Not a fashion shoot

Helena with her first pheasant: "I'm proud to say I shot it with my first attempt at a live quarry!"

Helena with her first pheasant: "I'm proud to say I shot it with my first attempt at a live quarry!" - Credit: helena douglas

Helena is going after her first ever pheasant on a rough shoot

The Boxing Day rough shoot run by my chap’s family has taken place for the past 25 years in the Dyfi Valley with permission of local landowners. “It’s very low-key,” says The Chap. “You’re welcome to come along and watch and maybe shoot if there aren’t too many Guns.”

As a novice game shooter I am enormously excited and keen to fit in. “Shall I wear tweeds?” I ask, envisaging elegant Haggarts-clad shooters strolling the meadows. “Er no,” says The Chap. “Your waterproof trousers, jacket and wellies will be fine. It will be muddy.”

With my Downton-esque shooting image shattered, I find myself on the morning in question dressed as Bob the Builder and eating an egg sandwich in the pick-up as we hurtle to our meeting point.

We are the last to arrive and I immediately see that The Chap was right on the clothing front. Our four fellow Guns could pass for stand-ins on Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, but with the fields slick with mud, the waterproofs are vital.

They are a friendly bunch and after a share of the thermos and mince pies I am put under the charge of Charlie to watch the morning drive, a pincer movement to flush pheasants from long dense hedgerows with the help of a pair of spaniels and two chunky labradors.

I tell Charlie I am looking forward to seeing the dogs working as they have been trained to do. “Don’t hold your breath,” he laughs, as they hurtle around swiftly followed by their bellowing, irate owners. The noise is tremendous and several brace of pheasant rise from the hedge and plunge away from the guns down the valley. “Utter chaos,” says Charlie drily.

Most Read

Following much arm-waving we carry on through sodden, tussocky fields. As the dogs settle the focus intensifies, the first of the day’s birds are bagged to cries of “Over!” and the dogs retrieve strongly. Missed shots—and there are many—result in lots of matey banter. I long to get out my gun and when The Chap’s brother tells me I can shoot after lunch I am thrilled.

After gorging ourselves on various homemade treats using a quad bike in a cosy barn as a table, patient Charlie takes me under his wing again, telling me where to stand and which way the birds will fly. I wait… and wait… I can hear the dogs working in the covert and the crunch of twigs snapping underfoot, but no pheasants appear.

“Typical,” Charlie shouts from across the field, waving me over to join him. We move on to a wooded area where we clamber down a steep bramble-covered bank, Charlie taking a tumble. “Did you see that,” he asks? “Nope, not a thing,” I reply. “Good girl,” he says, winking. He parks me in a field opposite a wooded bank before trotting off to the next field.

As I stand, the rain beating down, the wind chilling my ears and my heart thumping, I realise I am having the most fun I have ever had in a pair of plastic trousers. Suddenly there is a cry of “Helena! Your bird!” and I see a black pheasant flying from left to right.

Without thinking, I mount the gun, pull through and squeeze the trigger and am stunned to see my first ever bird tumble to the ground. “Well done!” bellows Charlie and then I hear those immortal words: “Good shot.”

I am inordinately pleased with myself, even though I have shot just one of the day’s bag of 21 pheasants and one woodcock, which we share out between us as the light falls. As we pass a hip flask round for a warming swig, I notice that despite being tired, damp and cold we are all grinning. “Same time next year?” asks The Chap’s brother. “You bet,” I reply.

By Helena Douglas