Home and away

Pheas­ants will roam but if they wan­der over the bound­ary from next door’s shoot to yours is it OK to add them to the bag, asks Will Martin

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - CONTENTS -

As I stared out of my study win­dow, over the gar­den and up the val­ley, there were nine pheas­ants milling around with the chick­ens. I watched their odd man­ner­isms, which in­volved run­ning around in cir­cles be­fore set­tling down to feed and, in one case, be­ing chased by Turk, the res­i­dent Christ­mas turkey.

I won­dered where on earth they had come from and whether there was any chance that they might move into the cover above the gar­den from where I could drive them out. Their source, I de­cided, is most prob­a­bly my neigh­bour’s re­lease pens but I do won­der if my de­sire to put a cou­ple in the freezer is good form.

For many years my fa­ther, grand­fa­ther and I have run a tiny wild bird shoot and I con­tinue to do so. We would put down a cou­ple of hun­dred ex-lay­ers ev­ery other year and focus on build­ing up our wild birds. We worked tire­lessly through the spring, keep­ing a check on the foxes, cre­at­ing new habi­tat, dry­ing some ar­eas of cover, wet­ting oth­ers. We would spend hun­dreds if not thou­sands of pounds on feed­ing our birds and loved ev­ery minute of it.

The re­sult would be three days where the bag could be 25 or five, but what days they were. One notable Jan­uary Satur­day the bag con­sisted of 12 wood­cock, six pheas­ants, four mal­lard, two snipe, a squir­rel and a pi­geon. On an­other crisp Jan­uary morn­ing, hav­ing been through three cov­ers, the bag held a soli­tary pi­geon; we didn’t see a sign of a pheas­ant nor a whis­per of a wood­cock.

Our hard work dur­ing the spring would pay div­i­dends. As the nights started draw­ing in and the leaves be­gan to fall, the pop­u­la­tion of pheas­ants would bal­loon. I’d like to sug­gest that this was merely a re­sult of the thin­ning cover and the short­age of wild food. While I’m sure that these fac­tors played their part, it would not ex­plain go­ing through 25kg of wheat one week and 75kg the next.

As Liam Bell so ex­cel­lently wrote (Wan­ders never cease, 27 Septem­ber), pheas­ants spend 90 per cent of their time some­where you don’t want them to be. What he didn’t men­tion was that while they may not be where you want them to be, they may well be some­where some­one else wants them to be.

And here is the ques­tion: is there a line to fol­low, and where would we be­gin to draw it? What are the un­writ­ten rules, are there any? Or

18 • SHOOT­ING TIMES & COUN­TRY MAG­A­ZINE is it sim­ply a case of be­ing rea­son­able and hav­ing good re­la­tion­ships?

One such sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship is a fam­ily shoot, where I have had the plea­sure of shoot­ing a num­ber of times, which sits on the bor­der of a large and well-known North Devon shoot. In ex­change for a cover crop planted on my friend’s fields, he is able to shoot a num­ber of days and even drive the cover crop. This friendly, ne­go­tiable at­ti­tude reaps re­wards on both sides. My host ben­e­fits from a wealth of pheas­ants and the keeper gets a fan­tas­tic drive

“One Jan­uary Satur­day, the bag con­sisted of 12 wood­cock, six pheas­ants, four ducks, two snipe, a squir­rel and a pi­geon”

and can be safe in the knowl­edge that his birds aren’t go­ing to be shot at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.

This is gen­er­ally a shared sen­ti­ment, as the shoot man­ager of Tre­goyd com­mented: “Some­one’s go­ing to do it.” But he added that, pro­vided the sea­son was go­ing well, what did it mat­ter. Un­less, of course, they were de­lib­er­ately fed away, which “nig­gles a bit”.

There are those who are not so am­i­ca­ble and see this as thiev­ing. A close friend who has a small fam­ily shoot, on which they put down no

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