It’s the time of year again when my routine changes quite dramatically all the way through until the end of the winter. Autumn is with us and that, for me and many others, means the beginning of the shooting season. The truth is, I don’t actually do much shooting these days, I have the odd day here and there and that suits me nicely. My particular love is beating. Once again, as with so many things in life, that love began in my childhood at Kingsley in a time when there were quite a lot of shoots in the area and, then as now, young boys were welcome. I was going on to write, well behaved boys, but in those times all boys were well behaved! Not least because the game keepers would not have minced their words and a clip around the ear was, by no means, out of the question. Somewhat different from today’s attitudes, although a good old fashioned "rollicking" is still a distinct possibility the ear clipping option is long gone. Parents these days would probably get a lawyer involved. Although, true to say, most of the younger lads that come out beating that I have met are pretty good, there have been the odd one or two that have been sent home. Usually because they think they know more than the keeper and are prepared to argue a point, something we would never had done. We knew our place, as the saying goes!
On Thursday of this week we had a work day on one of the shoots which I attend. These days are great fun, lots of banter and gossip. For the most part, when the season finishes,the beating team don’t see one another until it all starts again in the autumn. There are odd occasions when, at country shows or other rural events, one bumps into a fellow beater but, by and large, the team come from far and wide and so meetings out of season are rare. Consequently, pre-season work days are eagerly anticipated and, generally, a good time is had by all. On these days no money changes hands the work is done on a voluntary basis but plenty of snacks, drinks and a good lunch are all provided by the keeper. There are also added bonuses this week, for example, we had to do quite a bit of tree felling in order to open some of the gun stands. Quite a lot of wood was felled and the logs were shared out between the helpers. I came home with the back of my truck filled with some seriously good burning wood.
Like many of the beaters and, of course the "pickers up", I get the greatest pleasure out of being able to work my dog. To my mind there is nothing quite like working a decent dog in the fields and woods of the English countryside. Beating gives the dog owner an opening for dog work when, otherwise, getting permission from a landowner or farmer can be(understandably) quite difficult. Most gamekeepers encourage well behaved dogs as they can save a lot of time and effort when it comes to flushing birds from thick hedges, brambles and all manner of other difficult terrain. Having trained my lurcher to respect poultry and not to bother them, I now have to teach him that pheasant and partridge although, of course feathered, are perfectly ok to be flushed and made to fly. Thursday, on the work day, was the first time Bertie had encountered pheasants, lots of them. Somehow he seemed to know that there was a difference with these birds and pretty quickly developed an interest in them. Luckily I was able to let him have a couple of runs at the odd pheasant before the day was over and he didn’t disappoint.
The forecast for our first day isn’t good so I am hoping the forecasters are wrong and the rain keeps off. The cold doesn’t matter but getting soaked, especially before lunch, is pretty miserable and makes the day seem a whole lot longer. Last season was a very good one and we got away with very little rain and most of it later on in the day so here’s hoping. More to follow later.