As the ladies of Improvised Jane Austen (IJA) play both male and female characters in our shows, we are constantly endeavoring to research forms of entertainment for men. Activities like hunting, games, riding, etc. are constantly mentioned but rarely described in much detail in the Austen novels (but can be quite fun to improvise on stage)!
In one of my first rehearsals with IJA, I found myself playing a man, hunting with another gentleman on stage. However, I don't know how to shoot a modern gun, let alone a regency one. So here's some of my research that resulted!
First, a demo on how to shoot a gun (Skip to around minute 5):
The traditional end of the London Season is the Glorious Twelfth of August, which marks the beginning of the shooting season... Part of the reason sport hunting was considered a past time for the wealthy was the sheer space required to conduct a successful run... Endless rounds of house parties were an expected part of fall and winter entertainment. Hunting on someone else’s land was considered poaching (theft), the penalties for such activities were severe, sometimes resulting in deportation or even hanging... During the Regency, game birds were shot in different ways, though Driven Game shooting was popular on larger estates. Here, where beaters are employed to drive game towards a line of standing guns through woods and over moors or fields, dependent on the quarry and time of year. The total bag (number of birds shot) will be anywhere between 80 and 300, again dependent on quarry etc. The day will be very formal, and gamekeepers or a shoot captain will oversee proceedings. Pickers-up are also employed to make sure all shot game is collected. On such estates, large numbers of pheasants, partridge and duck, but not grouse, may be released to maintain numbers. Shotguns (also known as a fowling piece or scattergun) were improved during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and game shooting became more popular. To protect the pheasants for the shooters, gamekeepers culled vermin such as foxes, magpies and birds of prey almost to extirpation in popular areas, and landowners improved their coverts and other habitats for game.
The romantic image of scarlet clad hunters on horseback was actually a complicated hierarchy of huntsmen, hounds, their handlers (the Quorn) along with a variety of lookers on...
November to March marked fox hunting season, starting after the fall of the leaf, when the fields lie fallow, and ending after the last frost, just before the first planting.... The sport of fox hunting remained purely masculine. Ladies were advised to “ride to the meet and home again to work up an appetite” and while many did choose to ride to the hunt, a few followed the hunt in their carriages, keeping to the roads and lanes rather than going cross-country. Grand picnics and “Hunt Balls” were often organized as a way of bringing a societal aspect to this otherwise male dominated sport.
The sport of shooting birds on the wing developed in Europe after the invention of the flintlock. The flintlock or firelock, which used flint and steel to ignite the gunpowder, was the weapon carried by Marlborough's and Wellington's armies...
Over the period of development of the sport, dogs already bred to point out game birds for netting were adapted to the new sport and new dogs were bred to retrieve fallen birds. Fowling or wing-shooting, like any other sport, has its own terminology.
“To flush” is to scare the game birds into flight from their covert or the cover where they hide. Shooting a “brace” of game means to bag two. The fowling season began on August 12th with grouse season, but other game bird seasons follow hard on the heels of the first season. Partridge, ducks, and geese were all hunted with gusto during the fall.
Fowling for Pheasant: Mansfield Park
The enclosure acts helped the pheasant hunters in England immensely, for enclosed lands were surrounded by hedgerows and wild thickets, which provided a nice cover for the birds. Hunters benefited from the pheasants’ penchant for sticking to a regular feeding schedule and their habit of returning to an area where food was abundant. They would leave their nightly roost sites in the morning about two hours after sunrise and begin to exercise and move around in thick brush, dense patches of grasses, or standing cornfields. An hour after rising they could be seen foraging for food in the fields or picking at gravel or grit near roads. Nearly 90% of the pheasants would be searching for food at this time. Their unvarying schedules meant that hunters knew the precise time to set out to hunt the birds and where to find them. By mid-morning, pheasants would stop feeding and seek cover in thick brush or in trees until late afternoon. If the weather was particularly nasty, they would seek refuge in deeper cover....
A wily pheasant will not move, even when a dog’s nose is almost upon it. It’s color camouflages it so well in the brush that a hunter can walk right past it without ever noticing the bird. A good hunting dog will point at the pheasant, alerting its owner. And after the bird has burst into flight, will retrieve it where it fell. The oldest pheasant hunting dog breeds include Cocker Spaniels, English Setters and Pointers. At mid-day, it was best for hunters to search for them resting in their roosting placing of grassy stands and marches, and along edges of fields and ditch banks.
Hunting for pheasant occurred principally from November through January... Only landowners had the right to hunt. Poaching increased during times of famine and want, even though penalties were severe for poachers who were caught... Only persons who met specified property qualifications, essentially gentlemen and the aristocracy, could legally hunt game (such as deer, rabbits, or pheasants). Anyone else hunting these animals, whether using nets, guns, or other animals, were committing a crime, even if they owned land upon which the game was found. By late afternoon, around 4 hours before sunset, approximately 75% of the pheasants would return to their feeding areas. This was, obviously, another good time to go after them.