Even before I started writing this post I knew that it would be received with mixed emotions and I have wondered whether to post it because it might offend or upset some of my lovely readers. But I have decided to go ahead and give you an insight into another aspect of my life – if people like it then great, if they don’t, I apologise in advance but it is part of who I am and that is not going to change whether I tell you about it or not.
So this week I was privileged enough to be invited as my Brother’s guest on my very first game shoot. Cue the controversy. I’m not going to spend an awful long time talking about the obvious – it was a pheasant shoot so I don’t need to explain what happened. But what I do want to say before I dive into the detail is that Game shooting is a massive part of rural life and having grown up alongside this tradition, I don’t see any issue with it. It’s the same principle as being a farmer. Some of you may not believe it after reading this post but I am a huge animal lover and I care A LOT about the wellbeing and welfare of all animals, to be honest I’m much more bothered about animal cruelty than people cruelty and there are only 4 people in the whole world that I love more than my horses.
So why go game shooting?
Well, why raise animals on a farm…it’s the same thing. I eat meat so I can’t be hypocritical about sacrificing animals for that meat. There is a terrible culture in this country, particularly in recent years, whereby people do not make the connection from the meat that they buy in a sterilised packet from a supermarket and the source of the meat inside that packet. I used to struggle a lot with the thought of eating our animals, and I must point out here that at The Limes we are very soft – anything with a name stays on the farm and we view all of our animals as pets, not just an essential part of business. What changed it for me was the realisation that I would much rather eat an animal that had a fantastic life, growing up with love and affection in a lovely home (some of our cows definitely have tidier rooms than me!!) in the great outdoors to the highest standard of welfare possible, than buy a cheap piece of meat in the supermarket that has potentially been force-fed or reared in such artificial conditions that it resembles a factory rather than a ‘farm’. All of our animals are happy and so the meat tastes great and what’s better – there’s 100% traceability, no long journeys cross continents here – we go from the yard to the table. Whether I or my family farm or shoot, people are still going to eat meat – so I would much rather know that our animals have had the best life possible before the inevitable. That includes the pheasants that are reared in our woods. OK so off my soap-box and on to the important stuff…
Our farm is part of a local shooting syndicate whose members are from the neighbouring farms, my Brother and Uncle are both members and the majority of the shooting is of pheasants, reared specifically for meat but there are also some partridge too. A lot of people may start off their game shooting career as beaters who enjoy a day at the end of the season as a reward for supporting the shoot throughout. I have to admit that I have been lucky enough to have been born into country life, my family have been farmers for as long as we can trace back and so game shooting and other country pursuits are part and parcel of life for us. For the shooting community amongst my readers, I don’t need to explain what a privilege it is to be able to go on a game shooting day, but for the non-shooting/non-countryside dwelling readers I probably should give you an idea.
A game day is probably viewed as an elitist blood sport, very expensive and totally unnecessary thing to a lot of people. But actually it’s not at all (well, it is expensive, unless you are one of those people who can wangle an invite to anything). Pheasants are shot for their meat, that’s the way it’s sourced. It’s a very traditional countryside ‘sport’ which brings together local members of the countryside and acts as a way of sourcing fantastic local produce. I’m not going to lie to you and say that it is only a food-gathering exercise because it isn’t, it’s a great day out (stay with me here), an opportunity to socialise and get out in the beautiful countryside. Actually the shooting is a very small part of the day.
So, the day itself.
I have to admit, I did approach the day with mixed feelings. I was so excited to be a part of the day and really was looking forward to the experience but as I had never shot more than a clay pigeon before I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about actually shooting something live.
The day started off with the shoot members, guests, beaters and pickers up meeting at our designated farm, splitting into two shoot teams and piling into the back of a cattle trailer lined with straw bales for seats – our transport for the day. We were dropped off at our first drive and I have to admit I was incredibly nervous walking to my peg. Although I had my Brother on the peg next to me to point me in the right direction I was still a little worried. Being the only girl shooting also added a bit of extra pressure. What if I make a total idiot of myself? What if I forget the etiquette (there are very strict rules regarding the shooting of birds, who can shoot, what you can shoot etc.)? What if I shoot a pheasant but don’t kill it outright – that was the thing I was most worried about, I didn’t want anything to suffer. I absolutely love pheasants, they are beautiful creatures and like any animal should be treated with the utmost respect. But I have to say, the whole team were absolutely lovely and really supportive and on my first drive, with my first two shots I got two beautiful Hen pheasants. I have to admit I was really proud of this achievement (cue the nasty comments here…). It was a fantastic start to my game shooting career, 2 from 2 I couldn’t ask for more. I’d managed to source my own food – which will now make about 4 meals for myself and James. I was not killing for fun as some may suggest and discarding the animal – nothing will go to waste, but more about that later.
I was again unsure at the end of the first drive following the success of the shooting. The two birds I had shot were killed outright and dropped not far from my feet so I had to pick them up to take to the game cart. In the moment when you fire the shot, the adrenaline takes over and you don’t really think about anything other than hitting the target, but afterwards you think about what just happened and seeing the bird on the floor did leave me with mixed emotions. I did get told off by my Brother for not carrying the birds correctly, which provided some hilarity to the day. Shouts of ‘fantastic shot’, ‘well done’ blimey – we have a rig’ were mixed with ‘why are you nursing a dead bird’ and ‘carry them properly’.
I did post a picture on Instagram after the day had ended and did receive some horrible comments as expected, from people who actually have no idea about the countryside, its traditions or even how food is sourced. I think one comment went along the lines of (explicit words removed) ‘what has that poor pheasant ever done to you?’ I did want to reply that actually it had probably jumped out in front of me and my horse on several occasions in the last week, frightening us both to death and resulting in a few very close encounters of my face and the ground…but I didn’t think they would see the funny side!
The next drive involved the first team of guns walking through the woods to flush the birds out for the second team. I go back to an earlier statement – the shooting itself was actually an incredibly small part of the day, we walked for miles in the stunning countryside which we work and live in which in itself was a great day out. There was also a lot of standing around and chatting, eating and drinking and generally having a lovely time. Many people brought their dogs to help with beating and picking up the birds which was great. On a cold, sunny autumn day there wasn’t a better way to spend it than in our beautiful fields and woodlands surrounded by old friends. What’s so great about our shoot is that it’s quite small so everyone gets involved with everything. Of course there are people there just to beat or pick up but all of the guns also beat some of the drives – there is absolutely no segregation at all. The camaraderie between everyone that attended is one of the biggest reasons I’d go again. The day was finished off by a gorgeous home-cooked pub supper and a good old chat about the day’s activities.
I wouldn’t say that pheasant shooting is something to be enjoyed by everyone that has had a go at clay shooting, but I certainly would recommend to it anyone – particularly girls – who are already half-thinking about it. After the day I had a number of reports back on how much the shoot enjoyed having a lady out with them and how we should encourage more lady shooters to our syndicate and to game shooting in general. This statement to come from a bunch of (mostly) old farmers who are very stuck in their ways is incredibly encouraging. Like I said earlier, I am so lucky to already be part of a shooting community and so I probably entered the sport in a different way to most. But if you are thinking of having a go and want to get involved, I would direct you to either The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club and/or BASC for a list of events. Both clubs put on introductory game days for ladies (and men too) and it’s a great way to get involved.
Always time for style!
Obviously, what to wear to any event is a big question for most girls, none more so than me (well what kind of country style blogger would I be if I didn’t worry about what to wear!). As I said, our shoot is rather small and relatively informal. There are some rules to adhere to, all of the gentlemen wear shirts, ties and tweed and the lady shooters (of which there was 1 for the opening day – me!) are expected to be equally smart. So what to wear…head over to my Shooting Style fit for Game Birds post to read all about my outfit choice.
So what now?
Well, after such a fantastic day I am definitely wanting to do it all again and am already looking forward to my next day planned for December (a birthday treat from my lovely Brother again). But what happens immediately after the day, when you are given your share of pheasants from the days ‘bag’? I am planning to cook mine, I love roast pheasant and know that it will taste so much better knowing it has come out of my own wood. I am really passionate about seasonal dishes and making the most of local produce so I am going to go out foraging this weekend to see what I can find and I am also looking for a few recipes so that I can use the pheasants to their best potential – another topic of conversation at the shoot meal. I learnt how to make a pheasant casserole so that’s also one for the list! My first attempt is definitely going to be a roast – perfect at this time of year and the younger the pheasant bird, the better for a roast. I also want to try pheasant wellington (although this may take some practise!) but I will be turning to The Field for inspiration as they always have top tips for cooking game.
I am also planning to use the pheasant feathers, nothing is going to waste. Pheasants are such stunning creatures and the feathers are truly beautiful, particularly from the cock birds. Last year, I collected pheasant feathers from some of the shoot members and made a Christmas wreath. I am planning to do the same again this year but will be saving the feathers from my own pheasants. I am also planning to create a hat pin, which have become really on trend and popular recently. The fact that I can create a stunning accessory from home-sourced materials makes it even more special. I will be posting pictures of my creations in due course – provided they go to plan!
The final verdict?
I am incredibly honoured to be part of a local shooting community, well I am lucky to be a born and bred country girl in general to be perfectly honest, and so I want to make the most of that. I will definitely take part in another game shoot and look forward to what the rest of the season has to offer. So far I am lucky enough to have at least one other pheasant shoot in the diary with our farm shoot but I also have plans with some of the wonderful Femmes Fatales girls to go on a girls shooting day, which will be completely different to my current experiences but equally as fun!