I am a chap of simple pleasures: give me a gun, a spaniel, and some scrubby ground on which to hunt and I promise I will walk around all day with the biggest smile on my face. Add to the mix a bunch of like-minded friends and their canine shooting companions and you would struggle to find a happier man. Our little roughshooting syndicate has been travelling the length and breadth of the UK for the past four years and this season we have been lucky enough to find some new ground a bit nearer to home.
Recently our little group headed off to a 1,000-acre block of land near Evesham in Worcestershire that, on the face of it, sounded absolutely perfect. We had been promised a day with plenty of mixed cover, including rough grass, young plantations, covercrops and the odd ditch and hedgerow.
Our first beat was a field of dead wild rape undersown with rough grass. It had also been planted with a mixture of young native trees and it was perfect to get the tickle out of the cockers’ toes, though every time their frantically wagging tails clipped the trees it sounded like a pheasant taking off — and I swear all the Guns’ trigger fingers twitched.
First pheasant in the bag
We blanked the rest of the field into a slightly more mature plantation and, as I reached a high hedge, I heard the clatter of wings as a group of pheasants fled a questing Labrador. The birds flew behind me and, as I turned, I glimpsed a cock pheasant going like the clappers through the trees. I just had time to flick off the safety catch, mount my AYA side-by-side and pull the front trigger. The bird dropped like a stone.
I am lucky in that my wife enjoys coming out shooting and working cockers as much as I do, and on this day she was working our vintage cocker Sweep. The little dog made a nice quick retrieve of what turned out to be a rather large pheasant.
A chance right-and-left
First things first: if you do a lot of driven shooting and are used to having clouds of birds put over you, the opportunity to shoot a right-and-left may well present itself numerous times during the season. On the other hand, when roughshooting, the chances of your flushing two birds at the same time are quite slim. Add to the equation the fact that you are also watching your dog work, trying to keep your footing and staying aware of your fellow Guns, and the whole scenario starts to get difficult.
The two birds decided to split and, without pausing, I lifted my gun to track the right–hand one. I think I aimed for that particular bird purely because it had opted to fly out into a more open field and head up over a bank, and I felt it would be a more challenging retrieve.
I let the bird get a bit of distance then sent 28g of No.6 shot heading in its direction. I saw it drop and I immediately twisted around to my left and watched as the second pheasant headed towards the hedge. I knew it was a long shot and also that it would be a safe shot, so I quickly reached for the back trigger — and I was thrilled when the second bird tumbled out of the sky and landed the other side of the hedge.
I know it isn’t very “PC”, but I am sure I heard a round of applause and a cheer. Yet I wanted to finish properly, so I sent the dog for the bird, which had landed on the track. After a bit of handling he came back through the hedge with the pheasant and I then lined him up for the bird on the bank.
Unfortunately, in my quest for glory I had obviously lost my mark on the bird and though Harry tried his best, he couldn’t locate the fall. I was determined to find it though, so three of us with our dogs walked up the bank and, after looking around for a few minutes, I found the elusive bird.