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The Moor and the Loch
Appendix


TRAPPING THE ONLY EFFECTUAL WAY TO DESTROY VERMIN.

I HAVE put together the following directions for the trapping of vermin, in order that gentlemen may judge of the merits of their keepers in this respect; being well aware how few have anything like a perfect knowledge of this most necessary part of their business. No moors or manors can abound with game unless the vermin are killed off; and if the traps are not set with much skill, and the places for planting them for the different kinds of vermin selected with great judgment, more harm than good is done, as few are caught and the rest put on their guard, and thus rendered more cunning and difficult to be trapped afterwards.

A gentleman should first ascertain if his keeper can perform the mere manual act of setting a trap. This must be done by cutting a shape for it with a mole-spade in the turf, thinly sprinkling the plate with earth, and then a top covering precisely the same as the ground: when set, it should be neither higher nor lower. After having satisfied himself of the neatness of the setting, the gentleman may spring the trap, and if it closes clear of grass or leaves, he may rest satisfied that his keeper knows the A B C of vermin-killing. If, on the contrary, a quantity of the top dressing is caught between the jaws of the trap, the keeper is not fit to set for vermin, and must be made thoroughly master of this first requisite before he attempts to do so.

I shall now mention the different kinds of four-footed and then winged vermin, giving minute instructions how each may be most readily trapped. Foxes are the most cunning, and consequently most difficult to be taken. The best time to set for them is from the beginning of January - when the males follow the females-till March. Their haunts may then often be discovered by their wild peculiar bark. Any clear open space near them, with a hollow in the middle, is the place to plant traps. The hollow is necessary, as the fox always likes to be out of sight when he is eating. The bait is a piece of hare, rabbit, or the entrails of any animal, covered over slightly with earth; and half-a-dozen traps are set round with the utmost care. Fewer will not do, as the fox might escape between. The bait is covered over in order to make Reynard suppose that another fox or dog may have buried it there. Some drag it along the ground for a considerable distance on either side, after first rubbing it on the soles of their shoes, and letting fall little pieces of cheese at intervals : this can do no harm, but I think as little good.

The circle of twigs is also a very good way of trapping foxes all the year. It should be made larger than for martins or cats, in order to contain more bait-this should be added to without being removed when it taints, as the greater the scent the better the chance. Traps set for foxes should never be made fast, or they are apt to knaw the leg off: the best plan is to tie two or three together; for if the fox can drag them, however great the difficulty, he will not attempt the desperate remedy of amputating his leg. When they have litters, the old ones may be taken; but it requires great judgment to select the spot they would be most likely to walk over in going to and from their young : a first-rate trapper, however, will generally secure one or both. It is the more difficult, as the traps must be set at some distance, or the young ones would be apt to stumble into them. As only single traps are set, they should be tied to a stone just large enough for the fox to drag with some trouble. The keeper should always sprinkle a little water over the top covering of the trap to take off the scent of his fingers.

I do not give publicity to these modes of destroying foxes, with any design to their being followed in the Lowlands, where the gentlemen of the " View halloo!" would give me small thanks. I only write for the preservation of the Highland game and lambs ; and am sure that if my plan was vigorously followed up, we should not be infested with half so many foxes as we are, " fox hunter" and all ! This, I believe it never will be, the fun of a Highland fox-hunt being so popular among the farmers as to overbalance the merits of any other system requiring trouble, dexterity, and patience. [I lately saw in the newspapers a plan for extirpating foxes in the Highlands. Each hill farmer was to keep a couple of fox-hounds, a good greyhound, besides terriers. When occasion offered, they were to join packs, and collect the best shots (alias, the greatest poachers) in the neighbourhood. I can only say, without in the least impugning the motives or honesty of intention of the projector, that if the Highland proprietors suffer a gang of this kind to take the hill at pleasure, they will soon hardly have a head of game on their estates. As to allowing farmers to keep greyhounds, terriers, &c., no gentleman who sets any value on his grouse or hares would ever think of it.]

The otter, although harmless on the moor, is sufficiently mischievous in the loch to deserve honourable mention here. On the banks of the lochs and rivers which he frequents, he has always a fane to which he resorts once a day ; this is either a stone or root of a tree, but if neither of these are at hand, he scrapes up the sand or gravel into a small mound. It is easy to know his marks, as his dung is full of fish-bones. Traps should be set all round, a twenty-feet cord tied to each, with a cork or piece of wood attached ; the traps never to be fastened, otherwise the otter may pull out his leg, from its being so smooth, thick, and short. The moment he is caught, he waddles with the trap to the water, which sinks and drowns him, the line and float showing where. It is also an excellent plan to look for the place where he lands, and plant a trap just under water. As soon as he strikes for ground, he is caught by the fore-feet. This trap needs no covering but the water, and is never suspected.

Cats, martins, and fowmartes are easily trapped. Plant a circle of twigs about three yards round, the twigs a foot and a half long and close to each other, placing the same bait as for a fox in the centre, but without any covering; leave two openings at opposite sides just large enough for the trap. You may also set with baits hanging on the stem of a tree - a few twigs placed on either side to prevent the vermin sneaking in there, and so carrying off the bait. Box-traps are very good for stoats or weasels, but as they are generally set in the low grounds, where pole-cats also abound, I prefer an iron rat-trap with a strong spring; having found that the fowmarte constantly pushed up the lid of the other, and so escaped. The rat-trap will hold a pole-cat, and do little or no injury to cattle or dogs. The bait should be hung upon a twig immediately above, and almost out of reach of the weasels.

Stoats, and especially weasels, are often seen in great abundance in summer. They may then be very easily shot, as you have only to imitate the squeak of a mouse to bring them close to you. I once, when without a gun, decoyed one so far away from its retreat that I killed it with my stick. Should the keeper see a weasel, all he has to do is, with as much speed as possible, to cut a small piece from any of his baits, drag it along the ground where he last saw the weasel, and hang it on a twig with his rat-trap under, as before described : if he does not let too long time elapse, it is sure to be taken. The weasel, like the merlin, is the maximum of strength, courage, and activity, in the minimum of size.

The depredations of this little creature would not be so formidable, if he contented himself with satisfying hunger. But on the contrary, whenever he has the opportunity, he murders by wholesale like the martin, rejecting everything but the most dainty morsels. One of these little rascals, in pursuit of a rabbit or young hare, is the very miniature of a wolf running down a deer; a panic comes over the victim, which prevents it from making a determined effort to escape. Instead of distancing its persecutor by taking a long stretch, the poor terror-stricken rabbit keeps slowly dotting along, only a short way ahead, and squats down the first opportunity. The weasel follows on the track, and very soon the rabbit, not daring to take refuge in its hole, resigns itself to its fate.

I kept a weasel for some time in a wire cage, which soon became tame enough to pull little pieces of meat from the hand through the bars. Having a mind to try its pluck, I procured from a rat-catcher an enormous male rat, at least twice the size of the weasel, and in presence of several friends turned it into the cage. The rat reared itself on its hind legs and fought with the utmost desperation, but in less than a quarter of a minute it lay gasping on its side. There is a curious account of a similar fight between a large buck-ferret and a rat, in Jesse's Gleanings of Natural History. But I cannot help thinking, either that the rat must have been the champion of the genus mus, or the ferret the most faint-hearted of his species. Once let a ferret, properly entered at rats, get within a gripe of its foe, and it will seize by scent with the rapidity of lightning, and never quit its hold while life remains. The pheasantry-keeper, whom I before mentioned as having taught grouse, black-game, pheasants, &c. to live together in harmony, tried a similar experiment with a ferret, a pole-cat, a stoat and a weasel. They were confined in a large box grated over with iron bars; and the result proved that a ferret stands upon little ceremony with a much more fierce and active enemy than a rat. The first victim was the stoat, whose place was supplied by another, which soon shared the fate of its predecessor. The ferret next attacked and killed the weasel ; and, to crown all, the polecat, a large male, nearly double the size of the ferret, a small female, was found dead one morning, the cage exhibiting the marks of a desperate struggle ; the fowmarte certainly fought at disadvantage, one of its fore-legs having beer. injured by a trap. These creatures had lived together for upwards of a month, after which time the ferret commenced its attacks at intervals of a few days or a week. I went out daily to see them fed, when the dinner party exhibited very little kindliness or good breeding.

No traps should be set for running vermin during the warm weather, as the bait so soon taints ; nor in hard frost, as the traps are then apt not to spring, or to hold the vermin so slightly that they escape.

WINGED VERMIN.

The hawk tribe, seldom or never taking a bait, are the most difficult to be trapped of all winged vermin. The only plan with any chance of success (except at the breeding time) is to place a trap on the top of a wall, or bare stump of a tree, throwing a dead cat or other carrion at the foot; the hawks will often alight, to look down at it, and thus be caught. A hawk, however, will always return to any bird he has killed, even should scarcely anything be left but the bones. In such a case, immediately procure a trap, hang the bird directly above, and close to it, or the hawk may reach over and take it down without touching the trap.

But when they hatch is the time thoroughly to thin them. The nests should be most carefully searched out, and not disturbed until the young are more than half fledged. Many shoot the old hen flying off her eggs, but this is not the way to extirpate the race, as the males of course escape.

When the young are pretty strong, and able to call loudly from hunger, take them out of the nest, and make two circles out of sight of each other. These circles must not be artificial or formed of twigs stuck in the ground, but any bushes of furze, heather, or rushes, must be taken advantage of for the purpose. Half of the young ones must be tied in the one, and half in the other. They must have very short tethers, or they will waddle into the trap. If this is well executed, you are sure of both old ones next day.

Buzzards [A curious story of the honey-buzzard was related to me by a gentleman whose name stands high as a scholar, and who takes great interest in Natural History. A friend of his was passing a gravel-pit, when he perceived what he thought was a bird without a head, he walked silently forward and seized it, and discovered that his prize was a honey-buzzard, which had thrust its head into a wasp's nest, and was busily engaged in devouring the larvae. The bird was kept tame for some time afterwards.] and kites are easily trapped in autumn or winter, as they readily take a bait. It is not worth while to take much trouble about them, as they do little mischief to game, unless a young bird that cannot fly, or small leveret, happen to stumble in their way. I am loath to bring an accusation against my great favourite the ivy-owl, but truth compels me to say that he is nearly as injurious to game as the buzzard quite as much so as the kite. The other owls, viz., the white and the long and short-eared, may be considered harmless.

Carrion-crows and ravens, or "corbies," take them for all in all, are perhaps as mischievous as hawks. The best season for trapping them is in March and April; the circle of twigs to be set in conspicuous places; the same bait as for foxes, martins, &c., will do, but the best is a dead lamb, from being so readily seen; and at that season it may be very easily procured. The numbers taken in this way are astonishing. When they become cunning, take down the twigs and plant half-a-dozen traps round the lamb. If there is a puddle of water near, the bait may be placed in the middle of it, with one or two entrances, upon which traps may be set; the ravens, &c., are sure to light on these entrances before settling on the lamb, and the trouble of setting so many traps as would otherwise be required is thus avoided.

Magpies, jays, &c., all take a bait; but the grand recipe thoroughly to destroy them, is to find the nests and set the young in circles.

There are many other ways of killing all these vermin which I have not thought it worth while to mention, as they cannot stand a comparison with those I have named. Traps must always be set close to paths or any other open places near the haunts of the different vermin, with which it should be the keeper's great endeavour to make himself thoroughly acquainted. If placed according to these rules, there is not much danger of either cattle or game getting into any, cept those without circles for carrion-crows or foxes, which of course require caution. We constantly see keepers lounging about with their guns in pursuit of vermin ; this ought not to be. Guns only tempt them to idleness, and are an excellent excuse for doing nothing. In my opinion no vermin should be shot by a gamekeeper. But if his master prefer securing the old hens as they fly off the nest during hatching time, instead of waiting for the young to come out, no other plan can be adopted. My reasons to the contrary have been given.

I have no doubt that the truly valuable keeper, who takes an interest in the duties of his situation, will approve of all I have said, and endeavour to profit by it : the careless, ignorant, and lazy will as certainly cavil and condemn.

TRAPS.

Great care should be taken in the selection of traps : none but an approved maker ought to be employed: that the springs are well tempered and strong is of the utmost consequence. The jaws must overlap, which is a great preventive to the legs, especially of the winged vermin, being shred off. To avoid this, some traps are made with weaker springs and long teeth - these are not to be recommended, for, although the teeth may counterbalance the weakness of the spring, yet the vermin are apt to feel them when walking up to the bait, and slink back without stepping on the plate. It is also much more difficult to set them neatly. Traps whose springs have been weakened by constant use may be reserved for flying vermin.

VERMIN TERRIER.

I had almost forgotten to say that every gamekeeper, in all his trapping and other excursions, should be accompanied by an excellent vermin terrier. The use of this dog is to challenge vermin in earths, clefts of rocks, &c., thus making the keeper aware where to plant a trap-to find out fowmartes in old walls or heaps of stones, where they generally conceal themselves-and to run those banes of the preserve, the semiwild cats, into trees, where, with the assistance of his master, they may easily be killed. A dog will soon become so expert at this last accomplishment that few cats will be able to escape him. These cats do much more mischief than real wild ones, as they are impudent enough to carry their depredations into the midst of the preserve, and close to the most frequented places. The fowmarte, although an enemy to all game, is generally more calumniated than he deserves : he is not nearly so injurious as the martin or cat. I have frequently found his retreat when no other signs of plunder were to be seen except a few frogs half-eaten. When discovered, the pole-cat has no activity, and if the wall or heap of stones where he has sheltered himself can be pulled down or removed, he cannot escape.

Only one and the same terrier should be the keeper's constant companion, as the dog will soon be "up to" the traps, and from continual practice become first-rate at this work. He must have a very good nose, and be perfectly callous to game of all descriptions, but especially rabbits and hares.

 

London: Printed by W. CLOWES and SONS, Stamford Sheet.


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