We’re not the only ones who feel the cold… when the temperature drops on Court Shoot the birds head for the warm woods

credit: rebecca

At Court Shoot we only shoot six days a season, so by day three – which is where we pick up the action again here – we are actually halfway through and can expect some drives to be less productive than they were at the start.

credit: rebecca

Today there is a hard frost, which may affect the first few drives – we shall have to wait and see. We head out to Garden Drive quietly, as after day one any birds that are in the cover crop can get a bit jumpy. Unfortunately, a few birds break cover before the Guns are on their pegs. It’s frustrating, but at least they have headed over to the second drive. The beating team begins to move through the cover, but as we feared, the bitterly cold morning means the birds aren’t there and the drive is over almost as soon as it has begun, with just three birds to start the day’s bag. It couldn’t be more different to a fortnight ago, when the cover crop was just heaving with pheasants. We hardly had to move into it and the birds came streaming out. That day we shot 22 off it!

Never mind. On to Tower where, thankfully, we find some birds. Shooting them, however, proves to be a bit more difficult! There is a big flush fairly early on in the drive, which makes us a bit anxious, but the birds keep on coming and we have a second, smaller flush towards the end. However, at least 30 partridge go out the back. Technically speaking, these aren’t our birds anyway, and had they been in the field we would have ignored them. But they were in the cover crop, which makes them fair game (the keeper next door will probably give us a good ribbing for saying that!) so it was frustrating that they – and some pheasant – flew back. We just can’t put our finger on why that happens on this drive. Despite the number of birds, only about ten are shot here. That’s not to say the drive was without its excitement, however. Kimberly provided that by desperately trying to hit a rat she spotted in the hedgerow – not with her shotgun, but with her stick. Luckily for the rat, or unluckily for next season’s chicks (whichever way you care to look at it) she failed. Scotty also shot a good pigeon off this drive.

On to Pondwood and we are pleased with the way this seems to be working out with the changes: the birds are definitely flying better. Before, they would fly to the end of the wood and drop back down before we could shoot them. Now they have more height and fly out of the wood. However, for the Guns in the centre of the wood, there isn’t an awful lot happening, save for a few pigeons Richard shot. But, at the end of the drive there are still a few birds to be picked, including a couple of ‘wing downs’ from Tower, which Nial successfully finds.

Our last drive before lunch (Handkerchief) is another non-starter – we have a few off it, but nothing to write home about. It is definitely too cold for them down on these ‘farmside’ drives. We go in for lunch on 24… fingers crossed we’ll find them all sheltering up at the top when we come back out.

Thankfully, our predictions are right. Top Court drive is the best we’ve had this year. The birds fly really well and we take 13 off it – the same number as a fortnight ago. Although the birds are here, we are struggling to get them out without the dogs. Most of the Guns who bring dogs have labs, and Chloe (Graham’s spaniel) is too old to do more than just one drive. Derek also lost his spaniel recently, as did George, under tragic circumstances… so there’s a bit of a shortage of good little hunters. Having said that, today Scotty had his young spaniel out with him, which helped a bit.

At Bottom Court the birds literally pour out – it is fantastic, they just keep on coming! There is one little piece that Kimberley, Cameron and Ray push out, towards the main part of the drive, in which there are at least 50 birds – and that’s just one tiny bit.

Everyone gets some good shooting on this drive but the shot of the day goes to Bondie, who had a corker from peg 4. We add 23 to the bag here, taking us to a total of 70. That’s not bad, but as we expected, the numbers are starting to dwindle… a fortnight ago we finished up on 92.

So, at our halfway mark, we are on 248 pheasant, which is a return of just over 30% – pretty much what we expected this year, given that the cover crops have really let us down. Another 100 birds will take us to 50%, which we ought to achieve with three days still to go. But you know what they say about best laid plans!

NB. Apologies to young Sonny for getting his name wrong in the previous piece. We blame Rebecca’s poor hearing!