KEEPER’S COUNTRY: When someone ruffles your feathers
Just one Gun in a team can spoil the day’s sport – if the rest of the group let the grumbling affect their day. This month, Adam Smith has come up with a way to cope with party poopers
Ah well, you see, the birds are weak, underfed, underpowered. That, of course, would explain why one was missing in front...
“Ah well, you see, the birds were presented with too much curl. Simply too much curl. One can only exhibit and maintain good lane discipline with evenly shown, straight birds. The fact that one bagged just three birds throughout the drive is all the proof one needs of that...
“Ah well, you see, the birds were obviously flushed from too great a height. Were I to be asked, of course, I would require a point some 30 or 40 more yards farther down the slope, in order to allow the birds time to reach their maximum sporting height. Only thus could one’s skills be tested to the full...
“Ah well, you see, poor keepering will always show in the end. One expects so much and one’s expectations are crushed. So sad, but there it is, one soldiers on as it were, one sticks to one’s last. One continues to live in hope...
“Wherever one goes, one encounters the same problems; indeed, one is at a loss to understand quite why some keepers make the same mistakes, drive after drive, day after day, season after season. One hates to appear over-critical, but were this my shoot I’d not hesitate to inject new blood. A new team, a fresh approach – do you get my drift..?”
And so on, and on. The maestro had given his all. With ponderous bulk propped up, between gripes and grumbles, by a combination of heavyweight shooting sticks, a conveniently parked vehicle, his battle-hardened loader and an oversized hip flask, each of the five drives had been a disappointment for him. And being every bit as generous with his wisdom as an intimate knowledge of his sport, he felt the need, nay, even the responsibility, to share his disappointments with his fellow guns. So he did, frequently.
One of those Guns – by now bitterly regretting the fact – had invited him, the others had paid a not inconsiderable sum of money to try their skills on one of England’s prestigious shoots and, understandably, had to fight the urge to give the sour, down-turned bulldog-biting-on-a-wasp mouth a well-earned smack.
Yet despite all the negative carping and ignorance, and to their credit, the rest of the team managed to shrug off the pseudo knowledge and arrogance and didn’t allow it to spoil their day, not least because they were all – well, almost all – well versed in the infinitely variable art of game shooting. And they were also lucky. Their level of experience and confidence allowed them to see through the ill-mannered petulance. Despite such a selfish display, the spoilsport had not spoilt their sport and all made a point of reassuring the keeper of that fact at the end of the day.
There are, on the other hand, occasions when it is all too easy and all too common for one such pontificating poltroon to take away the last vestige of gloss from what would have been an eagerly awaited red-letter day. Like it or not, when the bag runs out at around £45+vat a bird, cost can be a significant factor in the potential for both satisfaction and enjoyment, so having an unwanted and unwarranted critique at the end of each drive can all too easily sow seeds of discontent. Without questioning the ‘noted expert’, since they know no better, the rest of the team can begin to doubt the quality of the birds and the wisdom of such and such a drive. Despite
‘Shooting the sort of birds he complains about (yes, even those condemned for too much curl) can turn the flow off at the source’
having no previous depth of knowledge, but simply by allowing themselves to be influenced by a serial moaner, their whole day descends into a costly anti-climax.
There is a simple answer: ignore it. Just turn away. Ask a companion some spur of the moment question, enough to justify leaving the audience. Or better still, belittle it. No need for direct rudeness, no matter how well deserved, no need even for direct comment and no need for confrontation. Such a little thing as a raised eyebrow, or eyes flicking a glance to the heavens, can speak volumes, especially when aimed at one of your companions who might seem over-impressed with all the negativity. A timely indication that it may not pay to believe all you hear can swing the balance, and for the benefit of all, such tell-tale signs of going down in the mouth should be nipped in the bud as soon as possible.
Eyes can be the most expressive tools in a practised deflator’s armoury; they can be used in silence while in reality restoring confidence just when it’s needed. This simple indication, that not all advice is golden and indifferent shots are prone to blame every aspect of shooting except for the most obvious one, can quickly turn a day from despondently overcast to bright and breezy cheer.
And there too lies another simple answer – outshoot the clown. Dropping birds he’s just missed can ice your cake to a very high level of self-satisfaction, but simply shooting the sort of birds he complains about (yes, even those condemned for too much curl!) is not only gratifying, it can turn the flow off at the source.
WEATHER OR NOT
On the subject of bright and breezy – just what is ideal shooting weather in your mind? Would you say bright, clear blue skies and a balmy breeze? Or crisp, still days with frost on the grass, not a twig stirring and dear little puffy clouds dotting the sky? Most would opt for either, regarding drizzle, grey skies and moderate winds as a turn-off from the outset – but I’d suggest you don’t rule these out completely. Light rain or drizzle with a good breeze (while doing little to add to the pleasure of the day, what with slippery fore-ends and damp necks) can actually improve the sport because it makes the birds fly faster and higher. While your personal comfort may be compromised, the quality of the sport can be raised, literally, to new heights. How you define drizzle, of course, begs a few questions but provided it’s accepted that the term is not intended to include solid downpours, the sort of stair-rod rain that saps enthusiasm from the beaters as much as the guns, I’d say occasional showers have much the same benefit.
The same goes for wind strength. The line between a stiff breeze and a strong wind can be a fine one, often affected by temperature – an icy cold breeze can seem stronger than a temperate wind – so let’s just agree that gales are out.
There are all sorts of factors that affect the way gamebirds – especially pheasants for some reason, could it be tail length? – react to weather conditions, but one in particular, air pressure, seems to play a far greater part and have a far greater effect than many realise. Quite how air pressure influences pheasant flight has yet to be properly researched, but temperature and air density certainly seem to affect things – which would help explain how cold air full of drizzle makes for better birds. Maybe the GWCT could investigate – if they’re not already on the case?
Bright, frosty days may suit the Guns, but perhaps not the birds
Shooting the complainer’s birds can bring great satisfaction
Drizzle is welcome; torrential downpours less so