We’ve had one of our walk rounds – I was about to write walkabouts, which might almost have been more accurate – with a 14-year-old second cousin who is learning to shoot.
As he lives in Cambridge and his parents are academics with no particular interest in shooting, seasonal visits to his grandmother’s farm have been his only opportunity.
So arming him with his grandfather’s 28 bore, we marshalled ourselves at his granny’s back door only to discover that the entire tribe of cousins and nephews, who were all staying, had decided to come too, as “beaters”.
This is a nightmare as they want to shout and hit old tree guards under the misapprehension that they will stir up a sleeping pheasant, when all they do is scare them off into the next county.
Along with the surprise beating squad I discovered the number of guns had swelled from four – myself, two sons and cousin – to seven, including the gardener, who is probably a better shot than the rest of us.
This sent son No2 into a complete decline amid a lot of muttered cursing about dawdling dolts. But move off we did in the end, and lost half the party within three minutes, probably because I had not made crystal clear that the fallen tree at which they should have stopped was a fallen beech, not a fallen something completely different.
Thereafter things picked up. Crumpet the cocker spaniel dug out two cock pheasants which were sitting so tight I am afraid she was on top of them before they could take off. Pigeons were fired at.
Arriving at the end of the farm road, the tenant appeared to cheerfully announce that if only we had been there at 7am, we would have found the place crawling with birds – a particularly pointless thing to say, but I think he thought he was being helpful.
It at least confirmed the rumour that the Dane next door had been releasing pheasants into his 50 acres and, being unable to read a map, they were coming over the march into our territory. Which was good. I sent the cousin ahead with a son to cover a corner from which we reckoned birds might break out. The rest of us walked through a bit of a wood and scrub towards them. For once we got it right.
Just as we emerged, bent double from dodging branches, clouds of birds which had been running ahead of us erupted over the waiting pair. And down came two birds – the boy’s first pheasant. It had taken off 20 yards in front of him and to the right and flown across and over his left shoulder; the ideal shot, for a right-hander. So what started out as a walking disaster turned out to be a landmark day. And Crumpet retrieved the bird. Of course.