January and another year gone, it is time to take stock. Looking back it has been a whirl of frenetic activity. I have driven 17,000 miles since May, sometimes late at night for the next day’s shooting or training. I must arrange my time better but I knew such a year would not come my way again so I grabbed it with both hands.
From the clay ranges to the pheasants of Wales and Yorkshire, partridges in Gloucestershire and Sussex to gunmakers in London and Brescia, and last but not least our own family shoot in Dorset I have been given access to the world of shooting not granted to many. I have shot with a loader and stuffed for myself or watched standing with the Guns. Game shooting, more than any other sport, connects with the countryside it has helped to shape and the people who populate and work in it.
Last Saturday one of the Guns called Dad a ‘true countryman’ as he walked home for tea in the gloaming with gun, dogs and bird. He is ridiculously pleased by that accolade but I hope that I earn that title too myself someday. Being a countryman to me means being in tune with nature, perhaps more so if you are hunting a runner, rattling a stick or turning a covey but the Gun too plays his part in the dance.
If the urban elite are inhibited by political correctness from taking part in a midwinter shoot it is a tragedy especially for the young who stay at home playing on the computer. Everywhere I have seen smiling faces, passionate keepers, men with too many years under their belts watching it all with benign gravitas from the game cart and just happy to see it all go on as it did in their youth. The image that stays with me is from the Shakenhurst Shoot in Worcestershire, little James Green with his Dad Michael out all day picking-up, his Dad’s hand in his or riding on his shoulders – parental bonding as it should be done.
On the home shoot
Although our team of beaters at home is obviously the best, the Worcestershire boys and girls run them a close second, that and a convivial team of Guns made the day for me. At home with wild food everywhere it has been hard to keep and concentrate the birds but they have flown well to the extent that the ratio at lunch on the last Saturday in November was 7.5 to 1.
The days have been inexplicably uneven but now that it is colder and flocks of pigeons are stripping the Dorset woods the birds will draw back. Our keeper Dave Ellis introduced a handful of ducks to the mix and they have been a wonderful addition, by now they are so high that they are completely out of danger, but the cartridge manufacturer does well anyway. We have already started planning for next season with the realisation that we are not really a partridge shoot so will rely on the long tails and start later.
Hunting and shooting
Our woods are mostly oak and hazel – coppice with standards – and this season the leaves held like glue despite the blow earlier on. From each wood the hedges lead away like motorways, foxes in and pheasants out, or so it seems. For all that, the colours have been lovely and on the last drive of our most recent shoot the scarlet coats of the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt flashed by and added the music of hounds and horn.
Hunting has long held sway in this part of England but every year another shoot springs up, the latest being Three Valleys Shoot. I have shot on this ground, though not in its present configuration, nevertheless I can confirm that the contours are perfect for high birds especially on our prevailing South West wind. I am told that the gun bus is literally that – a converted charabanc. Martin Perrett the driver and owner of the farm was a highly successful racing driver then converted to helicopters while running a plant hire company, so not short of interesting conversation!
At this time of renewal please remember to support those organisations that protect our sport from the ignorance of those that like nothing more than to tear down another part of the fabric of Old England. Stay safe and enjoy Beaters Day.