How to make the most of your sport­ing out­ings this Christ­mas.

Shooting Gazette - - This Month - By Rod­er­ick Emery.

Mak­ing sure friends and fam­ily get the most from Christ­mas time shoot­ing. By Rod­er­ick Emery.

“Why don’t we fo­cus on some­thing other than the bag and make it a species day in­stead?”

At the risk of be­ing la­belled “Mr Scrooge” the first thing to recog­nise about the Christ­mas shoot is that it is not a free­bee.

Light-hearted and jolly it may well be but, like the rest of Christ­mas with its presents and its stock­ings and its var­i­ous abun­dances, it is not with­out its costs. Just be­cause the house is filled to burst­ing with chil­dren and dogs and grand­par­ents does not mean that the beat­ers should be ex­pected to work for noth­ing.

“Who’s for a lovely walk and some bram­ble-bash­ing then?” might sound like a jolly sen­si­ble idea to you and the rest of the po­ten­tial shoot­ers, but it may be a ze­bra of a very dif­fer­ent stripe to the nineyear-old who has only re­cently em­barked upon the con­struc­tion of an in­ter-ga­lac­tic Lego bat­tle­cruiser and wishes for noth­ing more stren­u­ous than a morn­ing’s alien de­struc­t­ing. So there must be a trade-off. The labourer is wor­thy of his or her hire and those on the bram­ble-bash­ing end of pro­ceed­ings must be prop­erly re­warded. Even if it only in­volves a free run at the DVD col­lec­tion be­fore sup­per (or sole con­trol of the Qual­ity Street tin af­ter­wards).

In an ef­fort to re­duce, per­haps, one of the most sig­nif­i­cant sources of ten­sion on the day, could we not leave out al­to­gether the is­sue of num­bers? I don’t imag­ine that your Christ­mas shoot is go­ing to be gov­erned by the size of the bag any more than mine is, but why don’t we fo­cus on some­thing else en­tirely and make it a species day in­stead?

One of the things that con­cerns me when I see young­sters shoot­ing, is their lack of knowl­edge of any­thing be­yond pheas­ants and par­tridges, and some of them are not too sharp about the dis­tinc­tion be­tween the two. I re­mem­ber, some years ago now, a fel­low gun af­ter a drive un­load­ing into the game cart a teal and a mal­lard — the re­sult of an early right-an­dleft — a pheas­ant, both species of par­tridge, a snipe and a wood­cock, pi­geon, jay, mag­pie plus a grey squir­rel. And he could have had a rab­bit and a hare too if we had been shoot­ing ground game.

Di­vide the ground into two ar­eas. Di­vide Guns and beat­ers into two teams. Set off in op­po­site di­rec­tions with a view to re­con­ven­ing at a con­ve­nient point later in the day and see what can be ac­cu­mu­lated. I know that some will say that this is a high-risk strat­egy and that any num­ber of rare things might be ruth­lessly en­filaded but that is, to some ex­tent, the point. It re­in­forces nec­es­sary self-con­trol among the Guns and pro­motes team­work be­cause those who do recog­nise things can alert oth­ers to their op­por­tu­ni­ties.

There is an ar­gu­ment for do­ing away with the game el­e­ment al­to­gether and bas­ing the Christ­mas out­ing on clays in­stead. This al­lows more peo­ple to be in­volved in a suitably con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment. Some of the younger clan mem­bers can be given a go with the 28 bore and per­haps some of those ladies there as­sem­bled, who might other­wise be dis­in­clined to par­tic­i­pate, can be per­suaded to have a go.

I know of a se­nior grand­mother who was in­duced to have a try un­der sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances and, hav­ing com­pre­hen­sively pow­dered the first hand­ful of clays in fine style, called for pairs forth­with and car­ried on with­out so much as a pause for breath. She doesn’t now shoot 50 days a year with a sweet pair of Boss 16 bores, be­cause that would be a fairy tale, wouldn’t it, but she does take a peg from time to time when not pick­ing-up and she doesn’t miss a lot.

I re­alise that sug­gest­ing that girls might not rou­tinely want to shoot is just the sort of ca­sual sex­ism we are try­ing to stamp out but the same sug­ges­tion goes for any­one who might like to have a go. This is the per­fect op­por­tu­nity, es­pe­cially if there are some coloured clays in the box and some­one has a few packs of the thun­der­flash thin­gies to make the whole thing more ex­cit­ing. There should be silly hats and loud suits and a com­plete tan­gle of lu­di­crous dogs into the bar­gain.

I would be the last per­son to sug­gest that any as­pect of game shoot­ing should be treated flip­pantly or with­out the de­gree of re­spect it prop­erly de­serves. That does not mean, how­ever, that it has to be un­der­taken with un­re­lent­ing se­ri­ous­ness. Laugh­ter is a key el­e­ment of a suc­cess­ful shoot day. We do not laugh at peo­ple and we do not laugh at the game. We laugh with peo­ple about things.

The driver of the Gun­bus on a shoot I at­tended with friends said that he’d never heard a team of Guns singing be­tween drives be­fore. We may not be the Three Tenors, nor the Four Tops for that mat­ter, but if we can’t man­age a cho­rus or two what­ever have things come to?

I don’t doubt that there will be yet an­other huge meal in­volved dur­ing the course of the day and this is an­other op­por­tu­nity to ex­pand the hori­zons of the young in par­tic­u­lar. “You shot it, you pluck it, you eat it,” ought to be a rule in any sport­ing house­hold and here again is the chance for the in­ex­pe­ri­enced or the re­luc­tant to get in­volved.

Te­dious process

Pluck­ing is, I grant you, a long and te­dious process. Ex­perts with pluck­ing ma­chines can rat­tle through a brace of pheas­ants in a cou­ple of min­utes but, by hand, it will take me an hour. Par­tridges take half that – and, yes, I can do a pi­geon no time at all but not with­out some spillage and con­sid­er­able clear­ing up af­ter­wards. I can, on the other hand, with a sharp knife and a pair of game shears, skin and joint a bird and have its re­mains in a bag in five min­utes or less. As can most peo­ple. As should most peo­ple.

Pheas­ant dis­man­tling

I have found that the young­sters, es­pe­cially, are more than happy to dress and eat game as long as it doesn’t take too much time. So a post-shoot mas­ter­class in pheas­ant dis­man­tling is never a bad idea. I doubt that faisan á la Nor­mande will ever com­pletely re­place the Pot­noo­dle in the un­der­grad­u­ate recipe book but a par­tridge curry that goes from fridge to ta­ble in 30 min­utes and feeds the house­mates into the bar­gain can’t be a bad thing. And the post-christ­mas shoot feast should be game based.

We are all aware of the sur­plus game is­sue and while this is not the place to labour the point, shoot­ing feasts should put the quarry front and cen­tre. Our Con­ti­nen­tal cousins are much bet­ter at this than we are as they pre­pare the bag to­gether with much mer­ri­ment and tootling of bu­gles and horns and a good deal booze. We are, gen­er­ally speak­ing, sound on the booze front but we are, in my view, re­miss where the bu­gles and horns are con­cerned and this should be reme­died.

I ac­tu­ally have three hunt­ing horns. I don’t have a curly-wurly one but I have two brass ones and an ac­tual horn. I ex­pect the same it true of a lot of coun­try homes. They don’t get as many out­ings as they should. If you don’t have your own, most junk shops will prob­a­bly pro­vide one. We passed one round the din­ner ta­ble once and af­ter lots of red faces, bulging eyes and use­less rude noises, one of the girls pro­ceeded to give a flaw­less ren­der­ing of The Last Post which re­duced sev­eral guests to tears.

Christ­mas is a tra­di­tion and yet it is, I don’t doubt, slightly dif­fer­ent in al­most ev­ery house­hold in the land. In sport­ing house­holds there is a part of the Christ­mas tra­di­tion which is the Christ­mas shoot and that, I ven­ture, will be slightly dif­fer­ent wher­ever it takes place too. But va­ri­ety is the spice of life and be­ing slightly dif­fer­ent is what char­ac­terises us as in­di­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies, clans and tribes.

How­ever you cel­e­brate the fes­tive pe­riod and what­ever makes your Christ­mas sport spe­cial, have a very happy day and savour what is al­ways a pre­cious time.

The four-legged mem­bers of the shoot party will want to get their share of the day.

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