And now for something completely different!
Last Saturday I was invited to be a Beater on a pheasant hunt. Jo Allen and her husband, Nod, both are beaters and they invited me. I used to work with Jo, before she was made redundant…
Basically there are two groups on a hunt: Beaters and Gunners. As you probably could figure out, the Gunners have the guns. They also bought the permit rights to go and hunt, costing about 300 pounds per person. But to get the pheasants someone has to ‘beat’ them out of the woods. That would be the job of the Beaters. There were about 12 of us beating on this day, which is a little larger than usual. There were about 8 Gunners, I believe. Quite the motley crew; Gunners and Beaters.
We met at a farm in the morning. Most everyone was dressed in their green tweed, flat caps, ties, and welly boots. I looked very out of place with my beard and my new knit cap that I got for Christmas. Soon I was sorted when they outfitted me with leggings and a proper jacket. Add with a wooden cane in hand I began to fit in.
Us beaters rode around in, for lack of a name, what I called a beater van. The Gunners drove around in cars.
You can see the van in the photo above. The tractor took us around multiple sections of hunting grounds outside of the village of Croxton Kerrial. There were no windows, so I just hung on and stayed observant and tried to join in the conversations. There were about 6 dogs with us as well, mostly spaniels as they are the perfect dog for beating. It was a jolly crew, us Beaters. The age range was from about mid 20’s to probably mid 50’s (or older). At one point plums soaked in whiskey were passed around for everyone, and flasks were a common sight.
We would get dropped off at a wood, and then walked to where we would begin to do the beating. The lead Beater was in contact with the Gunners via walkie talkie, letting them know when we were in position. Then we were off, keeping a straight line, directly through the brush.
“Hold the line!”
We entered the wood beating the bushes, banging on trees, and generally making a lot of noise to scare out any wildlife. The dogs were running around getting deep inside of the brush and bramble, and the occasional pheasant would fly out and fly forward as we drove them towards the Gunners. This was something I have never done before and found the whole experience quite enjoyable.
I knew when we were getting close to the end of the wood because the gunfire got louder. Eventually a whistle would blow signalling that the beat was over, and I would find a Gunner to see what they had shot. Some of the retriever dogs actually retrieved the dead birds from the bogs and the bushes we slogged through. All very quintessential British I must say!
Occasionally whilst beating a muntjac deer would appear and whiz past us. Hares running for their lives were also a common sight. Did not see any badger or fox, though I stepped over a couple good sized dens of which I was told were probably inhabited. I joked with Jo that it felt like something out of a Hammer horror film, and she agreed.
The pheasant hunting season is short, only a couple weeks long. I did my best to talk to everyone and glean as much information as I could about how all of this happens. Apparently the land is leased in advance, and then permits to go and shoot are sold. I do not know if the 300 pound fee was per day or for the season, but I do know that the permit to shoot on the land was a couple thousand pounds. Everyone was introduced to me by their first name except for one gent known as Mr. Copley. I figured that he was the one whom everyone was invited through. He was an older gent, a man of few words, and a Gunner.
For the last beat I was invited to stay with a Gunner instead. I stood with Simon, a polite and very English chap. A man of few words. He told me that he had not hit a bird all day, though he showed little emotion about this fact. No, I did not ask to hold his gun and I did not take the Mick out of him, though he was an easy target. One has to have a permit to own a hunting shotgun in this country. I do not know how hard the permit is to obtain, but Simon told me that it is not easy to get a gun “Like it must be in America.”
All in all 61 birds were taken. Most were pheasant, with a few woodcock and partridge thrown in. A good day by everyone’s standards. I was actually paid at the end of all this! I tried to refuse the money, but the woman who handed out the money said that the other Beaters and Gunners felt I held my own and deserved the 20 quid. I was also given two birds, which I politely declined. I am not quite prepared to skin a pheasant in my exchange partner’s bathtub!
I ended up going out to a pub with Jo and Nod and my family that night and spent my 20 quid. Nod and I may go out and do some things together as we both share a love of history and beer. A great old traditional British outing I must say.