Royalty and Tobacco Spitters

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1998

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

"wommera," which was similar to the historic Native American atlatl, a spear-throwing device which utilized physical laws to give greater momentum to a spear.

Just as the compound bow shoots an arrow faster than a conventional bow so did the atlatl improve spear throwing.

But spearing game birds still was a long way from tumbling them with an elegant Parker double-barreled 20 gauge.

The first shotguns were impossibly primitive for a wingshooter. A matchlock or wheellock took measurable time between ignition and discharge. You pulled the trigger, then time was suspended for what seemed like an eternity while the fire traveled through the powder chain into the chamber, where it ignited and pushed a load of shot in the general direction of the bird or birds which, by then, were almost out of range.

It simply wasn't practical. So birdshooters of 1621 were potshooters. Not to malign our neighbors to the south, but the term is established by time: they Arkansawed them-shot 'em on the ground.

Among other stratagems, bird hunters concocted a brew of lettuce, poppy, henbane and wheat, boiled in wine residue, that would make birds so drunk they'd squat stupidly while the meat-gatherer collected them.

Various elaborate ruses right out of burlesque comedy were the stuff of 17th century potshooters. The stalking horse was one. In one version, the shooter hid alongside a horse and urged the animal close to feeding wildfowl, then stepped out from behind the horse and "blooey"! Blood and feathers for half an acre.

But the silliest version of all was when accomplices would dress up like a horse. Not being the most sophisticated creatures around, game birds would accept this lumbering concoction of fabric and insanely grinning horse head as the real thing.

To their regret.

By the mid-1500s, a few European gunners were wingshooting. Japanese and Spanish gunners took birds on the wing, but the English still preferred their stalking horses and potshooting until Charles came along. The idea of taking a bird on the wing really caught fire, so to speak, when flintlock mechanisms came into use. Flintlocks were faster than wheellocks and enormously faster than matchlocks.

Jim Keefe, retired editor of the Conservationist, is an aficionado of black powder. He is gradually regressing, for he began with caplocks and now hunts with a flintlock.

Quail hunting with him is interesting because when the birds go up, there is an eruption of fire and smoke not unlike that of Mt. St.

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