Friday 24th November 2017
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Words: Richard Gray
Featured in the November 2017 issue

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By the time you read this, many of you will have had your first day out in the field, as the new season unfolds and the long days of summer become nothing more than a memory.

As autumn turns to winter, the days get shorter and the nights much colder. But it’s not all doom and gloom. For those of us who engage in country sports, this is the highlight of the year and encompasses all manner of activities.

We tend to think of hunting as just riding to hounds, or shooting as standing at the peg waiting for birds to be driven over, but of course there are so many other things to do. For instance, on a shoot day the unsung heroes are the beaters and pickers up.

The beaters are the men and women as well as boys and girls that like nothing better than getting out into the countryside and helping to make sure the shoot day runs smoothly. Clad in waterproofs and wellies they will work under the guidance and supervision of the shoot captain or gamekeeper, working as a team to gently push the birds forward and ensure they are flushed at the right time and in the right place. They take great pride in their role and most shoots could not function without them.

They do of course get a modest payment and frequently hot soup or a bottle of beer but for most it’s not about the money. It’s about getting out in the fields, to feel the wind on your face and fresh air in your lungs. It’s about getting to see nature at first hand in all its glory, as the trees start to turn from green to gold and the wild fruits such as blackberries, sloes and wild crab apples become abundant for the picking. It’s seeing so much of our native wildlife in its natural habitat, creatures like deer and foxes, hares and squirrels, birds that you might never see in your normal daily life in your urban or even village environment.

Standing quietly waiting for a drive to start as both beater and gun, I have always felt privileged to be allowed to get up close and personal with the wild creatures that inhabit our wonderful countryside.

The other members of the team that I mentioned are the pickers up, the men and women who come and work their dogs to ensure that all shot game is gathered up and that nothing is left behind to either suffer or be wasted. The pickers up are absolutely dedicated to the training of their beloved working dogs – always striving that the level of training is the best that can be achieved to be able to do their job efficiently.

On an average driven day there might be anywhere from one to six dog handlers with anything up to twenty dogs between them. These will be predominantly Labradors and Springer Spaniels, though Cockers are becoming hugely popular and are greatly admired for their ability and zeal.

There are, of course, others that are involved such as tractor drivers and loaders on some of the bigger shoots. All play a valuable part in the smooth running of the shoot and the shoots could not manage without them.

On a different note, I was going about my business at the clay ground at Brandon a while back when I found a wild plum tree laden with fruit and took the opportunity to pick a few pounds and make some plum rum. This I did and the resulting liquor is now ready for drinking and very nice it is too, so much so that I am also making sloe gin. I will tell you next month what it’s like.

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