The trick is to get in first

It’s hard to give up a sin­gle day’s shoot­ing in Jan­uary, ad­mits Jonathan Young. So buy a big diary, fill it up with dates when your spouse is out and be pre­pared to pay for a hot hol­i­day

The Field - - Letters -

Mar­i­tal prob­lems of­ten sur­face in Jan­uary, the tra­di­tional month for in­form­ing the once beloved that it’s time for a joint visit to a fam­ily so­lic­i­tor.

Christ­mas is usu­ally cited as the prim­ing pow­der for divorce, spouses hav­ing ex­hausted the re­serves of out­ward to­geth­er­ness — a view strength­ened by that gift of saucepans or a Tery­lene tie that ex­pressed all too clearly the de­gree of ten­der­ness in which the re­cip­i­ent was held.

But in our mud-and-tweed world there’s an­other rea­son for New Year dis­so­lu­tion of wed­ding oaths, one eas­ily solved by the pur­chase of a diary. Prefer­ably, it should be the Eley one, which has the added ben­e­fit of aw­fully use­ful bal­lis­ti­cal in­for­ma­tion, but any diary will do so long as it’s large enough to serve as the do­mes­tic plan­ner and it’s kept metic­u­lously.

Now all that is needed is an evening alone, when the part­ner (of ei­ther sex) is out at bridge, al­low­ing you to fill in your shoot­ing and hunt­ing dates. and Jan­uary tends to be a busy month for both. I re­mem­ber a Dorset farm­ing friend re­count­ing how he was out ev­ery day of the month ex­cept Sun­days. He knew his wife would be un­a­mused as he dili­gently and furtively inked them into the diary — and in­deed the re­sult­ing spousal chill was Siberian — but, as he so rightly pleaded in his de­fence, “there was noth­ing else ar­ranged on those dates, dar­ling”. Even­tu­ally he was for­given (though only af­ter the prom­ise of a hot hol­i­day).

and this is the se­cret of suc­cess­ful diary management — you have to get in there first be­fore be­ing com­mit­ted to grim din­ner par­ties where guests bang on about money and where their beastly broods are be­ing ed­u­cated.

To ir­reg­u­lar sports­men, such ac­tion could have a sug­ges­tion of selfish­ness, to which the keen would ar­gue that there’s plenty of time from the ces­sa­tion of shoot­ing and the be­gin­ning of fish­ing for in­door ac­tiv­ity. We are per­fectly will­ing, out­wardly at least, to trot along to smoked-salmon so­cials in Fe­bru­ary, March and april so long as we’re given a clear run in Jan­uary.

For this dark win­ter month of­ten shows the best of sport. The enor­mous field, who ap­peared plaited and primped on the open­ing meet, has now dwin­dled to a hard core ea­ger to fol­low hounds in sleet­ing rain and hock-high mud. With luck, a snap of frost will have pushed fowl onto fore­shore, giv­ing the gun­ner his chance at wi­geon and grey geese. and the pheas­ants that flew so will­ingly over the keeper’s neat row of pegs have long joined the game cart, leav­ing the bat­tle­hard­ened vet­er­ans, ex­pert at eva­sion.

I’ve of­ten puz­zled over the con­cept that pheas­ants are dim when all too of­ten they out­wit the guns – or at least those plac­ing them. We walk to the pegs, the pins still an­chored onto their Novem­ber moor­ings, and ex­pect the birds to be­have ac­cord­ingly. They sel­dom do. a Jan­uary pheas­ant is go­ing to break back over the beat­ers, hur­tle out the sides of the covert, fol­low the fin­gers of skele­tal oak and beech reach­ing for the slate-grey sky along the hanger wood. They are artists in es­cape, of­ten pro­vid­ing more op­por­tu­nity for the walk­ing than those stand­ing ex­pec­tantly on pegs four and five.

I love this form of shoot­ing. Bags are sel­dom large but a bird hurtling high up and 40yd out, curl­ing as he bends back to­wards the covert, will be re­mem­bered long af­ter those sim­ple over­head shots of Novem­ber are for­got­ten in the fog of num­bers. and there’s a spe­cial plea­sure in snap-shoot­ing in the rides, a joy com­pounded by the ad­di­tional ac­cu­racy be­stowed by lack of think­ing, that rob­ber of nat­u­ral shoot­ing in­stinct. My high­est bird of last sea­son was killed cleanly in such cir­cum­stances, mo­men­tar­ily qui­eten­ing an ac­quain­tance ad­dicted to acer­bic com­ment. I killed an­other three sim­i­larly, a feat that even forced a grudg­ing com­pli­ment.

Jan­uary birds aren’t al­ways high, of course. The clas­sic pheas­ant, at least to us hedgerow moochers, is the long-spurred cock that learned, three sea­sons ago, that the old limbo mantra — how low can you go — is the se­cret to sur­vival. I’ve lost count of the num­ber of hoary old devils I’ve tum­bled as they main­tained a steady al­ti­tude of 4ft but 40yd out, to the be­muse­ment of new guns but to the de­light of keep­ers and old hands.

Of course, we still all miss but I’ve no­ticed most of my friends shoot far bet­ter in Jan­uary. Partly it’s be­cause we’ve had a cou­ple of months of prac­tice but also it’s be­cause the gloves are off. We won’t blow up birds — ru­in­ing a pheas­ant for the ta­ble is sense­less — but nor are we as se­lec­tive as ear­lier in the sea­son when stock needs to har­boured for later shoot­ing dates. a de­cent bird is ad­dressed and, with that ‘shall I, shan’t I?’ switch turned off, it’s sur­pris­ing how many of us ap­proach the form nor­mally the pre­serve of pro­fes­sors.

Noth­ing makes beat­ers and keep­ers hap­pier than see­ing birds shot well, and the guns’ per­for­mance in Jan­uary usu­ally adds to the en fête at­mos­phere as the sea­son draws to a close. The big let days have gone, with the at­ten­dant wor­ries of whether or not the guns ‘will make the bag’, and the smaller oc­ca­sions are usu­ally re­served for friends who know a happy foray is mea­sured by friend­ship and test­ing sport, not the game cart’s tally.

It’s hard, then, for us to give up even a sin­gle day in Jan­uary. Which is why it’s wise to buy a big 2019 diary now and fill it up quickly next time your spouse is out.

There’s time be­tween the ces­sa­tion of shoot­ing and the be­gin­ning of fish­ing for in­door ac­tiv­ity

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