When ev­ery­thing old is new again

English pheas­ant have been prized by hun­ters for mil­len­nia and fine tra­di­tions have grown around their pur­suit, but for an Aus­tralian vis­i­tor like Mark van den Boogaart, it was a new ex­pe­ri­ence.

Field and Game - - ENGLISH HUNTING -

For me, a big part of my hunt­ing life in­volves vis­it­ing dif­fer­ent places, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing new ap­proaches to hunt­ing, and meet­ing like-minded peo­ple. Along the way, I have made friends in Aus­tralia and abroad, and so I’m lucky enough to have a num­ber of stand­ing in­vi­ta­tions to head out with shot­gun, ri­fle and fish­ing rod.

On a fam­ily trip to Eng­land in 2014, I took up one such of­fer to shoot pi­geons over crops from the com­fort of a well­con­cealed and well-built hunt­ing hide.

Dur­ing the day, we took a num­ber of birds, and at some point, I spot­ted a pheas­ant. En­quir­ing if they were fair game, I was very po­litely in­formed pheas­ants were out of sea­son. To which I replied, well, there is al­ways next time.

So, with a fam­ily hol­i­day to Eng­land planned for Christ­mas 2017, I be­gan a con­ver­sa­tion with two Uk-based friends, Jonathan Mcgee from Shoot­ing Pho­tog­ra­phy and ex-pat Aussie, and long-time hunt­ing mate Steve Kelly from Ray­trade UK.

Ob­vi­ously for me it was all about pheas­ants, and with noth­ing more than an idea we got to work and put to­gether a cou­ple of days hunt­ing and shoot­ing in North York­shire, in­clud­ing tak­ing part in a driven shoot for high pheas­ants.

Ar­riv­ing with my fam­ily in the sec­ond week of De­cem­ber, we headed to our home base in the Mid­lands and got our­selves set­tled. With the shoot fast ap­proach­ing, it would be rea­son­able to say I had very lit­tle idea about the me­chan­ics of a driven hunt, and even less about the tra­di­tions, so I de­cided to make a cou­ple of calls.

The good news was that it sounded like we were in for a real treat. With the guns, the hosts, beat­ers, game­keep­ers, and a whole team of dogs and their han­dlers, as guests we would be shoot­ing from a shared peg, wait­ing for the high pheas­ants to dart through the air above us. The shoot, or cor­rectly, event, would also in­clude a team break­fast, canapés and whisky, >>

>> lunch, an early af­ter­noon din­ner, and a whole lot of more. As part of it all there were also some se­ri­ous tra­di­tional as­pects to be ac­knowl­edged, most specif­i­cally shoot­ing at­tire. As a guest, I would be ex­pected to be pre­sented in mole­skins, check shirt and tie, gilet, high-lace boots, hunt­ing socks com­plete with tas­sel, tweed shoot­ing jacket and flat cap. Now, it would be easy to dis­miss the im­por­tance of the tweed, tie and tas­sels, how­ever, af­ter all the ef­fort in mak­ing it hap­pen, a lit­tle bit more didn’t seem that un­rea­son­able. Even­tu­ally it was time to head to ‘The North’ as the English say and with Steve pro­vid­ing the lift we ar­rived at our ac­com­mo­da­tion for the next cou­ple of nights at around 7 pm. Af­ter get­ting our­selves sorted, we had some­thing to eat and then en­joyed a few drinks around the fire. The next morn­ing we caught up with Jonathan and headed to the shoot team break­fast with the other guns. Af­ter eat­ing through a break­fast far big­ger than I was used to we all headed out­side to await the pre-shoot brief­ing. Stand­ing there with Steve and Jonathan I ini­tially felt a lit­tle bit of an out­sider, then a strange thing hap­pened. I started to no­tice a par­tic­u­lar re­flec­tive look, an un­con­scious scrap­ing of the toe of a boot, and hear a slightly ner­vous laugh. While a long way from home I be­gan to pick up on the sense of ca­ma­raderie, and an­tic­i­pa­tion about what the day would hold, which re­minded me of stand­ing around a camp­fire be­fore head­ing out for a day chas­ing game. With the ap­pear­ance of the head game­keeper, the brief­ing be­gan. It was all pretty straight­for­ward: the gist be­ing the day would in­clude five drives, each with eight pegs. The pegs would be ro­tated over the day to en­sure ev­ery­one got a chance to shoot across all po­si­tions on the line. Each drive would be for high pheas­ants that would ap­pear above the tall tim­ber. We were also ad­vised that track con­di­tions were ‘icy’ and that ve­hi­cles needed to stay at least 100 m apart to avoid col­li­sion, which was cer­tainly some­thing dif­fer­ent for this Queens­lan­der. Ar­riv­ing at the first peg and never be­ing one to miss an op­por­tu­nity I hap­pily agreed to be first gun. To match my shoot­ing at­tire, I was fur­nished with a very fine English shot­gun. It was in fact a Longth­orne Black Ac­tion High Bird Sporter, which was a lit­tle more re­fined than my Span­ish-made Lan­ber. With the sound of ‘get up’ com­ing from the beat­ers, a speck ap­peared in the washed-out blue sky. A pheas­ant had pre­sented it­self, and it was a high bird all right. With an ini­tial burst of ac­tiv­ity, the pheas­ant be­gan a glide over our heads and con­tin­ued to drop down and fol­low the con­tours of the land. While it sounds like an easy shot, shoot­ing time was mere sec­onds, the birds strato­spheric and mov­ing at speed. More ap­peared and af­ter a cou­ple of clean misses, I started to think, rather than just throw shot. I needed to pick my tar­get and give it some se­ri­ous lead. It paid off as I man­aged to con­nect with a hen that tum­bled down be­hind us, and was quickly re­trieved by a black labrador. The Longth­orne proved a real gem, and even though it wasn’t shaped for me, I was en­joy­ing the shoot­ing. A warn­ing sounded let­ting us all know the drive was over. Be­ing more than a lit­tle happy with my­self I headed over to the food and drinks ta­ble, en­joyed a whisky, some­thing to eat and thought this wasn’t too bad a way to go about hunt­ing.

Steve was up next and it was ob­vi­ous he had spent some se­ri­ous time in train­ing. Drop­ping four birds in a row he was shoot­ing cleanly, fold­ing the birds in the air, and on one oc­ca­sion, nearly drop­ping a large male right at our feet. It was ex­cit­ing to watch some­one make a good show of it and soon Jonathan and I were hap­pily con­grat­u­lat­ing him on each suc­cess­ful shot.

With the end of Steve’s drive, we made a re­turn visit to the re­fresh­ments ta­ble for drinks and canapés. We then moved onto the next peg where Jonathan would be shoot­ing. As a lo­cal, ex­pec­ta­tions were high and he proved he was up for the chal­lenge, cleanly drop­ping three good birds in quick suc­ces­sion.

We were three drives down and it was time for lunch, all served on the side of the track with the rolling York­shire Dales as a back­drop. The fourth drive, my sec­ond for the day, proved a lit­tle light on, with only one pheas­ant in range. Luck­ily, I man­aged to take in with the sec­ond bar­rel, and with it be­ing a male bird I had my­self a brace of pheas­ants for the ta­ble.

Reach­ing our peg for the fi­nal drive, both Jonathan and Steve de­cided to share the shoot, and with the sun ap­pear­ing for the first time that day, the birds be­came ac­tive. Both Steve and Jonathan man­aged a cou­ple of birds, which was a great way to end the shoot­ing part of our day. With a com­bined bag of 50 birds for the shoot­ing team there would be plenty to go around for those want­ing a brace or two.

Head­ing back to our ac­com­mo­da­tion we en­joyed an early din­ner, a few rounds of drinks and, of course, some fire­side con­ver­sa­tion. While not your typ­i­cal day in the field, a driven shoot is some­thing well worth ex­pe­ri­enc­ing and I am happy to have trav­elled so far to take part in the tra­di­tion of it all.

Steve on point


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