Approaching the fowl with stalking-horse by H. R. Robertson. Source: Life on the Upper Thames, 197. Robertson explains, “The sense of smell and hearing is possessed by most wild-fowl in an extraordinary degree, and, except under favourable circumstances — favourable, that is, to the shooter — they display what Falstaff would call " a want of valour," and as soon as they become aware of the approach of the enemy, ignominiously take to flight: to quote Falstaff again, "There is no more valour in that Poins than in a wild duck." The utmost caution is consequently required; the method usually practised being that of walking towards the fowl in a gradually narrowing circle It is a very difficult and tedious affair, particularly if there should happen to be any wind blowing at the time. Any sudden motion of the horse is sure to attract the attention of the ducks, and cause them to take flight precipitately, so that the difficulty of manoeuvring such a mainsail of canvas must be great indeed. Early morning is the time of the day usually chosen for stalking, as there is then less probability of interruption. One cannot conceive a much greater trial of patience than happens when, after some hours spent in warily approaching the birds, a chance wayfarer accidentally frightens them away. In the "Noctes Ambrosianae," the Shepherd is made to speak eloquently of a mortifying experience of this sort — "It's a trial that Job would never have come through, without swearin — after wadin half the day through marsh and fen, sometimes up to the houghs (hips) and sometimes to the oxters (arm-pits), to see a dizzen or a score o' wild dyucks a' risin thegither, about a quarter of a mile aff, wi' their outstretched bills and droopin doups, maist unmercifully ill-made,' as ane might mustake it, for fleeing, and then making a circle half a mile ayont the reach o' slug, gradually fa'in intil a mathematical figure in Euclid's Elements, and vanishin, wi' the speed o' aigles, in the weathergleam (horizon), as if they were aff for ever to Norway or to the North Pole" (200-201).

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Robertson, H. R. Life on the Upper Thames. London: Virtue, Spalding, & Co., 1875.Internet Archive digitized from a copy in the University of Toronto Library.

Last modified 8 May 2012