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THE FIELD SPORTS OF CANADA WEST.
In no country in the world aro field sports so much sought after as in England, and the natural consequence is, that the expense thereon attendant has of late years greatly increased, so much so as to render their successful pursuit almost, if not quite, unattainable by men of limited income. For this reason I have been induced to pen the following paper, in order to set before the lovers of the trigger the means whereby they can, for a moderate outlay, not only enjoy excellent sport, but at the same time can accomplish for their £200 or £300 per annum as much as their more wealthy neighbours can with £700 or £800. It is astonishing that the majority of Englishmen so little understand the real nature and capabilities of Canada, it being the almost general opinion that the ground is covered with snow for six or seven months in the year, and that the cold during this time is intense ; while for the remaining five or six months the heat is excessive-nay, almost overpowering. Perhaps this may be all very true of Lower, now Eastern Canada, of which I know nothing; but it certainly is very far from being the case with Upper, or, more properly, Western Canada, in general ; but more particularly with the southern and western part of it nothing can be more delightful than the climate. But it is not by any means my intention to enter into a defence of the climate, or the fertility of the soil, further than las reference to the sporting capabili. ties of the country. Here there are at present no obstructions to the enjoyment of shooting ; every man's land is free and open to all. There are no preserves, no game certificates. A dog-tax there certainly is of 4s. a-head, to get rid of the immense numbers of curs which formerly existed, as well also as a game-law, enacted for the purpose of preventing the destruction of bird and beast during the breeding season. This law, it must be confessed, is more honoured in the breach than in the observance ; and this, as well as it not being of sufficiently comprehensive a nature, will
, in the course of a few years, render a vigorous enactment of, as well as considerable additions to, the present law absolutely necessary, to prevent the total annihilation of the game. At present, however, there is in many parts quite sufficient for any reasonable man.
Of running game there are only two sorts in Western Canada namely, the deer and the hare. There are three methods adopted by the “inhabitants” of pursuing the deer, which we will endeavour to describe, merely promising that they cannot lawfully be shot, except by the Indians, between the inonths of January and September.
The first is torch-hunting, which is followed either on land or by water. If by land, two hunters proceed on a dark still night into the woods, where the deer are in the habit of feeding, where trees have been lately cut down, the leaves of which they are particularly partial to. One man, carrying a blazing torch, made of pine knot or the dry bark of the hickory tree, silently precedes his comrade, armed with a heavy rifle. Both of them strain their eyeballs in the endeavour to detect a pair of glistening balls of fire, which may at last be seen gazing
in stupid wonder at the unknown sight. On a signal the rifle is slowly and deliberately levelled between the two balls of firo, the trigger is pulled, and a falling sound is generally heard (for the space that separates them is not above a few yards). After reloading, they proceed to see what they have shot, for the beauty of this species of amusement is that your neighbour's—mayhap your own-horse or cow has been sacrificed, instead of what was vainly taken to be a deer. Such a catastrophe not unfrequently occurs, though the chances are more in favour of its being a deer. There is no skill in this sport, if sport it can be called, beyond being able to see a yard or two further in the dark than another man ; while, on the contrary, great skill is requisite in the pursuit of deer by water. It is well known that during the summer months the deer are very partial to the various plants that grow in the pools and rivers, to procure which, as well as to keep out of the way of the mosquitoes, they oft wade into the water a considerable distance. During the day, two hunters, with a good supply of pine knots or hickory bark, ascend the river in á light bark canoe as many miles as they think necessary. Here they wait till, close upon the witching hour of 12 o'clock at night, they light their torch. The gunner sits amidships: his friend, with noisless paddle, guides the light bark silently down the stream, approaching each likely bend, inspecting each reedy spot, where the deer come to feed on the aquatic plants and tender grasses. Merrily blazes the torch, fastened on a forked stick, and placed far forward over the bows, to prevent the sparks from firing the light inflammable materials. What is that noise? Listen! 'Tis only a duck-no! 'tis a deer, splashing the water to drive off the mosquitoes. Al! there he is ; but he sees the light. As quickly as seen, he gazes stupidly at it; the paddle grates against the side ; with one bound he reaches the shore, and is in an instant safe in the bush. With curses not loud, but deep, the paddler drives the bark viciously down the stream for a moment or two, to let his rage evaporate, and again permits the stream to carry the canoe along, merely keeping it in its proper course, but using greater caution. As the torch burns low, another one (of which several are kept ready tied amidships) is lighted and stuck on the prongs of a stick. Look at that noble stag in that streak of light which steals through yon break in the woods. The brightly flashing light fascinated the victim's gaze, and he wots not of his danger, as the canoe, as silent as the night, creeps closer to him. Slowly rises the rifle. For an instant it is steady : then it vomits forth its deadly contents. A second after the report a thud is heard, accompanied by a heavy fall. The canoe, which before was still as death, having been stayed in its course, darts forward; the victim's throat is cut; he is hoisted carefully on board ; and again they pursue their downward course.
It is very necessary that the aim should be true, for pursuit in the darkness after a wounded beast would be bootless ; consequently the best man holds the rifle. Such is torch-hunting, which, were it not for the intense excitement, would seem stupid. Mayhap if often indulged in 'twould pall upon the senses; but when it is otherwise, I know of nothing which is more fascinating, no amusement more pleasant, than thus to while away the midnight hours of a fine summer's night--to listen to the shrill chirp of the frog, mingled with the deep
bass croak of the bull frog-to watch the strange forms the ncighbouring thickets assume in your silent passage down the stream ; all this taking place while the nerves are braced up to the highest tension.
But I ought to be describing the next method of taking deer-i.e., with hounds. It is well known that deer have paths through the woods called "run-aways” or “run-ways." These are each guarded either by a shot-gun or the rifle, while three or four couple of hounds are (under the guidance of one to whom the “ bush” is well-known) sent several miles above the party before they are turned into the bush, and led towards the concealed "hunters." On trailing a deer they give tongue, and away go the deer, if the pursuit grows hot, right down on the ambush prepared for them; and it is no uncommon thing for eight or ten deer to be herding together, in which case the leaden storm flies fast and furious around them from all sides ; for the party are not
$ placed in a line, but, on the contrary, some a mile or more apart, and often one or more on the same run-way, lower down ; so that, perchance, the 1st gets a shot, when the deer flies off at a tangent often into the teeth of No. 2, who "gives him a one'un” and hands him over to No. 3; and so on he goes, until he either escapes or, more usually,
Where the stands are judiciously selected, a single deer frequently gives four or five of the stands a shot ; and it is particularly necessary to procure a good woodsman to station the party judiciously, else the chance of a shot is very slender. But there is no sport in the affair. You sit on a log in the cold for an hour or two; you
your friends getting shots; you cannot smoke; have no one to talk to; are tired of waiting, and yet dare not go, for you don't know the way out, to say nothing of the chance of getting shot. However, there is about
, as much sport in this as in shooting them in the water or knocking them on the head with a club, for both these barbarous methods are adopted in some parts of the country, where the deer usually resort to the water when pursaed, for they do not in every place fly as speedily to water as in some I know of.
The next method to be described is called “ still hunting.” This is done either by tracking in the snow or by walking in the bush without snow. Either of these methods requires great caution, endurance, and skill; indeed, me judice, they are the only two ways in which the true sportsman should condescend to hunt them. On a rough blowing day, preceded by a night's rain, we should enter the bush with the greatest prospect of sport, for the rain softens the leaves, and prevents their crackling under our feet, while the wind over-head causes the branches to break and crackle, distracting the attention of the deer from your gaucherie in putting your foot on a dead branch-a most fatal proceeding, which frequently, nay most certainly, if close up, reveals to your astonished eyes the white scut bobbing up and down in the distance. However, we are anticipating a little, for we ought to tell you how to go on; having persuaded you to go into the bush, 'twould be hardly fair to so soon leave you in the lurch. Well, now have you your axe, flint,-and-steel, and punk? , if not, 'twill be as well for you to get them, as well as a small pocket mariner's-compass, without which no one should think of entering the bush. Innocently he may suppose that he is only going in for an hour's hunting ; the ardour of the chase may carry him after a wounded deer till he can no longer see his way, when
'twould be maluess to try to get back; he might lose his way, and theu could not, no matter how much he might wish it, get out ; in these cases, his axe and firing apparatus are of the greatest use ; with a large fire, and a soft log for a pillow, a cold frosty night will not hurt you. Having advanced into the bush till you come across fresh signs of deer, you must now proceed with great caution, looking intently into each tree top, brake, or behind each log, for these are favourite spots to find them in, more epecially in the head of a fallen oak, on the leaves of which they are very fond of browsing, as I said before ; every likely spot must be carefully looked into (and considerable practice is required before you can distinguish a deer in any one of these places, so closely does their dun colour assimilate to the trees), advancing a few feet, and carefully surveying every spot within your ken; by this means, and by going up-wind, a careful experienced hunter is often able to get within thirty or forty yards unheard or unseen; frequently, bowever, in creeping up to a deer after seeing him, he, if feeding, will raise his head, and look towards you ; in which case, by remaining perfectly motionless in the very position you were in when he raised his head, you may escape observation, and he will again begin to feed ; but you must be very careful, as 'tis ten to one but that he will take another look at you, to make sure, so that you ought never to have your eyes off him; and yet you must most carefully pick your steps. Having got within certain range, take him behind the shoulder ; but should he see you, and bound away, a sharp shrill whistle will almost invariably stop him; he will merely give one glance at you, half turning round, but a quick shot can frequently take advantage of his fatal curiosity, and give him a deadly wound.
With a fresh fall of snow (the first snow of the season is the best), which covers the ground some cight or ten inches, the method of proceeding is somewhat different, for on coming on the fresh tracks, you follow them, noting the direction, also whether the deer is feeding or not, and if, after dodging about in all directions, he should take off pretty straight, you may be certain he is about to lie down (but as you generally start at early dawn you most probably will find them all feeding); in which case, instead of following the tracks, your best plan is, to make a circle of a few hundred yards, keeping a bright look out, for a deer when lying down always keeps his eyes on his own tracks, and so sces you
before you can see him, should you foot him up, in which case it is D. I, O., and no mistake. Now, by circling him, you have him in the rear, and if you see him, you can maneuvre, probably, to get a shot at him lying down; if not, by making a slight noise he will jump up, and so clear away the obstruction; but remember, though it may not be quite fair to take a dirty advantage of him and hit him when down, yet it is by far the safest plan to do so if you can get a moderately decent shot, for when he rises, he does not stare at you above a second or two.
A word or two about dress will not be amigs. When gnow hunting, wear a blanket-coat, not too clean, but if you are camping out it soon becomes the proper colour. If there should be no snow, you must then wear a brownish grey suit; never black : you can see a black object nearly a mile, in the bush.
Deer-hunting can seldom or never be procured worth having, in the settlements, even on the verge of the wilderness, consequently you
can hardly get any habitation to cover you, in which case you have to resort to a tent, which we used to make of a pair of large sheets, thrown over a ridge-pole, with the back pinned up. With buffalo skins, two or three blankets, and a pillow (a hard log of wood is not pleasant), a large rousing fire, and a big pile of night wood, plenty of catables, drinkables, and a mild cigar, or far more fragrant and soothing old Cavendish honey-dew tobacco, inhaled from an old clay pipe, rivalling the lustre of the plug--with all these luxuries, a night, or even a fortnight, passes right merrily. What though the wind howls in the tree tops? you draw the ends of the blanket closer around you, and thank Providence it is not your turn to mend the fire. Early to bed” is the motto, and such is the case; ere three hours after dark, all is hushed in camp ; while an hour or two before the first glimmer of day, it is all alive again, coffee poured out and drunk with the greatest relish, and away the party sally, to endeavour to beguile a fine head, for this is the very best time to kill a deer, and the old stags are pretty wide-awake customers. Thiese, I believe, are the methods adopted in Canada for the hunting of deer, which are still plentiful in some parts of it, and as so many now yearly leave this country for a season's sporting there, 'twill save both them and myself some trouble here to state, (pro bono publico) what yearly I have to do several times over for individuals) the best places that are in the country; as for instance, beginning at Kingston, which is a pretty good deer-country, then at Seymour, and the banks of the river Trent, indeed the greater part of the Newcastle district, about the Grand river, in the Gucph and Brock districts, about Dover, as well as in various parts of the Western districts. In all of these places there are plenty, and in various other parts of the country they are to be found in smaller numbers.
Hare-shooting: In many parts, of both Eastern and Western Canada, a small species of hare is to be met with, in great numbers ; generally, indeed I may almost safely say always, in the neighbourhood of dense cedar and tamarac swamps. This little animal is about the size of our rabbit ; indeed, it is generally so called in the country, though it has none of the characteristics. The best method of shooting them is to hunt them up with three or four couples of beagles, wbich seldom fail to bring them within shot of some of the party; and where they are plentiful, and the hounds good, you may have a very fair day's sport. It requires, however, a good quick shot; for the little animals hop on, over, and under logs at a great rate. To follow the hounds would be almost an impossibility: if any one doubts, he will find to his cost that his essay has certainly been " the pursuit of knowledge under difficulties; but whether the greater difficulty would rest with his friends, in recognising the dirty, torn, begrimed, mud-bespattered wretch, to the be beau garcon of the previous hour, tis hard to say. However, it is very good fun when other sport is not be had.
Of bear-hunting I cannot speak, not having yet had the luck 10 be thrown in the way of it; though I should not consider this, or coon-bunting, marten-cats, black or grey squirrel shooting as coming legitimately under the head of field-sports; however, it is very good practice, with a small pea-rifle, to pick off these nimble creatures, just visible and that is all, some 50 yards above you, laid out on a limb. Nothing can exceed the perfection to which they have brought themselves in the United States.