Nick Ridley joins some friends for a days rough pheasant shooting in Buckinghamshire with his Circle of Trust Roughshooting Syndicate
Ask most people who go shooting what they enjoy about it and many would say that as well as being able to spend a few hours in the countryside, they especially enjoy the company of and conversation with like-minded people. This is exactly the case with the Circle of Trust Roughshooting Syndicate that I formed with three friends four years ago. We formed it to find inexpensive and informal roughshooting and walked-up shooting days we could enjoy with our guns and our dogs. Since then we have travelled up and down the country visiting various shoots and indulging in our passion, but for our first day of the 2013-14 season we headed to a Buckinghamshire estate just a few minutes up the road.
There is no doubt that many shoots now realise that having informal days, where small teams of Guns walk the hedgerows and boundaries are beneficial, not only in financial terms but also in pushing birds back away from the outer edges of the shoot. On this particular day, that was our aim. We had a bag limit of 20-25 birds, so we decided that any birds heading for the neighbouring land were going to be fair game, but we would hold back on anything heading towards the centre of the shoot unless it was a particularly good bird or the dogs had worked hard and deserved a retrieve.
The estate holds a number of high-bird driven days and puts down pheasants and red-legged partridges. It also has an ongoing scheme to create a wild bird habitat for English partridges and hopefully to increase the wild population of other gamebirds, hares and the ever-present red kites.
The gamekeeper pointed out the ground to cover, mainly hedgerows and rough grass headlands. There were five Guns — Andy Gray, Luke Holman, Steve Dearne, Paul Stork and me — and my wife Debbie and Jake Edmonds were beaters. Andy, Luke and Steve all had new dogs, two springers and a cocker — it was to be the first time they had shot over the dogs in the field, so there were a few anxious faces. I had my two cockers and Paul had his cocker-whippet cross.
We split into two groups, and I headed off with Andy and his springer Flick. We worked either side of a hedge and it wasn’t long before my cocker flushed a pheasant from a strip of dead grass. He stopped to the flush and I swung through and pulled the trigger. I missed with the first barrel and in an instant I fired the second barrel — and the bird just kept going. I was shaking my head in disbelief when my wife kindly explained to me that I was well behind with both shots. In no time Andy was joining in, giving me plenty of advice and a fair dose of leg pulling.
I was not too disheartened. The dog had stopped nicely to the flush and was as steady as a rock, but then I saw a stratospheric pigeon heading our way and I quickly made up my mind that I was not going to embarrass myself by even raising my gun. Andy, however, had other plans.
I am not brilliant at judging distances but I am quite sure the pigeon had scorch marks on its wings from the sun. I heard a bang and the bird stopped dead in mid-air. Andy sent his springer for it and then he decided to pace out the shot — at a rough guess it fell about 65 yards away. It was a pretty impressive shot by any standards, and if it had been a pheasant you would have had to pay handsomely for one that flew that high.
Meanwhile, Luke, Paul and Steve were all warming their barrels on the pheasants that were taking refuge in a wild bird winter-feed covercrop. The estate has quite a few acres of this cover. As well as holding the gamebirds, it will also provide plenty of winter seed for the numerous small birds that were being flushed by the spaniels alongside the blue-backed Kansas pheasants. The cover consisted of triticale, wheat, quinoa and some kale.
Luke was shooting over his young springer Whiz. It was her first time being shot over in the field and in the company of other dogs, and she was having a thoroughly good time as she buried herself in the cover. There were a lot of birds being punched out by the dog and Luke was being selective in the ones he shot at. After a couple of near misses, a cock bird clattered out of some brightly-coloured quinoa and headed for the shoot boundary. Luke made sure Whiz had stopped to his whistle and took his shot. The bird was hit and landed just over the brow of a small dip, so the dog couldn’t get a good mark on the fall. Luke lined her up and sent her. She went straight to the area and took the line and was soon running back with a dead bird. During the drive home, we all had to relive this moment over and over again — fortunately, we only live a few miles up the road!
Work to a plan
Steve and his cocker Lewi were positioned further up the field in an effort to head off any birds that tried to cross from one coverstrip to another. Though these walkabout days are informal, we still try to work to a plan. More importantly, we always make sure we know where each of us is located, whether we are walking or standing. That is one reason we called our little syndicate the Circle of Trust — we are all quite confident and comfortable shooting in each other’s company.
Steve’s positioning was perfect and a cock bird headed straight over the stubble towards him. He killed the bird with his first barrel and Lewi watched it land just short of the coverstrip. It was also Steve’s first time shooting over his dog, so he was a little apprehensive. The moment when the dog came back with the bird will be one that he will remember for a long time.
As the day drew on, my shooting improved slightly and I managed to connect with a couple of pheasants, one of which I was particularly pleased with. My fellow Guns all had some quite impressive kills.
At the end of an enjoyable day, the bag consisted of 18 pheasants, five crows, two pigeon and a rabbit — which Whiz flushed out into a stubble field. And I am now booked into the local shooting ground just to see if I am, in fact, “well behind” on my shots!