Its been almost a year since I joined the beating team on a local shoot, and my oh my what a year it’s been.
The shooting season might have ended in February but the work that goes into this wonderful sport continues all year round.
I have tried to spend a fair bit of my spare time getting involved in this, not only to learn more and gain practical experience, but most of all because I enjoy spending time outdoors with some great people.
After the season came to a close and the shoot meal went by, the same people dropped off the face of the earth ready to no doubt return fresh faced in October, but for the real grafters the preparation for next season had already began, from collecting and cleaning out drinkers and feeders to reseeding pens and cutting and replanting cover crop.
Seeing the estate go through the seasons has also been something any conservationist would relish. I’ve been lucky enough to watch the woods fill with February bluebells, in March I hunted down rare wild orchids with the gamekeeper and we went from frozen mud in the cattle field to my sheep flock wading through two foot high pastures waiting to be cut for hay.
One late spring evening out lamping rabbits we watched Tim Peak in the International Space Station pass over us, flying among the stars and just last month while exploring the woods we discovered a large patch of brilliantly pink foxgloves, a secret for no one but us and the trees to enjoy.
Conservation is just one small and incredibly valuable aspect of the shooting industry that those against it refuse to see, but those of us that get to enjoy it can truly appreciate its magic.
Starting the day walking my dogs at sunrise through a sea of pastel colours in the wild flower meadow as they snapped at a hundred butterflies tickling their ears is a sure found way to put you in a good mood all week.
But as any countryman or woman knows with Mother Nature, what goes up must come down. Last week, just two days after the arrival of 5000 pheasant poults, a predator species of bird interfered with a pen leaving 120 dead from fright- a real blow for the game keeper who puts his heart and soul into nurturing the birds morning and night. The late hay cut also meant that foxes couldn’t be easily controlled and a trespassing ginger haired visitor to the pen saw a 90 bird massacre in one short afternoon. An old beech tree at the weekend fell onto one of the pens wrecking 50 feet of fence and requiring somewhat of an emergency operation to keep the birds in place. These are just some of the trials and tribulations in producing game birds and while it is an incredibly naturally produced, free range and low input type of meat, it requires all the help it can get in these early weeks.
While visiting the game dealer to see how next season’s birds are coming along, it struck me just how incredibly welcoming this industry is. With hundreds of thousands of chicks to care for, having been working all day and all night, Frances, the game dealer, and Dean the gamekeeper gave up their time to show me around the farm, teaching me about each breed of bird. I was even gifted with boxes of chicken eggs to take home with me.
If you ask Joe Bloggs off the street how game shooting might benefit anyone, he would likely fumble to find an answer, but ask any member of the shooting community, and they will no doubt chew your eat off to give an answer.
Despite the tremendous amount of economical, conservational and physical health benefits, from fresh air, to the miles you cover on foot on a shoot day, to the abs you develop from laughing. But the mental health benefits are invaluable. Anyone is welcome, from builders to bank managers to children running around in high vis to the elderly gentleman constantly balanced on his beating stick ready to topple over at any minute, closely followed by the lady who was married to chairman of the regional ban bloodsports club. We walk, we eat, we laugh, we drink, in fact, the shooting aspect really is a minor detail. The banter and scrambling through brambles is character building and the friends you make from all different walks of life will grow you as a person.
So, if you want to wish your summer away like the rest of, join your local shoot and you’ll see exactly what it is that has captivated us, as one of the country’s best kept secrets.
Only 65 days until the season begins! Not that we’re counting of course.