If you’re someone who remembers everything, always carries spares and is prepared for all eventualities — fantastic. If, on the other hand, you’re like me and occasionally forget things, driving off knowing that there’s something you’ve left behind, but can never remember what it is — read on.
Like most people, I go through a mental checklist as I pack the car. It’s basically the same if I’m beating, picking-up or shooting. But occasionally, I still manage to get it wrong. I did get organised for a day’s shooting once, packing the car the night before with everything except my shotgun, as I didn’t want to leave it there overnight. The next morning, I jumped into the car and drove off, pleased with my own efficiency, only to receive a phone call from my daughter when I was halfway there, asking me if I needed my gun.
I mustn’t be the only one who forgets their kit. Of the several occasions on which I have, one sticks in my mind. A friend had asked me shooting a couple of years ago. I turned up for the traditional huge breakfast at his place, where we spent an hour eating our way through the things that we loved, but really shouldn’t eat. We headed off to the shoot hut to meet up with the other Guns and I’d started to put on my things when I realised that I’d forgotten my wellingtons, earmuffs and hat. I had put the muffs and hat into the boots so I wouldn’t forget them. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, as someone always has spares and I’m an average shoe size (nine). On this particular day, I had a choice of two sets of boots: one pair belonged to a girl with feet the size of a ballerina’s, and the other belonged to my host’s giant of a son. Fifteen minutes later, after a draw that seemed rigged, I was acting as walking Gun across a field of plough, wearing the giant’s wellingtons, which were four sizes too big. My ears were stuffed with toilet roll, I was wearing a hat with a piece missing that someone had found under a spaniel, and my boots were coming off with every other step. This may not come as a surprise, but I haven’t forgotten them since.
This was slightly better than the time I drove for two hours for morning flight in January. On arrival at the estuary, I went to put on my clobber only to discover that I had no coat. My son and his friend thought this highly amusing. I pretended it didn’t matter — I was a true wildfowler, so off I set on to the mud wearing waders and all my spare clothes under a thin fleece. Morning flight was good, but I failed to score, probably because I couldn’t move under all the layers. Two hours in, it started to rain; three hours in, I was cold; three-and-a-half hours in, I was freezing.
Along the length of the sea wall runs a railway and part-way along the track stands an old blue hut, once used by the “gangers” to shelter from the same wind and rain. I made for the hut and spent most of the afternoon in its relative shelter, reading graffiti and wondering if Dave really did love Debbs and what on earth he was doing in a railway hut in the middle of nowhere with a pen in the first place. Even with pieces of window missing and no door, it was enough to get me warmed up and dried off a little. The rain stopped in time for the evening flight and I managed to shoot a goose. Somehow, I forgot to tell the lads that I’d spent the afternoon in a hut, but I did mention that you didn’t need a coat if you worked outside in all weathers and were used to it.
Animals are often the cause of embarrassment, too. More than once, I have driven to help out a friend on one of his shoot days, only to discover halfway there that we’d forgotten the dog.
This reminds me of two of my pickers-up — Clive and Mike — who work black Labradors. After a busy afternoon, we arrived back in the yard as it was turning dark. Mike opened the back of his truck and Clive called his dogs. They jumped out and into the back of Clive’s van and went to sleep. Half an hour later, I got a frantic call from Mike, who had arrived home and found that of the two dogs in the back of his vehicle, only one belonged to him. Clive, meanwhile, was heading back to Wales and, as he was driving, had turned off his mobile phone. He didn’t know anything was wrong until he found a strange dog sitting in his kitchen, waiting to be fed. The dogs got over the experience a lot quicker than the owners, who were provided with A4-size name tags by the beaters the next time we shot. This was slightly better than one of our local masters of foxhounds, who arrived at the meet, made contact with the hosts, went over the first draw with the hunt staff, organised the day with the field master, opened his box and discovered he’d forgotten his horse.