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Sketches of The Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland


O, Page 90. - Highland Game

While game was in such abundance as to form part of the subsistence of the people, at a time when many had the means of destruction ready, and much liberty was given, it appears remarkable, that, now, when preserved with such jealous care, it is, in many places, become so scarce, as only to furnish a short pastime to a comparatively few privileged individuals; a fact which might lead to a belief, that too great care defeats its own object, and ensures the evil against which it seeks to guard. It is certain, that in moors which annually afford an apparently inexhaustible supply, and where good marksmen have been known to shoot more than one hundred birds in a forenoon, the game seems to increase instead of diminishing by this periodical destruction, persevered in, as it has been, for weeks, each successive season; whereas, in other moors strictly preserved, the birds are fewer in number, and becoming very scarce; at the same time, that I have been assured by men well acquainted with the state of these grounds in past times, that game was as abundant as on those which now furnish the greatest numbers. The mountains of Breadalbane, Athole, Badenoch, and other districts, furnish marked instances of this scarcity of game when protected, and of abundance where the greatest annual destruction prevails. For the singular fact that the periodical killing of game does not diminish the annual increase, various reasons are assigned. It is said, that when the old birds are left, they chase away in spring all the young brood of the preceding season, and that these take shelter on grounds where the old birds had been killed. It is also said, that in preserved moors, poachers are more frequent, bold, and destructive, in the expectation, as few frequent them, that they will not be discovered. A third assigned cause, and, in appearance, the most destructive of game, is, that the farmers and shepherds who occupy these moors, irritated by severe restrictions, tormented by threats of punishment, and insulted by the arrogance of insolent game-keepers, instead of being encouraged to preserve the game, and, instead of being allowed to derive from it either benefit or amusement, make a practice, in many cases, of feeding their dogs with the eggs, and when these escape their notice, accustom them to search for and destroy the young brood before they are fledged. Whether any or all of these causes affect the decrease of game, there appears little doubt, that judging from the character of the Highlanders, a kind and liberal indulgence to tenants in a moderate use of the gun on their own grounds, with strict injunction to their shepherds to be careful of the nests and of the young, and not to burn the heather in improper seasons, or in those places most frequented by the game, (although burning the heath in moderation is advisable, as the young sprouts furnish their principal food), and along with this indulgence, the offer of small premiums to the shepherds for each covey of eight or more birds they can produce in their pasture, would make it their interest to preserve the game ; no person could escape notice; and thus, they would form a better protection against poachers, than prosecutions, fines, and imprisonment.

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