Behind the Line
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.”