February 1: the last day of the season and the last chance to catch up with a pheasant. Why the pheasant season ends on 1 Feb, while woodcock and duck end quite logically on 31 Jan, is an eternal mystery.
The party was myself and Crumpet and Waffle, Alf our sporting pal, and my 80-year-old cousin who nips over barbed wire and walls like a teenager. His standard sally, just as everyone is completely knackered and ready to pack up is: “It seems a pity not to push out those bogs/whins/woods while we are here.”
The day was marked by Waffle doing what I consider to be her first totally unaided (by her mother Crumpet) flush and retrieve – at the advanced age of two. Normally she rather follows her mother so when they retrieve a bird Crumpet has to bring it back.
This time Alf and I were wandering along his farm track when Waffle put up a cock pheasant in a huge bog on our left. (Crumpet in the meantime had gone off to investigate a particularly good smell the other side of the road.) I swivelled and shot the bird with what Alf agreed could only be described as cool aplomb –better known as a fluke.
Waffle can only have had a very slight idea of where the bird was going when she put it up. The bog rashes were at least three foot high and she is hardly more than 18 inches (oh alright, 46cms then) at head height. And she certainly cannot have seen it fall. I waded off in the general direction of the bird making encouraging “Fetch it” and “Where it is?” noises and within two minutes Waffle had emerged from the rashes carrying this huge cock pheasant with one wing pretty well obscuring her vision.
As I took it from her Crumpet reappeared and tried to snatch it from my hand. But it had been Waffle’s bird from start to finish. So I rolled about on the ground with her telling her how clever she was and feeding her Bonios which her jealous old mother grabbed, so I had tell her how clever she was as well. Later she did it again when Crumpet was looking the other way.
The dogs had put out three hens from an old dyke covered in gorse. One flew back between me and Alf. We – but probably Alf – brought it down and Waffle was right onto it. It was definitely her bird and she was coming back with it when old jealousy charged up and tried to tear it off her before I could start bellowing. More Bonios and everyone placated.
Bag for the day: five pheasants, a pigeon and, I am sorry to say, a jay. But nice feathers for fly tying. n