Alastair Robertson: If you can’t beat them, join them

Alastair Robertson. Picture: Donald Macleod
Alastair Robertson. Picture: Donald Macleod
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Once a year, at the end of the season, the beaters on driven shoots get a chance to have a go themselves.

Having spent the whole season tut tutting over just how hopeless some of the guns can be, this is the moment of truth. Put your No6 shot where your bird is. Fat chance. I have to say, “our” shoot is pretty challenging, even from a beaters’ perspective. We often cannot see the guns in action, but from a distance we can see the birds we have pushed out sailing high across the steep wooded valley which runs through some of the best drives. If they hit the ones we can see, they’re doing well.

Some guns, who will be paying £500 a day, are no better than the rest of us. But others are spectacularly good and we make appreciative noises between ourselves, wondering whether we’d ever be able to do the same. But then, we are also inclined to mutter jealously that anyone shooting three days a week for six months, as some of them will do, jolly well should be hitting them.

Like most beaters’ shoots we divided into two armed teams and took turn-and-turn-about to beat for the others; except, of course, the armed beaters are also shooting anything that moves within reason and safety.

Things threatened to go seriously wrong when after the first drive (ducks), the main form of transport, an ex-French Army lorry, ran out of petrol miles from anywhere. And two trees had blown down overnight, blocking key tracks.

So we walked a mile to the next drive between blizzards without, as it happened, a grumble. There I was parked on the end of the line round a corner and thus my failings as a shot were shielded from public gaze by a small plantation. At which point the shoot captain, a caustic Ulsterman and a more than tidy shot, appeared behind me to mop up anything (everything) I might miss. Thanks; no pressure. Still, we learned just how hard some of the drives can be.

Crumpet and Waffle tore about fighting other people’s dogs for birds (I had forgotten their skewer). There was some fantastic shooting, and equally, some hopeless shooting. We had sloe gin and cava (known as a Sloegasm) for elevenses and hot sausage rolls made by one of the beaters filled with duck and pheasant. (We usually get sweeties).

The last drive took place in descending darkness, after which we fell upon a vat of pheasant curry and rice in the bothy and some of us got stuck into the selection of booze donated over the season – wine, martini, Glenfarclas, port, diet cola, beer, something disgusting and yellow from South Africa… and after that things went a bit fuzzy.