Game season for me began in the first week of October, for what has become an annual day organised by one of my friends near Southminster in Essex, where super fast partridges and good early season pheasants were provided at Badnocks Farm (www.simulatedgame-shooting.co.uk), where I peg shared with my brother-in-law (it wasn’t a competition – honest!). After not shooting for a couple of months, I was a little rusty to begin with, but soon warmed up when the wind got up behind the partridges and I had to be quick off the mark! I also had the pleasure of standing on probably the most scenic peg I have ever stood on, on the shores of the Blackwater Estuary.
So after all the anticipation, hard work, cooking, baking and the keeping fingers crossed, the first Saturday in November dawned and our first game day of the season had arrived! Having a shoot on the farm keeps us busy all year round, not just on the day of a shoot. There is always something to do – from pen maintenance, to woodland management, to cultivating and drilling covers, to looking after and feeding birds. And we enjoy every minute of it!
A typical day on our shoot begins at around 9am when everyone meets in the yard for coffee. For us, every single person who comes on the day is either family or friends be they guns, beaters or pickers up. Because of this, there is no divide between guns and helpers that you may get on some shoots – everyone is treated equally, and mixes together.
Beaters the load up onto their trailer and guns are given an all important briefing (including how much it costs if someone shoots down the telephone wires around the house and yard). We then move off to the first two drives of the day before coming back to the yard for elevenses. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know this is where the sausage rolls that I am fanatical about making come in (for elevenses on our first day I had made pork and fennel ones – simply sausage meat and fennel seeds, wrapped in my signature bought from a shop ready-made pastry!). We also have mini quiches, sublime chocolate biscuit cake (if we didn’t have this I think some of our beaters would go on strike!) and the staple of shoot elevenses throughout the country – a sloegasm (a heavenly mix of cava/champagne/prosecco and sloe gin)! Full credit for the quiches and biscuit cake go to another member of our shoot partnership – our partridge raising expert Nicola! Two more drives follow and its back for a lunch of soup and hot dogs. We always try and source locally and our sausages are Sheering Pork Sausages, which can only be found at Fullers Family Butchers in White Roding, Essex (see: http://www.fullersfamilybutchers.co.uk) and our rolls are from Dorringtons Bakery who have shops in Essex and Hertfordshire (see: www.dorringtons.com). After lunch we then do two more drives in the woods before retiring back to the yard for tea and cake. We finish the day with a meal in our local pub. Again everyone is involved – no one works harder, or walks further on a shoot than a beater, so they fully deserve joining in with everything we do.
The Must Haves
So several things get help us survive our game season. Namely:
- Good boots and/or wellies – an essential if you are shooting or beating. Personally I wear either my Aigle Parcours wellies or my Dubarry Galway boots. It is important that they are both comfortable and waterproof.
- Waterproofs – whilst beating through covers, even if the sun is shining bright, covers will inevitably be wet, especially in the mornings. Good waterproof leggings or trousers should always be in a beaters kit.
- Gloves – again whatever you are doing on the shoot day, remember you are more than likely to be standing around in a field, probably in the middle of winter, in all sorts of weather. Your fingers will get cold. Whilst shooting I wear MacWet gloves as they are shower proof and not too bulky.
- An urn – probably the most important thing we have bought for our shoot! We spent the first season using kettles – not practical when twenty odd people want a cuppa on a cold day! Five seasons in, we rely on Ernie (yes I know), as an essential part of our shoot day team!
- Slow cookers – we have a team of three slow cookers, two of which heat soup up, and one which reheats the sausages (pre cooked the evening before). These we switch on at the beginning of the day, stir the soups and rotate the sausages at elevenses and as if by magic, everything is ready at lunchtime! They cut down on a lot of stress on shoot days.
- A sense of humour – you certainly need this on a day when its throwing down with rain and extremely cold!
So here’s to the rest of the season!