It had been a poor start to the day, but it was about to get worse, much worse.
Paul and I had set off with the intention of shooting a field of drilled wheat, but in my heart of hearts, I felt we were maybe a couple of days too late.
While the field held a lot of pigeons when I checked 48 hours earlier, they were now moving quickly over the ground, giving me the impression that they were not finding much seed.
Sure enough, several birds were dropping into various rape fields as we approached the drillings, indicating that they had, indeed, cleared the surface food.
No matter, we were out for the day, and had plenty of time to take a look at other rape fields, and also some drilled peas closer to home.
Nothing really grabbed our attention on the rape, so midday saw us pulling on to the grass verge, just off the main road, so we could glass the pea field for any activity.
ABOVE: Peter unloads gear from his own truck on an earlier day’s decoying. The theft of his pal?s Land Rover has now driven home the message that you can?t leave your vehicle unattended, even for a moment.
We had walked no more than 30 feet from the Land Rover and trailer, to get a clearer view, when the sudden roar of an engine firing into life, made us spin round – just in time to see our vehicle disappearing down the footpath in a cloud of black smoke and spinning wheels!
Paul’s Land Rover and all our gear, plus a trailer and quad bike, had been stolen from right under our noses.
But more terrifyingly, so had both our shotguns and 500 cartridges!
Because we were only checking out the field, Paul, in a moment’s lapse of concentration, had removed the keys from the ignition – but had laid them on the front seat.
Someone had taken the opportunity to drop off an accomplice to watch us, and now we were standing open mouthed as the vehicle vanished.
Because we had parked behind a row of fence railings we assumed it would be quite safe to venture just ten yards away, but the thieves had simply driven down the footpath for 200 yards before squeezing between two trees to access the highway.
Because firearms had been stolen, it was treated by the police as a major incident, and within five minutes their helicopter was circling overhead – and a squad car was with us even while we were still reporting it to the operator.
If ever we needed a bit of luck, we got it in the next few minutes, when someone phoned in to report a Land Rover and trailer, plus a saloon car, jumping a set of traffic lights on red.
This flagged up all the local roadside cameras, and the two vehicles were spotted passing through a nearby town.
We could only wait and hope as the police constable drove us the half mile back to my house to take statements.
Still in a state of shock, but with the formalities
completed and still no news, there was nothing more
to be done but for Paul to be driven home by the police.
They had not been gone two minutes, when the squad
car pulled back into the yard. Paul poked his head
through the door: “Good news, they’ve found the Land
Rover and the guns are still on board, they are taking us
to collect them.” What a relief.
“However, our joy was short lived as halfway to the site the PC pulled over to say there had been a change of plan and now Paul was to be taken home in order for his guns and licence to be confiscated, pending further investigations.”
For Paul, though, the nightmare continued.
His vehicle was impounded until forensic tests had been carried out, his mobile phone, with all his business contacts, has not been returned, and because his house keys were also in the Land Rover, he has had to change all the locks at home.
At the time of writing, no decision has been taken as to what charges we may both face.
I have had no contact from the police, so for the time being my other guns and licence are still with me, though not my precious Perazzi, which is still being held at police HQ.
If this kind of theft can happen right in front of your nose, it just shows you how vigilant you need to be out in the field.
ABOVE: Peter was glassing fields for pigeons when the car thieves struck.
No more propping your gun against the hide whilst you wander off to look for an injured pigeon 200 yards away, for instance, and how many times have you left your gun in a car during a shoot meal in a pub, thinking “It’ll be alright in the car, because I can keep an eye on it through the window.”
We all have a duty of care when it comes to firearm security, and no one takes it more seriously than Paul, whose house is like Fort Knox with individual alarms on every room.
His gunsafe, for instance, weighs six hundredweight and is situated in an alarmed room.
The fact that this incident happened in the blink of an eye, after a moment’s lapse of judgement should make every shooter think ‘there but for the grace of God, go I.’
I’ll keep you posted on any developments next month.