The day didn’t start well. Two of the five invited Guns had to pull out at the last minute but George Thornalley, one of the Guns who could make it, brought some cracking news.

His firm – Thornalley Contracting Services – specialises in establishing cover crops… and George has very kindly agreed to help oversee our covers next year. Excellent!

Anyway, back to the shoot. Because we only intended to do a limited number of drives, we’d decided to meet at the yard, ready for the off at around 12.30pm – late for traditional game shooting.

While enjoying a small barrel straightener of homemade sloe gin I gave a short briefing for the day’s sport.

This basically entailed be safe at all times, and confirmed that any legal quarry was allowed – including ground game – providing it was safe.

I ran through my plans for the drives, and the order in which we would shoot them. We set off across the seven-acre for the first drive from the stubble turnips.

I had planned to shoot this towards the stream, but because of a strong wind (from the wrong direction) we switched the drive around.

The beaters and I pushed the pit through (which was blank) to get in position behind the stubble turnips.

ALL PRESENT AND CORRECT

With the Guns in place we started and it seemed we were likely to have a blank first drive when, right at the end, a small covey of partridges broke out of the corner of the turnips.

Unfortunately, they only gave the end gun a fleeting chance of a couple of rather hurried shots. You guessed it, the birds got away unharmed!

A lone rabbit was the sum for the drive. Next we brought in the long, deep hedge, past the release pen and straight through the game cover towards the awaiting Guns.

We did this as planned, even with the wind against us. Surprisingly though the hedge and rough ground around the release pen were blank.

As I moved through the rough ground towards the pen I spotted a black object, which turned out to be a cat.

We’re not sure if it’s a feral or domestic animal but I reckon it’s been regularly prowling around the release pen, obviously creating a disturbance for the birds.

Anyway, as we moved through the hedge and into the game cover the first pheasant took flight – over the hedgeline to gave a nice sporting shot to the waiting gun.

Two shots later it flew safely down to the marsh!

Moments after, another pheasant took flight – this one rocketed skyward but quickly fell back to the ground following an excellent shot by James.

The third drive entailed a lot of walking for no reward apart, that is, from some spirited banging at high-flying crows – one of which made it into the bag.

MOVING ON

For the fourth drive I took the Guns across our largest arable field while the beaters made their way up the hedgeline as we tried to surround the partridges.

I’d been hand feeding along the hedgeline (and have regularly seen more than 20 birds there) so I was positive that this would be a successful drive With the Guns in place I moved around the boundary to meet up with the beaters.

As we were moving back towards the Guns only three partridges took flight – whether we had lost some across the boundary I don’t know, but it was disappointing all the same.

One of the partridges did present a nice crossing bird for George, which was taken well and the bag was now up to four – with as many different species. Talk about variety!

The three Guns and I then walked up the marsh – and we flushed two pheasants, one of which I managed to drop.

This took the bag to five, which is unfortunately where it stayed! The beaters later reported that a number of the partridges had broken back towards the game cover, so they were left for another day!

Other than that the gorse bank was a blank, which was disappointing as the feeder at the top of the bank has been the one attracting the most attention!

NEARLY, BUT NOT QUITE

We then moved around to beat the marsh towards the centre of the shoot. This produced a snipe – out of range for a shot – a pheasant and a few pigeons.

None of which made it into the bag.

Shooting over, we walked to the vehicles, the small bag was distributed and we all went to the village pub for a drink.

Post-shoot chat agreed that it wasn’t the size of the bag that made a good day; it was all to do with camaraderie and simply being out there. All agreed it had been a good day.

LESSONS LEARNT

I learnt a lot on this first day. For a start, I now have a better idea which way the birds will fly, and I also think I’ll start a little earlier as that could make a difference.

We are also going to get more feeders placed out, and do more hand feeding to try to hold the birds where we want them. Hopefully this will lead to more success.