On my father’s farm there is a shoot every other Saturday. Most years there is a Boxing Day shoot, too. I had high hopes for this year’s Boxing Day shoot. Having had coronavirus and being stuck during the November lockdown, I had not been on a single shoot day all season. I had missed not just the shooting aspect of the day but also the social side. I was keen to get out there. On the day, I planned to shoot with a 12 bore Browning Cynergy. I borrowed this gun from Ian who runs the shoot. My .410 is currently out of action, so I had been left without a functioning shotgun.
Boxing Day shoot begins
On the first drive, I was at the bottom of a small hill facing a square wooded area with a strip of scrub behind it. I took the Browning out of the slip and mounted it a few times to get a feel for it, then put two in the tubes and stood ready. I used 21g 7½s for the day; the recoil was mild, and I killed birds cleanly.
As the drive started, a hen bird came out low between me and another Gun. I took two shots, but it was more of a passing thought than a credible shot. The bird flew completely untouched. Halfway through the drive, a cock bird rose through the wood and flew between me and the Gun to the left of me. My first shot missed. Too little lead; correcting this I fired my second shot and it hit. The bird dropped a good 25m behind me. It was my first pheasant of the season, so I was quite pleased.
Second drive – the Three Hedges
The second drive was a grass field with three large hedgerows across the middle, aptly named ‘the Three Hedges’. The wind had picked up a little and I was facing the last hedge with the wind blowing the birds away from me back into the hedges. As we waited, I could hear the occasional shot from the other side. I also watched about five woodcock dance about in the wind at head height to the right of me.
It was only when the beating line had reached the hedge closest to me that something came in my direction. A hen bird jumped out and flew directly into the wind towards me. I mounted my gun, found the bird, swung in front and took it down with my first barrel. It landed rather conveniently at five metres to my right, having already half plucked itself! So, my first day was going well and I had shot my first brace of the season.
Third and fourth drive
We moved onto the third drive; a small spinney close to the three hedges. On this drive I was back-gunning, and there was plenty of shooting. Three or four birds flew over me. Unfortunately, I was unable to hit them as the wind was carrying them faster than I could compensate for. I had just got my eye in for the wind, but the drive was over. I was a little disgruntled with my shooting, but I already had a brace and there was always the next drive.
The pen wood was the fourth drive. This is where the poults lived. In position, I got my gun ready and waited. As the drive progressed, I had two cock birds rise perfectly towards me and yet I failed to hit either of them. One came from my left but was skimming the tree line. I would have been better off trying to hit it with a stick than to shoot it!
There was a quiet period and I thought to myself, “relax, you don’t need to hit all your shots”. Then, suddenly, a cock bird flew from my right and I stopped it dead with my first barrel… Well! There you go, I thought. This one also landed a handy ten metres away. From this, I learnt that my best shooting is when I am enjoying myself and I am not putting too much pressure on myself. Another lesson was that you never hit the shots you have to think about twice; it’s either safe and right or not worth shooting at all.
The grand shoot finale and a sneaky fox
Then, we moved on to the final drive of the morning. I had a shot at one more bird but did not give it sufficient lead. A fox was skulking around on the banking in front of me. I had a look whether I could have a shot, but he had spotted me from a distance. The beaters had seen him, too, along with another, black fox. We will be on the lookout for them in the weeks to come.
After lunch, we had two last drives – one around the pond on the farm and another along a ditch with trees and shrubs beside it. One hen bird flew over me, but I missed. The final drive was quiet for me, but I watched some fantastic shooting. By the end of the day, I was very content with my first day of the season.
Overall, I had shot three pheasants during the Boxing Day shoot, which I was happy with. Around 30 brace were shot in total so there was plenty for everyone to take home for the pot. The day was certainly worth the wait; it was a very enjoyable Boxing Day shoot. The following week we managed to hold another shoot. On this occasion, I shot my first snipe with a 20 bore. So, although the season has been cut short by the latest lockdown, I have been very lucky to get two great shoot days in. I will be looking forward to the return of shooting, whenever that may be!