Why walked-up days are hard to beat

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

If you man­aged to clev­erly com­bine the Christ­mas and New Year bank hol­i­days with your an­nual hol­i­day quota, the fes­tive break could have been quite a long one. In the past, dur­ing the Christ­mas break, I would have in­volved my­self with a lot of beagling, fol­low­ing foot packs, hunt­ing hares, and also fol­low­ing the lo­cal fox­hounds.

Nowa­days, with the new leg­is­la­tion and the po­ten­tial for con­fu­sion, I’d rather be cer­tain that I’m stay­ing on the right side of the law, bear­ing in mind the fact that firearms could be re­voked if you were found to be in­volved in il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties – un­know­ingly or not!

So, for a change, at the end of the year I was out with the shot­gun, a com­fort­ably weighted 20-bore, as the days were to be spent go­ing on what was more akin to an armed ram­ble, or a sport­ing dog walk. It seems to me to be much more re­ward­ing when you have to toil harder for the shot, and it gal­vanises you to make it count, too. Two of the days were on new ground, which al­ways makes it more ex­cit­ing, as well as a lit­tle nerve-rack­ing – will you be ac­cepted by the other Guns? Will they be­lieve you’ve been sport­ing in your choice of shot, and re­spected the game as well as fol­lowed their per­ceived shoot-day etiquette?

The first day, the day be­fore Christ­mas Eve, started with a sim­ple, but firm, safety brief: “No ground game and en­sure there’s sky all around any le­gal quarry.” The in­ten­tion was for the gath­ered group to split into two smaller teams, to try to sur­round and drive the hand­ful of red­legged par­tridge and pheas­ants to the stand­ing team of Guns, which in­cluded the landowner and his two sons. It had been agreed that there was to be a lot more walk­ing and less use of the ve­hi­cles, in or­der to re­duce dam­age to the track­ways, but also so that more ground could be brought into each drive. There was a good smat­ter­ing of dogs in the walk­ing/beat­ing team,

‘There was a good smat­ter­ing of dogs in the walk­ing team, rang­ing from the old black Lab, to cocker spaniels, and a scruffy ter­rier for good mea­sure’

rang­ing from the bland old black Labrador, to an English springer, cocker spaniels, and a scruffy ter­rier for good mea­sure.

To make mat­ters worse for us, but bet­ter for the birds, there was a lot of ground cover in the form of green ma­nure drilled into the stub­bles; along with the flour­ish­ing rape fields it was go­ing make for a lot of zig-zag­ging. So, for the first ma­noeu­vre the team of six stand­ing Guns walked a field of rape and a head­land of stand­ing wheat across into a small mixed wood­land, which had hosted a hand­ful of feed­ers all year. The beat­ing team took a wide berth to en­com­pass the re­main­ing flanks with the odd par­tridge, oc­ca­sional hare and a sin­gle wood­cock flush­ing for­wards as we be­gan to close in on the wood. The wood had a good strip of Bright Seeds Pheas­ant and Finch along­side it, which was the spot that the ma­jor­ity of the pheas­ants flushed from.

The other piece of cover they were al­ways go­ing to like was the Lonicera bound­ary hedge on the north­ern edge, planted there to break the chill­ing winds and of­fer some shel­ter for the wildlife. The hop­pers in the small piece of wood had been fenced to re­duce the pres­sure from the roe and fal­low deer, but you could see where the munt­jac had pushed un­der to the springs. As the beaters’ left flank moved in, birds be­gan to flush, of­fer­ing a sport­ing shot to one of the stand­ing Guns and an­other to the left-hand beater, who had been en­cour­aged to move fur­ther out so that as the birds caught the wind he could in­ter­cept them on their way to their home hedgerow.

The next drive was a very thick, al­most derelict wood made up of an­cient yews and old elder. Along one flank there was again a good mixed cover crop and some ca­nary grass rows. An­other pin­cer move­ment af­forded some good birds, with both pheas­ant and red-legged par­tridge break­ing from the cover and wood­land, along with a bound­ing roe and a wily fox. Af­ter that we walked a longer cover crop strip back to­wards the yard, which roused some par­tridge, in­clud­ing a grey. Once back at the ve­hi­cles, the ‘shoot­ing party’ stopped for a drink and some nib­bles. An en­vi­able dis­cus­sion was then had about the tech­ni­cal­i­ties of mak­ing Bat­ten­berg cakes!

The farm­land we were ‘armed ram­bling’ across had pre­vi­ously been planted to shoot over, so all the smaller woods could be flushed back to one cen­tral wood where there had been an old re­lease pen. The in­ten­tion, it seemed to me, was that this would soon be re­in­stated and a few red legs re­leased into the cover strips ready for next sea­son.

The last three drives used the to­pog­ra­phy of the ground well, again show­ing birds that tire­lessly climbed and spread across the Gun line as well as curl­ing back, head­ing for known desti­na­tions.

Come the end of the day, the dogs had worked hard, flush­ing and re­triev­ing; they had prob­a­bly cov­ered 50 or 60km, as we had walked 11km as beaters, criss-cross­ing the coun­try­side. For an in­for­mal day with a lit­tle work of top­ping up feed­ers and creat­ing habi­tat to hold game, the fi­nal tally was 18 brace of pheas­ants, a brace of par­tridge, a wood­pi­geon and a jay, and all with­out a sin­gle breach of leg­is­la­tion.

Most of the day was spent on foot to pre­serve track­ways and cover more ground

A pin­cer move­ment was adopted by the beaters to flush pheas­ants and par­tridge from the wood­land cover

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