One evening last week I arrived home after work to find a brace of pheasants hanging from my knocker. A young cock and an old hen. I’ll take that, happily. When autumn happens it happens all at once, so three weeks ago I did game birds, a fortnight ago pumpkins, last week quinces, and now I’m back on birds. There’s a lot happening right now, so go with it.
Over the knocker hung these birds, but the weather was warm. They were shot on Saturday, it was Wednesday, and a few flies were starting to take an interest. I’m something of an expert at ageing game. Beat an old bird that’s hanging on your doorstep, firmly on its chest. If a fly or two flies out from the beak, it’s time to get pluckin’. In fact, you probably should have done it yesterday. If its body falls clean from its head – forget about it.
What I anticipate more than the gift of free pheasies is an invitation to go and shoot them. The pursuit of animals as sport is controversial; I know this, so spare me the lecture. I don’t bullfight, badger-bait, cockfight, foxhunt, or coarse fish (In my mind an abomination). I enjoy however – along with thousands of others in this county - the sport of pheasant shooting.
Trudging through countryside often off-limits for most of the year, drunk as a tree on sloe gin at 11.00am, and waiting silently on a peg with feet in frost, mud or dew, I relish a day in the shooting field. The only sound comes from the panting of gundogs, until the distant clacking, whooping, and whistling of the beating line draws closer. Some of the birds, bred for sport – but more importantly to me – the pot, will fly high and clever and live to see another day.
Many will not. And I’m fine with this. In fact I’m more than fine with this. Having pulled the trigger, and been responsible for ending a creature’s life be it a pheasant, woodcock, snipe, rabbit – whatever ends up in the bag on that day – I derive a greater pleasure when it comes to the eating. However sozzled on fruity moonshine I might be at the moment of dispatch, the killing of an animal is an act I consider with a sober and respectful mind.