A Driven Bird First
- Monday, 13 November 2017
The Flying Cornishman joins the Capreolus Club for it's first Driven Bird shoot at Newington House in Oxfordshire.
Although I’ve been accustomed to shooting game from an early age on the family farm in Cornwall, I had never taken part in an organised driven shoot. So with this being my first official driven day, I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation, which largely manifested itself in the form of reading every article I could find about driven shoot etiquette; the first of which was to arrive on time, which I managed to do with some considerable time to spare.
Arriving a full hour before the prescribed 9am meet time, I was greeted by our friendly host and shoot captain James who very kindly invited me in for a cup of tea and a chat.
Welcomed by a large entrance hall with roaring oak fire on my right and grand staircase on my left, I followed James through to the kitchen for a cup of tea where he immediately put me at ease with a few handy tips for the first timer.
After offering to help in anyway I could to make up for being an early distraction, I made my way back to the entrance hall as the other guns began to arrive.
Having had our fill of small talk, bacon rolls, tea/coffee, it was time for our host James to give the day’s briefing, during which the guns were introduced to Brian the white pheasant, who might likely make an appearance during the days shooting. The fine for shooting Brian was £200, but with a twist, the gun responsible for inadvertently shooting Brian would also land his neighbor on each side, with £100 to go behind the bar for the beaters. Great I thought, not only do I have to avoid making a complete fool of myself over a faux pas, but now I have to avoid shooting Brian the ‘Moby Dick’ of pheasant!
Briefing over, it was time to draw pegs. I remendered from my intense period of Google research that to forget your peg number was a cardinal sin; thankfully I drew #1, which seemed a fitting omen.
The shoot had sensibly advised that first time guns employ the services of a ‘loader’ to ensure everyone was comfortable and more importantly safe. Given my level of experience with a shotgun it seemed to me that a loader would not be required. However, as it happened, I was to be joined by my deer stalking mentor James Mott for the morning (who also happens to know a thing or two about driven shooting), which helped stem my increasing anxiety, brought on by trying to be clear in my head about “what exactly constitutes poaching a neighbour’s bird"?
The first drive was upon us. After passing through the beaters and being sure to say "good morning" to as many of them as possible, this was it. We made our way out to the field and peg’s which surrounded a pond.
During the briefing, we were told that the first drive was the only one we’d have to be quiet during the approach and that once we'd reached it we were ‘live on peg’.
As we were moving into position, the gun on peg 9 started firing and the element of surprise was well and truly out the bag. With myraid ducks starting to take off the pond, we then had to move swiftly to make it to the other side of the field and take position.
When we made it to the first peg, on the first drive, on my first driven shoot, a duck presented itself for my first shot. Thankfully the shooting God's were on my side and I dropped it with the first barrel and the day, for me, was underway.
During the drive all of the guns appeared to bag a duck, with some good sport seen, and to the best of my knowledge I didn’t embarrass myself, we were then onto drive number two, which was Partridge. The drive itself was quiet for our peg, with only one opportunity at a bird- I’m going to blame Motty for distracting me and for missing that bird by a mile.
Drive number three saw us move back into the same field as drive one, but this time we’d be after partridge and pheasant. The drive started off slowly for us but the other guns were getting stuck in. As usual James and I were happy chatting away like a knitting circle, whilst we waited for the beaters to push for the final flush towards our peg.
It was during this flush that I was overcome by what can only be described as ‘Pheasant Fever’; there were that many birds coming all at once, I honestly didn’t know which one to shoot and whether I’d be reloading - or James would be there to drop the cartridges into the breach. Despite the confusion, once the dust and feathers had settled I was pleased of the reassurance from James that I’d brought down a respectful number of pheasant.
It was now time for 11’s on the lawn, Sloe Gin, Champagne and hot sausage rolls no less before drive number four. This drive would be mainly partridge and again we had some great sport. I continued the theme of personal first's by shooting my first two Partridge's with a right & left, followed by a pheasant to finish. This was it I thought, if I fall in a ditch, say the wrong thing or shoot Moby Dick at least I can fall back on this double!
We were then off to lunch before the afternoon’s remaining three drives. Being a proud Cornishman you can imagine my delight at seeing St Piran’s flag in the hand of one of the beaters who was also Cornish. As I joked with a fellow gun, the Cornish Mafia are everywhere!
It would be remiss if I did not mention the shoots approach to their lunch and ethos towards the shot game. There is a lot of press at the minute regarding large bag days with popular commentators arguing that regardless of bag size a gun should be prepared to take home whatever they shoot, something to which I can very much relate.
Personally, I felt the Newington Shoot’s approach was perfect, with each gun being offered the customary brace, thereafter what’s left is used for the shoot lunches and given to the local pub by means of a barter system which sees the beaters treated to a big meal at the end of each season, thereby keeping things local and community based.
Remarkably our lunch was prepared by a Nepalese chef, who had spent time as a monk and also a Sherpa and had summited Everest no fewer than seven times! He wasn’t a half bad chef either and we all enjoyed our plate of Nepalese Duck curry and Dhal, followed by homemade apple and blackberry crumble before heading back out for the afternoon.
Motty was to leave me to my own devises and take up position as back gun for the afternoon, so the pressure was back on. Drive number five was underway and I was Peg 9. As the beaters worked their way towards us, a large number of partridge broke cover to my left, but from my position they looked low enough for me not to risk a shot, I of course got some lighthearted stick for this, but better safe than sorry. The drive was not without sport as I dropped a couple of pheasant, the second shared with my neighbor but thankfully we both saw the funny side of dropping the bird at the same time, not sure the pheasant could say the same.
It was during the walk to drive number six that got me thinking about our friend Brian the white pheasant; the day had become overcast which made it increasingly difficult to identify a hen pheasant from a white pheasant. I decided if a bird came towards me I’d take a shot regardless and offer to cover my neighbour’s fine and then worry about finding a creative way to explain the cost to my wife.
Now onto the final drive of the day and back on the ducks, this time in a plantation with the guns surrounded by cover. I seemed to have a lot of cartridges left, having brought double the recommend amount with me to avoid being ‘that guy’ and running out. With a bag full of cartridges and ducks coming thick and fast in waves, I went to work. Amazingly, I managed to miss all the easy shots and make all the hard ones, which seemed to be a pattern for a fair few of us.
It was a horn that signaled the end of a truly memorable first for me. We collected up the obvious shot quarry, leaving the dogs to collect the remaining birds. All that was lef, was to collect our brace of birds and tip the keepers for their significant contribution to a fantastic day of sport before retiring for tea and cake.
All things considered a wonderful days shooing, the beautiful surroundings coupled with a very respectable 128 birds, consisting of a mixed bag of Pheasant, Partridge and Duck.
Undoubtedly for me, the first of many more shoot days to come. Alas for the beaters, Brian is still wandering the Oxfordshire countryside and so the bar tab will have to wait. Maybe next year.
My thanks to the Capreolus Club for providing its members with a wonderful days shooting and to the Newington shoot for hosting us.
If you'd like more information about the benefits of joining the Capreolus Club then please follow this link: membership-benefits