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
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.
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