To err is hu­man...

… but the con­se­quences can be dis­as­trous, says Coombe Richards as he re­calls a dis­mal day’s duck shoot­ing that ended in un­ex­pected glory

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - FRONT PAGE -

In com­pany with our host we, the three near­side Guns, moved stealth­ily to our places, a row of hides sited with care­ful fore­thought. They were set in a cres­cent around the se­cluded, tree- and reed-girt duck ponds we were about to have driven to us. On the far side, hid­den from view, walked the re­main­ing two mem­bers of the party, with the keeper and his men wait­ing pa­tiently in the back­ground un­til every­one should have reached his stand and the sig­nal been given for the op­er­a­tion — a set-piece this — to be­gin. But sud­denly and shat­ter­ingly from beyond the trees — bang!

“What the…” be­gan the righ­teously as­ton­ished host at my side, only to be in­ter­rupted by two more shots in quick suc­ces­sion. “What the devil’s go­ing on?” he fi­nally splut­tered. “This re­ally has torn it.” Then to us the com­mand: “Every­one spread out quickly, do the best you can!”

Al­ready the first star­tled rise of mal­lard had soared away un­scathed, and oth­ers were au­di­bly not far be­hind them. There seemed lit­tle doubt that those ill-timed shots had put paid to that par­tic­u­lar part of the pro­gramme, yet luck­ily not en­tirely. In spite of them, thanks to the num­ber of ducks present, every­one had some shoot­ing — if rather dis­or­gan­ised and not strictly to plan.

Be­ing the left-hand Gun, I was more for­tu­nate than most, for I reached my hide and was in ac­tion al­most in one bound. I per­haps had more than my right­ful share of what was of­fered, pos­si­bly more than if those three too-early car­tridges had not been ex­pended. It was an ex­am­ple of the odd chance do­ing some good, though not an ex­cuse for the oc­cur­rence.

It seems strange that among the ex­pe­ri­enced such novice-like mis­takes can oc­cur. No doubt the of­fender had mis­heard or mis­in­ter­preted the in­struc­tions given, and had prob­a­bly fired at some stray birds that were not any­thing to do with the drive about to take place. As things turned out, how­ever, we still had some­thing of our shoot.

Nev­er­the­less, be­fore its end the out­ing was des­tined to be a first­class suc­cess. I di­gress for a mo­ment to write of an­other mis­take I once wit­nessed and of which I have al­ways been thank­ful I was not the cul­prit. It hap­pened at a driven par­tridge shoot in Oc­to­ber 1940; a time when most of us had far more se­ri­ous busi­ness to at­tend to and guns for such peace­ful pas­times were dif­fi­cult to get hold of. Thus it was that I found my­self a guest in un­usu­ally ex­alted com­pany. The host and every­one else — with the ex­cep­tion of the keeper, beat­ers and I — were of high rank or fig­ur­ing in De­bret­tõs and well known to one an­other. They were all charm­ing to me and made me thor­oughly at ease — un­til the oc­cur­rence in which I might have been the guilty party.

Bolt­ing hare

All went well, with plenty of birds to keep every­one oc­cu­pied un­til just be­fore lunch, when the pièce de ré­sis­tance was the post­pran­dial drive. We Guns were to bank in a cou­ple of fields — with strict in­struc­tions not to shoot at any­thing on any account on the way to our places. Hardly had we en­tered the sec­ond field when a hare bolted from al­most un­der my feet to swing right and across the front of my neigh­bour on that side.

From the cor­ner of my eye I saw what was about to hap­pen — and could do nothing about it. Up swung his gun and one shot, a miss, was fired; then the sec­ond bar­rel ex­ploded and over­bowled the hare. But harm was done. From away in front, but long out of range, par­tridges be­gan to get

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