Our big walked up day; a pretty small day really, but we do it once a year as close to the end of the season as we can.
This year there seemed to be six of us, which was two more than usual, but given the fact the weather was foul and it had been snowing, we needed everyone we could get. Pheasants sit tight under these conditions so the more dogs and people you can muster to cover the ground, the better.
We were once again back at a cousin’s, the place where the Danish next-door neighbour has obligingly been putting down pheasants for his own shoot but which then stray across the march onto “our” stubble. (Why do they call releasing pheasants “putting down”? asks my wife. In any other context, she complains, it means death – by lethal injection – of a pet.)
Our first cunningly contrived manoeuvre cut off the Danish birds’ line of escape back to their home woods and produced three cocks, a hen and a passing jay.
A forced march across a ploughed field covered in snow, about the worst sort of walking possible, got three of us to the top of a mile-long shelter belt of old beeches, and youngish Sitka, which has never yet failed to produce a couple of pheasants. This year it managed no pheasants, but a steady stream of woodcock.
In fact, the woodcock score started to become embarrassing as we had been left instructions by the non-participating cousin to go easy on them, so after four we stopped, although we must have seen at least another six and there will have been more whom we never saw.
So after hot sausage rolls out of a huge old-fashioned Thermos, plus doses of Bullshot (consommé and sherry) out of the car boot, we headed for the quarry. The quarry is just that, an overgrown quarry with pheasanty whins and gorse up the sides surrounded by a fringe of young trees. It was from here, two years ago, Crumpet had appeared carrying a black Pekin bantam which had strayed from the neighbouring manse garden. (I guiltily secreted the corpse under the car seat and then forgot about it until a child complained about the smell).
The quarry proved a bonanza; an eruption of pheasants thanks to Crumpet, who put up bird after bird. A hoodie crow was shot. A snipe got up out of a ditch down to the river. A high pigeon was added to the bag along with a goldeneye duck from the river – which was a pity as golden eye, although legal, are completely inedible. All the same, it was a terrific mid-river retrieve by Crumpet.
So seven pheasants, the four woodcock, a duck, the pigeon and five “various”. A satisfactorily mixed bag.