A Day in the Life of… a Gun
Award winning game chef and keen shot Will Thompson, founder of Eat Wild the game & meat supply company, talks us through a typical day out in the field. From bumpy rides and beautiful birds to scary keepers…
“I crack a bleary eye open, then another rubbing the sleep away from my eyes – this begins as a slow process. As I come to my senses and remember what the day has in store for me, my head clears and I’m hopping out of bed as quick as you like – “I’m shooting today!” The preemption of the day ahead sends me into overdrive and any desire to stay in bed is suddenly gone. I whizz around the house at double speed, I pull on all my gear apart from my stockings as I wander through my routine of coffee, toast, gun, dog, cartridges, wondering if I’ve got enough or too many. With socks on, I now looking decidedly less like an extra from The Hobbit as I chuck my kit in the car. It’s just me, the dog and the road ahead which is still devoid of commuters. It’s a bit of a drive to the Cotswolds and we need to make good time, the keeper has a reputation of speaking his mind and I haven’t shot for a while so could do without drawing any unnecessary attention to myself.
As I pull into the farmyard for about 9.30am I give myself a pat on the back for beating at least half of my fellow guns here. I wander in for coffee and chat idly with the pickers up and guns who are here so far. I recognise most faces, friends and friends of friends who have shot together before. We pass the time talking about work and exchanging stories as the remaining guns file in slowly, bringing our number up to eight. Our host for the day doesn’t hang around and after the usual gags to warm up the crowd, we have drawn pegs. Before I know it, I’ve taken a last slug of coffee and I’m being instructed that I will need to jump in with the pickers up as I’ve drawn a very high peg and am right at the end of the line. This suits me as it gives me a chance to get my eye in without too many people watching.
After a bumpy ride down a forestry track we come out on the other side of the cover, I can just make out my opposite number at the end of our line. My sheltered little spot is perfect, and whilst I don’t think I will see heaps of action on this drive we are moving up two so I feel it will break me in for the day nicely.
Pigeons start scattering over the tree tops, high and fast. We’ve been asked not to have a crack at them until the birds start flushing. That suits me, a few fluffed shots at pigeon and my day won’t be off to the best of starts. As I drift off pondering the complexities of life and the impact your state of mind and confidence has on your days sport, I get snapped back to reality by the muffled shout of ‘woodcock’ from within the cover. No sooner has the ‘k’ reached my ears than the most beautiful of game birds comes crossing right to left from the corner of the wood. I have no time to calm my nerves, the swing of my old side by side becomes an autonomous reaction and before I know it, after one shot, the woodcock crumples and hits the ground no harder than a shuttle cock that’s run out of steam.
I am beside myself with excitement, a sensation that isn’t spoiled by my blasted dog running in! I get the dog under control and with no time to examine the beautiful bird I slip it in my coat pocket. I’m in the zone now, first shot and not just any bird down but a woodcock!
A hen pheasant breaks cover and she’s climbing, I like to wait and wait and try and make the process a snap decision rather than having too long to prepare myself. I try and harness a bit of the autonomy that made my woodcock shot so precise. I wait a little longer, she’s climbed to a decent height and I have to squint a little in the weak January sun, there she is. I swing through and give a little lead…click. Nothing happens… In my excitement post woodcock I’ve forgotten to stick a fresh cartridge in the gun, is anyone looking? No. Right you idiot let’s bring it together, I tell myself.
I finish the drive with three pheasants and my woodcock, I shot about 4:1. I console myself by remembering that somewhere I read that this is the national average, and that the first hen bird doesn’t really count as miss, it would make my ratio scruffy anyhow!
After passing my woodcock around and basking in compliments there is a little banter amongst the guns, with comments about who missed the most and so forth. We load up and are on our way to the next drive, this time I’m lined out in the bottom of a steep Cotswold valley. I can see the dry heads of maze wafting on the brow of the hill and they are quiet hypnotic. Before I know it, French partridge are bursting out and buzzing around us like bees. I shoot my quota and remain immune to any friendly rivalry.
We shoot through without stopping for lunch, it’s good to make the most of the light at this time of the year and we can always relax better at the end of the day. After three more drives the bag total is 147, what a fantastic day! Once my nerves were put to bed I was able to relax, and i’m sure the dog sensed this as its behaviour improved significantly too. I tip the keeper, who didn’t seem half as scary as his reputation, and I make my way to thank the beaters for their hard work. Days like this are what shooting is all about.”
Find out more about Eat Wild, the game & meat supply company at www.eat-wild.co.uk