My UK Adventure – Day 4 & 5
Today was another day I was waiting 5 months for. An English driven pheasant shoot, I was so excited to see how the English hunt their pheasant. I hunt pheasants in America so this was going to be a real treat.
This is a English driven pheasant shoot thru the eyes of a traveling American, I may have this all wrong as I’m not good at remembering what I was told but I will give it a try.
Jacky is a dog handler at these shoots and uses her dogs as well as sets up other handlers with their dogs to help pickup. This is a job for them as the hunt club pays them for their time. This is how it goes down (again this might be all wrong but it is my story and I’m sticking to it). There is a hunt club, the hunt club buys baby pheasants and English partridge each spring, this can be around 30,000 birds more or less. The pheasants are raised by game keepers that have 5 ft chicken wire fence around a wooded area that has no net on top. The pen will also have an electric fence around 2 ft of the bottom of the pen to keep predators out. There are various game keepers in hence various properties’ to hunt on. The game keepers take care of the birds by having cover crops on their agricultural land; they have bird feeding stations positioned around their property as well as the feeding stations in the pen. The birds are placed in the pen, they grow and when able to fly they can fly over the 5 ft chicken wire to outside the pen. They can go wherever they want but usually stick around in the cover crops around the pen. They learn to go to the feeding stations outside the pen for food and water and learn to fly back to the pen when need be.
The English hunting season is October thru February. They can hunt each day but Sunday. The day is picked, the hunters are picked, the location is picked, the beaters are picked, the handler and their dogs are picked and the hunt is on. For those of you that don’t know who the beaters are, they are a group of 25-35 people that get hauled out to a field to walk thru the field with sticks and flags beating the cover crop chasing the birds to the shooters. The shooters are usually positioned near the bird pen so that the birds are flushed up and over the shooters and can go back to the pen for safety. The shooters are positioned in the field spread out in a line with maybe 20-30 yards between each one, they may be positioned in a valley so the birds fly over them at great height so it is a challenge for the shooters to shoot them, the maybe positioned in a little strip of grass between 2 woods or they may be staggered through out a open field, whatever is available that day on that property. They are donned in their English attire, have their expensive guns, some have little seats to sit on while they wait and their ammo. Ear protection is optional but after seeing what goes on and how many times they shoot I would wear hearing protection. So the drive begins, the beaters are doing the beating and in no time the birds start a flying, then the steel starts a flying. This is the most amazing thing to watch as literally hundreds of birds can fly over the shooters at one time. Birds are dropping out of the sky like you wouldn’t believe if the shooters shooting eyes are on. They may be a lapse in shooting as they wait for more birds to come over, or there may be no lapse as the birds are plentiful. When the beaters have walked thru the field and are done they blow a horn to alert the shooters that they are done and no more shooting. This would be a safety measure I would think. The shooters are also safe by not shooting the low flying birds and only sticking to shooting the high flyers, plus that gives the sport more of an advantage to shoot the harder birds.
The handlers and their dogs are positioned around the shooters in different locations so that the entire field behind the shooters is covered. The dogs usually don’t go pick up the birds in the field while the shooters are shooting unless there is a bird near them that is a cripple and getting away. The shooters pick up the birds in the field as they are easy picking and the dogs are used to retrieve the birds that have landed in the woods or that have made it back to the bird pen and have died in the pen. A handler may have any number of dogs with them so that the dogs can cover more ground and keep up with retrieving as there are a couple different locations that the shooters go to in one day. The number of birds shot can vary to as to how good the shooters are that day and how many birds are in the fields being flushed to them. The day’s I went along 300 birds were shot each day. The day I left Jacky tells me that 600 birds were shot so it just depends. Jacky’s dog Mara was a hoot to watch, this lives for this game and if a bird lands in a tree she will stand by the tree and bark at the bird trying to scare it down. When the bird won’t come down she will either climb the tree to get at the bird or she will start grabbing low limbs and pull on them to shake the bird loose. Cooper was a joy to watch also as he is older and he reminded me of my boy Norman who would nonchalantly go about his business sniffing out the birds and oh all of a sudden here one is and bring it back to Jacky. Thursday when I went I was an observer and video taker. Jacky had Mara, Cooper and the pup I bred Marie picking up birds. I got to see Marie work in the UK. On Friday I got to stand by myself with Marie in the field and I got to run Marie that is one memory I will forever cherish. On Friday Jacky’s other dog Robby who is Marie’s age 1 ½ years old got to come along on his first hunt. He wasn’t so keen yet as to what was going on but after a couple of hunts he will have it down pat no problem.
In between hunts breaks and lunch are taken. Each group will stick to their own groups, the beaters will do their thing, the shooters will do their thing and the handlers will do their thing. I believe the shooters will have a meal for them at the club house on the game keeper’s property and will have lunch there. The beaters and handlers eat out in the field. I was in the handlers group and each person brought something to eat and their tea or coffee as well has some homemade sloe gin. I realize that sloe gin was the drink of choice there. The food that was brought was sausages of some kind. I had a couple different sausage rolls which were delish even know they were cold, warm sausages that were in honey and mustard. There were also pastries called cheese sticks or something like that as well as cookies or chocolate or whatever one brought. The fondest memory is watching a handler go to their land rover (that is the handling vehicle of choice) come back with an English shot glass holder and some slow gin. While we were all standing around eating it was customary to have a shot of slow gin, or two or three. The two days I was there it was cold and raining so the slow gin warmed me up for a brief period of time. After our lunch was done we moved to another field and did it all over again.
The handlers will carry yellow string with them and once they have their birds collected they will put two birds on a string, one on each end and sling the string over their shoulders and carry the birds out. I found out that this is so they can then hang the birds in the bird wagon when it comes around and so they can have an easier time counting the birds. All the birds have to be counted so they know what to charge the shooters. Some days the shooters can pay around 3000.00 pounds to shoot. It’s not a cheap sport by any means. After the birds are counted then a game dealer will come along and buy the birds and then resell them to the local restaurants or butchers. This whole hunting season and the way they do it is a source of income for many. I even got paid 40 pounds for handling Marie on Friday. Not bad for an American in a foreign land (do I need to claim that on my income tax?).
I wasn’t able to get may pictures as my camera battery was dead and the video camera didn’t take good pictures. I did get some great video of the hunts even know it was foggy and raining the day’s I went with but nonetheless it all turned out fine. Here is a link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAfj55-IQcM&feature=relmfu
Thursday night Jacky took me to The Three Horseshoe for supper. It is an English pub walking distance from Jacky’s house. I had bangers and mash with onion gravy. Oh my… was it out of this world good. For dessert I had berry crumble with custard. The custard was warm and you poured it on top of your berry crumble another out of this world good experience. My memory of this place was that it was a true English pub with the English atmosphere; English pictures on the wall, English candle on the table and of course the slow English service. It was such a relaxing dinner, so peaceful and the company was great!
Friday night Steve and Zoe met Jacky and I at her house, from there we went to a Thai restaurant and had another nice dinner with great company once again. After dinner we went back and packed up Marie and my suitcases and off I was to spend time in London.