Pheasant hunting in England
Lewknor, southern England
By Eddie Keogh
Photographically it’s been a year of shooting new sports. Mainly Olympic and Paralympic sports but this past week it’s been country sport in the form of pheasant shooting. It’s funny but it’s only now as I sit down and write this blog that I’ve realized the connection.
The skills in shooting game gave rise to the Olympic sport of trap shooting . Trapshooting was originally developed to provide a method of practice for bird hunters, even the targets were called clay pigeons. But I doubt the Olympians started the day with a glass of Sloe gin or cherry brandy – though on a cold December morning it does hit the spot.
Land Rovers are lined up outside, while Labradors and Springer Spaniels whine in anticipation because they know what’s coming next. The men, all local farmers wearing every shade of green adjust their breeks and grab their shotguns. The conversation takes a more serious tone as pegs are taken and guns are loaded.
The beaters are seen in the distance approaching an area of long grass, waving flags and making enough noise to disturb any wildlife . The guns are placed evenly around the area in a semi-circle so as the birds take flight they hope to get a well presented angle to take a shot.
Pheasant that fly too low or close are left, a shot like that is considered unsporting. The pheasants are wild birds so there no two shots are the same. No one knows how many pheasant will fly from a run, which direction, which height and which speed. Even trickier is shooting on a foggy day as you don’t see the bird until it’s almost above you. So the skill and the challenge is certainly in following the flight of a rising or curling bird and picking your shot.
The dogs are tied to a stake or their owners and get very excited once the shooting starts and the birds begin to fall. Once the shoot is over and the whistle goes, guns are unloaded and the dogs are released to retrieve the birds which they carry very gently in their mouths and then drop at the feet of their owners.
After the second run, the drinks reappear and it is then you get the feeling this is a very social affair. Here I was witnessing a way of life that has passed down the generations. A chance for friends to get together, enjoy the sport of shooting and bring home the dinner.