While a Buckinghamshire estate offered everything from scrub woodland to boggy marsh, it would still be a challenge to get a varied bag, says Nick Ridley
I was feeling pretty fed up as I checked as many weather apps and websites I could find, the forecast ranged from thick fog to dense mist, the worst conditions possible for a walked-up day shooting over the dogs. And just to rub salt into the wound, we were due to visit one of our favourite estates for some roughshooting in Buckinghamshire.
I was very tempted to try and re-arrange the day, but we are very privileged to shoot on the ground and I didn’t want to upset anyone. I wasn’t feeling very optimistic as I turned my bedside light off and pulled the duvet up around my ears.
The alarm shrieked at some godforsaken hour, as I pulled back the curtains and peered into the blackness I could see… everything! It was as clear as the bell on my alarm clock and my spirits rose – I felt it was going to be a good day. Amazingly, the weather held all the way down the A303 and the conversation in the Land Rover had revolved around everything to do with shooting and whether the dogs were going to behave themselves.
One of our Guns, Luke, had optimistically put on Facebook the species that we were hoping to find, and while the ground offers everything from scrub woodland to boggy marsh areas it was going to be a quite a challenge to get such a varied bag.
After a quick cup of tea we headed off to a grass area surrounded by some wide double hedges and a small copse. The gamekeeper Adam started to push out the small block of wood, and almost immediately half-a-dozen pheasants burst out from the undergrowth – to be honest none of us were really ready. Luke managed to get a quick shot at a bird as it jinked over the hedge and dropped it in the neighbouring field.
I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and took an instinctive shot at a hen pheasant, which I clipped with the first barrel and dropped with my second, however the momentum of the bird carried it over the hedge and I couldn’t see where it landed. I was working Fuss, my little black cocker and I lifted him over the wire and sent him back down the fence line. After a couple of “Go backs” he picked the dead bird from the field headland, it was a great retrieve. In the meantime, another of the team, Andy Gray, also added to the bag and it was time to take a deep breath.
We had a bag limit of 20 birds and within 10 minutes we had accounted for four. It appeared that we were all on top form, which was quite surprising, as I hadn’t shot at all during the closed season due to work commitments. However, we didn’t really want to go home after only an hour or so!
The gamekeeper then took us to one of our favourite parts of the shoot. There are some large ponds surrounded by rough grass and rushes – it is a haven for both wildfowl and gamebirds. We all lined up and set off, the dogs were working really well and as we reached a small track alongside one of the ponds a couple of small squadrons of duck took to the air.
Unfortunately I was out of the shooting, but I watched in awe as Andy and Luke shot three fantastic high birds. They both had young dogs so it was a great opportunity to try them out and Luke’s springer Whiz had her first duck retrieve from water.
We then moved on to a boggy area covered in rushes and sedge. Fuss was hunting like a demon when he flushed a hen pheasant off to my left. I let it get a bit of distance and managed to hit it with
my first barrel, but again it disappeared over a hedge. Fortunately one of the others had a good mark on the bird and we picked it up after crossing to the next field.
We had been warned that there could well be a few snipe around, and as we hunted I could hear them getting up though I couldn’t see them.Suddenly one of the little waders lifted and jinked away towards Andy. He took a superb shot considering how quickly and erratically the bird was moving. A quick tally up and we realised we had a bag of pheasant, ducks, and a snipe, we just needed an elusive woodcock and, perhaps a bonus pigeon. The next bit of ground would give us our best chance to bag a woodcock.
I had changed dogs and I was now working my older, more experienced cocker Harry. I even had a quiet chat with him and explained that I would really like to get a woodcock. I was at the far left-hand side of the line and the ground ahead of me looked like spaniel heaven. As we hunted on, Adam called a bird and I saw a cock pheasant crossing right in front of me. I gave it about a foot lead and it came crashing down into some bramble, Harry had stopped and he looked back at me waiting for a “Get out” command, which I gave him – he went straight to the fall, picked the bird and came running back with it.
We finished that particular block without any more birds, but as we started to line out for the next beat, a woodcock lifted right in front of the other guys. Luke and Andy managed to get off a couple of optimistic shots but it flitted away unscathed. Lady Luck was not smiling down on us.
It was getting towards the end of the day and I was hunting Harry through a withy bed full of rushes, bracken and white grass. I saw the dog flash round and up got another woodcock. I had only the smallest of gaps in the trees to take a shot and I managed to fire both barrels as quick as I could, and just as the bird I saw it fall. The cover was quite thick, but the dog made a really nice job of the retrieve and, to be honest, it made my day. We had managed to get our mixed bag of 20, and although we desperately tried to get a pigeon on the way back, they seemed to know and kept well out of the way.
During the journey home I had plenty of time to reflect on what had been a brilliant day, the dogs had all done very well, the company had been great and of course there was the usual micky taking
that makes our days so much fun… roll on next week when we do it all again!