We love seeing enthusiasm for the countryside and the sports we enjoy in youngsters, for it is only through them that these sports will continue in the future. I recently met two young lads who had the enthusiasm and sense of adventure that I remembered so well as a boy myself, free to explore the countryside around my home.
I had received a phone call from a friend who farms south of Cambridge, where part of the land is well inside the city boundary, between a council estate and the mainline railway to Liverpool Street. He said that there were a lot of pigeon on a bean stubble, which was soon to be ploughed. Would I like to have a go at them? No difficulty in giving him a spontaneous reply: ?Yes ? I can?t go tomorrow but will be there on Saturday.?
?Look out for the public footpath on the north side of the field,? he said. I arrived in good time on the Saturday and cut an elder bush from the derelict scrub behind the council allotments. I then dragged it behind the car to the position I felt was the optimum for the strong south-west wind and yet away from the footpath. The field was some 300 yards wide and I was therefore 200 yards from the path and 100 yards from the farm track on the opposite side. The forecast was for heavy showers driven on the strong wind and so I made a substantial hide behind me based around an angler?s big green umbrella. My son Henry was possibly able to come later and so I used poles and nets to make a spacious hide. This was completed with the elder branches, so creating an enormous new bush in the open stubble.
Pigeon soon started to come and my shots disturbed others on fields downwind, which came on a line up to me. This was going to work, unless conditions changed. One can never take anything for granted with pigeon. However it was not the pigeon coming to the field that surprised me, but the number of people, not just on the footpath but also walking the farm tracks. By mid-morning I was in the middle of a continual circus of dog walkers, joggers, mountain bikers, horse riders and mothers pushing prams. Saturday, I soon realised, was not the ideal day for me to shoot this field! However the pigeon kept coming. Amazingly, very few people seemed either to notice the new bush in the landscape or to hear the shots on the wind. I had to set the decoy pattern to create shooting down the length of the field so my shot did not land anywhere near the footpath, but I also had to keep a sharp eye as to where people were. About midday, the pigeon suddenly started turning away and not coming in to the decoys. I puzzled for a while and then decided perhaps to alter the pattern. As I came out of the hide I saw three young teenagers standing only 20 yards behind, two wearing white T-shirts and the third bright orange!
Two new recruits
?Hello boys, how can I help?? I said. ?Oh, we?ve just come to watch,? they replied. I explained with surprising calm and patience that while they stood there in bright clothes there would be nothing to watch. I suggested they withdraw and watch from the burned-out car on the sugar beet pad at the end of the field. A few empty cartridges in their pockets and off they went, watched for a quarter of an hour, got bored and disappeared back in the direction of the council houses.
An hour later, the pigeon again turned away. This time I stood up to look over the angler?s brolly behind me and sure enough there were two more boys standing there. ?Please mister, we?ve just come to watch.? I again explained the problem to these two youngsters and that I was in a hide made of camouflaged netting and taking every precaution not to be seen in order to fool the wary woodpigeon.
?Ah yes,? they said, and off they went with more empty cartridges, provided they did not tell any other mates. It had been a meeting with the first boys which had encouraged the intrepid second party of lads.
Three-quarters of an hour later, excited voices behind me warned me again to look behind. There were the two youngsters now dressed head-to-toe in camo gear. ?After what you said, mister, we went home and changed, are we all right to watch now?? Well, what could I say, but respond to such initiative and enthusiasm and welcome them into the hide.
Mathew and Leroy, aged eight and nine respectively were like two excited puppies. I had them stand behind me under the umbrella, peering out through the netting for the coming pigeon. I explained what I was doing and they soon had their sharp little eyes competing to tell me of incoming birds. I told them to put their fingers in their ears when I put the gun up to shoot, to protect their hearing. They referred to my hide as a ?den? and soon entered into the spirit of excitement and sport. I explained how one could tell by the result of the shot whether the bird was hit in the head, tail, right in the pattern or just winged. They loved it with morbid delight. ?That?s dead all over,? was Mathew?s cry when a pigeon had flown into the full choke pattern.
Conversation with these two was no problem and they were very much at home in the suburban countryside. I was honoured to be invited to see a dead fox they visited every day in a roadside ditch. It had obviously been hit by a car. I declined as politely as I could such a prestigious invitation to the hallowed shrine of the month-old dead fox. My score by now, about 4pm, was 174 on the clicker round my neck. To keep them amused when not smothering Conon, my golden retriever, we played mental arithmetic games of how many I needed to shoot to get 200. Eight and nine-year-olds have lots of fingers and thumbs, but not enough to solve such a problem. However they soon had a countdown and at 200, we celebrated by sharing my packet of crisps and two remaining sticks of Kit-Kat. All this and still shooting a few latecomers before picking up. I dismantled the ?den? and they started collecting the bag of pigeon ? together a slow business with only one pigeon at a time in each hand, held by the tail. Two boys counting pigeon into sacks does not work either with chatter, mucking about and forgetting the first number they thought of.
We loaded the car and with a last cuddle for Conon off they went home happily with every pocket bulging with empty cartridge cases. I cannot think what they told their mothers, but I know there will be two boys who will not forget the day. In a few years? time they may or may not pass GCSE maths, but certainly their enthusiasm will ensure they are countryside supporters.
Extract from Will?s Pigeon Shooting: Secrets of Consistent Success by Will Garfit courtesy of Quiller Publishing. Visit www.countrybooksdirect.com.