The big day arrives
All the hard work by the Yeat Wood Farm gamekeeper Andy Gray rests on everything coming together in the season's first shoot, says Nick Ridley
The first day of the shooting season can be stressful for any gamekeeper. All the hours of work come down to this. Expectations are high and all the preparation and planning done.
The season at the Yeat Wood Farm shoot starts in late October. The day dawned bright and sunny, with a very slight breeze. Andy the gamekeeper’s day started well before dawn as he was out feeding the rides in an effort to hold the birds in the cover.
It is a new team at Yeat Wood and it was decided that 15 beaters, including plenty of women, and four pickers-up would be needed to cover most of the drives. It was also decided that due to the majority of cover crops being maize, only a couple of dogs would be required in the beating line.
It was always the plan to make Yeat an inclusive shoot, with the Guns, pickers-up and beaters all mixing and as everyone tucked into bacon rolls and coffee, there was plenty of banter amid the expectation.
It was also clear that Andy was feeling the weight of this expectation, eased by the presence of experienced people around him. Luke Holman was running the picking-up team and Macie, Andy’s daughter, who has just finished a year at Sparsholt College in Hampshire and is doing an apprenticeship with Purdy, the gunmakers, was going to help me run the beating team. Although Yeat was new to most of the beaters, many of them have been involved in other shoots and had a good idea of what was expected. The team of Guns came from all walks of life, demonstrating the wide appeal of shooting.
The weather wasn’t going to help Andy: the bright blue-sky and slight breeze meant that the first drive was going to be quite challenging to get any height on the birds, especially as they would be flying into the sun. The birds had been “exercised” during the daily dogging-in but this was the first time they would be blanked-in and hopefully hold up in the maize cover crop.
The shoot has put down a few hundred English partridge to supplement the more