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
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