« PreviousContinue »
always in great request among the farmers. It is seldom, however, that its quiet is disturbed by the presence either of a shepherd or his dog. Should any traveller chance to read this description, and look down upon my lowly island from one of its commanding neighbours, no doubt he would wonder at my selection. There is, indeed, no waving copse, no rocky height, with its varied view, to entrance the summer visitor, but it has to me even a greater charm in its wild and lonely seclusion.
For the last few winters, the wild sport on Loch Lomond has much deteriorated from what I recollect it in former years. The frosts have never been so long continued, nor so severe, as to tame the fowl, and bring wild swans or geese. Besides, the soft rainy weather of the west has prevailed so much, rendering the loch large and full, that the few water-fowl that do frequent it at such unfavourable times, have all kept to the shallow water on the eastern side. But should a frost set in, the shallow parts of course are first frozen, the loch falls rapidly, and they come pouring over to our side. Every day brings fresh numbers, both from the shallow coast opposite, and the moor lochans, now frozen up. In January, 1848, there were only ten days of frost, and the preceding year about the same amount of continued hard weather. I spent the best days of both seasons on the loch, and will endeavour to show what the admirer of wild shooting may expect upon such expeditions.
There are three excellent ranges for wild fowl, all beginning at Rossdhu House. One, down to the old water of Fruin, called the Mid-Ross Shore, is a great resort of wigeon and ducks. It extends along a flat, grassy lonely coast, with fine screens of whin and broom Another
takes in the whole shore as far as Luss. It is full of weedy bays, and green points, and is much frequented by dun-birds, tufts, scaups, and morillons. The third range comprehends the islands, viz.: Inch Moan, which I have just described, Inch Tavannach, and Inch Connachan. The narrow passage between these islands, called the Straits, is a fine shelter for all wild-fowl from the Hooper to the Teal. And, lastly, the Castle of Galbraith, a very small island, which, although it has no feeding ground, makes a good resting place for ducks at mid-day. When they are detected there in fancied security with their beaks under their wings, and one leg tucked up comfortably into their breast feathers, it is the most certain opportunity for a sitting shot. There is also a fine view of Inch Moan, and part of the Straits, from the top of the ruin, once the yearly resort of the Osprey, and which I never ascend without regret for having murdered her on her own threshold. From the top of this ruinous castle, the best haunts of the wild fowl on the adjoining islands may be commanded with a telescope. Tradition says that a sort of wild man, called Galbraith, sheltered in the old castle, and being a most expert swimmer, as he had much need to be, he used to strike out for Rossdhu House, take the roast off the spit, tie it round his body with a string, and return in triumph to his island. When a boy I was much horrified at this account, and used to picture a sort of half-demon, half-maniac rushing into the house, the inmates flying right and left, while he marched to the water with his smoking booty.
I will now recount the adventures of eight days' duckstalking, beginning Friday, January 21st, 1848. Frosty, but not very hard. Took the Luss beat, the loch not
being low enough for Mid-Ross shores, attended by game-keeper, with a little wiry hairy retriever that looked as if he could stand as much cold as a Polar bear. No fowl of any kind on Luss shores, so embarked for the islands. Detected the whole mass of tufts, dun-birds, morillons, &c., diving and feeding together, on the Inch Tavannach side of the straits. Saw it would be a most difficult stalk, and, from the nature of the ground, that I could only get a flying right and left. So it turned out; a long circuit brought me within a distant run, could get no nearer, so chose a pair of tufts, as being closest to shore. Watched their simultaneous dive. Made my run, and dropped both. Took boat for Inch Moan, as the straits were now cleared of fowl for this day. Only three moss ducks on a green point of the south side. A long stalk, and distant chance. Dropped a pair; one, however, rose again, and made off. Came round to north coast of the island. Nothing but a dab-chick, which I shot for a specimen. In the far distance, to the west, keeper spied what we thought a morillon diving, but when I advanced I saw it was a male tuft. Dropped him dead; a long shot. No more fowl seen to day; total, five head.
Saturday, 27th. Embarked at ten o'clock, and steered straight for the Castle of Galbraith, as the fowl were not pinched enough to frequent Luss shores. Ascended the castle, and had the satisfaction of twigging a shoal of dunbirds busily feeding on the north shore of Inch Moan. Immediately set sail, and landed on the south side, under cover of the roofless house. Perused the flock through my glass, and was a little let down to see three ducks on the shore close under the dun-birds. The chance of a heavy shot at the latter materially lessened by the ducks.
Waited to see if they would decamp, but they were hungry, and would not quit the weeds drifting in from their diving friends. Leaving gamekeeper in the house, I took a crouching stretch along the south shore, and, as the ground was dry and hard, did not grudge a long hand and knee crawl across the island. Neared the north shore without disturbing their operations, and, when within fifty yards of them, got my eye upon the mar-plot ducks, about thirty yards from me. Could easily have strung them all. The dun-birds were feeding in circles of from twenty to thirty yards in circumference. They were now at the furthest point, and I, of course, waited till they came to the nearest, which brought the mass to within forty yards. Fired into the middle of them. Six lay dead at my first discharge, and two from wing at my second. Three swam away, two only wing-broken, but the third badly struck in the body also. The keeper prudently did not slip the retriever, but instantly ran for the boat: he, too, had marked the mortally wounded bird; so, after securing the eight fowl, we followed in pursuit, and drove him ashore into a bush on Inch Tavannach. I put my hand into my pocket for my powder-flask, to load, in case he might dash out into the water again. No flask was there! I had left it on my dressing-table, when charging my gun, before coming out in the morning. Nothing now for it but to slip the retriever. Before he could reach the bush, however, the wary bird rushed out again upon its native element. Down under water, but the dive was a short one. Dive after dive-shorter and shorter. At last it could not get out of sight, and I soon picked up the ninth dun-bird to two discharges. When it is borne in mind that my charge did not exceed an ounce and three
quarters of No. 4 shot, and that the dun-bird is nearly as large as a duck, and decidedly the most hardy bird to carry away shot of all the anas tribe, any expert wild-fowl shooter will at once perceive how rare a piece of good fortune a shot of this kind is. It was, therefore, without much grumbling that I rowed to Rossdhu for my powder-flask, a distance of about two miles. When we returned to Inch Moan, the day had worn on. I got a flying right and left at wigeon, on the far end of the island, killing both.
It was now late, so we sought the mainland, and I emptied my gun at a fine roebuck passing close to me in the dusk. My No. 4 told well, and he fell dead without a struggle. Eleven head, and a roe.
Monday, 24th. Mist so thick that stalking was out of the question. Calm. Frost hard, and ground dry. Only one chance at a mud mallard, and slew him on Inch Moan. One head.
Tuesday, 25th. Close and misty, as yesterday. Frost continued. Only two chances, (they certainly might be called so, for the mist made it all chance together,) one at wigeon, which I stalked by sound of their purring and whistling on Mid-Ross shore. Killed three at a shot. When returning, stumbled on a mallard, and dropped him dead. This evening a brisk wind set in. Four head.
Wednesday, 26th. Clear frost, with a little wind. Took the Mid-Ross beat. About a mile before we got to the good ducking ground, a heron rose out of a swamp in an oak copse. Fired, and dropped her among the trees. A good omen! As soon as we ascended Auchintulloch Brae, which commands a long reach of Mid-Ross, saw three ducks and a drake feeding in the nearest bay. A very easy stalk.