The challenge: shoot a 10-species game bag in five hours. Charlie Jacoby heads to the Scottish Borders for the attempt
To the Borders of Scotland where, on Britains’ shortest day, you can shoot Britain’s biggest bag: grouse, pheasant, partridge, rabbit, pigeon, woodcock, snipe, mallard, rook, crow and hare. The day has been arranged by a friend, James Wyldbore-Smith – an incredible name but sadly feral pig isn’t one of the species we’re after today. He simply rang the estate and booked a day with the keeper. He then looked up accommodation locally and found a comfortable farmhouse that sleeps ten. There are seven guns in the party and other camp followers. As soon as we get some light we muster the troops.
The weather on the other side of the country is horrendous. Floods are hitting nearby Cumbria and bridges are being washed away but incredibly we’ve got blue skies. Hopefully it will last – we’re going to need all the luck we can get if we are to get anywhere near double figures.
James gives us the safety talk and gamekeeper Richard Moat tells us what we can expect from the first drive. It’s driven snipe with the possibility of hares coming through the line too – so don’t get over-excited and swing through them, he reminds us. It takes just two beaters.
The guns spread out and get ready but, because we’re north of the border, there are a few things to remember. You can use lead shot to shoot wildfowl, but you can’t use lead shot over wetlands. In England, the law is the other way round. You can’t use lead shot for wildfowl but you can use lead shot over wetlands.
“The beaters and the dogs are working hard and lots of snipe get up over us. We put one in the bag – but don’t look at the number of cartridges!”
We get some great action – the beaters and the dogs are working hard and lots of snipe get up over us. At the end of the drive we can tick off snipe as a species. They really are difficult birds to shoot – but it’s confession time: one in the bag but don’t look at the number of cartridges.
We leave the bog and head a few miles north. On this next drive we’re looking to bag a pheasant or two and maybe some partridge before a long, long walk across a moor with a host of species on offer. First, time for some introductions and one of the guns is someone highly useful to invite on a day’s shoot. Harvey Carruthers is iShoot magazine vet and author of The Gundog Veterinary Bible.
“I really enjoy this kind of shoot day,” he says. “There are so many dogs working. As well as Labradors and spaniels I saw a terrier on the last drive.”
Harvey comes full equipped with a dog hospital in his pocket in case anything goes wrong for the dogs. On a day like today they are going to work hard and over varied terrain.
The pine trees do produce some birds. Nothing for Harvey’s wife Una Carruthers, but she’s still having a great day.
“It’s good fun,” she says. “It’s my first shoot day of the season and good to get the feeling back in the shoulder!”
It’s been a successful drive and, for one of the party, it will be remembered for the rest of her days. You never forget your first bird.
“It came out, it was quite a safe shot and I took it,” says Alex de Oliveira, surprised at her own success. “I’m very pleased.”