I MISSED the final day of the pheasant season on 1 February.
There had been an invitation to join the beaters on my cousin’s shoot for the annual mopping up operation which consists of two lines of guns advancing on each other through dense undergrowth, blazing away like Patriots in the American War of Independence. Instead I made it to the second of the two driven days for beaters – a thank you for their work during the season.
For some reason everyone appeared much more smartly dressed than on the first beaters’ day when I had been picking up with Crumpet. There was even a smattering of old Game Conservancy ties. The shapeless acrylic touries of the previous week had been replaced largely by camouflage baseball caps – which I am not sure is really an improvement.
Brian, the florid owner of a very pretty young cocker to rival our Crumpet (almost) was even wearing a natty Harris Tweed waistcoat. The first drive was straight into the low sun, which is always a good excuse for missing. To my horror and humbling admiration Ian on my left took down 11 out of 12 hard flying birds at all angles, and a woodcock. If this was going to be the overall standard I was in for an embarrassing day. I formed common cause with Brian on my right, an equally erratic shot.
On the Top Wood (as opposed to Bottom Wood) drive I was delegated as end gun to make sure nothing broke out the side early on, which it did. I fired at a very long-distance hen and missed and then an equally long-distant cock which flew into the sun and disappeared.
At the end of the drive John the keeper came rushing along shaking his head “My God Alastair that was a long shot.” Which I took from his grim demeanour to be some sort of unlikely disapproval for taking a long punt at the hen. Perhaps it was a “runner” ?
“I’ve never seen the like,” he went on shaking his head, leaping a fence and sending his dog off into the far distance. “Stone dead in the air,” he added, which was even more confusing. Until I realised the bird he was talking about was not the hen at all but the cock that had flown into the sun as I fired my second barrel. Being in the glare I hadn’t see it fall.
“I paced it out – 80 yards,” he shouted triumphantly waving the bird in the air. Considering it had been flying slightly towards me this was even more extraordinary.
There was much talk of drams and celebration back in the bothy at such an astounding feat of marksmanship, but one which we all realised on reflection was a complete fluke. Still, 80 yards is a long way, particularly with rather suspect Italian cartridges.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West