I beat on a Pheasant and duck shoot in Hurst Green, East Sussex. As somebody who hasn’t grown up around the country or into country pursuits of my own accord, I came into this sport with no expectations or knowledge of its going on.
I was introduce to beating by my boyfriend, whose father also has in interest in hunting. While his dad prefers deer hunting and rifles, my boyfriend has more of an interest in shotguns and birds. He began beating a season before me on this shoot, and invited me to help out in the off season and release day. The people there were banterous and made me feel welcome which is not what I expected.
The first time I came down was on my 19th birthday in August 2015, we got up at 6:00am to drive from Surrey to East Sussex. My boyfriend picked me up from my place and I opened my birthday present from him in the car!
There wasn’t much shooting related activity, except prepping the drives and fields for the following season. It was only myself, my boyfriend, the gamekeeper and a friend of his. It was such hot day, cutting and carrying logs was hard work and I was sweating like mad! (Hardly work fit for a princess…) Despite that however, I loved viewing the rolling hills across the fields and seeing a new side to a very stereotypical sport.
The next time I came down was for the release day the following year. On the shoot we have ducks and pheasants, and what a racket they make! Not to mention how heavy the little chicks are! This time there were (thankfully) more people helping out. There was a mixture of guns, game farmers and beaters lifting crates and shouting friendly abuse at each other.
Again it was lovely to be in the country again, in the sunshine. The chicks were so cute (when you got over the smell of poo) and cracked me up every time they stuck their heads through the crate holes in a comical manner!
I decided to join my boyfriend in the season that followed as a beater. At this point we had moved out together to Tooting and we left my boyfriend’s Labrador – Asher, at his Mum’s. This meant we had to get up at 5:30am each shoot day to drive to Surrey, to pick Asher up and to take him to Hurst Green. I was conked in the car for the whole journey! I was quite nervous to begin with as I wouldn’t know a lot of the people and what to do.
Stereotypes of shooting in Great Britain give the impression it is an upper class sport, where the guns are blood thirsty, trigger happy country dwellers – unaware of the challenges ordinary people face. And with no knowledge otherwise I had no reason to disbelieve it until I was introduced to all those there. The guns were spirited, loud and the beaters were boisterous but friendly. Everybody made me feel welcome, helped me over turnstiles and showed me what to do. They appreciated my open mind towards the sport.
The first drive of the day was a pheasant drive. After a slow start we made our way through the fields, beating bushes towards the cover crops near a ditch at the bottom of the field. So I wave my flag and beat the bushes. I was a little apprehensive on what to expect. I keep in line with the other beaters across the field. With a flutter of feathers in my face, I scream! I flushed my first pheasant! I got such a fright though, I wasn’t expecting them to fly out so close! It was a satisfying feeling that I contributed some sport for the guns, especially on my first day.
We continued on through the second pheasant drive and then paused for lunch, but what I saw really surprised me. The guns and beaters mingling!
I mentioned this to my boyfriend and he replied, “The gamekeeper is really hot on us all getting along, he hates the stereotypes that guns are better than the beaters or that different social classes make a divide” which I personally agreed with. I like the casual chatter from everybody, the sharing of home baked goods and dogs sleeping in the sunlight (except for the Spaniels…). There was also multiple exchanges about how terrible each other is at shooting. “It was right on the end of your gun!”.
We continued onto the third and final pheasant drive, through a wooded passage with guns either side. It was beautiful to be there, with the sunlight filtering through the leaves and woodcocks tweeting. I took so many pictures in that part of the shoot alone.
There were many pheasants nestled in the bushes tightly, only flying out when beaters were nearly on top of them or dogs chased them out. With each pheasant flown, I would hear a thundering “BIRD OUT TO YOUR LEFT” or “BIRD OUT TO YOUR RIGHT” from the Game Keeper. A few shoot days in, you won’t even hear the sentenced finished before another pheasant is flushed out.
On the last drive, I was stationed by one of the three ponds on the shot, waving my flag. It was my job to keep the ducks off the pond and in the air. A three duck limit was set on the drive, meaning only three ducks per gun can be had. My expectation of this duck drive was the same as the other three pheasant dives I had experienced. I was already comfortable with my surrounding.
The guns were spaces out between the three fields around my pond (three seems to be the magic number here?!). Once the ducks were in the air, gunshots resonated from each corner. Small puffs of smoke appeared randomly through the trees or in the open field. Hundreds upon hundreds of bird were in the sky, flying in tight groups. There was a constant quacking alongside the gunshots. One by one ducks fell from the sky and dogs eagerly ran to fetch them. Soon enough the drive was over. It was sensational and unlike anything I have seen before. The best word to describe it was surreal. Everywhere I looked there was always something going on.
As the season would come to an end, I would come to realise that the first duck drive must’ve been the easiest. With so many ducks in the air, it must’ve been hard to miss. No wonder the drive finished so quickly!
The Guns and Beaters made our way back to the field we parked out cars. The birds from the day were laid out in two rows and counted. One by one, Guns and Beaters would pick the duck or pheasant they wanted for dinner. After chatting and final goodbyes, my boyfriend and I made our way back to the car and drove home. It wasn’t until I sat on that car seat, that I realised how exhausted I was from walking up and down hills and over fallen trees. I had had so much fun that day, it spurred me on to beat for the rest of the season, through frost, rain and cold winds.
This new hobby is an upsetting activity to others. They say it’s unethical to breed these birds for the sole purpose of being shot at and killed. At the end of the day, I see it as going to a pick your own field of fruits and vegetables but you pick your own game. The pheasants and ducks live a better free range life than most organic meats you find in your local supermarket. They are fed and are free to leave the land should they wish.
The fact that they are breed for the sole purpose of being killed is the same way meat sold in shops or markets are produced. I understand more so if you are a vegetarian and oppose game shooting because then you are consistently against the process. If you do eat meat however, I find it ironic.
For me, as long as all the bird are taken home, eaten and not wasted, I am fine with shooting as a sport.