The pheasant shooting season starts next week. Invitations to a day’s sport are landing on doormats and in inboxes across the land. But who are you likely to meet on a driven shoot in Britain this season?
The corporate shot
The paying killer is the man most responsible for the commercialisation of shooting, shelling out up to a £1,000 a day. He knows exactly how many birds he has killed but the last thing he wants is a brace to take home. He knows, however, he should make a nod in the direction of the idea that hunting and eating are somehow connected, so into the boot they’ll go. Later, he’ll drop the pheasants in his garbage bins in central London.
The local professional
This chap, possibly a land agent, solicitor or doctor, is deferential and kind. He makes one approach to the corporate shot, then avoids him. He doesn’t shoot often and is not particularly good. He often has a dog but, as it is the family pet rather than a gun dog, it has little idea about retrieving dead birds and ends up whimpering with fear under the car.
The crack shot
Often the husband of an heiress, he has turned his ample free time to good use, honing his skills as a marksman. You can see from the easy, polished way he handles his firearm that he considers it virtually another limb, though he always acts as if his shooting is no better than anyone else’s. If you are drawn next to him you will suffer the occasional indignity of shooting twice and missing an overhead bird, which he then picks off impudently 40 yards behind you.
During the summer he idly made a boast about being a pretty good shot, and now has to see the cheque his mouth wrote cashed in full. He is wearing the wrong clothes. His gun slides out of its slip case, he fumbles the cartridges, makes some marginally unsafe swings with his gun – and most of all – he misses. The Outsider starts the day with a quietly confident swagger and ends it like a whipped dog.
The local farmer
He remembers the days before everyone started making money out of shooting. He knows the countryside, can interpret the landscape and could tell you many stories of the woods and meadows, but probably won’t, because he routinely loathes people he hasn’t known for 30 years.
The man who has made arrangements for months, if not years, to make the day a success for the participants and owner. He wears a wry smile and a waistcoat with eight pockets, into one of which your tip (at least £40 please) will disappear, apparently uncounted, but later he will see exactly who tipped him what.
The local beaters
A brief ‘good morning’ and a nod of the head suffices. They may have been laughing behind your back at your dire ability with the gun, but they’ll bear you no malice because you are responsible for them being paid £100 to walk their dogs.
If you’re present on the first day of the season, you will be treated with friendly openness by the birds. Until then, the only humans they have come into contact with have been kind and protective, feeding them and tending to their every need. A few days into the season, they will have experienced the terror of being shot at, and have well and truly revised their opinion of humans.