On Hunting, by Xenophon


For hunting fawns1 and deer,2 Indian dogs3 should be employed, as being strong, large, and fleet-footed, and not devoid of spirit; with these points they will prove well equal to the toil.

Quite young fawns4 should be captured in spring, that being the season at which the dams calve.5 Some one should go beforehand into the rank meadowlands6 and reconnoitre where the hinds are congregated, and wherever that may be, the master of the hounds will set off — with his hounds and a supply of javelins — before daylight to the place in question. Here he will attach the hounds to trees7 some distance off, for fear of their barking,8 when they catch sight of the deer. That done he will choose a specular point himself and keep a sharp look-out.9 As day breaks he will espy the hinds leading their fawns to the places where they will lay them severally to rest.10 Having made them lie down and suckled them, they will cast anxious glances this way and that to see that no one watches them; and then they will severally withdraw to the side opposite and mount guard, each over her own offspring. The huntsman, who has seen it all,11 will loose the dogs, and with javelins in hand himself advance towards the nearest fawn in the direction of where he saw it laid to rest; carefully noting the lie of the land,12 for fear of making some mistake; since the place itself will present a very different aspect on approach from what it looked like at a distance.

When his eye has lit upon the object of his search, he will approach quite close. The fawn will keep perfectly still, glued13 as it were to earth, and with loud bleats suffer itself to be picked up; unless it happen to be drenched with rain; in which case, it will not stay quiet in one place. No doubt, the internal moisture of the animal congeals quickly with the cold14 and causes it to shift its ground. Caught in that case it must needs be; but the hounds will have work enough to run the creature down.15 The huntsman having seized the fawn, will hand it to the keeper. The bleating will continue; and the hind, partly seeing and partly hearing, will bear down full tilt upon the man who has got her young, in her desire to rescue it. Now is the moment to urge on the hounds and ply the javelins. And so having mastered this one, he will proceed against the rest, and employ the same method of the chase in dealing with them.

Young fawns may be captured in the way described. Those that are already big will give more trouble, since they graze with their mothers and the other deer, and when pursued retire in the middle of the herd or occasionally in front, but very seldom in the rear. The deer, moreover, in order to protect their young will do battle with the hounds and trample them under foot; so that capture is not easy, unless you come at once to close quarters and scatter the herd, with the result that one or another of the fawns is isolated. The effort implies16 a strain, and the hounds will be left behind in the first heat of the race, since the very absence of their dams17 will intensify the young deer’s terror, and the speed of a fawn, that age and size, is quite incredible.18 But at the second or third run they will be quickly captured; since their bodies being young and still unformed cannot hold out long against fatigue.

Foot-gins19 or caltrops may be set for deer on mountains, in the neighbourhood of meadows and streams and wooded glens, on cross-roads20 or in tilled fields at spots which they frequent.21 These gins should be made of twisted yew twigs22 stripped of the bark to prevent their rotting. They should have well-rounded hooplike “crowns”23 with alternate rows of nails of wood and iron woven into the coil.24 The iron nails should be larger, so that while the wooden ones yield to the foot, the others may press into it.25 The noose of the cord which will be laid upon “the crown” should be woven out of esparto and so should the rope itself, this kind of grass being least liable to rot. The rope and noose itself should both alike be stout. The log or clog of wood attached should be made of common or of holm oak with the bark on, three spans in length, and a palm in thickness.26

To set the trap, dig a hole in the soil to a depth of fifteen inches,27 circular in shape, with a circumference at the top exactly corresponding to the crown and narrowing towards the bottom. For the rope and wooden clog likewise remove sufficient earth to let them both be lightly buried. That done, place the foot-gin deep enough to be just even with the surface of the soil,28 and round the circle of the crown the cord-noose. The cord itself and wooden clog must now be lowered into their respective places. Which done, place on the crown some rods of spindle-tree,29 but not so as to stick out beyond the outer rim; and above these again light leaves, such as the season may provide. After this put a final coating of earth upon the leaves; in the first place the surface soil from the holes just dug, and atop of that some unbroken solid earth from a distance, so that the lie of the trap may be as much as possible unnoticed by the deer. Any earth left over should be carried to a distance from the gin. The mere smell of the newly-turned-up soil will suffice to make the animal suspicious;30 and smell it readily she will.

The hunter should take his hounds and inspect the traps upon the mountains, early in the morning if possible, though he should do so also during the day at other times. Those set on cultivated land must always be inspected early, before the sun is up in fact,31 and for this reason: on the hills, so desert is the region,32 the creatures may be caught not only at night but at any time of day; while, on the cultivated lands, owing to their chronic apprehension of mankind in daytime, night is the only time.33

As soon as the huntsman finds a gin uprooted he will let slip his hounds and with cheery encouragement34 follow along the wake of the wooden clog, with a keen eye to the direction of its march. That for the most part will be plain enough, since stones will be displaced, and the furrow which the clog makes as it trails along will be conspicuous on tilled ground; or if the deer should strike across rough ground, the rocks will show pieces of bark torn from the clog, and the chase will consequently be all the easier.35

Should the deer have been caught by one of its fore-feet it will soon be taken, because in the act of running it will beat and batter its own face and body; if by the hind-leg, the clog comes trailing along and must needs impede the action of every limb. Sometimes, too, as it is whirled along it will come in contact with the forked branches of some tree, and then unless the animal can snap the rope in twain, she is fairly caught; there ends the chase. But even so, if caught in this way or overdone with fatigue, it were well not to come too close the quarry, should it chance to be a stag, or he will lunge out with his antlers and his feet; better therefore let fly your javelins from a distance.

These animals may also be captured without aid of gin or caltrop, by sheer coursing in hot summer time; they get so tired, they will stand still to be shot down. If hard pressed they will plunge into the sea or take to water of any sort in their perplexity, and at times will drop down from sheer want of breath.36

1 See Hom. “Il.” xxii. 189, x. 361; “Od.” iv. 35; Aelian, “N. A.” xiv. 14; xvii. 26; Geopon. xix. 5.

2 e elaphos (generic, Attic) = hart or hind, of roe (Capreolus caprea) or red (Cervus elaphus) deer alike, I suppose. See St. John, “Nat. Hist. and Sport in Moray.”

3 Of the Persian or Grecian greyhound type perhaps. See Aristot. “H. A.” viii. 28; Aelian, “N. A.” viii. 1; Pollux, v. 37, 38, 43; Plin. “H. N.” vii. 2, viii. 28; Oppian, “Cyn.” i. 413.

4 See above, v. 14. I do not know that any one has answered Schneider’s question: Quidni sensum eundem servavit homo religiosus in hinnulis?

5 “The fawns (of the roe deer) are born in the spring, usually early in May,” Lydekker, “R. N. H.” ii. p. 383; of the red deer “generally in the early part of June,” ib. 346.

6 orgadas = “gagnages,” du Fouilloux, “Comment le veneur doit aller en queste aux taillis ou gaignages pour voir le cerf a veue,” ap. Talbot, op. cit. i. p. 331.

7 Or, “off the wood.”

8 It seems they were not trained to restrain themselves.

9 Or, “set himself to observe from some higher place.” Cf. Aristoph. “Wasps,” 361, nun de xun oplois | andres oplitai diataxamenoi | kata tas diodous skopiorountai. Philostr. 784.

10 See Pollux, v. 77; Aristot. “H. A.” ix. 5. Mr. Scrope ap. Lydekker, “R. N. H.” ii. p. 346, states that the dam of the red deer makes her offspring “lie down by a pressure of her nose,” etc.

11 Lit. “when he sees these things.”

12 Or, “the features of the scene”; “the topography.”

13 piesas, “noosling, nestling, buried.”

14 “The blood runs cold.”

15 Or, “but it will give them a good chase; the dogs will have their work cut out.”

16 Lit. “after that violent effort.”

17 Or, “alarm at the absence of the herd will lend the creature wings.”

18 Or, “is past compare”; “is beyond all telling.”

19 podostrabai, podostrabai so called. Cf. “the boot.”

20 en tais diodois, “at points where paths issue,” or “cross.”

21 pros o ti prosie, “against whatever they are likely to approach.”

22 Or, “should be woven out of Smilax”; “Ebenholz,” Lenz; “Ifs,” Gail.

23 tas de stephanas euk. ekh. “having circular rims.”

24 en to plokano (al. plokamo) = the plaited rope, which formed the stephane. See Pollux, v. 32, ap. Schneid. and Lenz.

25 Al. “so as to press into the foot, if the wooden ones yield.”

26 Or, “27 inches x 3.”

27 Or, “remove a mass of soil to the depth of five palms so as to form a circular hole corresponding in size with the rim above-named.”

28 Or, “like a door over the cavity, somewhat below the surface, flatwise”; i.e. “in a horizontal position.”

29 So literally, but really Carthamus creticus, a thistle-like plant used for making spindles (Sprengel ap. L. & S.), the Euonymous europaeus being our spindle-tree. Aristot. “H. A.” ix. 40, 49; Theocr. iv. 52.

30 Lit. “if she once sniffs the new-turned soil the deer grows shy, and that she will quickly do.” See Plat. “Laws,” 933 A; “Phaedr.” 242 C; “Mem.” II. i. 4.

31 “Before the sun is up.”

32 Or, “thanks to the lonesomeness of the region.”

33 “It is night or never, owing to the dread of man which haunts the creature’s mind during daytime.”

34 See vi. 20; “with view-halloo.”

35 Or, “along that track will not be difficult.”

36 “From mere shortness of breath.”


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02