Pole position for the pegs
To most of us, November is a month that signifies the start of shooting proper. Shooters must be about the only group of people who welcome the darker days and falling leaves with open arms ? it?s the beginning of three months of fun.
We start to get into a few birds in November, and though our shoot has a few early days, it?s not until now that we move into any of the main drives or coverts. Gamecrops shoot well early on, but woodland shooting in November can depend on the number of leaves on the trees. A good frost will start leaves falling, and once a few come off the rest follow. We shoot the gamecrops first and tend to leave the woods until the end of the month, when most of the leaves are off.
Another reason for shooting the gamecrops harder first is that if they?re not first class and have poor plants and a few gaps, they won?t be holding much game after Christmas, when it is colder, or if there?s a strong wind blowing through them. In crops that are a little bare it is also harder to control flushing. A hundred birds in the air at once may look great, but it won?t put many in the bag. A drive out of a cold crop late in the season can be over quickly, too, which isn?t great if it?s the only drive for which you are in the middle of the line.
Making the best of crops
Leaving the gamecrop drives until later on in the year is fine if you?re confident they are good enough to hold birds right through, but if they?re not, you may find the birds that were there during the early season have moved to the shelter of nearby woodland. These woods may not show pheasants at their best ? or they may not even necessarily be yours.
On our shoot we peg out all of our drives, but there does seem to be a move away from pegging out, and having someone place the Guns instead. Both methods have their advantages, but I prefer pegging. Once a drive is pegged, the host knows where everyone is standing and can relax a little, safe in the knowledge that the Guns are where they?re supposed to be. The keeper can direct the birds over the pegs and not have to guess the whereabouts of wandering Guns, and the pickers-up are able to place themselves in the areas where the birds usually fall and know where they?re likely to find any runners.
The roving Gun
Moving Guns and altering where they stand from day to day seldom works, and moving Guns during a drive almost never works. What people tend to do is see a few birds break out in one direction, become convinced all the rest of the birds are going to follow suit and move everyone across. They then find that the birds are actually going the right way after all and either move everyone back to their original positions (after halting the drive again) or stay where they are and watch them sail on over the empty pegs un-saluted. Partridges can be affected by a strong wind, but a fit pheasant will usually take it on (unless it is a gale force) and fly where they want to.
Pegging is relatively easy if you know the direction the birds are going to head in, which is usually back to the release area or the roosting woods. However, they might follow the contours of a valley or head out across open fields where they?ve been feeding or spending time during the day. It?s not an exact science, so it pays to spend time watching their movements. Once you know what they?re up to, pegging out a drive becomes fairly straightforward. Our pegs are pieces of 2in x 1in batten, painted white with a number on one side. I prefer these to the hazel sticks with a card stuck in the top ? they are easier to see from a distance, stand up better to the attentions of livestock and are strong enough to hold an over enthusiastic dog.
When you start shooting your main drives in November, it?s easy to become a bit despondent and feel things aren?t going quite right, or that the birds aren?t flying as well as you?d hoped. This is probably because you?re remembering how they flew at the end of last season and not at the beginning of November. If I start to feel a little negative about a drive, I try to remember how they flew ?first time through? the previous season, instead of the last time we actually did the drive (which would have been sometime in January). When I do I nearly always find that they?re not actually flying that poorly after all.