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Oswald Crawfurd:

A Portuguese Shooting Party, 1880

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 walking.

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 fullest detail.

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 glades.

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 dead!"

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.


From: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, 14 Vols., (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. V: Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, pp. 629-635.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, November 1998

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