Although firearms specially designed for the purpose of killing game were first introduced some four or five centuries ago, the weight of the big, flint - locked fowling-piece was so great that no ordinary woman would even have dreamed of handling it.
History relates, however, that, in the year 1753, her Imperial Highness the Princess Charlotte - who must have been a sportswoman of rare courage, for the kick of the fowling-pieces was appalling - took an active part in a chasse given in Bohemia by the Emperor of Austria.
Each of the shooters - so the chronicle relates - was provided with six guns, with the necessary attendants to load them, and the bag - of which, no doubt, a fair number fell to her Royal High-ness's share - included stags, wild boar, roe deer, foxes, hares, pheasants, partridges, larks, and quail.
(Fig. 1). The wrong way to carry a gun, andsince the introduction of the light, hammerless modern gun, shooting has become an excellent sport for women, well within the average feminine capacities. Many country girls can nowadays handle a gun with as much skill as their brothers; and it is by no means uncommon to hear of women accompanying their husbands on big-game shooting expeditions, and the list of noted sportswomen, who are also famous as shots, is indeed a long one.
If women are to shoot, however, it is absolutely essential that they should be thoroughly business-like about it, and should study not only the art of shooting well and gracefully, but the all-important matter of "carefulness" - a point which, above ail others, marks the good sportsman and sportswoman.
- the right way (Fig. 2)
Both the written and unwritten laws which govern the behaviour of the guns in the field have been framed with the object of ensuring the safety not only of the other guns, but of beaters, dogs, and chance passers by, and it is essential to become thoroughly acquainted with them before taking part in the day's sport.
Experience, of course, is the best school in which to learn, but this is a course of action which it would be unwise for the would-be sportswoman to adopt, for lack of experience, or rather ignorance of the etiquette of shooting, is not merely impolite, but invariably exposes other people to danger.
When handling fire-arms, it is impossible to be too careful. This is a golden maxim which should always be borne in mind. It is very easy to become impetuous, excited, or dangerously self-confident.
It is an excellent plan to go to one or other of the many good shooting schools and to take a course of lessons, and to be pronounced "absolutely safe" by the instructor in charge before attempting to go out for a day's tramp over the stubble, or over the moors, to shoot over dogs with the other guns, or to take part in a grouse or partridge drive or in covert shooting.
The beginner, having been fitted by an expert with a gun that suits her, first learns to bring it quickly up to her shoulder to fire, first at a fixed and then at a moving target; and when she has attained to a certain amount of proficiency in this, she is introduced in turn to a grouse butt, built exactly like a real one of earth and sods, behind which she sits waiting to shoot the "clay" grouse (discs of plaster-like substance) which are shot up from traps at irregular intervals.
She practises "carefulness," pausing to unload before crossing a ditch or climbing a fence, and reloading again immediately on the other side, until the practice becomes automatic.
Then she learns the "safe" ways of carrying her gun both when going up hill and when going down, and standing with her instructor - who also acts as loader-behind and a short distance back from a high hedge, on which clay partridges come in small groups, to represent the flight of a driven covey, at short, unexpected intervals. She learns - at first using blank cartridges -the right way to change guns swiftly and safely with her loader when carrying a pair.
Her training will also include practice in shooting rocketing pheasants - clay discs discharged from a high tower - and the safe way to handle her gun when shooting at rabbits and hares crossing a "ride."
How to hold the gun when aiming and firing. Keep the stock pressed firmly against the shoulder (Fig. 3)
The right way to load a gun. Keep the barrels pointing to the ground, and. when closing the breech, bring the stock up to the barrels (Fig. 4)
In the choice of a gun one must chiefly be guided by the length of one's purse. An excellent plain, reliable gun may be obtained for about £15.