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

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

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.


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

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