Some of you, especially if you are a pigeon, will only have seen Andy Crow from the neck up, but today he is stepping out from the hide for some exceptionally high flying pheasant shooting.
He’s a guest here today as a thank you for helping out with the cover crops which, as many you in the UK will appreciate, have been difficult to manage with the appalling wet weather we have had. Crow and his son also beat here regularly, so he knows the guns and how well the birds fly.
“We see some nice birds here” says Andy.
“They stop in those trees and hide, well three quarters up the bank and a pheasant over the top of those trees is going to be harder than most usual shoot” says Andy, as he points to some rather tall trees. “It is good birds here, serious birds.”
On the first drive, shoot manager Mike tells Andy where he wants him.
“When they start coming through here and Nigel starts missing them, you can have a crack at some nice birds” directs Mike On most occasions Andy will be a back gun. Andy’s cousin Gary is also here today, not to shoot, nor to load, but just to enjoy the scenery, the weather and the company. Could pheasant shooting become a major spectator sport? Today that depends on how well Andy shoots. The first drive doesn’t deliver much for Mr Crow but the birds flying across this Surrey valley are wonderful to watch. When Andy does get into the shooting he’ll be trying out some speciality pheasant cartridges from British ammunition manufacturer Hull Cartridges. Andy has been sent High Pheasant Extreme. He specifically asked for them in size 5 shot, using 32g fibre to deal with the serious birds. They are a very different cartridges compared to what Andy is use to. He will have to give them a go and see how he gets on.
Drive two is a favourite of Andy’s and if it goes well there should be some screamers. Gary brought his gun for Andy to use. He has had it since he was 17. He bought it from Chris Potter Guns. A Maruko that Andy shoots well. “I shoot it better than he does, that’s why he lets me use it” claims Andy. Andy’s semi automatic would not fit in too well for these circumstances. Andy has certainly got his eye in for this drive and makes some cracking shots. Pheasants are plummeting from great heights. So high in fact that you can hardly see them in the first place. “Getting a feel for these cartridges now. Yes,I am getting some quite nice shots here. Had a couple of silly misses, but it would be boring if you got everything you shoot at wouldn’t it” says Andy. Time for a snifter. For medicinal purposes only. One man is hugging a hip flask that would be more fitting in the hands of a giant. The first two drives were just a warm-up for this one. If it were a ride at a fairground it would be known as “the beast” or “the big one”. The birds can be as much as 150 yards above you, well out of range for most shooters, so it has got Andy’s blood pumping. He has seen the the birds on this drive before. Some are the best he has ever seen. To shoot these birds you need to know your stuff. Andy will have to watch how they fly. He saw them a couple of weeks before and they set off from the top of a bank, flying across to a pen at he top of the wood on the other side of the valley. The birds will be between the 100 and 150 yard mark, shootable to the majority of shooters. Perhaps not for George Digweed but he is a different league.
Andy readies himself for the first drive
There are a few partridge in here too but it’s the pheasants that are supplying the sport. Here comes Andy’s bird of the day, a small speck in the sky, but he finds his target. He later confesses that it’s one of the birds of his life. Unfortunately, cameraman David’s new year yoga classes have come a bit late to bend with the shot, but he gets on it for the re-entry. And the splashdown. “There is nothing better than that. That is what you come out for that, to shoot those big ones. To shoot something like that, that has made my day that has, I’ll tell you” says a chuffed Andy.
“Very impressed, yes, yes. I would have liked to have had a go. I don’t think I would have hit it though. It was high” says Gary. After a shot like that you do just want to put your gun away and go home so as not to spoil the moment. But then again with birds like this it’s worth sticking around. “I am not a big man on the pheasants anyway. You have only got to have one shot like that and you can take that home and remember it for a while” says Andy.
Of course for Andy and hopefully for all pheasant shooters it is not about getting a big bag but taking challenging and rewarding shots. That is what Andy has had even though he felt slightly worried these high birds would be quite challenging. It has got better as the day has got on and the cartridges are performing well for Andy.
Andy ‘Crowman’ Crow
On the last drive before lunch Andy stands behind the guns which are lined up along the bottom of the valley. Andy gets a few chances on birds that have already ducked and weaved past a number of shots. Thankfully, one of the pheasants is a foot away from an insurance claim as it slams in to the ground next to a shiny 4×4. It’s been another great drive and there is plenty of praise for those who have shot well.
How did you get on? asks Andy to a fellow shooter.
“I shot two” replies the shooter.
“Yes, nice old cock bird” he continues.
“The one that nearly hit the car?” questions Andy.
“Yes, I heard everyone shout” confirms the shooter.
Retrieving the feathered quarry
Lunchtime and a chance to talk over this morning’s shooting. This group of guns have shot well today. They’ve had to. It wouldn’t be much fun for a novice here. With the days being so short at this time of year, everyone decides to save dessert for later. The last drive is another stormer. The valley is perfect for the experienced gun. Andy used to be farm manager on this ground and grew up around here. He has known some of the guys here since he was a boy.
“A good day pheasant shooting takes a lot of beating, hell of a lot of beating. Nice day it has been a brilliant day” chats Andy on the subject of pigeons vs. crows while we wait for the drive to start. When the birds come, it’s fast and furious. Andy picks the bird he wants way in front and stays on it it is a technique that’s working well for him. It pays to pick out a bird and concentrate on it. Don’t change your mind, stay on it. That is what Andy always does. Cousin Gary has generously been offered a shot on this last drive and Andy keeps him on his toes, dropping a pheasant a foot from Gary’s position.
We have been so lucky today, the weather has been with us, which is a miracle, and we’ve been able to witness some great shooting by Andy and the rest of the guns on ground that keeps everyone searching the heavens for their next opportunity.