Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management/Chapter XXIV



General Observations on Game and the Game Laws

The Game Laws, by which term is meant those statutes which establish a peculiar kind of property in wild animals, trace their origin to two principles of Common Law; the first is, that physical possession is the underlying idea of the law of property: as wild animals cannot, by their nature, be so physically possessed, no property in them can be recognized: they are res nullius; the second principle or maxim of the Common Law of England is that res nullius, that is, goods in which no person can claim any property, belong by royal prerogative to the Sovereign. Those animals accordingly, those ferae naturae which come under the denomination of game, are in our laws styled His or Her Majesty's, and may, therefore, as a matter of course, be granted by the Sovereign to another; in consequence of this royal privilege another may prescribe to possess the same rights within a certain precinct of lordship. Hence arose the rights of lords of manors and others to the game within their respective liberties; and to protect this right innumerable Acts of Parliament were passed. Many of these inflicted penalties of extraordinary severity upon persons convicted of illegally killing game; but they are now all abrogated, and the principal statutes, composing what are known as the Game Laws, may be enumerated as follows: 9 Geo. IV c. 69, referred to as the Night Poaching Act; 1 and 2 William IV c. 32, the Game Act; 11 and 12 Vict. c. 29, the Hares Killing Act; and 23 and 24 Vict. c. 90, the Game Licences Act; to these must be added 43 and 44 Vict. c. 35, the Wild Birds' Protection Act. It is the Game Act of William IV that concedes to any one the right to kill game on his own ground, irrespective of qualifications of rank or property, game being defined in this statute, as in the earlier one of George IV, to include "hares, pheasants, partridges, grouse, heath or moor game, black game, and bustards." This Act, however, requires all persons killing or pursuing game to take out a yearly certificate; and dealers selling it must also obtain a yearly licence.

The Object of the Game Laws is not, however, wholly confined to the restraint of the illegal sportsman. Even qualified and privileged persons must not kill game at all seasons. During the day, the hours allowed for sporting are from one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset; and the time of killing certain species is also restricted to certain seasons. Thus:—

Partridges may be shot from September 1 to January 31.
Pheasants may be shot from October 1 to January 31.
Black Game may be shot from August 20 to December 9.
Grouse may be shot from August 12 to December 9.
Bustard may be shot from September 1 to February 28.
All other wild birds from August 1 to February 28.

It is the Wild Birds' Protection Act of 1880, referred to above as 43 and 44 Vict. c. 35, which has fixed the close season for wild birds other than those specified in the Game Act of William IV; by Sec. 3 of this Act is made a punishable offence to kill any between the first day of March and the first day of August, or to have any killed birds in possession after the fifteenth day of March. This Act was amended by 44 and 45 Vict. c 51, exempting birds received from abroad, and included larks in the schedule of protected birds. The sand-grouse may not be killed at any time. Local Acts are also occasionally passed, extending the close season in the interest of certain species. By an Act passed in 1892 the sale of hares and leverets killed in the United Kingdom is prohibited from March to July inclusive; in Ireland the close season is between April 1 and August 12. This Act does not apply to foreign hares.

The Exercise or Diversion of pursuing Four-footed Beasts or Game is called hunting, and to this day is followed in the field and forest with gun and hound. Birds are not hunted but shot in the air, or taken with nets and other devices, which is termed fowling; or they are pursued and taken by birds of prey, which is termed hawking, a form of sport fallen almost entirely into desuetude in England, although now showing signs of being revived in some parts of the country. Men have been engaged from the earliest ages in the pursuit of four-footed beasts, such as deer, boars and hares, properly termed hunting. It was the rudest and the most obvious means of acquiring human support before the agricultural arts had in any degree advanced. It is an employment however, requiring both art and contrivance, as well as a certain fearlessness of character, combined with considerable powers of physical endurance. Without these, success could not be very great; but, at best, the occupation is usually accompanied with rude and turbulent habits; and when combined with such, it constitutes what is termed the savage state of man. As culture advances, and the soil becomes devoted to the plough or to the sustenance of the tamer and more domesticated animals, the range of the huntsman is proportionably limited; so that when a country has attained to a high state of cultivation, hunting becomes little else than an amusement of the wealthy. In the case of fur-bearing animals, however, it is somewhat different, for these continue to supply the wants of civilization with one of its most valuable materials of commerce.

The Themes which form the Minstrelsy of the Earliest Ages relate either to the spoils of the chase or to the dangers of the battlefield. The sacred writings introduce us to Nimrod, the first mighty hunter before the Lord, and tell us that Ishmael, in the solitudes of Arabia, became a skilful bowman; and that David, when yet young, was not afraid to join in combat with the lion or the bear. Greek mythology teems with hunting exploits; Hercules overthrows the Nemaean lion, the Erymanthean boar and the hydra of Lerna; Diana descends to the earth and pursues the stag; Æsculapius, Nestor, Theseus, Ulysses and Achilles are all followers of the chase. Aristotle, the philosopher, advises young men to apply themselves early to it; and Plato finds in it something divine. Horace exalts it as a preparative exercise for the path of glory, and several of the heroes of Homer are its ardent votaries. The Romans followed the hunting customs of the Greeks, and the ancient Britons were hunters before Julius Caesar invaded our shores. Although the ancient Britons followed hunting, however, they did not confine themselves solely to its pursuit. They bred cattle and tilled the ground and, to some extent, indicated the rudimentary state of a pastoral and agricultural life; but, in every social change field sports maintained their place. After the expulsion of the Danes, and during the brief restoration of the Saxon monarchy, such sports were still followed; even Edward the Confessor, who would join in no other secular amusement, took the greatest delight, says William of Malmesbury, "to follow a pack of swift hounds in pursuit of game, and to cheer them with his voice." Nor was Edward the only English sovereign who delighted in the pleasures of the chase. William the Norman, and his two sons who succeeded him, were passionately fond of the sport, and greatly circumscribed the liberties of their subjects in reference to the killing of game. The privilege of hunting in the royal forests was confined to the king and his favourites; and in order that these might be made more extensive, whole villages were depopulated, places of worship levelled with the ground, and every means adopted that might give a sufficient extension of space for the beasts of the chase. King John was especially devoted to field sports, and went so far as to lay an interdict upon the winged as well as upon the four-footed creation. These forest laws at length became so tyrannical and intolerable that our ancestors became almost as anxious for their reformation as they were for the relaxation of the feudal system, and they wrung from the king the Charta de Forestâ with as much insistence as they wrung from him Magna Charta. Edward III was so enamoured of the exercise that even during his absence at the wars in France he took with him sixty couples of stag-hounds and as many hare-hounds, and every day amused himself either with hunting or hawking. Great in wisdom as the Scotch Solomon, James VI of Scotland and I of England, conceived himself to be, he was much addicted to the amusements of hunting, hawking and shooting. From his days down to the present, field-sports have continued to hold their high reputation, not only for the promotion of health, but also for the development of that manliness of character which enters so largely into the composition of the British race.

The late Duke of Grafton when hunting was, on one occasion, thrown into a ditch. A young curate, engaged in the same chase, cried out, "Lie still, my lord!" leapt over him, and pursued his sport. Such an apparent want of feeling might be expected to have been resented by the duke; but not so. On his being helped up by his attendant, he said, "That man shall have the first good living that falls to my disposal; had he stopped to have given me his sympathy, I never would have given him anything." Such was the manly sentiment of the duke, who delighted in the manifestation of a spirit as ardent as his own in sport, and superior to the baseness of an assumed sorrow.

That Hunting has in many instances been carried to an excess is well-known. The match given by the Prince Esterhazy, Regent of Hungary, on the signing of the treaty of peace with France, is not the least extraordinary instance upon record. On that occasion there were killed 160 deer, 100 wild boars, 300 hares and 80 foxes; this was the achievement of one day. Enormous, however, as this slaughter may appear, it is greatly inferior to that made by the contemporary King of Naples on a hunting expedition. That sovereign had a larger extent of ground at his command and a longer period for the exercise of his talents; consequently his sport, if it can be so called, was proportionably greater. It was pursued during his journey to Vienna, in Austria, Bohemia and Moravia; he killed 5 bears, 1,820 boars, 1,950 deer, 1,145 does, 1,625 roebucks, 11,121 rabbits, 13 wolves, 17 badgers, 16,354 hares and 354 foxes; of birds, during the same expedition, he killed 15,350 pheasants and 12,335 partridges. Such prodigious destruction can hardly be called sport; it resembles more the indiscriminate slaughter of a battlefield, where the scientific engines of civilized warfare are brought to bear upon defenceless savages.

Deer and Hares may be considered to be the only four-footed animals now hunted in Britain for the table; and even these are not followed with the same ardour as they were in bygone days. Still, there is no country in the world where the sport of hunting on horseback is carried on to such an extent as in Great Britain, and where the pleasures of the chase are so well understood and conducted on such purely scientific principles. The fox, of all "the beasts of the field," is now considered to afford the best sport. For this, it is infinitely superior to the stag; for the real sportsman can only enjoy that chase when the deer is sought for and found like other game, which are pursued with hounds. In the case of finding an outlying fallow-deer, which is unharboured in this manner, great sport is frequently obtained, but this is now rarely to be met with in Britain. Hare-hunting is followed in many parts of this and the sister island. Although it is less dangerous and exciting than fox-hunting, it has great charms for those who do not care for the hard riding which the other requires.

The Art of taking or killing Birds is called "fowling," and is either practised as an amusement by persons of rank or property, or for a livelihood by persons who use nets and other apparatus. When practised as an amusement, it principally consists in killing them with a light firearm called a "fowling-piece," and the sport is secured to those who pursue it by the game laws. The other means by which birds are taken consists in imitating their voices, or leading them, by other artifices, into situations where they become entrapped by nets, bird-lime or other methods. For taking large numbers of birds, the pipe or call is the most common means employed; and this is done during the months of September and October. We will here give a brief description of the modus operandi pursued in this sport. A thin wood is usually the spot chosen, and a cabin is erected under a tree at a little distance from the others; only such branches are left on the tree as are necessary for the placing of the bird-lime, with which they are covered. Around the cabin are placed avenues with twisted perches, also covered with bird-lime. Having thus prepared all that is necessary, the bird-catcher places himself in the cabin and, sunrise and sunset, imitates the cry of a small bird calling the others to its assistance. Supposing that the cry of the owl is imitated, different kinds of birds will immediately flock together at the cry of their common enemy when, at every instant, they will be seen falling to the ground, their wings being of no use to them, from their having come in contact with the bird-lime. The cries of those which are thus situated now attract others, and large numbers are thus taken in a short space of time.

It is only during the night, and by counterfeiting the squeak of a mouse, that owls themselves can be taken. Larks and other birds and water-fowl are sometimes taken by nets; but to give a full description of the manner in which this is done would occupy too much space.

Feathered game have from time immemorial gratified the palate of man. With the exception of birds of prey and some other species, the Israelites by the Mosaic code were permitted to eat them; the Egyptians made offerings to their priests of their most delicate birds. The ancient Greeks commenced their repast with little roasted birds; and feathered game, amongst the Romans, was served as the second course. Indeed, several of the ancient gourmets of the "imperial city" were so fond of game that they brought themselves to ruin by eating flamingoes and pheasants. "Some modern nations, the French amongst others," says Monsieur Soyer, "formerly ate the heron crane, crow, stork, swan, cormorant and bittern." The first three especially were highly esteemed; and Laillevant, cook of Charles VII, teaches us how to prepare these meagre, tough birds. "Belon" says that in spite of its revolting taste when unaccustomed to it, the bittern is, however, among the delicious treats of the French. This writer also asserts that a falcon or vulture, either roasted or boiled, is excellent eating, and that if one of these birds happened to kill itself in flying after game, the falconer instantly cooked it. Lebaut calls the heron" a royal viand."

The Heron was hunted by the Hawk, and the sport of hawking is usually placed at the head of those amusements that can only be practised in the country. This precedency it probably obtained from its being a pastime so generally followed by the nobility, not in Great Britain only, but likewise on the Continent. In former times, persons of high rank rarely appeared in public without their dogs and their hawks; the latter they carried with them when they journeyed from one country to another, and sometimes even took them to battle with them, and would not part with them when taken prisoners, even to obtain their own liberty. Such birds were esteemed as the ensigns of nobility, and no action was reckoned more dishonourable in a man of rank than that of giving up his hawk.

We have already alluded to the hunting propensities of our own Edward III, and we may also allude to his being equally devoted to hawking. According to Froissart, when this sovereign invaded France, he took with him thirty falconers on horseback, who had charge of his hawks, and every day, as his royal fancy inclined him, he either hunted, or went to the river for the purpose of hawking.

As the inevitable Result of Social Progress is, at least, to limit, if not entirely to suppress, such sports as we have been treating of, much of the romance of the country life has passed away. This is more especially the case with falconry, which had its origin about the middle of the fourth century, although lately attempts have been made with some decree of success to institute a revival of the "gentle art" of hawking. Julius Firmicus, who lived about that time, is, so far as we can find, the first Latin author who speaks of falconers, and of the art of teaching one species of birds to fly after and catch others. The occupation of the functionaries has now all but ceased. New and nobler efforts characterize the aims of mankind in the development of their civilization, and the field sports have, to a large extent, been superseded by other exercises; it may be less healthful and invigorating, but is certainly more elegant, intellectual and humanizing.

The Wild Birds, of which we have now to speak, are protected by the law, and may only be killed or sold during some months of the year. In a country so thickly populated as England they would otherwise soon be exterminated. It is, however, more as a matter of custom than as a matter of fact, that we speak of all game as wild, for thousands of birds are bred, like barn-door fowls, and turned loose for sport in the autumn.

Season for Game.—Between March 15 and August 1 is the worst time for game, for since 1872 a £5 penalty has been exacted from any person who shall kill or sell any one of a scheduled list of birds, of which these have most to do with the housekeeper—coot, dotterel, mallard, moorhen, plover, quail, snipe, woodcock, swan, teal, widgeon, wild duck, wheatear. They may be sold, however, if they are proved to come from outside the limits of the United Kingdom; and a good deal of foreign game is sold to those who cannot content themselves during those months without a game course to dinner. Partridges and prairie hens come to us from America, Russia and Norway, and some of the Colonies supply us with game "out of season"; there is also a large importation of quails from Egypt.

To Keep Game.—All water birds should be eaten as fresh as possible, because their flesh is oily and soon becomes rank. Most game is kept until putrefaction has commenced, it being thought that the flavour is thereby developed. The time that it may be kept depends upon (1) the taste of the persons who are to eat it; (2) the weather; (3) the age of the bird. Taking all these together, it is impossible to lay down any precise rules. In damp, muggy weather, even if the thermometer is not very high, game will keep a very little time, but in clear, windy weather, even if it is not very cold, it will keep for many days. It should always be kept in the fur or feathers, and should not be drawn, and should be hung up in a current of air. It may sometimes be necessary to pluck, truss and half cook it, in which state it will keep a day or two longer.

Old birds may always be kept longer than young ones, so that it is well, in case of having a good deal of game, to cook the old on one day and the young on another. Old birds also need longer cooking.

To Choose Game.—At the beginning of the season it is easy to distinguish between old and young, but towards the end of the year the distinctions become obliterated. Besides the smoothness of the claws and the small lip cleft of a young hare, the ear is tender and can be easily torn. This sign, however, is not infallible if the ear is torn by the poulterer, who, by long practice, can always tear it very readily. The short, stumpy neck and long joints of a young rabbit or hare are a better guide, and a small bony knob can be felt near the foot of a leveret, which is absent in a full-grown hare. Partridges, at the beginning of the season, can always be distinguished by the shape of the long feathers in the wing; in an old bird they are round at the end, like the letter U; in a young one they are pointed, like a V.

The red-legged French partridges are rather larger and cheaper than the English, but they are not considered so good. The size of the spur, the smoothness of the legs and the tenderness of the pinion are the best guides in choosing a pheasant; and, indeed, these always are the points to observe in all birds, so far as their age is concerned.

If they are in good condition the breast is thick and hard; if lean, the breast feels thin and soft. The feet generally tell if a bird is fresh. They should be supple and moist, especially in water birds, but they soon become stiff and dry after the bird is dead.

Game is less fat than poultry or butcher's meat, and is generally thought to be very nourishing. It is also easy of digestion, and is valued in the sick room as well as on the table of the epicure. This does not apply to wild fowl, which have close, firm, and rather oily flesh, and are, therefore, unsuitable for delicate persons.

A number of small birds spoken of in this chapter do not, strictly speaking, come within the limits of either game, wild fowl or poultry. They are eaten as articles of luxury to no great amount, and are included here because they often replace game on the dinner table.

Table Showing Relative Value of Poultry and Game.

Giving the actual cost of the eatable portion of all, after deducting Loss in Weight from Cooking, Bone, Skin and Waste.

Much time and trouble has been spent in preparing the following table, all the Poultry and Game having been specially cooked and tested. It will surprise many to see the result, which shows how very costly most of the small birds are, reckoning their price per lb., instead of the usual way at so much each, or per brace.

Name of bird. How
Weight when
Cooked, with
bone and
Loss per
lb. by
bone and
cost per
Cost per
lb. without
    lb. oz.   lb. oz.   oz.   s. d.   s. d.  
Chicken Boiled 2 4   1 4   7   1 0   1 9 ¼
Duck Roasted 3 0   1 8   8   1 0   2 0  
Fowl roasted 4 0   2 4   7   0 10 ½ 1 6 ¾
Goose roasted 10 6   5 3   8   0 9   1 6  
Grouse roasted 0 14   0 10   4 ½ 2 0   2 9 ¼
Hare roasted 4 0   2 12   5   1 0   1 5 ½
Partridge roasted 0 14   0 8   7   1 8   2 11 ½
Pheasant roasted 2 6   1 3   8   1 2   2 4  
Pigeon roasted 0 5   0 2 ½ 8   2 0   4 0  
Plover roasted 0 7   0 4   6 ¾ 1 6   2 5 ½
Rabbit Boiled 3 0   0 11   7   0 8   1 2 ¼
Snipe Roasted 0 3   0 1 8   2 6   5 0  
Turkey roasted 10 0   5 10   7   0 11   1 7 ½
Venison roasted 13 8   9 4   5   1 3   1 10  
Wild Duck roasted 2 0   1 1   7 ½ 1 0   1 10 ½
Woodcock roasted 0 8   0 4   8   3 0   6 0  

Note.—The weights given in the third column are those of poultry and game, after being drawn and trussed for cooking.

Table Giving Weight of Bone, Skin and Waste and Loss by Cooking in Poultry and Game.

Name of Bird. Weight
Weight of
bone, skin
and waste.
Loss by
Total Loss
by Cooking,
bone and
Weight of
  lb. oz.   lb. oz.   lb. oz.   lb. oz.   lb. oz.  
Duck 3 0   1 0   0 8   1 8   1 8  
Fowl 4 0   1 0   0 12   1 12   2 4  
Goose 10 6   2 15   2 4   5 3   5 3  
Grouse 0 14   0 2   0 2   0 4   0 10  
Hare 4 0   0 9   0 11   1 4   2 12  
Partridge 0 14   0 3 ¼ 0 2 ¾ 0 6   0 8  
Pheasant 2 6   0 11   0 8   1 3   1 3  
Pigeon 0 5   0 1   0 1 ½ 0 2 ½ 0 2 ½
Rabbit 3 0   0 11   0 4   1 0   2 0  
Turkey 10 0   3 0   1 6   4 6   5 10  
Woodcock 0 8   0 2 ½ 0 1 ½ 0 4   0 4