In the field…
They say ‘The best is yet to come’, and this is certainly true in shooting terms. January signals the last hurrah of the shooting season.
By now, birds that have managed to elude the guns either by stealth or good luck are now strong on the wing and will provide a stiff challenge to those of you who still have shoot days in your diary.
If we were to believe our winter filled Christmas cards, we should by now be experiencing cold weather and perhaps some snow on the ground, but as I write this and look out of my window the sun is shining and the temperature is in double figures.
For shoot organisers warmer winters bring problems that have many of them pulling their hair out. By now, with just a few weeks of the season left and with many birds already in the bag, gamekeepers have to really pull out all the stops to ensure that the last few remaining shoot days fulfil expectations. They do this by making sure that hungry pheasants and partridges always have plenty of food to sustain them through the cold winter days.
Birds rely on food to give them energy and will hang around feed stations all day when the icy grip of winter has taken a hold but when it’s mild they tend to wander off in pursuit of the last vestiges of fruits and berries that can be found in the hedgerows or perhaps just sunning themselves in a warm corner somewhere; either way they are not in the woods and covers as might be expected on the last few shoot days. On the big commercial shoots it’s not so much of an issue, as they will always have released more birds to allow that extra capacity, but for shoots of more modest means every bird in a drive in January is vital if it is to provide sport for the guns in the final days.
But just how do we gauge the essence of what is a good shoot day? Certainly, in commercial terms, it is based on the number of birds that are shot and this is how they arrive at the cost of a let day, but a shoot day is about so much more than just birds in the bag. For me and so many others it is about a love of the countryside and everything that abounds in it: the flora and fauna, the sights and sounds and the smells… it’s about joining friends old and new and taking part in age old traditions of sport in the field, which have been enjoyed for generations while at the same time maintaining these traditions for our children and grandchildren. All these things go into the rich mix that is a shoot day, it doesn’t matter if it’s a grand formal affair or just a few pals having a walk round with the dogs, all will feel the satisfaction and pleasure of exercising their hand and eye co-ordination in the successful shot that puts a bird in the bag and ultimately on the table.
So please do not gauge your shoot day solely on how many birds are shot, it is so much more than this. Whether I am on a let day or shooting as a guest, I never have a bad day. How many birds I shoot is of little importance; it’s the day as a whole that is a privilege and a pleasure and long may it continue.
With the shooting season over, we can start to look forward to the spring, lengthening days, pigeon shooting and of course the round of game fairs and shows. Things kick off in February with what is now called The Great British Shooting Show at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire from the 10th to the 12th. It has developed into undoubtedly the best indoor shooting extravaganza anywhere, with exhibitors and traders from around the world coming to display their wares. It is warm, spacious and a great occasion to meet up with friends and browse the different halls, both to see what’s new and perhaps pick up a bargain, with that extra bit of kit that is always so important and we just simply have to have. I can’t wait and I hope you can’t either; maybe I will see you there, happy shopping.