Roots, Shoots and Connection
Yesterday I was invited to follow a local pheasant shoot. This I did with my 2 Nikons. I honestly didn't know what to expect. I understood there were folks (and dogs) called "beaters" who walked through the woods, say on the far side of the wood and made a bunch of racket (gee, I think I've missed my calling in life) to "scare up" the pheasants who were lurking in the undergrowth of the wood. Somehow I expected to see like hundreds of birds fly up all at once. But it was more like one bird here, one there.
Now I don't know all the ins and outs of a pheasant shoot but apparently each man (they were all men) had a number, there were about 12 shooters, and they went to several coverts (covers) or woods on local farms. At each new covert Dai would call out "who's #4" and then point to the spot where #4 should stand and on down the line. The shooters were strategically placed along the border of the covert, a certain distance out from the trees to enable them to hoist their shotguns and shoot without fear of hitting someone in the woods - or each other (a way we tend to keep the population down in New York). Meanwhile the beaters have gone around the far side of the covert and have begun making a lot of noise and beating at the bushes and grasses with a baton or stick with a feedbag on the end of it!
Now some of these shooters were dressed in boiler suits (one piece usually green affairs like what you'd see some guy in a auto repair shop dressed in - plenty of snaps and pockets and the name "Bob" embroidered on the left breast pocket, except the boiler suit farmers don't get their names embroidered on the bloody suits!) And there were guys in what I'd call "smart casual country" attire and there were a couple of older guys who were wearing just exactly what older guys around here always wear when they have anything to do with a hunt - moleskin trousers, wellies, nice shirt, tie, flat cap, and some oilcloth coat. Anyway, everyone looked nice. And everyone had a shotgun that they kept in between coverts in a small canvas form-fitting bag (like what we call a "gig bag" in the guitar world).
I should have asked more questions but it seemed to me that the talking was kept to a minimum and I considered myself lucky to be there in the first place, so didn't want to jeopardize my chances of being invited back some time. We went to 5 or 6 coverts during the day and everyone was pretty focused on where are the birds? We didn't really see all that many pheasants (at least compared to what I'd imagined) and I'd say about 30% of them were accounted for (shot dead) by these merry shooters. There were several retrievers and a couple of spaniels too and I enjoyed watching the dogs fetch the birds as much as anything. Just like following the local foxhunts, this day provided me the opportunity to walk through some woods and fields I'd never visited before and the weather was quite balmy and the company was good, too.
Though I'll always prefer to see pheasants flying wild and free, I'll have to admit I enjoy eating pheasant and these men don't leave the birds they kill to rot - they feather, dress, and eat them unlike those who attend the "professional shoots" (so many pheasant shoots the birds are killed simply for sport and the folks just pay "x" amount for each bird they shoot and leave them to rot).
This was what I guess I'd call a farmers' pheasant shoot. At least several in the group are local farmers and it was clear that they enjoyed a day in the country away from the sheep, the cattle, the muckspreader and whatever. When you get right down to it a lot of these country sports boil down to the same thing: getting out and seeing the countryside, visiting with neighbors, remembering some old times, making some new memories, and sharing news.
After the days' shooting, we all headed back to a local farm (at which they'd all met in the morning at 10:00). Typically everyone might line up with their kill and have a group photo. But last night not everyone came back (probably had animals to feed or whatever) so we just got a few of the shooters together for a photo and managed to come up with 18 pheasant and a few other game birds...not bad for a days' work. After the photo, we headed up to the clubroom, a big room with old oak beams and a huge table. We all got a healthy glass of port or cider or lager and tucked in to feast of beef stew, carrots, potatoes and peas followed by a choice of apple crumble, lemon mirangue pie, banoffee pie, or trifle. As if we weren't stuffed enough, then along came the cheese and crackers. It was a job to get up from the table!
Along the way alot of laughter and merriment ensued and then Rick, the sort of host got up and said a few words of thanks to the hosts for use of their room and for having the meet at their farm. Then he began to talk about Bob who has been a shooting man for a long time and how he'll be missed. Bob succumbed to cancer about a week ago. He was a popular local farmer and related to several of those in the room; a good friend to all others. It was clear that Rick, a young farmer and father, was feeling very emotional about what he was saying (and that's not something I see much over here in this farming community - people are generally very stoic and stiff upper lipped about things)....looking around the room you could tell that everyone was feeling as Rick did, and it was such a touching moment to be there in that community of which I was of course only a visitor.
The thing about this rural part of mid-Wales where I stay is that the sense of community and rootedness runs DEEP here and I find that SOOOO attractive. As someone else from outside the area commented to me yesterday "everyone is related to everyone here and you have to be careful what you say." I suppose we should always be careful of what we say, but I know what he meant. Where I was raised (and in most cities I'm sure) you're surrounded by strangers or at the least, certainly people you aren't related to in any way. People come and go so quickly in the city. Not so here. There is a timelessness about this place and part of it is just that the roots go so deep and the branches stretch so far...people here have a clear sense of who they are and where they came from and for someone who feels sort of like a drifter that is a beautiful thing.
If I never get to go shooting again, I will long cherish the memory of a nice day in the country in the company of nice men (and a few women, too, who were among the "beaters"). Toward the end of the day a lovely lady named Jackie came along and borrowed someone's shotgun...turns out she's a crack shot! Made me smile to see a lady in there shooting with all them hairy-legged men! And I'm sure glad I got to know Bob, even just a little, in my life here....he was a good man. We all lifted our glasses and drank a toast to Bob and to all the years he got to enjoy shooting in this lovely countryside.