The last three days of the shoot season are given over to the beaters and pickers up, a thanks to the workers who corral and drive the birds over the guns, and find the downed birds. Workers bring their guns and we shoot cock birds only, in preparation for the breeding season. We need more hens than cocks, and too many cocks left behind become "sex pests", and won't let wild hens alone to sit on clutches of eggs. So, the boys have to go.
We split into two teams and take turns, one group driving the birds over the other, and then swap. An average shoot day is four drives, but in our enthusiasm we manage eight drives a day, over three days.
Jazz and I helped the first day, and we put six birds in the bag. Jazz is a confident peg dog, unperturbed by gunshot going off over her head. I'm only an average shot on a good day, so I missed the first few that went over me. Jazz seemed to have blind faith in my abilities and hared off after each bird I fired at. I was sorry to let her down. She's never discouraged, even when I give her plenty to be discouraged about!
Our turn to beat
I wear my grandfather's old upland hunting jacket every year on beater's days. It's nice to feel the family connection. As my grandfather was also an average shot, I figure it's in the genes. I imagine him missing birds but at least enjoying the warmth of a good wool coat, just like his granddaughter!
Our turn to stand
I left my gun at home for the last two beaters' days and took a pack of dogs instead. We happily picked up fallen birds for everyone else, cheered for a good shot, and dished out some good-natured teasing as well.
Beaters' days ended with a big communal supper - pheasant stew! - and a few bottles of wine and beer. We all commented how quickly the next shooting season will be upon us.
Now, our end of season rituals take place: cleaning the guns, making a list to restock the ammunition cupboards, removing the pheasant rack from Mike's truck, putting all the two-way radios away, sending the tweed suits (and grandfather's coats!) to the cleaners, going over all the dogs and treating any torn claws or burred fur, and butchering shot birds for the freezer or dogs' dinners -
I butchered a fallow deer per request of Lady S, for a luncheon party, so the dogs had their end of season 'Thank You' bones too.
The first two weeks of February are traditionally our quiet period. We will manage a day's fly fishing in Hampshire, but otherwise, non-shoot related jobs need attention: vaccinating lambs, repairing horse shelters, and a mountainous backlog of farm paperwork. And the vegetable garden won't dig itself.
Next week, the new season starts.