The first time anyone does anything important in life there is a rite of passage. A Rubicon is crossed. You are a different person after the first time, and I have been transformed by my first live quarry shoot recently.
Prior to the shoot, my experience had been limited. I’ve been for several days of training and practice on shooting grounds with friends and had experienced the thrill of shooting and hitting clay targets. I learned how to handle a shotgun safely and the basics of good practice with experienced instructors. All of which sparked my interest to read more about the sport and its history.
Just recently I was lucky enough to be invited on shoot in the Welsh Marches as a guest of BASC’s director of communications and public affairs, Christopher Graffius. I had been looking forward to the adventure for weeks, eagerly checking weather forecasts in the run up and taking advice on what to wear and the social etiquette of a shooting party. No one wants to feel out of place.
When the great day arrived, the landscape had a magical feel as we drove up the country roads to the hunting lodge. The palette of greens and browns and the wet and windy conditions gave me a real sense of freedom from my normal South London urban life.
The welcome by fellow Guns was warm and friendly as we had coffee and listened to the plan for the day. Of the four drives, I was to observe the first two and then have a go as a Gun on a peg on the third drive if I felt confident enough.
On the first drive the pheasants came over fast and high and the Guns saw constant action in short bursts over a period of several minutes. In what seemed like no time the drive was over. I was amazed how efficient and smooth the whole process of picking up birds was and how skilful the dog handlers were in making sure that none were left behind.
Now the party was in high spirits talking about the conditions and the ones that got away. After a stop we moved onto the second drive. I stood back and observed how the whole drama played out, with the beaters Guns and pickers-up playing their parts. Everyone was in good form as we went back to the lodge for soup, pork pies and sausages at ‘elevenses’. The party ranged from local farmers to fellow Londoners like myself and I enjoyed some interesting chats.
The next drive was mine to shoot. It was one of those occasions when life seems to be painted with extra colour. Things took on a filmic quality as the first pheasants appeared and disappeared in no time as I missed them by a country mile. There was no time to ponder as I reloaded and took aim again and this time, with a very lucky shot, I bagged my first pheasant. I felt like an Olympic champion as we all regathered for another quick refuel before the final drive.
Back at the lodge we had a lovely roast beef lunch with a glass of claret and cheese to round off a fantastic day. The craic was good as everyone was pleased with the way the day had gone. To my delight I was given a brace of dressed birds to take home to cook.
Later as I reflected on my new experience, I was struck how much I had enjoyed all the different aspects. The landscape, the fresh air, the people, the dogs, as well as the sheer excitement of the shooting. Truly a day to remember.
Back in my normal life of work and urban living I know I want to experience that moment again. I muse on how a new experience has given me, as Philip Larkin puts it so beautifully, “all the power that being changed can give”. I arrived with the sense of an observer, an anthropologist among a foreign tribe, but I left feeling part of a community.
David Wild is chairman of Lodestone Communications.
Is there someone you know who you could introduce to country sports? Why not invite them to your shoot and help to spread the word about the joys of shooting and the outdoor life.