Without the right frame of mind there is little point in going out shooting. It is meant to be a pleasurable pursuit, yet how many times in the past have I lost sight of that and spent days in the field frustrated with my bad shooting, worried that progress is too slow or angry with the dog. Something has changed, whether becoming a father has put things in context or whether it is simply a result of getting older, I have no idea, but I do know that I prefer it. I just feel more relaxed, happy for the day to take its course whether it leads to success or failure, more able to revel in the unpredictability of rough shooting which let's be honest, has never been changed by worry, anger or meticulous organisation anyway.
A light frost lingering in the cupped leaves of autumn past, below a bright sun and blue skies is enough to make any mood light and Dad and I chatted as we walked the long row of gnarled poplars to the first pond. Drawing close I made my final approach where the waterside bank is highest, thus concealing my stalk and peered over the water cautiously. On the far side, in amongst a fallen tree black with damp and decay two tiny ducks sat apparently unaware of my presence. Getting down again, I signalled to dad to be ready and crept left aiming to drive them back towards him. Reaching my position I released the dog knowing that if she startled them and not me, oblivious to human presence there would be a better chance of them flying over one of our two guns. Trusty Treacle completely failed to notice the pair of teal and instead piled into a heap of brambles behind the water. Concluding that the element of surprise was lost after my shouting and whistling, I got to my feet which was enough to make the ducks leap into the air and take flight. At first they headed towards my father, gun at the ready, but then while still low, banked right and climbed, looping some way out past my position. Being too close together to take individual aim, I drew my bead on the pair, swung through and fired. The lead bird faltered and began to fall and for a moment I fancied the other was also coming down as it checked its flight but then recovering it’s senses beat hard with it’s wings and was gone. I have observed this phenomenon several times, when ducks in flight will stay with a shot bird momentarily, even diving with them sometimes before they realise that it is dead and not flying.
The rest of the farm yielded one shot for dad, which straight into the sun, he missed and we carried on to the block of land about cottage. On such a warm day the pheasants were bound to be out in the hedgerows, but a long walk around the perimeter produced nothing and although a fox, a woodcock and a pheasant issued from quarry wood, the bag still remained at one teal. The pear orchard, a favourite haunt of pheasants when there is still rotting fruit on the ground, held three birds. Two flew out of gun shot but the third, a hen pheasant sped down a line of trees passing dad like a partridge. I didn't see him fire but heard the discharge and saw the dead hen when I eventually reached his position with the dog. The next wood was empty and whilst we chatted idly at the top of the ridge, Treacle bounded off along the hedgeline. Next thing we knew there was a whirring of wings and pheasants exploding in every direction. At least half a dozen must have flown back before two hens broke on our side heading low across the field. Dads cartridges were out, but mine were in the broken gun and snapping it shut I pulled on the nearest bird knocking it from the air with a puff of feathers.
After lunch we tried Release-pen Wood and Triangle Wood without success and ended the day with 20 minutes under some tall oaks shooting pigeons. The final tally for what was probably the best day's shooting of the season was one teal, two pheasants, four squirrels and three pigeons.