Date: Saturday 5th December 2015
Venue: The Carington Estate at Winchbottom
I woke up on Saturday morning nervous, incredibly nervous, and I couldn’t shake the butterflies. Apprehension is the wrong word, what I felt was more a concern that I might show myself up. The issue being that I’m incredibly competitive and although being told on numerous occasions (Sorry Clive!) that the day was not a competition, I didn’t want to underachieve compared to the other ladies.
Decked out in my shooting attire I definitely felt the part. Typical as it sounds I had a nightmare trying to find appropriate clothes; as a jeans and trainers kind of girl I found nothing worthy of donning in my wardrobe and spent a good few hours online browsing khaki chinos. It was a relief arriving to find I was more than suitably dressed, my shooting coat attracting compliments from a few people over the course of the day.
We arrived for coffee and bacon rolls at 8.30am. I noticed straight away that I wasn’t the only one anxious about the day ahead. Out of eight ladies on the shoot, five of us were new to the field and it showed in our excited chatter and exclamations of “If I just get one!” We drew numbers for pegs and were told that we’d be shooting straight through to lunch – the weather forecast was ominous and we didn’t want to disrupt the course of the day. With introductions and welcomes out of the way we kitted up and headed out to the car park where a convoy of 4×4’s were ready to chauffeur us between drives.
Getting out of the Land Rover at the first drive I noticed the change in weather straight away. Although it wasn’t cold the wind had picked up and after five minutes in the fresh air my cheeks were rosy from the onslaught of gusts. It proved a little troublesome on the drive, making it difficult to get the birds flying in the right direction. At peg five I was lucky enough to have a few shots which was more than a few ladies had. It was a relatively good start and I shot my first pheasant – a hen- all nerves dissipating after that.
It’s a strange feeling to shoot a living bird – in complete honesty I was worried about how exactly I would feel about it. I decided that if I was content to eat meat then I should be willing to put it on my own plate and it was nice knowing that I had shot my own dinner that evening. I’ve hit enough pheasants with my car over the past few years it was a relief to be able to actually eat one. That being said I don’t think I could do it purely for the sport, I think I’ll stick to the clays for that.
Once the drive was over a hum of excitement settled amongst the group, everyone eager to recount their experiences. It was a great atmosphere to be a part of, everyone congratulating and cheering each other on. I was handed my pheasant on the way back to the car (no easy task for me as I have a crippling phobia of birds, ironically enough) and had a few photos taken; you know, to prove that I’d actually hit something. On discovering it was my first pheasant I was ‘blooded,’ initiated properly into the fold, and although slightly grossed out I was extremely proud.
The second drive went much like the first with a few less birds. Our pegs were adjusted slightly in the hopes of predicting the birds’ flight in the wind – unfortunately, unlike the trajectory of clays, pheasants are far less predictable and many were lost in the opposite direction. I hit a cock pheasant that was blown so far I didn’t think I had actually hit it until congratulated after the whistle was blown.
We had a quick break after the second drive – offered delicious soup and a small glass of slow gin which kept us warm while the beaters headed off in the direction of the next field. Chocolates and twiglets were passed around while everyone discussed the first two drives and patted the occasional Labrador that broke away from its pack.
As the drives went on the wind became progressively worse. For a group consisting of relative novices I’d say we did fantastically well. The wind got up to 40 miles per hour at times which made the birds incredibly fast and unpredictable in flight. Most of us had practiced shots loading for us, and everyone commented on how difficult the day would have been even for a more experienced gun.
The last three drives went well depending on the peg you were at. I didn’t get a single shot on the final drive which was a shame, the birds all disappeared in the opposite direction, but I had my fair few on the two previous. With a gale blowing I was always that little bit too slow, just a smidge behind the birds and I could hear Clive’s voice in the back of my mind telling me I’d “tickled the tail feathers.”
Despite my own dwindling success rate it was thrilling just to watch the other ladies hit their birds. Every pheasant in the bag was met with congratulations and compliments and the infectious positive atmosphere had everyone almost giddy with excitement for the whole day. Seeing the success of the other ladies made me want to do more shooting; more practice, more clays, more birds. It hit my competitive nerve, and I found myself wanting to count the pheasants I hadn’t hit instead of the ones I had.
We finished shooting at around 1.30pm and went straight in for lunch where we were dished up rabbit and root vegetable stew with mustard mashed potatoes. Orange drizzle cake and a cheese board occupied the rest of our attention while our host offered around wine and coffee. The food was delicious and for the first time that day silence descended upon the group. All of the fresh air and walking had ignited everyone’s appetites and it wasn’t long before the cheese board was scraped clean.
I realised at this point, sat at the table with a group of people I had never met before, that a day of shooting consists of so much more than just pheasants. The camaraderie of the ladies and friendships formed over not just the day of the shoot but also the green and silver feather’s courses where most people had met was enough to sell me on taking out my next course at Holland and Holland. Having joined the group late – I didn’t get a chance to meet everyone for the competition day prior to the shoot – It was a welcome relief to be taken under the wing of the more experienced ladies and accepted into the group by everyone automatically.
I was told by one of the ladies that the shoot had become an annual event for her, persuaded back every year at the prospect of another great day filled with fantastic company, delicious food and a wonderful day of shooting. And I must say that I completely understand why: the Green and Silver Feathers courses at Holland & Holland offer a fantastic programme which not only excels your shooting but also immerses you into a world that you might never have had a chance to experience otherwise, and all of that with a group of like-minded ladies.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has helped me along over the past few weeks. To Steve and Sonia Denny, who’s commitment to these courses has inspired more than a thousand ladies to take up shooting, develop their skills and stand beside men and women alike in the field capable of holding their own. Also to David Broadway and everyone at the Carington Estate who helped to make the day of the shoot thoroughly enjoyable. Finally to Clive Jeffrey who’s instruction and guidance made it possible for me to have such a successful day in the field. Thank you!
And thank you for reading,
Until next time!