This Saturday, January 30th, will be the last 'shoot' of the season, as the pheasant-shooting season ends on January 31st. Around here most farms are privately owned, and those which are, like ours, mostly organise shooting syndicates with the farms roundabout. In early Spring they buy in pheasant poults and rear them before letting them go. By the time the season begins they are full size.
The farmer has never been a shooter but usually goes along to act as a beater, or just for the exercise and the company. The shooters all know one another; they have their lunch in the big barn, sitting on bales of straw. If it is a really cold, or wet, day somebody usually has a bottle of something to pass round. I usually put a tot of rum or whisky in the farmer's coffee flask - all helps to keep him warm.
Half a dozen fields away from our shoot is a large, corporate shoot - belonging to one of the big landowners in the area. That is a very different matter. Here, large groups pay for the privilege of shooting on the land, and they are treated to a sumptuous lunch in some shooting hut somewhere, transported there by vehicles. The whole thing is organised by a gamekeeper.
Of course, pheasants don't know who they 'belong' to - they are free spirits - and they can fly - so by the end of the season they have roamed far and wide and no doubt they will have some of 'our' birds and we will have some of 'theirs.'
The fact remains that they are not wild birds as such, they are partly tame, so they stay around. We have a group that stay around our bird table for most of the day. They have no reason to go further as there is plenty of food there for them. I always hope they stay as that means they end the season unscathed. This year, at present, we have one cock pheasant and four hens - the beginning of his harem I presume (I expect he can feel Spring in the air).
It goes without saying that no way will I eat pheasant. They are beautiful birds and I don't approve of shooting them, particularly when they are introduced to the fields especially for that purpose.
On the subject of fields. They are still far too wet to get on to, and it is getting quite serious for farmers as jobs usually done this time of year fall behind. 'Muck' still lies in a heap - it is far too wet to take the spreader up and down the fields. And the hedges remain uncut as the hedge-cutter can't get on either. This becomes serious in a month or so when the hedgerow birds begin to think about building their nests. We always try to get this work done well before that time. We have a lot of yellow hammers and they love the thick, short hedges for building their nests.