THE beaters’ shoot – or at least the first of three shoots. The beaters’ shoot is, surprise surprise, for the beaters, the regulars who have turned out all season to drive birds in the direction of the guns.
I seem to have put in enough days to be invited along with Crumpet, our cocker spaniel.
The first of the three days is for one half of the team with the other half beating. The next day is vice versa and the third day, the last of the season is, God help us, everyone who can carry a gun walking towards one another.
On Day 1 Crumpet and I had been delegated to pick up as Calum and Davy, two of the regular pickers up, were shooting. Which left the other Alastair, John the keeper and I to pick up.
The sartorial difference between a beaters’ shoot and a regular let shoot is that the beaters turn up in what they wear when beating – I counted eight different patterns of camouflage, – whereas the paying guests arrive nattily attired in plus fours, shooting jackets and flat bonnets.
The beaters’ favoured head gear is a grey-blackish acrylic toorie dragged down over the ears, which is probably a great deal warmer than the de rigueur flat bonnet. But inelegant.
The great surprise, although I don’t know why, was Peem, a long time regular about 5ft 4in tall with a deeply marked face that looks as if he is suffering from a permanent hangover. He brings a huge out-of-control, but good natured springer spaniel which drags him through the undergrowth so hard it has to have a special harness.
Well blow me if Peem, with an under and over 12-bore as big as himself, wasn’t knocking them down with the insouciance of a man who shoots four days a week. And they were good hard flying birds.
Picking up turned out to be a mad race for birds between every dog on the shoot. So on several occasions we had four, if not five dogs heading for one bird, but astonishingly not one fight reported.
After a bit I abandoned attempts to keep Crumpet back until the command to go for it, otherwise she wouldn’t have had anything to pick up all day. Even so I cannot pretend she exactly sits tight until I tell her to “fetch it”. She will do it with dummies, she will do it with a gun and a dummy, but when it comes to the real thing, it’s all too much. Anyway she had fun and did no harm and found her fair share of runners. Runners are rather her speciality.
And I particularly enjoyed obsequiously approaching Peem at the end of a drive to enquire, as real pickers up do, “Anything else to pick sir?”