Be­hind the Line

Shooting Gazette - - Gundogs - by Gatherer

To­wards the end of ev­ery sea­son, how­ever keenly it was an­tic­i­pated in Au­gust, the keeper and his part­ner breathe a sigh of re­lief. Guns have promised to re­turn and friends and helpers had a great keeper’s day. Even the boss is pleased. Mean­while, the keeper’s part­ner can see light at the end of the culi­nary tun­nel. It could be a lie-in on a Fri­day or it might even be a long week­end away to­gether. Smiles all round then, not least be­cause one covert re­mains lit­er­ally un­tapped.

Two years ago, I ac­cepted the keeper’s in­vi­ta­tion to pick-up with a gun in my hand on beat­ers’ day. It was tempt­ing. Af­ter all, who knows bet­ter than a pickerup where the birds fly? It be­gan well enough. A crisp day, a bit of cloud, a bit of breeze, a yard crammed with a cheery, chat­ter­ing par­ti­san army sport­ing more than usual amounts of ammo, camo and car­tridges, abet­ted by a prodi­gious as­sort­ment of ea­ger ca­nines of mixed her­itage.

I looked for­ward to the first drive, which is usu­ally spec­tac­u­lar. A large area is blanked-in to a T-shaped block of cover crop which is sited on the crest of what counts as a hill in Suf­folk. The birds fly off the ridge, climb­ing steadily over the Guns, to seek refuge in a boggy wil­low copse. The copse is tough go­ing for the picker-up be­cause the gale-brashed wil­lows have sprouted dense ver­ti­cal growth from their hor­i­zon­tal trunks. Bram­bles add to the mix and you can lose a boot with­out warn­ing.

The beat­ers shot well. Even so, the birds which got past them should have given me an ex­cel­lent stand. The prob­lem was I couldn’t mark their birds and lock on to mine. Mean­while, the cock­ers had sensed that I was not con­cen­trat­ing on them and re­garded the dis­con­nec­tion as a li­cence to go self-em­ployed. The dogs were on the case, how­ever, and started bring­ing me birds, and I even­tu­ally stag­gered out of the copse, in a com­plete lather, loaded down with gun, car­tridges, 11 fat pheas­ants – all beat­ers’ booty – two filthy grin­ning dogs and one boot full of smelly wa­ter. “Looks like you had a good drive,” said the keeper.

I dropped the gun off as we passed my house on the way to the next drive.

“I couldn’t mark their birds and lock on to mine.”

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