So, it’s been a while since my last post and I would love to tell you I’ve been off doing lots of beating and shooting, but the boring daily life stuff has been getting in the way. Amidst all the Christmas rushing about, I did manage to fit in my first day game shooting though. The day was organised by an amazing lady, Tracy Davey for a mix of experienced & novice lady guns up in Matfen, Northumberland on a small friendly shoot.
My preparations prior to the day had all focussed on trying to get to grips with shooting “gun down”. I confess I didn’t know what that meant until recently – so if you are similarly unaware, it means instead of having the gun mounted into your shoulder, you hold the gun with the barrels up and only mount when you see the clay/bird. If I stand with my gun mounted in my shoulder waiting for a pheasant to appear, I’ll very likely have jelly arms in no time. Consistent and quick gun mounting is something which will take time and practise (and I know I’ve not yet put enough in).
The Saturday before Christmas was one of those sub-zero days, where the sun shines piercingly bright but the ground stays rock solid. A perfect day to be outside on your first pheasant shoot with a cracking group of ladies (& honorary ladies).
First things first we ran through a safety briefing for the day – what we could and couldn’t shoot, what to be aware of around the area etc, and then picked our peg numbers for the first drive.
All novice guns were accompanied by a guide. I had roped in my husband for the day. Up to now I haven’t been able to put up with him standing with me as I’ve been learning to shoot (a bit like how having your parents teach you to drive doesn’t seem to work) But this felt different. Standing out in the open with a gun, without the perceived safety of a clay ground cage, I felt quite exposed (like standing at the edge of a cliff with no safety rail). It definitely helped to have someone I knew with me.
Peg 1 on the first drive was very quiet for me. I got a shot off at a pigeon which at least meant I’d pulled the trigger, but mostly just watched low birds coming in and got a bit cold. Thankfully prior to the second drive, we stopped for a drink round the most amazing fire pit. It looked like half a WWII sea mine hollowed out. Some fine fireside chat and splash of sloe gin fizz and my nerves were starting to ease (and my fingers warm up) – time for the second drive.
Standing on my peg, lined up in a frozen field, listening to the sounds of the beaters move through the wood was amazing. Your heart leaps as a bird takes off. Will it fly forward or head back, fly high or low, fly over you? Oh god it is flying over you, quick! Gun up, safety off, get on it, pull ahead and bang! I got my first pheasant!! Seeing the picker upper coming back with my bird was fantastic!
Drives 3 & 4 before and after lunch were then both a blank for me. I had a couple of missed chances but mostly the birds were too low or not safe to shoot. However, this in itself was a good lesson to practise first-hand. I’ve stood with my husband on game shoots for years, but this didn’t count for anything compared to me holding the gun and having to make the decision myself in real time. Having an experienced eye beside me to confirm with a “yes” or a “leave” was invaluable.
Drive 5 and I get some great birds over me and my second pheasant! This time I’m much quicker and take it early in front. I then got to see our own dog retrieve it back to me at the end of the drive.
Much to celebrate at the end of a fantastic day. The bag may have been on the low side, but the group camaraderie was high, and everyone had seen some birds over them. I had a safe and well supported first day, I’ve learnt lots and can’t wait for my next time.
We took a brace (pair) of birds’ home with us as well – family supper of pheasant goujons later in December and some feathers for a future craft project stored in the freezer.
Coming soon – an update on the hat.
FYI: shortened version of this post appeared on the Alan Paine Blog in January 2018