What happened on the day I shot a white pheasant
The non-toxic rounds are doing their job, the birds are showing well — but beware of too much confidence and the fabled flying fundraiser warns Alasdair Mitchell
I treasure my annual invitation from my brother-in-law for a day’s driven pheasants at Hopetoun, an exceptional shoot a few miles west of Edinburgh. Last year, I managed to down some very sporting birds there — including one absolute scorcher — with eco-wadded steel loads.
This time, I was trying some BioAmmo Blue, in No 5 shot, which I bought earlier this year at 55p per round. This stuff is made from a mix of tin, aluminium, zinc and bismuth. It is softer than steel. (Read our review of BioAmmo cartridges here.)
The day dawned grey and rainy. Luckily, we were shooting through to a late lunch, to make the most of what daylight there was. Even better, the birds managed to fly surprisingly well, despite the sodden conditions. And to cap it all, I not only found myself on good pegs on the best drives, but I was shooting well. For me, that is. As the day went on, I became ever-more selective. I was all too conscious of the need to avoid shooting more than my share. I didn’t want to commit any sort of faux pas.
The BioAmmo Blue cartridges certainly did the job. Some might think No 5 shot a bit small for non-toxic, but it worked well. Back in the days when I used lead, my favourite load was an ounce of No 7 in a paper case. I should explain that my gun is a lightweight English side-by-side, with 27in barrels and relatively open chokes. (Read what is the best cartridge and choke combination for pheasants.)
Anyway, I was feeling confident when a cock bird came sailing high over me, silhouetted against the misty sky. It was at the sort of range that I consider to be at right the far edge of my ability. The Gun to my right shouted something about the height of the pheasant. Nobody else attempted it, but I was up to the challenge. My first barrel was behind but the second smoked it. The cock crashed to earth 100 yards behind me. Howzat!
Yet as the bird thumped on to the dark ground, I noticed something very odd. With the horrible clarity of hindsight, I realised that my neighbour hadn’t shouted “look at the height”, but “look out, it’s white”. Yup, I’d shot the white pheasant, the fabled flying fundraiser. When that bird died, so did my ego. (Read more on white pheasants and why they attract fines here.)
I couldn’t escape my plight when we gathered for soup and the world’s best sausage rolls immediately after the assassination. The ribbing was relentless and cruel. Somebody started working out the inflation-adjusted fine. Another, who claimed that the white cock had survived for several seasons, began enthusing about compound interest. Things were looking ugly. I thought I might have to sell a kidney. Or even a field. In the end, I got off because nobody had actually mentioned a sanction for shooting a white pheasant before we started. Of course, this was a mere technicality. I was guilty as sin and everybody knew it.
My own dog gave me a pitying look. I was presented with a single white tail feather; I am not sure where I was meant to stick it. And the wretched bird was hung prominently in the game cart for all to see, a bright badge of shame.
I wonder if I will be asked back to shoot again next year?