Perhaps it?s in my nature to be pessimistic, as I cannot help but feel some trepidation when I receive an invitation to an end-of-season cock shoot. I realise that these events are not so much a serious sporting proposition as an opportunity for gamekeepers and shoot captains to extend a token of their gratitude to those people who have lent their help and support during the sporting year, but on the whole, I am not an enthusiastic subscriber. Often, I have attended such a day in good spirits and subsequently returned home full of woe after yet another cock-day debacle. If I describe my misadventures, you will understand my lack of enthusiasm.

An overcrowded shoot

One of my earliest cock shoot invitations saw me tagging along with nearly two dozen fellow Guns, who were divided into two teams that alternated between brushing and standing. The keeper was a popular local personality who was well known for his love of the ?booze and birds? culture, but, unfortunately, his generosity with cock-shoot invitations while inebriated did not allow for the limited stock that his syndicate employers had left on the ground. This indisputable fact soon became apparent to the assembled teams and the whole exercise degenerated into a quick draw shoot-out at any bird that broke

over the standing Guns, with many paying little regard to the safety factors. That, and the doddery old boy with the rickety old double-barrelled hammergun held together with copper wire, made me fear for the safety of all present, but somehow we all survived unscathed (though I ensured that I was busy on the corresponding day the following season).

I joined a similar, but altogether safer, team for a cock day in late January. For once, things looked to be going my way, as I was shooting and on form, a coincidence that occurs but rarely in my humble experience, so you can imagine my delight at having downed three high cock pheasants on the first drive. Having been advised that hen pheasants were off-limits, you can imagine my embarrassment when my dog returned with a dark Bournville-coloured melanistic hen pheasant. I had to pay the obligatory fine of a fiver, but I was allowed to take the bird home and it looks up at me now, a testimony to the taxidermist?s art. However, just as the day looked as if it was set to finish on a good note, my yellow Labrador tore itself on a hidden strand of barbed wire and I had to pay an unwanted visit to the vet. I could not help but feel that the subsequent bill only confi rmed my long-held suspicions that I had followed the wrong career path.

A gun shared

Various other mishaps have made cock shoots an anticlimax. One morning, I arrived at my peg in a state of expectation, the blue sky and frost-hardened ground heightening this uplifting sensation. The whistle blew to start the drive and I moved to load my gun, only to realise that I had left my cartridge bag at the lodge. I dashed over to the peg on my right and the Gun happily lent me a handful of 12-bore cartridges.

I was still on my way back to No5 peg when the cries from the beating line alerted me to a cock pheasant slanting across to my right. Without hesitation, I loaded up and shot the bird, which smacked down on to the iron-hard drill at the toes of the chap who had so kindly given me some of his ammunition. Needless to say, the poor fellow did not look impressed and I spent the rest of the day trying to keep a low profile while not making any similar lapses in etiquette.

On the most recent cock shoot I attended, I had to share a gun with a friend, after the headkeeper realised that he had invited too many Guns. He suggested that we should take turns on the pegs, with the spare man supplementing the sparse beating line. This was fine until the shoot?s star drive commenced and my friend and I both realised that we had been instructed to join the beating line while the other guests enjoyed some tidy sport. The keeper then had the emerity to collect the full ?beaters? pay? from us both, despite our presence in the beating line for most of the day. Perhaps I will meet with better luck this season.