West Country Pheasant Shooting And Wild-fowling
At Its Finest
By The Ole Hedge Creeper
It all started one Wednesday afternoon in early January, I had raging man flu and my voice sounded like I had swallowed a hedgehog, now those that truly know me know nothing stops me getting out there hunting, especially bloody man flu so for a whole week of having it I hunted day and night, well until one day exhausted it dropped me for about a 3 hour power nap, much to the amusement of Bruce from the Isle Of White and Nick from Southampton, who I had staying as my guests for that whole week, in fact as I am typing this Nick just telephoned to call me a name, a fatherless figure,
Nick has always been an out and out air rifleman and had never really tried any other hunting, but ever since Bruce and I took him wild-fowling he has been bitten by the bug and is now looking at getting his own shotgun license and shot gun, why he called me a fatherless figure ahhhhhhh well you see he caught fowling fever and no matter where he goes now all he is seeing are duck and geese and hearing them in his sleep, what can I say job done me thinks as that’s another fresh faced wildfowler brought to the ranks and inspired in the sport I love.
Mark and I chatted for a while then we both had to go as he had to feed his birds and I had to go wild-fowling, we met fellow Countryman’s Diary writer JT as he came along as my guest too as he had never wild fowled before either, As Bruce and I were the only two with experience we split into teams,
Nick went with Bruce along the river to Bruce’s favorite spot where he came as my guest before and bagged some cracking shots on teal, I took JT with me to a little bend on the river with a nice pool I knew the duck were using and the river had gone down showing some muddy banks, we were also blessed with a nice splash right behind us so I knew we had a chance for mallard teal and widgeon and who knows what else maybe a prize of geese.
As the light started to dim the wildfowl started to move on what was going to be an almost full moon, I saw the flick of mallard way out across the moor so I laid it on thick with my calls, responding to my calling in they dropped to my right a cracking pair of mallard wings set paddles down dropping right in, I dropped the hen on the right and left the drake as it curved from left to right across in front of JT, Now I said as he took it with a single shot dropping it stone dead,
I thought he was about to dance a jig he bagged his first duck whilst out on his first flight, I sent Brook my wonderful Labrador out to retrieve it, she already had both birds marked, she knows her job that dog just like her grandmother/mother and father before her, she retrieved to hand JT’s drake like a lady in fine style, she then looked up at me as if to say can I go get the other one Dad, I sent her on with a flick of the head and well what can I say she retrieved the hen from the water like a well-oiled machine.
What a flight between JT and myself, we accounted for some fine wildfowl and a prize goose, my Brook what a pure sweet lady she really is as she retrieved bird after bird in fine style marking each bird as it fell, I really don’t think I will ever have another like her as with her mother and grandmother before her and indeed her father, you see I won’t be breeding again due to personal circumstance’s so won’t be able to bond from birth as I have with many generations before her,
The Urban Countryman another fellow writer on the diary said only the other day she must have cost a fortune to train, yup she did in my time and worth every minute too, you see I train all my own animals so they think like me they know their job and what I expect from them, they give me their best and I give them the best we are a team we work together like a well-oiled machine and it really shows out in the field.
JT’s eyes and smile were so wide I thought he was going to burst, now on the moon the sound of geese teal widgeon and mallard filled the air with quacks whistles honks and whistling wings all around us, I honestly thought JT looked like a terrier alert to every noise around him,
I knew right then and there we had him hooked on fowling, the temperature dropped to freezing as the splash froze over the river stayed flowing and ducks came and came, alas Bruce and Nick did not have the fun we did but as my Pappy taught me ya gotta get up early to be a true Ole Hedge Creeper, those that have read my books and especially the chapter Teal Time will know what I mean her(cheeky wink), we finished that flight with some cold but happy fresh faced wildfowlers who can’t wait to go again.
,Well the Tuesday of the Cheriton Shoot arrived, all the night before I just could not sleep with excitement so I counted down the hours until the alarm went off at 5.30am, I was already wide awake as I was pondering what gun I would use, I decided to take my Ole Pappy’s side by side 12 bore game gun and then a thought popped into my head,
why not take your old 20b side by side as you have never used her on pheasant’s before, there is a story behind this old gun, she was my 9th birthday present from my ole Dad and over the years as I grew I moved onto other guns, when I got my first shot gun certificate in my own right I asked for my 20b,
The answer was a flat no he bought it for me to use not keep was his answer, now 35 years later she is mine and blow me over didn’t she cost me swapping another gun for her, the crafty old goat, my ole Dad is sharper than my hunting knife and more crafty than Del Boy and a Charlie fox rolled into one I telle.
I got to Marks house set way back up a winding drive with tall Beech tree’s flanking the drive on the shoot, I thought to myself every time I come here how beautiful this place really is, I love The west Country and this piece is one of those places gods hand touched with just a little more beauty, I tapped on the door and the typical sounds of dogs barking and meeting me at the door told me ahhhhhhh yes were in gods county.
Mark answered the door and there stood before is what I consider to be one of the world’s finest Game Keepers, a giant of a man in stature but truly and English Gentleman that I have the privilege nay honor to call my friend, When we were at college we hit it off right from the start as did another fellow mucker and Keeper I hold in the same regard as Mark, Jason Collins (no relation) a truly inspirational keeper himself.
As always the kettle was on and a fine mug of coffee was waiting for me, we chatted like old friends do when Brian turned up to drive the game cart and of course have a coffee, right off to the shoot briefing no time to waste, there he was my ole mucker Jason, he never changes always good for a joke banter or wind up or just to tap into his wealth of knowledge, I telle boys I miss our college days we all got on so well and made what I consider a lifelong friendship, this year I am hoping the boys will join me on my shoot for some sport on the pigeon, I know both the boys will love it as we have some truly sporting birds here in my part of North Somerset.
Mark and Jason went off to sort the beaters out and get in position for the first drive, Peter gave us (the guns) a safety talk and shoot day briefing, on we went after drawing our pegs that was, I got peg 7 now I shot 9 the first time I had shot here and wished I had got 7 as the birds on that day flooded over that peg, so here I was on the peg thinking come on little 20b don’t let me down today, the whistle went and the drive started my butterflies started too, first nothing then the song birds started to move and I thought any time now as the beaters channeled the birds into the guns, they flushed magnificently in a steady stream climbing higher and higher, now was mine and the gun to my rights turn as pheasants flushed our way climbing with every yard, I dropped the hen stone dead with my first barrel as did the gun to my right, then a cock bird flushed between us as it set its wings climbing higher and higher, the gun to my right missed with two clean shots as the cock bird turned on the wind right over me,
I gave it a fair bit of lead hearing my Pappy’s voice in my head, get up through its tail boy keep swinging pull the trigger now boy, this fine West Country Cock Pheasant in its awesome winter plumage, its head went back its legs dropped as I knew I hit it hard with this little 20b, its wings stayed set on the wind as it glided down to earth and the picker up with a fine pair of flat coat retrievers retrieved it, the gun to my right congratulated me on a couple of spectacular birds especially with a ladies gun.
We moved on to the next drive, a drive I had not shot before this one was the keepers wood right next to Marks house, the guns got to their pegs pickers up’s in position beaters at the ready off goes the whistle, straight away my peg and that of the peg to my left and right were in the hot seat, I must say right here this drive is a testament to how good a game keeper Mark really is, the wind was totally wrong for our side of this awesome little wood, it was blowing a Hooley and really the birds should of hit the wind and turned tail and gone across the other pegs, but no Mark and indeed Jason steered their beating lines perfectly so that each gun got some action, I could hear shots echoing around the wood and indeed saw some magnificent birds fall to some fine English shooting that is a testament to The West Countries fine sporting Gentlemen.
I was on peg 10 right on the corner of this awesome drive about 40 yards out from the wood, looking left and right at my fellow guns they were taking truly sporting pheasants at their finest, indeed I have shot all over the world and Marks birds each and every one of them would more than hold their own with the very best of them, my turn as hen and cock flushed over me I really was in the hot seat barely being able to load in time, at one point I had 3 birds dead in the air the third just managing to get a cartridge in this sweet little 20b and swinging through and taking it just behind me, again my fellow guns and I congratulated each other on some fine English shooting on some simply magnificently presented birds, I finished that drive with 6 pheasant dead and 2 to be picked up by the pickers ups that did a fine job too.
The next Drive was my favorite drive the last time I was here, I saw a young man take his father’s place that day and I had the pleasure to watch him shoot with great prowess way beyond his years, if memory serves me correctly I saw him take a brilliant right and left at hen pheasant and woodcock that day, so my excitement was running high now as I know this was another brilliant drive, again some truly sporting birds came over the guns but alas I was on a quiet spot on this one apart from a white hen bird that nearly took my cap off my head, but again I got to whiteness some truly elegant shooting from some of the finest West Country Gentlemen I have had the pleasure nay honor to shoot with.
The next drive produced some more fine birds but with the wind they were a touch to fast and high for the guns they went over, again this drive I was on peg 9 and could see the whole shooting line and got to see some spectacular birds, the birds that did get shot were truly awesome and a real pleasure to watch this team of guns in action, This was when Mark called lunch and we headed back to the shoot cabin were guns beaters and pickers up all mingled and chatted about the day.
Really must say what I love so much about the Cheriton shoot is not just the quality of the birds and the beautifully well-kept shoot, no but the camaraderie of the guns beaters and pickers up and indeed Mark as our host, it’s just like one big family all working as a team, I truly cannot thank Mark enough for inviting me back each year as his guest, it’s truly the high light of my season I telle muckers.
Mark waited for Brian to come back with the game cart so he could hang the birds out, blimey we did really well for an end of season pheasant shoot that was pretty much the last shoot of the season, apart from beaters day that is, the joviality in the shoot cabin really was camaraderie at its finest, I felt completely at home as if I had not been away, I really was made to feel most welcome as the stories of the past season were relayed to me and indeed the talk of this day was high in spirits even though it was a wet windy West Country January Day.
My dear friend Jason Collins (no relation) here helping load up the shot birds onto the game cart.
First drive back after dinner and I was on peg 8, this peg being a tail end Charlie peg at a last point were the birds may flush if they get past all the other guns, I relaxed thinking ahhhhh this will be a quiet one for me so will let my lunch go down well, oh how wrong can one man be, indeed all the other guns got in some exceptional sport on these high flying pheasants and indeed some woodcock but they went on un saluted, then the wind turned and pushed almost every bird over me, with the wind it made for some pretty instinctive shooting I can tell you that, bloody good job I cut my teeth shooting pigeons and wild-fowling is all I can say, those birds came over me like all hell’s fury with their tails on fire not a weak bird among them, all testament to the fine keeper who raised them and now steered his team of beaters perfectly flushing these birds, I dropped 3 stone dead two hens and a cock bird, I also heavily hit 3 left to right curling and crossing cocks that dropped at the bottom of this long deep valley, I must say the lady with the flat coat retrievers did a cracking job picking them I telle, Mark came over to congratulate me on some fine shooting with my little 20b, I must say I was more than happy how we were working together and taking some fine birds in style too.
Mark Day a giant of a man with a big heart, who I consider one of the finest keepers in the land.
Back at the game cart again it was filing up fast with some mighty fine shooting I telle boys.
The very last drive was to push the last big wood through, the rest of the guns would line out over what I call long valley, I call it that as it is a bloody long walk back up the valley to the top were the game cart is. I was on peg 1 in a little paddock next to a rippling stream along with two other guns on peg 2 and 3, I had already seen these boys take some sky scrapers, if we were to get any birds come over us they would be sky scrapers truly, high strong flying birds, so some good shooting would be needed here and defiantly not for the faint hearted I telle.
The first birds to flush went high across the valley over the guns but not a feather was touched, I remember thinking at the time we needed some heavy loads and full chokes to pull these birds down.
I could not resist a high pigeon that came over me even the picker up in front of me looked as if to say what was that you shot at as his dog went off in search, this was when I saw her a high curling hen bird flushed right at the top of the big wood, she went right down the line of guns totally out of range so she was un saluted, she turned on the wind and headed right for us the last 3 guns in this picturesque little paddock by the rippling stream.
She banked on the wind set her wings and went for it right over me didn’t she, I have to say not meaning to blow my own trumpet but that’s not the sort of bird that gets passed me easily, she was high and fast just as I like them just like I take the pigeons in my big roosting woods, she curled over to my right shoulder flying like a lightning bolt, I swung through dusting her with my first shot and completely stoning her with my second, she fell to earth right in front of the gun to my right, I must say that was probably the highest pheasant I have ever shot, and the best bit I did it with my 9th birthday present my sweet little 20b.
I don’t think I have ever been congratulated on my shooting so much ever in my life, guns beaters/pickers ups and Mark and Jason congratulating me on that last shot of the day, I was always blessed, I knew I could shoot from an early age, you see I have had some truly great mentors in my life Like my Pappy or my ole Dad both truly brilliant shots themselves, so that last bird I dedicate to them also not forgetting my uncle Dave too, for it was the countless hours they spent coaching me from a young boy to man hood made me the shot I am today, we all made our way back to the shoot cabin for a count up and a last reflection of how the day went and the season etc, I have said it before and I will say it again what a brilliant shoot the Cheriton shoot is,its truly a testament to a great keeper, a fantastic team of guns and an awesome team of dedicated beaters and pickers ups, top drawer muckers each and everyone of them, I cannot wait to go back as a guest again.
We finished off back at Marks house just a few of us for coffee and cake and biscuits, we put the world to rights on modern keepering and conservation, fishing and shooting and told tales of long forgotten days out in the field and friends that had gone on to the great shoots in the sky before us, the camaraderie here really is second to none and it’s so nice to be among like-minded brothers who think the same way about all field sports and our future.
Some of the lads left that just left Mark/Jason and myself talking like old school friends, I leant Jason my match box door pro to see if he liked it for his vermin control on his shoot for shooting from the truck, I showed the boys the new lamps I stock in the shop and how the awesome Nite Site Wolf is a keepers best friend on those lamp shy Charlie foxes or rats around the pheasant pens.
I bid farewell to the boys and said I will see them at The West Country Game Fair on the 19th or 20th of March Shepton Mallet, on whatever day they come along as I will be there as always with Pass It On Young Sports inspiring the next generation of countrymen and women.
I called in to JT’s house on the way back as he only lives half hour from Marks shoot and I dive right past his door, I could not help it my devil horns came out as usual, I banged on JT’s door knowing full well he was working away and his Dad was home alone, by devil horns I mean I put the brace of pheasants against his front door knowing full well he would walk out in the porch and get a face full of pheasant, sorry Kevin but I just could not help myself mucker devil horns like I say.
I went in had a coffee and talked about my awesome day on my dear friends shoot, after the coffee I hit the road for an hour’s drive back to Bristol and I must say I don’t think my smile could get any wider, just remembering my day on a truly inspiring shoot with some of the finest West Country people you will ever meet.
Kevin JT’s Dad happy as a sand boy with his fresh shot real West Country pheasants.
Mark my friend if you are reading this I thank you from the bottom of my heart, you sir are a master keeper you presented the birds beautifully the shoot looks awesome and a huge thanks to your team and my fellow guns too, see you at The west Country Game Fair in March brother I owe you a pint or three.
West Country Pheasant Shooting At Its Finest
By The Ole Hedge Creeper
Aka: Rob Collins.