IF I describe a Portuguese shooting party, a caçada---I shall be accused by
some grave and intolerant readers at home of wishing to make fun of a mode of sport which
differs so entirely from our own ways of conducting these matters; but this is not so at
all. Some thoughtful persons who love to go deeply into the philosophy of things, may even
think that the ethics of the chase are better apprehended in Portugal than at home. In
England, to obtain three days of battle shooting in the year, we spend a little fortune in
the wages of keepers and watchers, in preserving coverts, and in rearing birds. We go some
way to corrupt the morals of a parish, and perhaps turn half a dozen idlers into felons;
we make tenants discontented, moderate people dissatisfied at seeing wealth and labor so
ill and unprofitably spent, the humanitarian world is shocked at an unnecessary slaughter,
and the non-sporting world of thinkers are mortified to see their countrymen engaged in
one other form of indefensible folly. We make, in short, a small local revolution,
financial and social, to get three days of what is by general consent the very dullest,
most monotonous, and most unsatisfactory form of sport in the world.
Nothing of this kind happens in Portugal. There has been no preparation whatever for
the sport, there is no expense, and there can be no temptation to poaching where there is
no artificial abundance of game. There is absolutely no seriousness about the matter at
all, it is amusement and relaxation pure and simple that is sought for; there is no
heart-burning between rival shots, no bribing of keepers, no favoritism, no ill-will
possible anywhere; and lastly, no unpleasantly heavy bag to carry home after a long day's
A dozen gentlemen agree to bring their dogs together, and a pack numbering thirty or
forty of all degrees---lurchers, terriers, greyhounds, and even pointers---is collected.
Another dozen friends and acquaintances join the party. Among the whole of the gentlemen
six or eight only carry guns; the rest, sticks, the cow-sticks or quarter-staves, which
are so much the badge of agriculturists of all classes, that even amateur rustics,
gentlemen-farmers on their holiday, seldom go afield without one. Then does the chase
begin. Many such a one have I engaged in, and of many heard the incidents narrated in the
In a long and vociferous line we range through the great pine forests or the chestnut
woods, poking our sticks into the matted gorse and cistus, banging the tree trunks with
resounding blows that echo among the hollow forest aisles. The dogs hunt a little,
wrangle, bark, and fight a good deal, and would do so still more, but for the occasional
flight, into their midst, of a well-directed cow-stick. Nothing in the shape of game is
seen; a brown wood owl indeed, flitting from an ivied oak tree, is immediately christened
a woodcock by some imaginative person and is brought down, amidst shouts of laughter, by a
short-sighted gentleman, who holds up his eye-glass in explanation of his mistake. Another
enthusiastic sportsman walking by my side stops me suddenly, pressing my arm with so much
emphasis that I look to see some very large game indeed afoot. He points to a holly tree.
"What is it?" I ask. "Hush"; with his finger across his lips, and he
whispers in my ear, "A blackbird!" My acquaintance is proceeding to a scientific
"stalk"; but though the blackbird is legitimate game in Portugal, the party is
too large, the dignity of the occasion too great, for the pursuit of such small deer.
Responding to the loud remonstrances of every one present, my companion retires from the
pursuit, while the blackbird takes wing and disappears, with a shrill, crowing call.
In the mean time, a great commotion is taking place in the center of our line; every
man shouts out "Coelho!" "Rabbit!" every dog gives tongue,
every stick is waved in the air, thumped on the ground, or thrown with random aim into the
tall undergrowth. Several guns are fired off. Nothing is hit, not even a dog. I observe
that the older and more sagacious of the pack, when the first frenzy of excitement is
over, retire a yard or two from the coverts, and watch for what may come out, as a terrier
watches at a rat-hole. We all run to and fro madly, we charge and jostle each other, we
scratch our faces in the bushes, we entangle our feet in the briers, and fall head over
heels, we scream with excitement, we shout with laughter.
As yet I have seen nothing; but presently I make out a little animal which I should
take for a very large rat if experience did not tell me it was a full-grown Portuguese
rabbit, cantering in a leisurely manner towards two gentlemen with guns stationed on a
neighboring knoll, the only members of our party not in motion. These sportsmen cock their
pieces, and, aiming apparently at the points of their own boots, fire simultaneously. We
run up and look to where the ground is still smoking for the body of the rabbit. We find
nothing but the hole of the burrow over which these gentlemen were mounting guard, and
into which the rabbit has safely escaped. We all stop for ten minutes to argue, to
recount, and laugh over the misadventure, then set off again through the unending forest
After this episode a boy working at a saw-pit offers to show us a hare half a mile
away; we close with his offer, and eventually we shoot both hare and boy. The hare we
bagged in a most literal sense, but the boy we only wounded very slightly---so slightly,
indeed, that he recovered almost by magic from the fearful contortions of face and body
which he was making, when he was presented with a silver crown, and, on being questioned,
volunteered to be shot in the same way at the same price once a day for the rest of his
lifetime. At first, I was seriously alarmed by his howls, and some of the eight gentlemen
with guns who had fired sixteen barrels, more or less, in his direction, turned pale as
possible murderers. The poor boy was an outsider, and his interested howls were no test of
his courage. I am convinced that no one of our party would have made any fuss at all for a
pellet or two; indeed, under the excitement of the rare appearance of game, the fusillade
at these hunts is so hot and so irregular that no man who cannot trust his nerves under
fire should ever join a Portuguese caçada. Still it is use and temperament that
make men cool; and, well as the Portuguese have shown that they can stand fire in more
serious fields than those of sport, I do not quite think they could come up to the
equanimity which I have myself seen displayed by an English gamekeeper.
It is within my knowledge how, in a famous shooting country, an underkeeper was placed
in the center of a large wood to stop the birds. An Eton boy was among the shooters, and
getting, as boys will, out of the regular line, and coming near to where the keeper was
posted, he saw, glancing through the thick underwood, that person's brown-gaitered legs.
The boy, taking them for a hare, fired; but observing that the beast, as he thought,
hopped away a short distance unhurt, he loaded his single-barreled gun and fired again, so
continuing to load and fire in hot haste---the faithful servant dodging about a good deal
among the bushes, but never actually deserting his post. At last the line of shooters and
beaters came up:--- "Well, gentlemen," said the keeper, "I 'm glad you 've
come at last; the little gentleman have been a-pouring it into me, terrible!"
As to the hare of which I said that we bagged her in a very literal sense, it happened
in this way: we found her on her form, and she had not, I am sure, left it two yards
before she was coursed and caught by the greyhounds, attacked by the lurchers, and shot by
every one who had a gun; consequently she was killed before she had given any sport
whatever. She made amends, however, afterwards. Among the pack was an ill-looking lurcher,
whose bad charactcr had caused remonstrances to be addressed to the owner by the other
sportsmen. "Coitado! Poor dog!" said his possessor, "let him come.
He will be miserable if we leave him, and howl so that my wife will wish herself
He came, and stuck to his master's heels the whole morning in the most exemplary
manner. When the hare was killed, it was his master who carried her, holding her by the
hind legs, and the dog, seeing his opportunity come, suddenly gripped the animal in his
teeth, and held on with such force, as his master tried to pull it away, that presently
the dog was left with the head and the master with the body. Others of the pack, attracted
by the noise, seized that part of the hare still held by the gentleman, and got it from
him, while another detachment of dogs pursued the lurcher with the head in his mouth. Then
began a novel kind of chase, with more shouting and flying about of quarter-staves, and
laughing and tumbling down. Some of us tried to recover the body, some chased the head. We
were very much out of breath before we again got together the two portions of the hare.
"Bring the needle and thread! " was called out---the needle and thread!
necessities in this kind of sport where the game is set upon by such packs. They were
brought. The decapitated quarry. was cleverly sewn together, the fur smoothed down, and
then gravely insinuated into a narrow linen bag, also brought for the occasion.
Then we pushed on again, and presently a volley from the whole force brought down a
red-legged partridge; a little farther on and the dogs started a fox in a thick piece of
gorse. We shot him. Another volley at close quarters proved fatal to a woodcock, whose
long bill was nearly all that remained to prove his identity and the straight shooting of
the eight gentlemen who had fired. Then came luncheon, and we fought all our battles over
again, killing the slain many more times than thrice. Then we degenerated into
politics---local chiefly, and election matters, just as we should have done at home.