THE BUSINESS ASPECTS OF A GROUSE-MOOR.
THE luxury of life on a grouse-moor is, now-a-days, only for those with a "portly income." In the days when Aber- nethy prescribed the shooting of moor-fowl to wearied patients in quest of better health, a tract of heather could be rented in the Highlands of Scotland for a fifth of the sum that is now paid for a similar expanse of moor-ground, and still heather is, in one sense, cheap enough. It scarcely costa fifteen pence an acre I The rent paid for the ground is very often, however, the smaller half of the bill which is incurred. The transport by railway and steamboat of family and servants becomes a serious item of the expenditure, when a distance of six or seven hundred miles has to be covered. The cost of living in the Highlands, too, has like- wise to be taken into account, all the more that men and women will insist upon having their surroundings as little changed from what they are accustomed to at home as possible ; and even if the diet were changed to bread and milk, a cow would have to be purchased and an oven erected, seeing that in all probability the nearest baker's shop moor be twenty miles distant. Some men will rent for a couple of months a breadth of moor in the Highlands that will comprise eight or ten thousand acres of hill and dale, lake and stream, the rent of which will be some five hundred or even more pounds. It is vain to say, as it has become the fashion to say of late years, that a man can make a" good thing "out of his moor, i.e., derive a handsome profit from his shootings. For the very finest birds sent to the London market, which is the best of all markets for grouse, it is scarcely possible to obtain more than 7s. per brace,—indeed, only a very small per-centage of the grouse shot bring that price, probably fifty out of a total quantity of 400. The following are genuine returns from a salesman to his client during the present season, and show how, to use a vul- garism, "the gilt is taken off the ginger-bread" :-80 at 38.; 89 at 2s. 3d. ; 60 at 2s. 6d.; 17 at 1s. 6d.,—in all, 216 single birds. Another statement from Leadenhall Market is as follows :— 12 at 3s. 3d. ; 158 at 2s. 6d. ; 100 at 2s. 3d. ; 188 at is. 10d.; total sum, /50 11s. 6d.,—leas commission and railway charges, £,2 13s. 7d.; leaving a net return for 458 single birds of 147 17s. 11d., which is, as nearly as possible, 2s. 1d. per bird. These are recent quotations, however. On the 13th, 14th, and 15th August, prices were better, and a fair number of birds were counted at 3s. 6d. each. When partridges come in, these prices will be still lower, and the average of the birds sent to the dealer during the season from, say, a moor of 7,500 acres, the rent of which, including house and wages of keepers, is /480, will, in all probability, be under 3s. 6d. per brace ! How many brace of grouse, then, leaving the hares, rabbits, and miscellaneous birds for family use, would be re- quired to meet the payment to the landlord ? And how many more to repay the current expenses of housekeeping in excess of home expenditure, not to speak of the railway and steamboat fares, so as to realise the so-called " good " thing ? Estimating the miscellaneous expenditure at about £150, we have thus a total sum to provide for of £630; and to recoup this amount and allow of the consumption of a few brace in the shooting lodge, and a score or two for presents, at least 4,000 brace of grouse would require to be shot !
Where are so many birds to come from? It has become a sort of unwritten law that the bargain between landlord and tenant is honourably fulfilled if one hundred brace be shot upon each thousand acres of heather. For all purposes of sport, that number of birds is held to be an acquittal of the rent-charge. Such a return is, of course, rather imaginative, and moors vary much in their yield of birds. Some stretches of heather carry a larger head of game than others. One sportsman will obtain forty birds to each hundred acres of ground, whilst another will not be able to shoot six brace. In any case, a great deal of nonsense is written about men being able to pay their rents by means of their credit account at their poulterers. It is no doubt a fact that four-fifths of the grouse which are shot are sent to the market, and it is a curious circumstance that men will rather take a vast stretch of heather and shoot for their poulterer, than be content with a smaller surface of ground and have less anxiety about the rent. We have never heard of a sportsman who drew more than 000 from a poulterer for his grouse, and the annual expenses in rent and living of that gentle- man, while resident on his shooting, would come to at least four times that amount. It is not easy to define the motive of the gentleman alluded to, in paying £800 of rent and four hundred pounds of miscellaneous expenditure in con- nection with his shootings, when, if the three hundred pounds obtained from his poulterer were an object---and we do not believe the sum was of any moment—he could have obtained a moor of half the extent at half the rent, or have asked a friend to share his expenses. These, however, are matters with which the com- mentator has really no business, and were it not for our desire to prick the bladder of a vulgar error, we would have remained silent on this feature of grouse-moor economy. To shoot 4,000 brace of grouse on such an expanse of heather as has been indi- eated, and leave sufficient birds to breed, is an utter impossibility, because the extent of ground would not breed and feed the num- ber, taking it for granted that 600 brace would require to be left for the purpose of keeping up the stock.
That there are unprincipled sportsmen, who set no bounds to the extent of their bag, is certain. Many a "grouse laird" has been brought to grief by finding from the bitter complaints of his tenant that his moor is barren, the previous lessee having shot every bird that he could find. Such a case is not at all un- common, and hence lairds who have once been "done" in that way will not again let their moor unless the offering tenant *wept the services of their own keepers, whose duty it is to curb the greed of the lessee, and see that the moor is not left without a stock of breeding birds for future tenants. A few days of " driving " soon thins out a moor. It is not only that a large 41 kill" takes place, but many birds are so hashed or wounded on these occasions as to be rendered hors de combat, so far as multi- plying and replenishing their kind is concerned. As to " grouse- driving," there has been much controversy. Old sportsmen sneer at it as bird-butchery. " Grouse-driving " is certainly not "sport," in the old sense of the word ; as compared with shooting over a dog, it is as if the subscribers to the Derby were to place the names of their horses in a hat, and pro-
claim the first number drawn the winner, instead of settling the matter on Epsom Heath by running the animals on their merits. The sport of grouse-shooting, as it used to be—although " driving " is not the modern innovation some writers think it—was a leisurely tramp over the heather of from sixteen to twenty miles on four days a week, the reward being about as many braces of birds as miles had been traversed. Modern sport is all hurry and bustle. Grouse-shooting, although it is legal for some hundred days, exclusive of Sundays, is virtually over be- fore the middle of September ; indeed, with some men, grouse- shooting ends when partridge-shooting begins ; therefore, during the three or four weeks in which they are at it, men flash away with all their might, desirous of being able to show as big a bag as their neighbours ; hence the resort to " driving " and other royal roads of obtaining a twelfth-day chronicle in the county Paper.
It was a saying of a humorous Banffshire laird, that "the man who invented grouse-shooting was a benefactor to his country." So he was, for by means of their grouse many men are com- paratively rich who would have been poor. The honour of in- venting grouse-shooting may almost, we think, be given to Sir Walter Scott. He made Scotland as it is known to-day, his poems and novels gave an impetus to the country which it still feels. After the "Lady of the Lake" was published Scotland became fashionable, and was every summer invaded by hosts of tourists who gazed withrapture on its beautiful scenery, and published its charms far and wide. From that time its trade and commerce began to increase, its tartans and its whiskey became in demand, and its inn and hotel accommodation multiplied exceedingly. Its waste grounds, too, soon became valuable. Rich men came from the south to spear Scottish salmon and shoot Scottish moor-fowl, all in moderation, of course, for distances were great and travelling was slow, while money was not so plentiful then as now. Highland lairds at one time would, as a body, have scorned to let their lands to the Southron ; but at length, pocketing their pride and "the tinier of the Saesenach " at the same time, they grew to like the hundred-pound-note which enabled them
to send another of their sons to college, or give the ladies of their family a month in London, or a winter in Edinburgh.
The trade of moor-letting was increased when the estates of minors and widows required to be nursed, and when the Continent of Europe became open ground, the lairds of Scotland were eager to see it. What so easy as to provide the ways and means, by letting for a season their Highland home and its thousands of acres of moss and heather ? And so grouse-shooting grew—and a literature of sport was introduced—till it attained its present
dimensions, and till the sporting rental of Scotland became a quarter of a million sterling per annum. There is this season, how- ever, a falling-off in the let of moors and deer-forests to the extent of about forty thousand pounds, caused, it is thought, by bad trade, and partially by the political uncertainty that marked the period of letting. It is more than probable that the price of grouse-shootings and deer-forests in Scotland has culminated. Rents have of late been such that only very rich men conldafford to grapple with them, and as has been indicated, some have done so at the expense of their dignity, in holding communion with the poulterer. This year there is every indication that there will be a glut of birds in the market, and as it is reasonable to infer prices will be moderate, so that lessees will have but scanty aid from their poulterer. Next year there may be an outbreak of disease, of which there were not wanting symptoms in the past spring. But we do not wish to become prophets of evil ; let us rather hope that the stream of gold which annually enriches the "land of the mountain and the flood" will continue to flow, and that a portion of it may be applied to that land reclamation which would yield the Highlands of Scotland a far richer harvest than that which they now derive from the grouse.