_ What brings you to Loughborough on a Friday evening? asked the taxi driver.
_ We’ve come to visit friends, we answered truthfully, but without volunteering the nature of our luggage.
_ And after that, you’re going to do some shooting, right?
How on earth did he spot that, was it that obvious, despite all our precautions to be discrete on the train? No: it turned out it was the exact same taxi driver as last season, when we first travelled up at the generous invitation of Unicorn71 to join his DIY roughshoot. Clearly there aren’t that many cabs that do the run from Loughborough station on Friday nights.
All good stories start in a station.
My friend R. and I arrived at the pub where we’d booked rooms to meet up with Unicorn71 and A. who had arrived earlier, later to be joined by G. to complete the set of four. Since the driven shoot that we attended once a year with G. and his family has folded this was our only shooting expedition together this season, so we’d been ridiculously excited in the previous weeks. As I’ve mentioned before, we used to be the most ineffective wildfowlers in the UK, but moved onto other opportunities in search of a collective experience of success last year, as I was worried that the years of fruitless trips to the Kent marshes would eventually lead to everyone dropping shooting altogether. So last year, we’d joined a driven pheasant day which was fine, but just not what we really like, and then had the revelation that was Unicorn71’s shoot, something I’ve already recounted in this thread.
After a surprisingly moderate evening in the pub, we retired, and I set my alarm for 6.15am as Uniciorn71 had once again offered to take me in search of a muntjac before the shoot. This gives me the opportunity to try for the Midlands MacNab, which is a muntjac in the morning and two of whatever I manage to hit during the rest of the day, in my case all with the same drilling. Unfortunately, after a couple of hours creeping around in the shadow of the local power station, it was clear that the blustery weather was keeping the deer under cover. We saw plenty of slots though, and had a standoff in the woods where the dog was pointing into the undergrowth, we were up on sticks scanning each leaf and twig for the tell-tale triangle of beady black eyes and nose, squeaking on the Buttolo for good measure, but it just didn’t happen. Nevertheless, this is my favourite way to miss breakfast! Slightly later than anticipated, we sped back to the pub to pick up the three others.
Looking for muntjac in the shadow of the power station.
Loaded with kit, we crammed ourselves into the back of the truck, and went to meet the other members of the shoot near the local church. We were to start the day with a mini duck drive opposite the seventeenth century hall and were instructed in no uncertain terms not to drop a duck through the plate-glass windows that had only recently been repaired at great expense. I’m glad to say that we had no trouble avoiding that. We lined up as Unicorn71 went round the lake with his dogs, but most of the ducks escaped all the way down the stream before coming back over far too high for a shot. However R. opened the day with a shot at a single stray cock pheasant. I insisted that he had to wear a tail feather in his hat, but he refused, the spoilsport.
After that, it was back to lead cartridges for an intense day of tramping through dense woods and mud with the power station as a remarkable backdrop, but we were lucky with the weather. It was windy, but didn’t seriously rain until the evening. It was still very mild for the time of year though, which was probably one of the reasons for which many of the birds had strayed from the woods containing feeders. Unicorn71 seemed to give me more of the walking gun spots that the others, which is what I prefer, but I suspect that he just wanted to see me shoot something because last year, hampered by only having one functioning barrel in addition to being a bit rubbish, I hadn’t given him that pleasure. We saw half a dozen woodcock, but none offered a shot. Two turned back into the woods as they flew towards me, out of range, and one whizzed past at head height as they do, and I didn’t want to risk a low shot into dense bush.
Later on in the day, after a windy lunch of mince pies (first of the year!, thanks I.), pork pies and banana bread (thanks G.), I found myself on one side of a little wood from which Unicorn71 flushed a woodcock. “WOODCOCK FORWARD!” came the shout. I tensed up, scanning the tops of the trees, when it flew in from my left. I missed with the first barrel, but as it doubled back into the wood, I caught it with the second, it seemed to rear up in the air, and dropped into the wood. Unicorn71 came around and asked whether I’d hit it. “Yes, it’s about ten metres into the wood, that way”, and in went the dogs. But after a few minutes, there was no sign of it. I’d marked the specific tree the woodcock had fallen by, so I gave Unicorn71 my gun and went in under the muntjac-height browse line on all fours, so see if it was stuck in the branches. But again, no sign of it. Immensely frustrating, but it looked like it had managed to fly away. Perhaps it hadn’t been hit at all. Either way, there was to be no woodcock in my game bag this time.
R. and M. not actually shooting any woodcock.
Before we knew it, it was time to head for the two flight ponds for the duck flight. Unicorn71 had been feeding the ponds and had seen large numbers of teal, wigeon and mallard coming in. This turned out to be the hoped-for highlight of the day, there was just enough wind and rain (and Gore-Tex) to make it all come together. The flight started earlier on the other pond from which we could hear a pretty serious barrage of fire coming. Then teal started dropping into our pond. R. shot his first ever teal and was delighted, and I hit one that landed in the corner of the field behind, near the hall lake, to be picked by the dogs later. I don’t think anyone will dispute that the standard of our shooting was pretty appalling, especially my own. However, throw enough bismuth and tungsten matrix up in the air and you will hit something eventually, so between four of us, we did manage to put six ducks in the bag. Of particular note, with my last two 16 bore bismuth cartridges, I shot a right-and-left at a wigeon cock and hen, only my third ever, and my first wigeon, and certainly the first ever with my drilling! After that, I announced that I was going home. Finished. End on a high.
YPM examining my first ever pair of wigeon the next morning.
Back at the church, the other team had shot something like fourteen ducks, plus a few coots and moorhens. We lined the day’s bag up on the wall outside the church in a little tableau, and all the game was taken home by the participants. I took my pair of wigeon and a mallard in lieu of the teal that was yet to be picked. It turned up the next morning in the form of a pile of feathers and a smug-looking cat… After a chat and heartfelt thanks to our hosts, we were dropped off back at the pub, packed away all our sodden gear, and R. and I caught the train back to London.
Not a very good picture of an excellent day's bag.
Huge thanks to Unicorn71 and friends for reinviting us, it’s thanks to you that we have found that experience of collective success that we so badly needed. And on the back of that, R. is also heading back off to the Kent marshes, so it looks like the flame of shooting continues to burn for our little unlikely group. Long may it continue!