In a country so thickly populated as England they would otherwise soon be exterminated. It is, however, more as a matter of custom than as a matter of fact, that we speak of all game as wild, for thousands of birds are bred, like barn-door fowls, and turned loose for sport in the autumn.
Season for Game.—Between March 15 and August 1 is the worst time for game, for since 1872 a £5 penalty has been exacted from any person who shall kill or sell any one of a scheduled list of birds, of which these have most to do with the housekeeper—coot, dotterel, mallard, moorhen, plover, quail, snipe, woodcock, swan, teal, widgeon, wild duck, wheatear. They may be sold, however, if they are proved to come from outside the limits of the United Kingdom; and a good deal of foreign game is sold to those who cannot content themselves during those months without a game course to dinner. Partridges and prairie hens come to us from America, Russia and Norway, and some of the Colonies supply us with game "out of season"; there is also a large importation of quails from Egypt.
To Keep Game.—All water birds should be eaten as fresh as possible, because their flesh is oily and soon becomes rank. Most game is kept until putrefaction has commenced, it being thought that the flavour is thereby developed. The time that it may be kept depends upon (1) the taste of the persons who are to eat it; (2) the weather; (3) the age of the bird. Taking all these together, it is impossible to lay down any precise rules. In damp, muggy weather, even if the thermometer is not very high, game will keep a very little time, but in clear, windy weather, even if it is not very cold, it will keep for many days. It should always be kept in the fur or feathers, and should not be drawn, and should be hung up in a current of air. It may sometimes be necessary to pluck, truss and half cook it, in which state it will keep a day or two longer.
Old birds may always be kept longer than young ones, so that it is well, in case of having a good deal of game, to cook the old on one day and the young on another. Old birds also need longer cooking.
To Choose Game.—At the beginning of the season it is easy to distinguish between old and young, but towards the end of the year the distinctions become obliterated. Besides the smoothness of the claws and the small lip cleft of a young hare, the ear is tender and can be easily torn. This sign, however, is not infallible if the ear is torn by the poulterer, who, by long practice, can always tear it very readily. The short, stumpy neck and long joints of a young rabbit or hare are a better guide, and a small bony knob can be felt near the foot of a leveret, which is absent in a full-grown hare. Partridges, at the beginning of the season, can always be distinguished by the shape of the long feathers in the wing; in an old bird they are round at the end, like the letter U; in a young one they are pointed, like a V.