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 Nik from Southampton, who I had staying as my guests for that whole week, in fact as I am typing this Nik just telephoned to call me a name, a fatherless figure, Nik 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 wildfowling he has been bitten by the bug and is now looking at getting his own shotgun licence 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.
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 Nik 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.
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 honour 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 channelled 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.
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.
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 wildfowling is all I can say, those birds came over me like all hells 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.
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.
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.
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.