You can have one of your birds for supper if you like,? my wife said. I hasten to point out that this was a reference to the feathered kind, and eating them, rather than who I might share my supper with! She was going out with ?the girls?, and since my wife is not bothered with the likes of duck, woodcock, snipe and the odd grouse that comes my way, I am mostly allowed to treat myself whenever I am on my own for supper.
So, thinking of roast pintail, I set off to ferret about in the freezer, where up popped a bag labelled ?hen grey 12/11?. Then the memories came flooding back of a day just before Christmas on one of the finest roughshoots in the country. Normally a wild grey partridge would not find its way into the freezer, but instead would be relished fresh, after a few days hanging in the gamelarder. But this bird was shot three days before Christmas, and the menu plan for some time ahead had already been set, so freezing it was the only option.
Now, before you accuse me of a crime in shooting a precious wild grey partridge, please understand the circumstances. My two hosts on the shoot have worked hard to improve their partridge population with a well-thought through habitat management programme that provides good nesting cover and insect-rich brood-rearing areas. The hungry gap in spring is bridged by a good supply of wheat-filled hoppers, which are kept topped up until late May, and there is a well-targeted and effective predation control campaign. As a result, the numbers have grown, and the counts say that a modest harvest is perfectly reasonable. That is, after all, precisely why they set out on the project in the first place.
Hopeful of a grey day
At the start of the shoot day we were told that both redleg and grey partridges would be on the menu. Now, it must be almost 10 years since I last shot a grey, so I was rather looking forward to the possibility. As luck would have it, the greys had flown over the Guns on several previous shoot days and a number of shots had been fired. But, up until then, everyone had missed, as otherwise they may well have been back off the menu so late in the season. My chance came as we walked a strip of winter rape towards our positions as standing Guns for a small drive. The covey lifted in range and, to be honest, my bird was far from difficult. I probably should have tried for a right- and-left, but I was so pleased with myself that I forgot about the second barrel!
I count myself even luckier that my hosts insisted that I take my little hen partridge home with me. There was a tinge of regret about its sex ? it would have been better to kill a cock ? but shooting the first grey under current management was a real privilege for me. Also, the fact that it was a young bird promised a particularly delicious dinner.
With no one there to supervise my calorie intake, I opted for a few home-made game chips to go with the bird. These are really only potato crisps, but if you have the wherewithal to make them, I think they are well worth the effort. You need to slice some potatoes thinly ? a floury variety, such as King Edward or Maris Piper, is best ? on a mandoline, and then gently deep-fry them until they just start to colour. Once cooked, they should be drained and then tossed on to a tray lined with kitchen paper. They are rather squidgy at this point, but crisp up beautifully when dried out for two or three hours in a low oven (the bottom oven in a Rayburn cooker, or similar, is ideal). For my money, beef dripping is the best frying medium, and to heck with the diet police!
Grey, purple and red
With spring now well underway, a few spears of home-grown asparagus and some purple sprouting broccoli seemed the perfect garnish, and a glass of good red wine made for a happy hunter. As I sat munching, I mused again on a wonderful and varied day?s sport. The bag was not huge but we had pheasants, redlegs, my little wild grey partridge, a pigeon or two, plus mallard and teal from the water meadows. There should have been snipe, too, if only people had been shooting straighter.
This, for me, is part of the joy of being a pothunter. I love my sport dearly, be it roughshooting, wildfowling, deerstalking, fishing, or even hunting the shore for prawns and shellfish. Each time I take something home, I relish it as food, and I relive the joy of the sport that brought it to hand. You just do not get that when you send the carcase to the gamedealer, nor when you put the fish back in the water.