There is a marked difference between a good Shot and a good sport. By T.J.V. Thompson.
I was talking to a fellow picker-up a few years ago about the performance of the team of Guns visiting the shoot that day. My colleague, who liked to give his dogs plenty of work, was mightily impressed by them but I had to partially disagree. Admittedly, they were decent performers but were not particularly discerning, with a couple of ‘star’ shooters blasting away at some hedge-hoppers that many would have felt embarrassed at shooting on a formal driven day. This once again brought to the fore the age-old question: is a good Shot always a good sport?
About 20 years ago I bought a Gun on a 100-bird day. I had been to the venue before and had always enjoyed the days, meeting some interesting people (including a veteran former British skeet champion who was a true gentleman in every conceivable way). On the day, most of the Guns were unknown quantities, although one chap was quick to put himself in the limelight as he regaled us with tales of his prowess. As the day progressed it became clear he wasn’t exaggerating, and his 20 bore consistently pulled down some exceptionally high mallard in an admirable display of marksmanship that Mr Average such as myself could only dream of.
A greedy shot
At lunch we had around 50 head in the bag and the keeper had planned a couple of busy drives for us to finish off the day in style. Over lunch the crack-Shot told us he had booked a week of dove shooting in Argentina, explaining the projected daily tally per gun was 500 doves. I wasn’t the only one to feel this was a tad extreme but said nothing as we all have differing feelings on the subject of bags. Anyway, we reached the next drive where the crack-Shot was number nine, the walking gun on the outer edge of the home wood. He disappeared off with the beaters who were blanking in the outer edge, while the rest of the team went to our pegs in a one-acre clearing of picturesque parkland in the centre of the wood.
I knew from experience we would have a 20 minute wait for the blanking-in manoeuvres to be completed so I was surprised to hear the regular crack of a 20 bore from outside the wood. Single shot after single shot echoed through the trees, at which point I overheard the crack-shot’s shooting companion say that his friend took his shooting “very seriously”. We found out just how seriously when only around a couple of dozen pheasants came forward, out of which us mere mortals downed fewer than half. The horn sounded and we went back to the transport where we found the crack-Shot standing over a pile of pheasants that the keeper and the shoot manager were bracing up and loading on to the game cart. “What do you think of that?” asked the crack-Shot, a beaming smile spreading across his face. “I had 40 shots and got 38 pheasants; I think it’s the best drive I’ve ever had.”
Exceeded the 100 bird target
I later learned from a couple of the beaters how the crack-Shot managed this feat. His instruction was to take any sporting birds going back as the hedge was dogged-out, but the chap shot everything that broke cover, regardless of whether it was going back or forward into the drive. The beaters weren’t particularly impressed with the safety of his shot selection either. With his magnificent contribution, the team had already exceeded the 100 bird target, so the shoot manager had the unpleasant task of calling an early end to proceedings and taking our money. Several Guns were rather tetchy, as they had barely got their barrels dirty all day and still had to pay for the privilege (but the crack-Shot was delighted when he recorded on his game card that he had shot more than 50 per cent of the bag).
The amusing part came when the crack-Shot asked if there were any more let days available and he booked himself in for the three remaining days. Surprisingly nobody else displayed any interest when the shoot manager offered them the chance to buy a Gun on these dates…
Around 10 years later I found myself as number nine on that very same drive. I had the same opportunity as the crack-Shot but I refrained from taking a shot until I reached my peg, where the underkeeper advised me to move around as the wary late-season cocks might angle across to a distant spinney. He was spot on and I heeded his advice, trimming out eight long crossers that made my day. I have often thought perhaps I missed an opportunity to make a name for myself, but I think I would rather be rated a good sport than a greedy Shot. What do you think?