No matter how many pheasant drives you see, either from the perspective of gun, beater or keeper, something is always missing without woodcock.

Invited to a small day’s shooting last weekend, I was delighted to have shot half a dozen pheasants by lunch time.

Guns and beaters switched between every drive, and my morning had alternated between phases of standing out in the windswept open and thrashing a path through sodden banks of bracken.

With a bag in the mid 30s, the shoot captain decided to shake things up a little for the afternoon, and everyone but he and two spaniels moved off to circle a long, narrow strip of pine trees on the far side of the shoot.

Some of the younger guns, myself included, wondered why on earth we were bothering with such an unassuming little collection of trees.

We would soon find out.

The strip was less than thirty feet wide, but it followed a deep ditch of brambles and moss that looked like it would have been impenetrable to a chieftain tank.

As the guns settled down at wide intervals, the shoot captain stepped into the strip and held the top strand of barbed wire down for the soaking dogs.

Within seconds, they had all vanished into the undergrowth.

A cock pheasant emerged with a rumbling clatter to fly straight on, high and strong.

Despite several bangs, he locked his wings and vanished into the distance.

All of a sudden, there was a tremendous flurry of excitement.

A woodcock had emerged, and it flitted silently along the line of firing guns, forty feet high but as unassailable as a fighter plane.

Over the next 10 minutes, a mixture of more than a dozen pheasants and half a dozen woodcock poured out of the wood, and the guns started to get their eyes in.

We are often told that variety is the spice of life, but we shouldn’t underestimate how important it is in a shooting context.

Not knowing what to expect next turned what could have been an underwhelming drive into the highlight of the day, and it was all thanks to the woodcock.

The views expressed on Patrick Laurie’s blog are the author’s and not the views of Shooting Gazette, ShootingUK, IPC Media or its employees. www.gallowayfarm.wordpress.com