Every keeper aspires to smooth-running shoot days but, as Adam Smith recalls, the best-laid plans don’t always hatch perfect chicks
Cock shoots – though these days both cocks and hens are usually on offer – can be fraught occasions. It’s the one opportunity in the year to try your skill, luck, or a bit of both, at the targets you’ve watched all the toffs missing so regularly, and with such ease, often accompanied by groans and some, not always softly muttered, critiques from the beating line. So much personal success, or failure, hangs on the day, as they say.
This particular day had gone pretty well and each team of Guns had had their fair share of stand one/beat one drives. Our team had just finished beating the penultimate drive with standing for a grand finale; two major drives blanked into one as an eagerly expected end to the day. Chattering excitedly, we walked back to the farm where the beaters’ trailer waited to carry us onward – except it wasn’t there.
Now, under normal circumstances, this might have been inconvenient, but not disastrous. We all thought the tractor driver knew that we would be back, but he’d obviously misunderstood and driven round to pick us up from the other end of the wood. No problem, except… well, except that he was so – how best to put it? – ‘intellectually challenged’ that it wasn’t worth giving him a walkie-talkie or a mobile phone because, as he so frequently said: “If you carry one of they things, people’s forever ringin’ you up.”
So, while he trundled ever further from where he should have been, and with the clock ticking away as the day drew to its close, we were left frustrated and fuming. Eventually, having linked up with the other team of Guns and been urged to go back to collect us, the trailer all too belatedly arrived.
At which point, to add fresh coals to the fires of our fury, it was decided that having lost valuable time we could beat the final drive to make up for the inconvenience. So, thanks to a geriatric with a singularly unattractive comb-over owing much to the farmyard for its adhesion – I feel my spite is justified – we beat two, the standers stood two, including the highlight double drive of the day, and plans were made to assassinate the driver.
That tractor driver was not a shooting man, but in another county and further back in time the Duke, though not the most even-tempered of men, enjoyed his shooting to the full. As a consequence, he was inclined to squeeze as many drives as daylight would allow into any, and many, of the days when I joined the beating team on his grand estate.
On this day we had, we thought, concluded with some tiring beating from one end to the other of Brawford – a long and bramble-laced boundary wood. Then the message came through: “His Grace wants to finish on Bulls Copse” and His Grace, as is generally the way with such high-flying aristocracy, got what he wanted. Well, almost.
The thing was that, among the shoot’s many woods, two, some way
A shoot day can be seriously disrupted if there is miscommunication between the beaters and the the person organising