Having decided that there were enough grouse on the hill to have a mini walked up day, the process was duly carried out last weekend. There was a spitting rain as we headed up through the snipe field, but with the wind into our faces, it soon emerged that there was a problem. The birds were getting up too far infront and flew straight away without turning. There must have been a dozen in the first hundred yards, yet all rose briskly into the wind at a range of around forty yards and headed directly away onto the hill. We tried some speculative shots at the nearest birds, but it was hopeless. As soon as the first bird got up, I knew that I had totally blundered. I should have taken beaters with two guns up to the top of the snipe field and then driven them downhill onto the guns. A few would have risen on wide curls into the wind to present shooting for the guns on pegs, while the rest would have sprung back to give shooting for the walking guns.
I’m really pleased with the way the snipe field is coming on, and the progress seems to be almost entirely down to predator control. Two years ago, we walked the field and put up two snipe. Last spring, I rigorously trapped crows from April to June and then put 19 snipe out of the field, which is just over two acres in size. It was obvious that there were complete family broods, and it was a revelation to see what an impact the crows must have been having. This year, we put up well over a dozen, which could well be explained by the horrible spring we had. It’s certainly worth putting some more thought into, because with a few more seasons of work, this single drive could be the main attraction on the annual shooting day.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the day should be as soon as possible after the opening of the snipe season. Young snipe from a first brood are just as sporting as their parents on the 12th August, but the closer you get towards September, the more likely it is that they will start moving off. Plenty of snipe come in for the winter, but the third week in August is a real peak time for the birds, and it could be that I missed it this year. Next year, things will run much more smoothly.
The shape of the field is such that it points out onto the open moor. The snipe we had flushed were driven into the heather, and we then pushed a few of these up again as we bumped into them, but with little strategy and no decent plan, they also rose early and out of shot.
There was a fine moment when the line reached the top of a very steep incline at the extreme north westerly corner of the farm. One of the guns crossed the horizon before any others, pushing sheep over the brow. The stampeding sheep charged down the hill and pushed a big and extremely red fox out of a sprawling expanse of rushes. It couldn’t see the rest of the line as it ran, and in its enthusiasm to reach the trees, it moved quickly right in towards the guns. Closer and closer it came, until it must have been sixty yards off and the nearest gun was ready to deliver it some justice. Then our cover was blown, and the fox ran back on itself, galloping like a horse, changing direction with every bound but maintaining as a constant the angle and shape of its tail. Two cubs came out of the rushes behind it and charged through the warm, sheepy grass. They found their own ways into the trees and we returned empty handed, but I had been left with a great idea of where to set some snares.
A blank day on the Chayne is now the rule rather than the exception. I know that there are grouse out there in sufficient numbers to shoot, and it’s no skin off my nose whether we find them or not. Of course it’s always nice to come off the hill with a brace, but it’s hard to be too heartbroken when the days are always full of novelty and excitement.