Monday, 29 June 2009

Habits of Hubert: W.E Garrett Snuff

This week, thanks to the kindness of a gentleman from Pittsburgh who frequents the Snuffhouse site, I was the happy recipient of some fine American snuff. And yes, it's bloody evil, much stronger than anything I've come across in the UK. Very like - in the case of the Scotch, the white can on the left - sticking nicotine-laden, hot-chilli barbecue seasoning up your hooter. To my surprise, I'm getting a taste for it.

Reading the can, I noticed that it says 'causes gum disease and tooth loss'. Baffled by this, I resorted to a well-known search engine and discovered that people in the States are in the habit of sticking this stuff in their gob. Extraordinary. Thinking about it,though, I guess it's no weirder that putting it up your nose. They call it 'dipping', apparently. Here's the proof:

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Sunday, 28 June 2009

How Do We Enjoy a Fish?

I caught this Pike last year. It wasn't the first Pike I ever caught, but it was the first Pike I ever landed, took home, cooked and ate.

The first Pike I ever caught I was just too astounded by the sheer enormity of having caught an animal so fierce and so beautiful that I just stood there on the riverbank, transfixed, gaping at it like a fool as it tugged on the line in the water at my feet. A few seconds passed like this as I wrestled with the shock of its beauty and the seeming sacrilege of my plans for it - and then it spat out the spinner and surged away to disappear into the waving green weeds downstream.

The first Pike that I landed - the fish in the photograph above - was, if anything, even more striking than the first. I'd gone out late in the day at the end of Autumn - dusk was becoming darkness and dense mists were rising from the floodplain fields behind me. The first cast of a red 'Flying C' lure produced an explosion at the bend of the river before me and this tremendous fish leapt out of the water and started to thrash at the line. Despite my shock, I landed it quickly and, as I say, killed it, took it home, cooked it and ate it.

Now I'm aware that I'm nervous writing this because in England at the moment, we don't really have a fishing culture that supports pulling fish out of rivers and then eating them. In England, by far the dominant notion of what you should do if you catch a Pike, say, is to lay it carefully on a mat, unhook the lure or deadbait that you used to catch it with, weight it, pose with it while an accomplice takes a photograph of you holding it - and then return it safely to the water.

This is the procedure for fishing understood as a 'sport' and there is, at the moment - and Izaak Walton would doubtless be amazed, but it's true nonetheless - almost no popular way in England of understanding what the word 'fishing' might refer to if it doesn't mean this. Catch and release: that's fishing . Coarse fish - Perch, Carp, Pike, Chub and the like - are almost universally caught, admired, weighed, photographed - and then put back in the water. That's what 'fishing' means here.

So there's been a very heated argument over the last few years - in on-line fishing forums and the sport-fishing press - that's been sparked almost entirely due to the influx into the country, temporarily or otherwise, of fishing folk from the rest of Europe. In most parts of mainland Europe, English 'sport' fishers have discovered to their dismay, the popular culture certainly does support the idea that 'trying to get some food' is one of the obvious, commonplace reasons why a person might take to the riverbank with a fishing pole.

Importing this approach into England, however, where the popular culture is very different as regards conventions on the riverbank, has proved far from simple and has sparked a furious series of arguments.

Certainly, a part of the heat has been generated by a number of Central European people who've been caught fishing in England without a Rod Licence. Scores of English nationals go fishing without a rod license (they're 25 quid a year and that's certainly been enough to prevent me getting one in the recent weeks since the season opened) and this is a matter for official censure and public disapproval - but a special fury seems to have been reserved for immigrants who have the temerity to behave as many UK citizens ordinarily do. People have been very cross about this - but it still hasn't been the big issue.

The big issue has been, I'd say, the question of the clash of cultures as regards the proper aim of a fishing expedition: do you go fishing in order to get photographs - or do you go to get food?

It's been very interesting to read the forums on this matter. Those whose fishing pleasure is organised around the 'sport' fishing model seem to be genuinely astonished and outraged with those whose enjoyment is organised a different way - and, interestingly, vice-versa. I read a fine post by a Scot who was treating the dominant English mode of fishing-enjoyment, sport fishing, with absolute contempt, "pulling them out of the water just to have a wee look at them!" - he was disgusted with the idea.

It seems to be that if you're a member of a group who are organised under one mode of enjoyment - 'fish are for food' or 'fish are for photos' - then it's baffling and infuriating to meet members of a group whose enjoyment is organised differently. If your group, say, enjoys a caught fish only with the eye, then meeting members of a group who enjoy them with the mouth as well seems to inspire a furiously disgusted revulsion.

So, I'm nervous admitting that I'm personally a member of the 'mouth clan': I enjoy eating fish that I've caught in the river.

It seems to be very difficult for different modes of enjoyment to exist together happily. It looks as though 'enjoyment' is a way that we define ourselves on a shared level that's set very deep. It's tricky enough getting along with people who think differently about things, who have opinions that we don't share - but living alongside people who enjoy things differently is a far greater challenge.

The Correct Attire at the Riverside

It has come to my attention that the question of the correct attire for recreational pursuits - hunting, fishing and the like - is one that is being treated of, across the pages of the Internet, in a manner which I - and indeed, I am sure, any other right thinking gentleman - can only deplore.

I am sorry that it has come to this point, but I feel it is called for that I should make a definitive statement and, once and for all, put an end to this tide of idle prattle concerning namby-pamby, womanish and un-natural materials. The Good Lord did not put us on this earth in order for us to make mock of ourselves! No, we are made in the image of our Creator and we should, therefore dress, in our leisure time, much as he would; which is to say, primarily, of course, in stout tweeds, brogues and with a decent bloody cap on. None of this beastly 'Gortex' nonsense.

There. We'll speak no more of it, now: the matter is closed.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

A Conversation with the Local Game Dealer

These guys live just down the road from me; I took a snap of them while I was trying to catch the farm owner and see if I could hunt on his land - but he wasn't there. I carried on up the road on my bike and popped in at a local game dealers. I asked them if they wanted any rabbits.

'Rabbits!' he said, 'Gordon Bennett, no! We've got two hundred rabbits in the freezer at the moment! Who wants to eat rabbit stew in this weather?'

'Ah, well, O.K' I said.

'But come back in the season', he went on, 'in Autumn - and we'll take all the rabbits you can give us'.

'Oh, O.K, great!' I said, 'I will!'.

'They got to be bullet shot, mind, people don't want to be spitting out shotgun pellets these days...!'

'No problem',
I said, 'no problem. I've only got an air rifle...'

cycled away happy; it's nice to know that, come the Autumn, I can trade rabbits for a few quid or the odd pork chop.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Wood Pigeon stuffed with Rabbit innards!

I managed to shoot both a woody and a rabbit last night (for the first time) so I decided I'd try and roast the pigeon with a 'stuffing' of rabbit offal. It sounds grim but was actually a delight, a real surprise.

I gutted the pigeon - I'd plucked it in the field and removed the crop already - chopped up a few spring onions, did nothing to the rabbit innards - liver, heart, kidneys - other than separate the wings of the liver from one another (obviously having removed the gall bladder while I was gutting the rabbit) and then mixed them with the spring onions; I dribbled a little olive oil on the mixture with a bit of salt and pepper and then stuffed them in the pigeon. I wrapped the bird in foil - after giving it a dribble of the oil plus seasoning too - and then roasted it at 250 degrees centigrade for about forty minutes.

I ended up doing this in my microwave oven (set to convection only) since my proper oven had decided to pack up last night. I've cooked pigeon breasts before - mainly grilling and frying them - but roasting the whole bird does seem to produce a better flavour. The rabbit innards were done to a turn and I scoffed the lot with a re-heated butternut squash I had left over from the day before. A really enjoyable meal!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

The Old Ways: Iron Sights and Morris Dancing.

I had a long chat with my old friend Sue on the phone today; Hey, she asked, how are you getting on with the 'iron sights' thing, then?

Ah, well, I said, I really need to go out and do some more zeroing. I've done a bit but I'm not quite there yet. The thing is, I really don't want to sit on the farmer's land and fire off forty-odd shots. There are people that live nearby and there are cows around and stuff - and I don't want to irritate the neighbours or wind up the farmer because I'm paranoid about losing permission to shoot on the land and all. So I've been putting it off for a day or so I guess...

Sue then told me all about her recent Village Fair: serving ice cream all day, a Hog Roast, then a boozy evening in the pub with a crowd of Morris Dancers. Sounds tremendous, I said, sounds great! God, I wish I'd been there...

After we'd finished chatting I thought about going into town and doing some shopping and, at the prospect, a great cloud of gloom fell on me. No, sod it, I thought, No, I won't do that; I'll go out and get this zeroing done instead.

I set off and soon found a nicely isolated little spot - away from the farm - where a chap could do a bit of zeroing in peace. I'd zeroed a little already - a couple of days before - at 18 yards but, thinking about it, I'd realised that almost everything I've ever successfully shot has been at a distance of about 25 yards. I decided today that I might just as well zero at that distance - so at least I'd know where I was for the range at which I most often find myself shooting. So here's my first 25 yard group with iron sights:

Well, I thought, it's untidy for a start - but it needs, at least, to go right a shade and perhaps up a wee bit too. So I gave the adjuster wheels a spin and produced:

Signifying that I'd got my directions mixed up and had confidently turned the wheels the wrong way. I'll spare the reader the half-dozen intermediate sheets where I inched back to the right and skip instead to:

Where I realised I'd gone too far to the right - and was still a shade low. A couple of clicks back and one click up produced this seven shot group:

O.K, I thought, that'll do.

I packed up and decided to have a quick wander through the fields. Just over the first stile I saw a rabbit right in front of me. I wasn't expecting that. I seem to spend a lot of time when I'm out hunting deciding that such-and-such a place, way over yonder, will be the likely spot to yield rabbits or pigeons and I set off for that place and - usually - blunder across quite a few animals on the way. I frighten them off every time precisely because I'm not thinking that there'll be anything to shoot at between the point I've started from and the place I'm making for. Today was one such occasion: I wasn't expecting to find a rabbit there and I didn't have my gun out of the bag. By the time I'd got the rifle out and loaded it - even as quietly as I could manage - the rabbit had heard me and fled.

I looked around and saw some pigeons in the middle of the same field and decided to see if I could crawl over to them. Crawling with an open-sights rifle and no scope! What a revelation! What a joy! It's hugely better than trying to stalk with a dirty great scope on the gun: you can hold the rifle in many different ways, all of them easier than with the scope in the way; you don't have to worry about banging the fragile scope and, best of all, it's much lighter to carry. I covered the ground - for me - fairly swiftly and then nervously levelled the sights on the closest pigeon. This - and there's no big surprise here, I suppose, but it still took me aback - is much harder than with a scope: the animal is a great deal smaller, seems a very long way away, and focusing on three things at once is no joke for my middle-aged eyes. Nonetheless, I took the 20-yard shot and - to my amazement - got it.

I went to the abandoned orchard after that and got a rabbit, too. A thirty-yard shot this time - but taken standing. The scope weighs 700g, one-and-half pounds; I could never hold the near-twelve-pound weight of the rifle plus scope steady for more than a few seconds when I'd tried standing shots before. Today, though, it seemed perfectly possible to keep the now-lighter rifle steady enough for such a shot. The transformation is a revelation, really.

Productive as they both were - and enlightening, too, each in their own way, these scope-less shots - neither of them would make it into a textbook for the new school of clinical, turn-the-animal-off-like-a-light, air-rifle hunting. I had to dispatch the flapping pigeon with a blow from the side of my heavy lock knife and break the neck of the still-kicking rabbit. But I did get food for the next few days and I also got confirmation that - though there's more practise needed, to be sure - hunting with iron sights is certainly possible.


Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Fieldcraft: Scope versus Sights

I went out - when was it? Dear God, my memory! - perhaps the day before yesterday and managed, while clambering around, to give my scope a boink against the side of a tree. The scope survived but when I fired off a few shots at a fence post to see if I was still zeroed the answer came back clearly: no, no, you're not still zeroed, actually, since you ask - you're now missing by miles.

So I whanged about thirty or forty pellets into paper targets, yesterday, trying to bring the zero back and all the time I was doing this I was reflecting, grumpily, that I'd only just re-zeroed the damn thing the day before I'd given the scope a whack. I'm no lithe acrobat; getting over, through and under fences means I often bang the gun or the scope against posts, the ground or trees.

By the time I'd finally got it sorted - and the knock had throw the zero out by an astonishing four or five inches, so there was much clicking of little scope adjuster wheels and firing of groups before the pellets started to fall within a respectable half-inch of the 30-yard bulls-eye again - I was feeling thoroughly fed up with the whole idea of scoped rifles. I tend not to shoot at anything over thirty yards away - so why do I have this damn great thing bolted to the top of my gun? Why don't I use the iron sights instead?

There have been times - when a pigeon has landed in a tree a few feet above my head or I've peeped round a hedgerow and seen a rabbit about five yards away - when I've had to shrug and walk away because I've no idea where the aim point in the reticule would be for a target so close and - even if I did know - my grabbing the scope and trying to heave the parallax ring round to its minimum distance would probably have spooked the animal away before I'd had a chance to shoot. Which is to say there are times when I've simply wanted to point the rifle, look down the barrel and fire - and I haven't been able to because the device on top that allows me to observe the fauna three counties away is in the way.

So I've dug the iron sights out of the cupboard and I'm contemplating them as I write. Looking at them, I feel much the way as I did when looking at my bicycle a couple of months back while I was deciding if I should sell my car: stuck between a fear of relying on what seems like a primitive technology and a yearning for things to be more simple. The car question resolved itself; the next service would've cost me everything I had in the bank - so that's easy: flog it, you have to. So I did. Now I get around fine on the bike and I wonder what I was so worried about.

The scope question is an even easier one, of course; I can just try using the rifle with iron sights for a bit - learn how to use them - and see how I get on. So I will.

Well, I probably will.

Are there any iron sight afficionadoes out there? What does the world look like without a scope in the way?

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Rabbit Stew Cartoon: 2

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Hubert's Poetry Corner: John Clare (1793 – 1864) "To The Snipe"

Lover of swamps,
The quagmire overgrown
With hassock-tufts of sedge — where fear encamps
Around thy home alone

The trembling grass
Quakes from the human foot
Nor bears the weight of man to let him pass
Where he alone and mute

Sittest at rest
In safety 'neath the clump
Of huge flag-forest that thy haunts invest
Or some old sallow stump

Thriving on seams
That tiny islands swell.
Just hilling from the mud and rancid streams
Suiting thy nature well -

For here thy bill,
Suited by wisdom good
Of rude unseemly length, doth delve and drill
The gelid mass for food,

And here, mayhap,
When summer suns hath dressed
The moor's rude, desolate and spongy lap,
May hide thy mystic nest -

Mystic indeed,
For isles that ocean make
Are scarcely more secure for birds to build
Than this flag-hidden lake.

Boys thread the woods
To their remotest shades,
But in these marshy flats these stagnant floods,
Security pervades

From year to year,
Places untrodden lye
Where man nor boy nor stock hath ventured near
- Nought gazed on but the sky

And fowl that dread
The very breath of man,
Hiding in spots that never knew his tread -
A wild and timid clan,

Widgeon and teal
And wild duck, restless lot
That from man's dreaded sight will ever steal
To the most dreary spot.

Here tempests howl
Around each flaggy plot
Where they who dread man's sight, the waterfowl,
Hide and are frighted not.

'Tis power divine
That heartens them to brave
The roughest tempest and at ease recline
On marshes or the wave;

Yet instinct knows
Not safety's bounds - to shun
The firmer ground where skulking fowler goes
With searching dogs and gun

By tepid springs
Scarcely one stride across:
Though brambles from its edge a shelter flings,
Thy safety is at loss.

And never choose
The little sinky foss
Streaking the moors whence spa-red water spews
From puddles fringed with moss:

Freebooters there,
Intent to kill and slay,
Startle with cracking guns the trepid air
And dogs thy haunts betray.

From danger's reach
Here thou art safe to roam
Far as these washy flag-sown marshes stretch,
A still and quiet home.

In these thy haunts
I've gleaned habitual love;
From the vague world where pride and folly taunts
I muse and look above.

Thy solitudes
The unbounded heaven esteems
And here my heart warms into higher moods
And dignifying dreams.

I see the sky
Smile on the meanest spot,
Giving to all that creep or walk or fly
A calm and cordial lot.

Thine teaches me
Right feelings to employ:
That in the dreariest places peace will be
A dweller and a joy.


Friday, 12 June 2009

Maintenance: Travails with mud and poo

A bright day, yesterday, followed on from a few days of chucking it down. I'd shot through a hedge at a rabbit in another field and - when it did the leaping back flip that signified a shot gone home - I ran and jumped over a fence to go and get it as quickly as possible. In my excitement, I didn't look to see what I going to be jumping into - and found myself in a wide liquid expanse of mingled mud and cow poo.

I got the dried muck off my gun this morning and then gave it a swab down with linseed oil.

Much better. Maybe not spotless, and certainly not scratchless - but better.

These will probably get a hasty lash with a damp rag.

I might get round to having a shower myself. Later on. Probably.

Fieldcraft: Filth

Look at that, eh? Shocking, I calls it. Shocking.

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Thursday, 11 June 2009

Today I...

Did thirty-odd shots of zeroing before starting to wander the fields. Met some cows.

Spent a long time just sitting down, propped against fence posts and then lying in the grass; pondering and not pondering; spent time just dreaming and taking pictures of things; spent time blowing my nose and then honking up more snuff.

Lay under an Oak, looking up; spellbound, full of prayers and admiration.

Rolled over and saw a rabbit through the grass.

Got it. Took it home. Stewed the legs. Fried the saddle. Scoffed it.