
her companions were sitting, and our friend 
then gave up his weapon to me in despair. 
Black game grow very stupid also when on 
stubbles ; they will let a man fire at them, and 
if they do not see him, will fly round the field 
and settle again, or pitch on a wall quite near 
to him. Grouse will do the same thing. 
There is not much ' sport ' in such shooting 
as this, but when out alone, and wanting to 
make a bag, it is a sure and quick way to do 



The Confessions of a T^oacher, 121 

so. It may be called ' poaching ' — all I can 
say is, there would be many more gentlemen 
poachers if they could obtain such chances, 
and could not get game in any other way." 

Both grouse and black game may frequently 
be brought within range by placing a dead or 
stuifed bird on a rock or a stone wall. A 
small forked stick is made to support the head 
and neck of the decoy '' dummy," which, if 
there are birds in the vicinity, soon attracts 
them As a rule the lure is not long suc- 
cessful, but sufficiently so as to enable the 
poacher to make a big bag. Upon one oc- 
casion I made a remarkable addition to our 
fur and feather. In the darkness a movement 
was heard among the dense branches of a 
Scotch fir, when, looking up, a large bird which 
seemed as big as a turkey commenced to 
flutter off. It was stopped before it had flown 
many yards, and proved to be a handsome 
cock Capercailzie in splendid plumage. Had I 
been certain as to what it was I certainly 
should not have fired. 

I 2 



122 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

Grouse stalking is fascinating sport, and by 
this method I usually made my greatest 
achievements. The stalking was mainly done 
from behind an old moorland horse, with 
which I had struck up an acquaintance ; and it 
learned to stand fire like a war veteran. I 
used to think it enjoyed the sport, and I 
believe it did. With the aid of my shaggy 
friend I have successfully stalked hundreds 
of grouse, as its presence seemed to allay both 
fear and suspicion. Firing over its back, its 
neck, or beneath its belly — all were taken 
alike, patiently and sedately. An occasional 
handful of oats, or half a loaf, cemented the 
friendship of the old horse — my best and most 
constant poaching companion for years. 





aptep 9 




Rabbit Poaching. 

F well trained lurchers are absolutely- 
necessary to hare poaching, ferrets are 
just as important to successful rabbit 
poaching. Nearly nothing in fur can be done 
without them. However lucky the moucher 
may be among pheasants, partridge, or grouse, 
rabbits are and must be the chief product of 
his nights. Of the methods of obtaining 
them — field netting, well-traps, shooting — all 
are as nothing compared with silent ferreting. 

In the north we have two well-defined 
varieties of ferret — one a brown colour and 



124 ^^^ Confessions of a Poacher, 

known as the polecat-ferret ; the other, the 
common white variety. The first is the hardier, 
and it is to secure this quality that poachers 
cross their ferrets with the wild polecat. Unhke 
lurchers, ferrets require but little training, and 
seem to work instinctively. There are various 
reasons why poachers prefer white ferrets 
to the polecat variety. At night a brown 
ferret is apt to be nipped up in mistake for a 
rabbit ; while a white one is always apparent, 
even when moving among the densest herbage. 
Hence mouchers invariably use white ones. 
Gamekeepers who know their business prefer 
ferrets taken from poachers to any other. I 
was always particularly careful in selecting 
my stock, as from the nature of my trade I 
could ill afford to use bad ones. Certain 
strains of ferrets cause rabbits to bolt rapidly, 
while others are slow and sluggish. It need 
hardly be said that I always used the former. 
Even the best, however, will sometimes drive 
a rabbit to the end of a *' blind" burrow ; an 
after killing it will not return until it ha 
gorged itself with blood. And more troub 



The Confessions of a T^oacher. 125 

is added if the ferret curls itself up for an after- 
dinner sleep. Then it has either to be left or 
dug out. The latter process is long, the burrows 
ramify far into the mound, and it is not just 
known in which the ferret remains. If it 
be left it is well to bar every hole with 
stones, and then return with a dead rabbit when 
hunger succeeds the gorged sleep. It is to 
guard against such occasions as these that 
working ferrets are generally muzzled. A 
cruel practise used to obtain among poachers 
of stitching together the lips of ferrets to pre- 
vent their worrying rabbits and then '^ laying 
up." For myself I made a muzzle of soft string 
which was effective, and at the same time com- 
fortable to wear. When there was a chance 
of being surprised at night work I occasionally 
worked ferrets with a line attached ; but this is 
an objectionable practice and does not always 
answer. There may be a root or stick in which 
the line gets entangled, when there will be 
digging and no end of trouble to get the ferret 
out. From these facts, and the great uncertainty 
of ferreting, it will be understood why poachers 



126 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

can afford to use only the best animals. A 
tangled hedgebank with coarse herbage was 
alwasy a favourite spot for my depredations. 
There are invariably two, often half a dozen 
holes, to the same burrow. Small purse nets 
are spread over these, and I always preferred 
these loose to being pegged or fixed in any 
way. When all the nets are set the ferrets are 
turned in. They do not proceed immediately, 
but sniff the mouth of the hole ; their inde- 
cision is only momentary, however, for soon 
the tip of the tail disappears in the darkness. 
And now silence is essential to success, as 
rabbits refuse to bolt if there is the slightest 
noise outside. A dull thud, a rush, and a 
rabbit goes rolling over and over entangled in 
the purse. Reserve nets are quickly clapped on 
the holes as the rabbits bolt, the latter invari- 
ably being taken except where a couple come 
together. Standing on the mound a shot would 
stop these as they go bounding through the 
dead leaves, but the sound would bring up the 
keeper, and so one has to practise self-denial. 
Unlike hares, rabbits rarely squeal when they 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 127 

become entangled ; and this allows one to 
ferret long and silently. Rabbits bolt best on 
a windy day and before noon ; after that they 
are sluggish and often refuse to come out at all. 
This is day ferreting, but of course mine was 
done mainly at night. In this case the dogs 
always ranged the land, and drove everything off 
it before we commenced operations. On good 
ground a mound or brae sometimes seemed to 
explode with rabbits, so wildly did they fly 
before their deadly foe. I have seen a score 
driven from one set of holes, while five 
or six couples is not at all uncommon. When 
ferrets are running the burrows, stoats and 
weasels are occasionally driven out ; and among 
other strange things unearthed I remember a 
brown owl, a stock-dove, and a shell-drake — 
each of which happened to be breeding in the 
mounds. 

The confines of a large estate constitute a 
poacher's paradise, for although partridge and 
grouse require land suited to their taste, rabbits 
and pheasants are common to all preserved 
ground. And then the former may be taken 



128 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

at any time, and in so many different ways. 
They are abundant, too, and always find a 
ready market. The penalties attached to rabbit 
poaching are less than those of game, and the 
conies need not be followed into closely 
preserved coverts. The extermination of the 
rabbit will be contemporaneous with that of 
the lurcher and poacher — two institutions of 
village life which date back to the time of the 
New Forest. Of the many mouching modes 
for taking conies, ferretting, as already stated, 
and field netting are the most common. Traps 
with steel jaws are sometimes set in runs, 
inserted in the turf so as to bring them 
flush with the sward. But destruction by this 
method is not sufficiently wholesale, and the 
upturned white under-parts of the rabbit's fur 
show too plainly against the green. The 
poacher's methods must be quick, and he can- 
not afford to visit by day traps set in the dark. 
The night must cover all his doings. When 
the unscrupulous keeper finds a snare he some- 
times puts a leveret into it, and secretes himself. 
Then he waits, and captures the poacher '' in 



The Confessions of a T^oacher. 129 



the act." As with some other methods already 
mentioned, the trap poacher is only a casual. 
Ferretting is silent and almost invariably 
successful. In warrens, both inequalities of 
the ground, ^ 

mounds, and r^^^k '^ ^, 

ditches af- 
ford good 
cover. 
My 

and most 4 
wholesale 






i|W'*' 



best ."^ 




method of field-poaching for rabbits was by 
means of two long nets. These are from a hun- 
dred to a hundred and fifty yards in length, and 
about four feet high. They are usually made of 
silk, and are light and strong, and easily 
portable. These are set parallel to each other 
along the edge of a wood, about thirty 



130 The Confessions of a T^oacher, 

yards out into the pasture. Only about four 
inches divides the nets. A dark windy night 
is best for the work, as in such weather 
rabbits feed far out in the fields. On a night 
of this character, too, the game neither hears 
nor sees the poacher. The nets are long — the 
first small in mesh, that immediately behind 
large. When a rabbit or hare strikes, the 
impetus takes a part of the first net and its 
contents through the larger mesh of the second, 
and there, hanging, the creature struggles until 
it is knocked on the head with a stick. Im- 
mediately the nets are set, two men and a 
brace of lurchers range the ground in front, 
slowly and patiently, and gradually drive 
every feeding thing woodwards. A third man 
quietly paces the sward behind the nets, killing 
whatever strikes them. In this way I have 
taken many scores of rabbits in a single 
night. On the confines of a large estate a rather 
clever trick was once played upon us. Each 
year about half-a-dozen black or white rabbits 
were turned down into certain woods. Whilst 
feeding, these stood out conspicuously from the 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 131 

rest, and were religiously preserved. Upon 
these the keepers kept a close watch, and when 
any were missing it was suspected what was 
going on, when the watching strength was 
increased. As soon as we detected the tricky 
we were careful to let the coloured rabbits go 
free. We found that it was altogether to our 
interest to preserve them. 

During night poaching for rabbits and hares 
the ground game is driven from its feeding 
ground to the woods or copses. Precisely the 
reverse method is employed during the day 
when the game is in cover. The practice 
is to find a spinny in which both rabbits and 
hares are known to lie ; and then to set purse 
nets on the outside of every opening which 
may possibly be used by the frightened animals. 
The smaller the wood or patch of cover the 
easier it is to work. A man, with or without 
a dog, enters the covert, and his presence soon 
induces the furry denizens to bolt. As these 
rush through their customary runs they find 
themselves in the meshes of a net, and every 
struggle only makes them faster. This method 



132 The Confessions of a Poacher. 

has the disadvantage of being done in the light, 
but where there is much game is very deadly. 

Snares for hares and rabbits are not used 
nearly so much now as formerly. For all that, 
they are useful in outlying districts, or on land 
that is not closely watched. For hares the 
snare is a wire noose tied to a stick with string, 
and placed edgeways in the trod. To have the 
snare the right height is an important matter ; 
and it will be found that two fists high for a 
hare, and one for a rabbit, is the most deadly. 
Casuals set their snares in hedge-bottoms, 
but these are no good. Two or three feet 
away from the hedge is the most killing position 
— for this reason : when a hare canters up 
to a fence it never immediately bounds 
through ; it pauses about a yard away, then 
leaps into the hedge-bottom. It is during 
this last leap that it puts its neck into the 
noose and is taken. If a keeper merely 
watches a snare until it is '' lifted," good and 
well ; but to put a hare or rabbit into it and 
then pounce on the moucher — well, that is a 
diflferent matter. It is not difficult to see where 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 133 

a hare has been taken, especially if the run in 
which the snare was set was damp. There 
will be the hole where the peg has been, and 
the ground will be beaten flat by the struggles 
of the animal in endeavouring to free itself. 

Field-netting for rabbits may be prevented 
in the same way as for partridges — by thorning 
the ground where the game feeds. It is quite 
a mistake to plant thorns, or even to stake out 
large branches. The only ones that at all 
trouble the poacher are small thorns which are 
left absolutely free on the ground. These get 
into the net, roll it up hopelessly in a 
short time, and if this once occurs everything 
escapes. Large thorns are easily seen and 
easily removed, but the abominable ones are 
the small ones left loose on the surface of the 
ground. 

The most certain and wholesale method of 
rabbit poaching I ever practised was also the 
most daring. The engine employed was the 
" well-trap." This is a square, deep box, built 
into the ground, and immediately opposite to 
a smoot-hole in the fence through which the 



134 ^^^ Confessions of a Poacher, 

rabbits run from wood or covert to field or 
pasture. Through a hole in the wall or fence 
a wooden trough or box is inserted. As 
the rabbits run through, the floor opens be- 
neath their weight, and they drop into the 
" well." Immediately the pressure is removed 
the floor springs back to its original position, and 
thus a score or more rabbits are often taken 
in a single night. In the construction of these 
*^ well- traps," rough and unbarked wood is 
used, though, even after this precaution, the 
rabbits will not take them for weeks. Then, 
they become familiar ; the weather washes 
away all scent, and the ''well" is a whole- 
sale engine of destruction. All surface traces- 
of the existence of the trap must be 
covered over with dead leaves and woodland 
debris. The rabbits, of course, are taken alive^ 
and the best way of killing them is by 
stretching them across the knee, and so dislo- 
cating the spine. If the keeper once finds out 
the trap the game is up. Whilst it lasts, how- 
ever, it kills more rabbits than every other 
stroke of woodcraft the poacher knows. 




"'4\^^"¥/;. 



^m-'^^^'^^y 




aprer 10. 



l-^d OlA 



Tricks. 



(fjO )HE^N^ it is known that a man's life is 
\\y one long protest against the Game 
Laws he has to be exceedingly care- 
ful of his comings and goings. Every constable, 
every gamekeeper, and most workers in wood- 
craft are aware of the motives which bring him 
abroad at night. More eyes are upon him 



136 The Confessions of a Poacher. 

than he sees, and no one knows better than 
he that the enemies most to be feared 
are those who are least seen ; and the man 
who has tasted the bitterness of poaching 
penalties will do everything in his power to 
escape detection. Probably the greatest aid 
to this end is knowing the country by heart ; 
the field-paths and disused bye-ways, the 
fordable parts of the river, and a hundred 
things beside. The poacher is and must be 
suspicious of everyone he meets. 

In planning and carrying out forays I was 
always careful to observe two conditions. No 
poaching secret was ever confided to another ; 
and I invariably endeavoured to get to the 
ground unseen. If my out-going was observed 
it often entailed a circuit of a dozen miles in 
coming home, and even then the entry into 
town was not without considerable risk. The 
hand of everyone was against me in my 
unlawful calling, and many were the shifts I 
had to make to escape detection or capture. 
To show with what success this may be carried 
out, the following incident will show. 



The Confessions of a T^oacher. ly/ 

I conceived the idea of openly shooting 
certain well-stocked coverts during the tem- 
porary absence of the owner. These were so 
well watched that all the ordinary measures at 
night seemed likely to be baffled. To openly 
shoot during broad day, and under the very 
eye of the keeper, was now the essential part 
of the programme ; and to this end I must 
explain as follows : The keeper on the estate 
was but lately come to the district. Upon 
two occasions when I had been placed in the 
dock, I had been described as ^' a poacher of 
gentlemanly appearance, ' and '' the gentleman 
poacher again." (My forefathers had been 
small estatesmen for generations, and I suppose 
that some last lingering air of gentility at- 
tached to me). Well, I had arranged with a 
confederate to act as bag carrier ; he was to 
be very servile, and not to forget to touch 
his cap at pretty frequent intervals. After 
'' making up " as a country squire — (I had 
closely studied the species on the ''Bench,") — 
and providing a luncheon in keeping with my 
temporary *' squiredom," we started for the 

K2 



138 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

woods. It was a bright morning in the last 
week of October, and game — hares, pheasants,, 
and woodcock — was exceedingly plentiful. 
The first firing brought up the keeper, who 
touched his hat in the most respectful fashion. 
He behaved, in short, precisely as I would 
have had him behave. I lost no time on 
quietly congratulating him on the number and 
quality of his birds ; told him that his master 
would return from town to-morrow (which 
I had learned incidentally), and ended by 
handing him my cartridge bag to carry, A 
splendid bag of birds had been made by lun- 
cheon time, and the viands which constituted 
the meal were very much in keeping with my 
assumed position. Dusk came at the close of 
the short October afternoon, and with it the 
end of our day's sport. The bag was spread 
out in one of the rides of the wood, and in 
imagination I can see it now — thirty-seven 
pheasants, nine hares, five woodcock, a few 
rabbits, some cushats, and the usual '^ miscel- 
laneous." The man of gaiters was despatched 
a couple of miles for a cart to carry the spoil^ 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 139 

and a substantial " tip " gave speed to his not 
unwilling legs. The game, however, was not 
to occupy the cart. A donkey with panniers 




^^=r-^^ 



was waiting in a clump'of brush by the covert 
side, and as soon as the panniers were packed, 
its head was turned homeward over a wild bit 
of moorland. With the start obtained, chase 
would have been fruitless had it ever been 
contemplated — which it never was. I need 
not detail the sequel to the incident here, and 



140 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

may say that it was somewhat painful to myself 
as well as my bag carrier. And I am sorry to 
say that the keeper was smnmarily dismissed 
by the enraged squire as a reward for his inno- 
cence. As to the coverts, they were so well 
stocked, that after a few days' rest there 
appeared as much game as ever, and the 
contents of our little bag were hardly 
missed. 

Another trick to which my co- 
worker used to resort was to 
attire himself in broad -brimmed 
hat and black coat similar 
to those worn a century 
ago by the people called 
Quakers. In the former he 
carried his nets, and in the capa- 
cious pockets of the latter the game 
he took. These outward guarantees of 
good faith, away from his own parish, 
precluded him from ever once being 
searched. I have already^remarked, 
and every practical poacher knows 
it to belthe fact, that the difficulty is 




The Confessions of a Poacher. 141 

not so much to obtain game as to transport it 
safely home. Ahhough our dogs were trained 
to run on a hundred yards in advance so as to 
give warning of the approach of a possible 
enemv — even this did not alwavs save us. A 
big bag of game handicaps one severely in a 
cross-country run, and it is doubly galling to 
have to sacrifice it. Well, upon the particular 
occasion to which I refer there was to be a 
country funeral with a hearse from the neigh- 
bouring market town, and of this I was 
determined to take advantage. By arranging 
with the driver I was enabled to stow myself 
and a large haul in the body of the vehicle, and, 
although the journey was a cramped and stuffy 
one, we in time reached our destination. As 
we came behind the nearest game shop the 
driver undid the door, and the questionable 
corpse was safely landed. 

I need hardly say that in a long life of 
poaching there were many occasions when I 
was brought to book. These, however, would 
form but a small percentage of the times I was 
'' out." My success in this way was probably 



142 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

owing to the fact that I was chary as to those 
I took into confidence, and knew that above 
all things keeping my own council was the 
best wisdom. Another moucher I knew, • 
but with whom I would have nothing to % 
do, was an instance of one who told poaching 
secrets to village gossips. The *' Mole " spent 
most of his time in the county gaol, and just 
lately he completed his sixty-fifth incarceration 
— only a few of which were for offences out- 
side the game laws. Well, there came a time 
when all the keepers round the country side 
had their revenge on me, and they made the 
most of it. I and my companion were fairly 
caught by being driven into an ambuscade by 
a combination of keepers. Exultant in my cap- 
ture, the keepers from almost every estate in 
the neighbourhood flocked to witness my con- 
viction. Some of them who had at times only 
seen a vanishing form in the darkness, now 
attended to see the man, as they put it. As I 
had always been followed at nights by an old 
black bitch, she, too, was produced in court, 
and proved an object of much curiosity. Well, 



The Confessions of a T^oacher, 143 

our case was called, and, as we had no good 
defence to set up, it was agreed that my com- 
panion should do the talking. Without letting 
it appear so, we had a very definite object in 
• prolonging the hearing of the case. There was 
never any great inclination to hurry such 
matters, as the magistrates always seemed to 
enjoy them. '' We had been taken in the act," 
my co-worker told the bench. '' We deserved 
no quarter, and asked none. Poaching was 
right by the Bible, but wrong by the law," — 




and so he was rushing on. One of the Justices 
deigned to remark that it was a question of 
''property" not morality. ''Oh!" rejoined 
the " Otter," " because blue blood doesn't run 



144 ^^'^^ Confessions of a T^oacher. 

in my veins that's no reason why I shouldn't 
have my share. But its a queer kind of 
property that's yours in that field, mine on the 
turnpike, and a third man's over the next 
fence." The end of it was, however, a fine of 
£S) with an alternative. And so the case 
ended. But that day the keepers and their 
assistants had forgotten the first principles of 
watching. The best keeper is the one that is 
the least seen. Only let the poacher know his 
whereabouts, and the latter's work is easy. It 
was afterwards remarked that during our trial 
not a poacher was in court. To any keeper 
skilled in his craft this fact must have appeared 
unusual — and significant. It became even more 
so when both of us were released by reason of 
our heavy fine having been paid the same 
evening. Most of the keepers had had their 
day out, and were making the most of it. 
Had their heads not been muddled they might 
have seen more than one woman labouring 
under loaded baskets near the local game 
dealers ; these innocently covered with mant- 
ling cresses, and so, at the time, escaping 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 145 

suspicion. Upon the memorable day the 
pheasants had been fed by unseen hands — and 
had vanished. The only traces left by the 
covert side were fluffy feathers everywhere. 
Few hares remained on the land ; the rest had 
either been snared or netted at the gates. The 
rabbits' burrows had been ferreted, the ferrets 
having been slyly borrowed at the keeper's 
cottage during his absence for the occasion. I 
may say that, in connection with this incident, 
we always claimed to poach square, and drew 
the line at home-reared pheasants — allowing 
them '' property." Those found wild in the 
woods were on a diff"erent footing, and we di- 
rected our whole knowledge of woodcraft 
against them. 

Here is another ^' court " incident, in which 
I and my companion played a part. We came 
in contact with the law just sufficient to make 
us know something of its bearings. When 
charged with being in possession of '' game " 
we reiterated the old argument that rabbits 
were vermxu — but it rarely stood us in good 
stead. On one occasion, however, we scored. 



146 The Confessions of a Poacher. 

Being committed for two months for '' night 
poaching," we respectfully informed the pre- 
siding Justice that, at the time of our capture, 
the sun had risen an hour ; and further, that 
the law did not allow more than half the sen- 
tence just passed upon us. Our magistrate 
friend — to whom I have more than once re- 
ferred — was on the bench, and he told his 
brother Justices that he thought there was 
something in the contention. The old Clerk 
looked crabbed as he fumbled for his horn 
spectacles, and, after turning over a book 
called '^ Stone's Justices' Manual," he solemnly 
informed the bench that defendants in their 
interpretation were right. We naturally re- 
member this little incident, and as the law has 
had the whip hand of us upon so many oc- 
casions, chuckle over it. 

We invariably made friends with the stone- 
breakers by the road-sides, and just as in- 
variably carried about us stone-breakers' 
hammers, and ^' preserves " for the eyes. 
When hard pressed, and if unknown to the 
pursuing keeper, nothing is easier than to dis- 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 147 

miss the dog, throw off one's coat, plump 
down upon the first stone heap on the road^ 
and go to work. If the thing is neatly done^ 
and the '' preserves " cover the face, it is 
wonderful how often this ruse is successful. 
The keeper may put a hasty question, but he 
oftener rushes after his man. Mention of 
stone-heaps reminds me of the fact that they 
are better '^ hides " for nets than almost any- 
thing else, especially the larger unbroken 
heaps. We invariably hid our big cumbrous 
fishing nets beneath them, and the stones 
were just as invariably true to their trust. 

Going back to my earliest poaching days I 
remember a cruel incident which had a verv 
different ending to what its author intended. 
A young keeper had made a wager that he 
would effect my capture within a certain num- 
ber of days, and my first intimation of this 
fact was a sickening sight which I discovered 
in passing down a woodland glade just at dawn 
on a bright December morning. I heard a 
groan, and a few yards in front saw a man 
stretched across the ride. His clothes were 



148 T^he Confessions of a T^oacher, 

covered with hoar frost, he was drenched in 
blood, and the poor fellow's pale face showed 
me that of the keeper. He was held fast in a 
man-trap which had terribly lacerated his 
lower limbs. He was conscious, but quite 
exhausted. Although in great agony he suf- 
fered me to carry him to a neighbouring hay- 
rick, from whence we removed him to his 
cottage. He recovered slowly, and the man- 
trap which he had set the night before was, I 
believe, the last ever used in that district. 




Personal Encounters. 




HE7^ I had finished the last chapter 
I thought I had completed my work, 
but the gentleman who is to edit 
these '^ Confessions " now tells me that I am 
to confess more. He reminds me that I 
cannot have been an active poacher nearly all 
my life without having had numerous personal 



152 The Confessions of a Poacher. 

encounters with keepers and others. And in 
this he is right. But there is some difficulty in 
my additional task for the following reasons : 
I have never cared to take much credit to 
myself for having broken the head of a keeper, 
and there is but little pleasure to me in re- 
counting the occasions when keepers have 
broken mine. However, speaking of broken 
heads reminds me of an incident which was 
amusing, though, at the time, somewhat pain- 
ful to me. 

One night in November when the trees were 
bare, and the pheasants had taken to the 
branches, we were in a mixed wood of pine 
and beech. A good many birds roosted on 
its confines, and, to a practised eye, were not 
difficult to see against the moon as they 
sat on the lower limbs of the trees, near the 
trunks. I and my companion had old, strong 
guns with barrels filed down, and, as we 
got very near to the birds, we were using 
small charges of powder. As the night was 
windy the shots would not be heard very far, 
and we felt fairly safe. When we had obtained 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 153 

about three brace of birds, however, I 
heard a sudden crash among the underwood, 
when I hrimediately jumped behind the bole of 
a tree, and kept closely against it. 

The head-keeper had my companion down 
before he could resist, and I only remained 
undiscovered for a few seconds. One of the 
under-keepers seized me, but, being a good 
wrestler, I soon threw him into a dense brake 
of brambles and blackthorn. Then I bolted 
with the third man close behind. I could 
easily have outrun him over the rough country 
that lay outside the wood, but — ah ! these 
" buts " — there was a stiff stone fence fully 
five feet high betwixt me and the open. Un- 
less I could '^ fly " the fence he would have 
me. I clutched my pockets, steadied myself 
for the leap — and then sprang. I heard my 
pursuer stop for a second to await the issue. 
Weighted as I was I caught the coping, and 
fell back heavily into the wood. As soon as 
the keeper saw I was down he rushed forward 
and hit me heavily on the head with a stave. 
The sharp corner cut right through the skin, 

L 2 



154 ^^^ Confessions of a T^oacher. 

and blood spurted out in little jets. Then I 
turned about, determined to close with my 
opponent if he was inclined for further rough- 
ness. But he was not. When he saw that 
the blood was almost blinding me he dropped 
his hedge-stake, and ran, apparently terrified 
at what he had done. T leaned for a few 
moments against the wall, then dragged myself 
over, and started for a stream which ran down 
the field. But I felt weaker at every step, and 
soon crept into a bed of tall brackens, and 
plugged the wound in my head with a handful 
of wet moss, keeping it in position with my 
neckerchief. After this I munched some 
bread and hard cheese, sucked the dew from 
the fern fronds, and then fell into a broken 
sleep. I must have slept for four or five 
hours, when I woke thirsty and feverish, and 
very weak. I tried to walk, but again and 
again fell down. Then I crawled for about a 
hundred yards, but this caused my wound to 
bleed afresh, and I fainted. Just as day was 
coming a farm labourer came across, and 
kindly helped me to his cottage. He and his 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 155 

wife bathed my head and eyes, and then as- 
sisted me to the bed from which they had just 
risen. At noon I was able to take some bread 
and milk, and at night, an hour after darkness 
had fallen, I was able to start for home. 

Well, the sequel came in due time. We 
each received a summons (my companion had 
been released after identification), we were 
tried in about a fortnight from the date of our 
capture. There was a full bench of Magistrates ; 
my companion pleaded guilty (with a view to a 
lenient sentence) ; myself — not guilty. In the 
first instance the case was clear, but not one of 
the three keepers (to their credit) would swear 
to me. They looked me carefully over, par- 
ticularly my assailant. He was reminded that 
it was a fine, moonlight night. Yes, but his 
man, he thought, was taller, was more strongly 
built, and looked pale and haggard — no, he 
would not say that I was the man — in short, he 
thought I was not. Then came my innings. 
The keeper had sworn that, after running a 
mile, the poacher he chased had turned on him, 
and threatened to *' do for him," if he advanced ; 



156 The Confessions of a Poacher. 

that he had hit him on the head with 
his stick, and must have wounded him 
severely. He was also careful to explain that 
he had done this in '' self defence." I then 
pointed out to the '' bench " that it was no 
longer a matter of opinion ; that I claimed to 
have my head examined, and asked that the 
Police Superintendent, who was conducting 
the case, should settle the point. 

But my assumption of an air of injured in- 
nocence had alreadv done its work, and the 
presiding Magistrate said there was no evi- 
dence against me ; that the case as against me 
was dismissed. 

I had hard work to get out of the box 
without smiling, for even then the .pain in my 
head was acute, and I was not right for weeks 
after. I knew, however, that my wound was a 
dangerous possession, and close attention to 
my thick, soft hair, enabled me to hide it, al- 
ways providing that it was not too closely 
examined. My companion was less fortunate, 
and his share of the proceedings, poor fellow^ 
Was '* two months." 



The Confessions of a T^oacher, i^^j 

Here is the record of another encounter. 
There was a certain wood, the timber in which 
had been felled and carted. It had previously 
contained a good deal of '' coppice," and after 
the wood-cutters had done their work, this 
had been utilized by the charcoal burners. 
The ashes from the charcoal had promoted 
quite an unseasonable growth, and everywhere 
about the stoles of the ash roots and hazel 
snags, fresh green grass and clover were 
springing. The hares on the neighbouring 
estate had found out this, and came nightly 
to the clearing to feed. As there were neither 
gaps nor gates we found it impossible to 
net them, and so had to resort to another 
device. Before the wood had been cleared 
rabbits had swarmed in it, and these had found 
ingress and egress through '' smoots " in the 
stone fences. Upon examination we found that 
the larger of these were regularly used by our 
quarry, and, as we could not net them, we 
determined to plant a purse net at every smoot, 
drive the wood with fast dogs, and so bag our 
game. When everything was ready the lurchers 



158 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

commenced their work, and, thoroughly 
grasping the programme, worked up to it 
admirably. Each dog that ''found" drove its 
hare fast and furiously (this was necessary), 
and, in an hour, a dozen were bagged. There 
was only this disadvantage. The wood was so 
large, the smoots so far apart, that many 
of the hares screamed for some seconds before 
they could be dispatched. The continuance 
of this screaming brought up the keepers, and 
our game was up, and with it what we had 
bagged. The watchers numbered four or five, 
and, leaving everything, we ran. In our line 
of retreat was an abandoned hut built by the 
charcoal burners, consisting of poles, with 
heather and fern for roof and sides. We made 
for this, hoping, in the darkness, to elude 
our pursuers, then double in our tracks 
as soon as they had passed. But they were 
not so easily deceived. As soon as the 
crackling of the dead sticks caused by our 
tread had ceased, they evidently suspected 
some trick, and knew that we were still in the 
wood. And the hut was the first object of 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 159 

search. As they were quite unaware of our 
number they declined to enter, but invited us 
into the open. We replied by barricading the 
narrow doorway with poles and planks which 
we found within. Of course this was only 
completing our imprisonment, but we felt that 
one or more of their number would be sent for 
further help, and that then we would make a 
dash to escape. We agreed to take off in 
different directions, to divide the attacking 
force, and then lead them across the roughest 
country we could find. A deep stream was 
not far off, and here we would probably 
escape. But our scheme went wrong — or, 
rather, we had no opportunity to put it into 
practice. After waiting and listening awhile 
we saw lights glisten in the chinks of the 
heather walls, and then fumes of smoke began 
to creep up them. They were burning us out. 
Quietly as we could we undid the barricading, 
and, as the air rushed in, tiny tongues of flame 
shot up the heather. Now we lay low with 
our faces on the damp floor. Then a pole was 
thrust through. Another current of air and 



i6o The Confessions of a T^oacher, 

the flames shot everywhere. The thick smoke 
nearly stifled us, and the heat became intense. 
The fire ran up the poles, and burning bits of 
the heather roof began to fall. Then came the 
crisis. A fir pole had been raised without, 
and then was to crash through the hut. This 
was the first outside proceeding we had 
seen — we saw it through the riddled walls. 
As soon as the men loosed their hold of the 
tree for its fall we sprang from the doorway ; 
and then for a few seconds the sight was mag- 
nificent. As the roof crashed in the whole 
hut was one bright mass of flame, and a sheet 
of fire shot upwards into the night. The 
burning brackens and ling sent out myriads of 
sparks, and these falling around gave us a few 
seconds' start. As agreed, we each hurled 
a burning brand among the keepers, then disap- 
peared in the darkness. Certainly no one 
followed us out of the wood. We had simply 
scored by lying low with the fire about us, 
taking advantage of the confusion and dazzling 
light, and then knowing our way out of the 
difiiculty. The squire's son, we saw, was one 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 163 

of the attacking party. We were a bit burnt, 
we lost the game and nets, but were quite 
content to have escaped so easily. 

There is another incident which I have 
good cause to remember all my life. It is of 
a somewhat different nature to the foregoing, 
and occurred on the estuary of the river which 
I used frequently to net with good results. 
Someone who was certainly not very friendly 
disposed had seen me and my companion start 
for our fishing ground, and had made the most of 
their knowledge. After getting to the near 
vicinity of our work, we lay down beneath a 
hay-rick to wait for a degree of darkness. 
Then we crawled on hands and knees by the 
side of a fence until it brought us to a familiar 
pool which we knew to be well stocked with 
salmon and trout. As we surveyed the water 
we heard voices, and knew that the pool was 
watched. These sounds seemed to come from 
the lower limbs of a big tree, and soon one of 
the watchers hidden in the branches stupidly 
struck a match to light his pipe. This not 
only frescoed two forms against the night, but 



164 T^he Confessions of a T^oacher. 

lit up their faces with a red glow. The dis- 
covery was a stroke of luck. We knew where 
we had the water bailiffs, and the rest was easy. 
We got quietly away from the spot, and soon 
were at work in a pool further up stream. 
No one but a gaunt heron objected to our 
fishing, and we made a splendid haul. The 
salmon and sea-trout had begun to run, 
and swarmed everywhere along the reaches. 
We hid our net in the '' otter " holes, and, 
under heavy loads, made for home across the 
meadows. We were well aware that the local 
police changed duty at six in the morning, and 
timed our entry into town precisely at that 
hour. But our absence of the previous night 
had gone further abroad, and the local Angling 
Association, the Conservancy Board, and the 
police had each interested themselves in our 
doings. It was quite unsafe to hide the spoil, 
as was usual, and home it must be carried. I 
was now alone. In the open I felt com- 
paratively safe, but as I neared my destmation 
I knew not whom I should meet round the 
next turn. Presently, however, it seemed as 



The Confessions of a Poacher, 167 

though I was in luck. Every wall, every 
hedgerow, every mound aided my going. 
Now a dash across an open field would land 
me almost at my own door. Then I should 
be safe. I had hardly had time to congratulate 
myself on my getting in unobserved when a 
constable, then a second, and a third were all 
tearing down upon me from watch points, where 
they had been in hiding. The odds were against 
me, but I grasped my load desperately, drew 
it tightly upon my shoulders, and ran. The 
police had thrown down their capes, and were 
rapidly gaining upon me. I got into a long 
slouching trot, however, determined to make 
a desperate effort to get in, where I should 
have been safe. This they knew. Strong 
and fleet as I was I was too heavily handi- 
capped, but I felt that even though I fell 
exhausted on the other side of the door-way, I 
would gain it. My pursuers — all heavy men — 
were blown, and in trouble, and I knew there 
was now no obstacle before me. Now it was 
only a distance of twenty yards — now a dozen. 
The great thuds of the men's feet were close 



1 68 The Confessions of a Poacher, 

upon me, and they breathed like beaten 
horses. My legs trembled beneath me, and 
I was blinded by perspiration. '' Seize him," 
"seize him," gasped the sergeant — but I was 
only a yard from the door. With a desperate 
feeling that I had won, I grasped the handle 
and threw my whole weight and that of my 
load against the door, only to find it — locked. 
I fell back on to the stones, and the stern 
chase was ended. 

For a minute nobody spoke — nobody was 
able to. I lay where I fell, and the men 
leaned against what was nearest them. Then 
the sergeant condescended to say " poor beg- 
gar" — and we all moved oflF. The fish were 
turned out on the grass in the police station 
yard, and were a sight to see. There were 
ninety trout, thirty-seven salmon-morts, and 
two salmon. I was not detained. One 
of the men handed me a mort, telling 
me I would be ready "for a substantial break- 
fast. I knew what it all meant, and first 
thought of bolting, then settled that I 
would do as I had always done — face it out. 



The Confessions of a Poacher. 171 

But I little knew what this meant, as will 
presently be seen. I knew sufficient of the law 
to forsee that I should be charged with tres- 
passing ; with night poaching ; with being in 
illegal possession of fish ; with illegally killing 
and taking salmon ; perhaps other counts 
besides. But what I did not know was that I 
should be charged, in addition, with being in 
illegal possession of one hundred and twenty- 
nine salmon and trout during the close season. 
And this is how it came about. There had 
been an agitation throughout the whole of the 
Conservancy district. It was contended that 
the fishing season extended too far into Autumn 
by a fortnight — that by that time the fish 
had begun to spawn. The old condition of 
things had held for years, and the new Con- 
servancy bye-laws had only just come into 
operation. And so I was trapped. The case 
came on, and a great shoal of magistrates with it. 
Two of them were personally interested, and 
were charitable enough to retire from the Bench 
— they pushed their chairs back about an inch 
from the table. I pleaded guilty to all the 



172 The Confessions of a T^oacher. 

charges except the last, and explained the case as 
clearly as I could. The Conservancy solicitor, 
who prosecuted, did then what he had never 
done before. It was a bad case he said, but 
added that I had never before been charged 
with netting during '' close-time," and had never 
used lime or other wholesale methods of pois- 
oning. He pointed out, too, to the presiding 
Justice that I always claimed to '' poach 
square" — at which all the young ones laughed. 
He did not press for the heaviest penalty. 
But this was quite unnecessary, as I got it 
without. I never quite understood how they 
made it up, but I was fined ninety-seven 
pounds. I told the Chairman that I should 
pay it ''in kind," and went to '' hard " for nine 
months. 



WORKS BY JOHN WATSON. 



NATURE AND WOODCRAFT. 

Crown 8vo, 5/. 
With Illustrations by G. E. Lodge. 



LONDON : SiMITH 6- INNES. 



SYLVAN FOLK : 

SKETCHES OF BIRD AND ANIMAL LIFE IN BRITAIN. 
Crown 8vo, 3/6. 



LONDON : T. FISHER UNWIN. 



BRITISH SPORTING FISHES. 

Crown 8vo, with Frontispiece, 3/6. 



LONDON : CHAPMAN 6* HALL. 



IN THE PRESS. 



THE ANNALS OF A QUIET VALLEY. 



Crown 8tw, 7.%^pp.^ clotk^ %s. 6d. 

SYLVAN FOLK: 

Sketches of Bird and Animal Life in Britain, 

BY 

JOHN "WATSON, F.L.S., 

Author of •' Nature and Woodcraft^' etc. 



NOTICES OF THE PRESS. 

" Written by a born naturalist. . . . Characterised by that indefinable 
something which distinguishes the obser\'er of the fields and woods fi-om the 
mere book student." — Daily News. 

" It is this fi-eshness, this out-door atmosphere, that gives its charm to these 
sketches of bird and animal life, and that leads the reader along in fascinated 
interest from the first to the last page." — Literary World. 

" May be placed on the same shelf with that of the greatest of all writers 
on English nuul life without any quarrel being incurred. ... At once a 
morally bracing and most instructive book." — Christian Leader. 

" He fully deserves the high compliment of being compared with Jefferies 
. . . . This beautiful lK>ok, in which a zoologist might find new facts, a 
poet light, and any thoughtful reader an inspiration." — Fishing Gazette. 

" There is the same enthusiasm and sincerity that marked Jefiferies' work. 
Mr. Watson always writes like a man who has his eye on his subject. * Nature 
by Night ' is a thoroughly charming prose idyl, every detail in which is ob- 
viously taken at first hand from Nature.' — Observer. 

" Full of delicate description as enchanting as a fairy tale. Dull indeed 
must be the reader who is insensible to its delightful charm . . . Does the 
increase of such books mean that we are tired of the ci\nlisation of the streets, 
and are ready to turn back for a while to the relics of a freer and wilder state ? " 
— Manchester Examiner. 

" After the laboured imitations of Jefferies, Mr. Watson's ' Sylvan Folk ' 
comes like a breath of sweet country air into the atmosphere of an emporium 
of stuffed birds and calico flowers. A sympathetic, keen-eyed, worshipful ob- 
server of Nature, Mr. Watson writes with the simplicity and directness 
of a man who knows what he is about. There is not an uninteresting page in 
' Sylvan Folk ' from first to last." — Echo. 

" He knows how to interpret many of the innumerable signs and symbols 
which are readily misunderstood, or altogether overlooked, by less careful 
inquirers. . . . His descriptions are so fresh — they suggest so vividly the 
idea of happy hours spent among attractive scenes in the open air — that they 
wiU give genuine pleasure to everyone who reads them." — Nature. 

London : T. FISHER UNWIN, Paternoster Square, E.G. 



Crown 8«7, 302 f^^ cloth^ y. (xL 

MTORE AND WOODCRAFT 

BY 

JOHN WATSON, F.L.S., 

Author of " Sylvan Folk" &c. 



NOTICES OF THE PRESS. 

" A delightfully fresh and enjoyable book. Those who know the open air 
and the life of animated nature will enjoy the skill with which Mr. Watson 
translates its aspects and its actions into literary expression. Those who dwell 
in cities will enjoy it because the papers induce the illusion that one is in the 
country." — Scotsman. 

" Written with real ability as well as adequate knowledge. On every page 
there is evidence of genuine though never paraded enthusiasm for the calm 
delights of the coimtry. Mr, Watson writes in a clear and attractive manner, 
and one, moreover, aroimd which an imaginative glamour rests."— Z^«£r Mercury, 

" Mr. Watson writes effectively, from the accumulations of years of close 
observation of nature. Since the death of Mr. Jefferies few living writers can 
compete with him in this particular path of literature." — BookselUr. 

" This is the best witten and most valuable of Mr. Watson's books. Best of 
all are his chapters on the old Statesman theory of life in the North." — 
Acadtmy. 

" Nothing can be better than all those chapters which describe life among 
fhe Cumbrian moimtains ; this is Mr. Watson's real theme, and he deserves 
all the thanks we can give him for executing it with such true feeling." — 
Manchester Guardian. 

" Mr. Watson's volume ' Nature and Woodcraft ' deserves a hearty welcome, 
and will doubtless get it. He writes with a grace and fluency that make his 
book hard to leave." — Yorkshire Post. 

" Many admirers of Richard Jefferies will be glad to see that one still lives 
who can write so charmingly of nature and woodcraft." — Perthshire Advertiser. 

"As an observer pure and simple, and as a bright and pleasing recorder, 
Mr. Watson can hold his own with anybody ; and his range is sufficiently 
extensive to secure, in addition to all other charms, the charm of variety."^ 
Manchester Examiner. 



London : WALTER SMITH 6- IXXES, Bedford St., Strand, W.C. 



HOME USE 

CIRCULATION DEPARTMENT 

MAIN LIBRARY 

This book is due on the last date stamped below. 
1-month loans may be renewed by calling 642-3405. 
6-month loans may be recharged by bringing books 

to Circulation Desk. 
Renewals and recharges may be made 4 days prior 

to due date. 

ALL BOOKS ARE SUBJECT TO RECALL 7 DAYS 

AFTER DATE CHECKED OUT. 



mr 1 5 



LD21 — A-40m-8,'75 
(S7737L) 



General Library 

University of Califernla 

Berkeley