DIY shoot: Star performers

The cover crops may have let us down, but the dogs didn't

The cover crops may have let us down, but the dogs didn't - Credit: reb

We’re reflecting on the highs and lows of last season and handing out a few awards

At the end of every season we hold the Court Shoot Oscars. Well, okay, it’s not quite on the same scale as The Oscars – there isn’t a red carpet or any celebrities, and we just hold it in the shoot hut… at the end of our last shoot day… but we do give our awards, and it is recognised in the national press (thanks Sporting Shooter!).

Anyway, this year shot of the season was shared by two Guns – Scotty for his late season screaming partridge at Tower, and Bond for a cracking pheasant at Bottom Court. Graham witnessed the former and Derek the latter – neither saw both, hence the split. Scotty and Bond were both very happy with the accolade and promised to share custody of the trophy!

Some years we give out ‘alternative’ awards too. Like the year one of the chaps found a frilly pair of ladies’ knickers while out beating. Unbeknownst to him, we kept them, washed (of course) and framed them, and presented them to him on the last day. And then there was the year we had a Gun called Pete who was known for shooting low birds. Derek made up a ‘trophy’ for him, of a man lying on the ground, with his gun, with the slogan: ‘Pete’s Law: Never too low’!

This year we didn’t have any silly awards, but we did present Gordon with a framed photograph of his beloved spaniel Herbie, who tragically passed away mid-way through the season. Herbie was only young, which made the loss even harder to bear. But the story does have a happier side. A while before Herbie died he ‘accidentally’ sired a litter of pups. The mum belonged to Gordon’s daughter Kimberly (also a Gun on the shoot – do keep up readers) who didn’t want a litter of pups, so Kimberly took her to the vet and she was given an abortive injection. However, eight weeks later when the bitch collapsed on the floor Kimberly discovered that the injection hadn’t worked, and a lovely litter of sprockers was born. Kimberly kept one – Mable – and Scotty (yes, that’s right, you’ve got it…) kept the other – Tilly. So Herbie lives on here at Court Shoot. Even better is that, despite doubts early on, both dogs are turning out to be cracking little workers – they really came on this season, which is great news for Scotty and Kimberly, and also for the shoot as a whole. At one time, we hardly had any dogs and those we did have were a little quirky. Graham’s springer Chloe, now retired, wouldn’t pick up. Instead she would run over to a bird and put her foot on it, whereupon Basil, Derek’s old springer, would come and retrieve it! That was until one day, aged about 11, she suddenly decided to retrieve them – but only partridges!

The dogs may have done well this season, but the cover crops didn’t – the quality was poor and we did notice a difference. At Top Court the failing crop caused birds to move to Bottom Court, where the cover held them better, reversing the usual fortunes of these two drives. Next season’s cover will go in at the end of April/start of May, but despite the problems this year we’re sticking with maize. We’ve experimented with all sorts of crops in the past – from sunflowers to artichokes – but find that maize is still the best option. It also allows us to treat the weeds more easily. We have barnyard grass, amaranthus and the evil prickly apple weed to contend with here, which we can spray without affecting the maize too much.

Before that though, there’s a lot more clearing to be done in the woods. We’ve had a couple of work parties now and have made a start, clearing sections in Pondwood to make it easier to get the birds where we want them next year. We have some spraying to do as well, but we need to wait until the bluebells are over. Spring Copse is a carpet of bluebells in the spring, it is fantastic. Apparently it is an indication of the wood’s age, as it takes years for that carpet effect to take hold.

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Also on the ‘to do’ list are some major pen improvements at Upper Court, and we’ve got to bring in all the feeders and drinkers for cleaning and repair. In fact, it’s time to stop chatting and get back to work…