CAUTION - Vegetarians & Vegans might want to skip this post.
Pheasant season opened yesterday. Pheasants are our 'main crop' and we shot our first pheasant day of the season today.
Most teams this early in the year will still concentrate on shooting partridge, and occasionally select a nice long-tailed cock pheasant to shoot, if it happens overhead. And dogs prefer to pick up partridge over pheasants. Perhaps they smell more appealing, or perhaps they're smaller and easier to carry. I don't know.
Jazz and Dulcie picked up these 3 brace on one drive -
It's still a bit warm and that tired them out more than the work.
The weather's on the change from the prolonged dry and sunny period, which I have been immensely grateful for, to cold and drizzly which Mike will appreciate as it makes the birds fly better, and therefore makes it harder for the guns to hit them. More sporting, you see. The guns buy a certain number of birds per day. This constitutes 'the bag'. E.g. a 200 bird day would mean 200 birds hung up on the back of the truck by the day's end, with a leeway of 10% either way. Today should have been 200 but we overdid it a bit and the final bag was 271. The guns pay for the extra, called 'overage'.
Not all teams make their bag. The team only get so many chances to shoot at the birds. If they fire an acceptable number of cartridges and can't hit the birds, then they're still considered to have shot their bag. It's a generous percentage - for every 1 bird you are allowed 6 cartridges. That means if, on the 200 bird day, your team fires 1,200 but doesn't kill all 200 birds, you have still reached your bag. It's uncommon not to kill your bag, but it does happen. But not today.
The keeper's job is to find the balance between giving the guns some sporting birds, but making them possible to hit. A pheasant can only fly in short bursts but can travel upwards of 30mph. With a good wind behind them, it can be a challenging target. The keeper can limit the guns 'window' for taking a shot by flying the pheasants over trees, or into a valley where the birds dip down as they fly. It's pretty good sport then. It's also why I can't take a decent picture of a pheasant flying over the guns - it simply looks like a speck in the sky. See?
Each gun wants to go home remembering that one impossibly high pheasant that they swung onto and killed stone dead in flight. The bird will gain 10 feet in altitude each time the story is re-told! There's a lot of precision and timing required by the keeper to show a good bird, and by the gun to hit it.
Pip and Hazel came out in the afternoon for a little practice. I hope they will be a team. So far it's going well and they work well together. You know, I never realised that dogs close their eyes when they drink, until I started taking pictures of them.