Writer, zoologist and gundog enthusiast, Pippa blogs on life in the countryside

One week to go!

Just a week to go now until our first shoot.   Ploughing is almost complete and so we can set about the business of putting out gunstand markers for each of the ‘drives’  on the farm. 

These show the ‘guns’  where they have to stand during the drive. 

The markers are little weather proof numbered cards each of which slot into the top of a split hazel stick.   The sticks are then pushed into the ground.    There are ten of them for each drive as we have ten guns.

The bizarre heatwave of the weekend has given way to more appropriate October weather with some blustery wind and a little fine drizzle,  but the ground is still fairly hard which makes driving the peg holders into the soil a little tricky.  

We finished marking out the first drive this afternoon.  Just another nineteen or so drives to go!

The  dogs are getting fitter by the day and are now running lots of long retrieves up and down the meadows to build up some muscle and stamina in preparation for what is to come.  We have sharpened up brakes and steering,  and are almost ready!  

The pheasants are now foraging about over the farm during the day,  and returning to the safety of the pens to roost at night.

apple treeThere is still plenty of leaf on the trees,  and not a lot of autumnal colour to them yet,  but other signs of autumn are well under way. 

 This year has been quite an extraordinary one for apples,  there are piles of them everywhere, and the remaining few are now tumbling on to the ground. 

This is one of the last trees to hang on to its fruit.  

Around the oak trees the ground is crunchy with ripe acorns and if you stand still for too long under any tree,  you are likely to be struck smartly on the head!


Mushrooms, labradors, and a last burst of summer

I have a healthy respect for funghi.   I am fairly sure that I could learn to identify all the edible species that lurk in our countryside as well as the next man,  but I am not about to bet my life on it.  Whilst mushrooms are delicious, I am quite happy with those lovely chestnutty ones that grace the shelves of Tescos.

Himself on the other hand,  being of adventurous spirit,  set off recently for a morning of mushroom foraging with two mushroom enthusiast friends.    Fortunately the guys did not return with their baskets laden so I was not obliged to decline my share.  I  don’t know whether or not it has been a bad year for mushrooms generally,  but  they only found a few edible specimens.

Despite a distinctly autumnal feel to the weather recently,  today has been extraordinary.  Scorching sunshine and blue skies.   One of the beanfields has now been cut and I took two labs out to do some retrieves on it this morning.  It was so hot (26° ) we only stayed out for ten minutes or so.

I was making use of Mr M as a dummy thrower before he goes off to college next week.   I am trying to bring gunfire gradually closer to a little lab bitch that is just getting over her gun nervousness, and today we brought the shots to within 50 yards of her before the heat drove us off the field.

I shall be doing a lot more retrieve work over the next few weeks, partly because it is a great way to get the dogs fit ready for the coming shooting season.

Pigeons and young gundogs

Pigeon shooting

Pigeon shooting is featuring quite a bit on our timetable at the moment.  The beanfields seem to be a particular target for the pigeons and we are now steadily stocking up the freezer with our favourite meat.

Once pigeon shooting is going well it is also a great opportunity to introduce young dogs to repeated gunfire.  Today,  whilst himself was enthroned in our number one hide,  I took  some young dogs for a walk about quarter of a mile away.  

This kind of distance is my starting point as I have a young lab that is on the point of being cured of gun nervousness,  and I don’t want to mess things up by subjecting her to a fusilade of shots at close quarters. 

Over the next few days I hope to gradually bring her closer to the guns.  More of that later

The harvest has begun!

HarvestThe combine is now busy at work in the fields whilst giant tractors hurry to and fro carrying  trailerloads of golden wheat into the grain store.   Much of the farm is down to wheat this year and the harvest is at last well under way.

The stubble fields left in the wake of the combine are a precious resource and are only there for a short while.   The burning stubble fields of my childhood are now a distant memory and here at least, the stubble is ploughed in just as soon as the harvest is complete.

The acres of stubble provide access to parts of the farm which are inaccessible by vehicle for much of the year and it is a great opportunity to get some serious rabbit control underway as it enables us to night shoot over the fields from the landrover.

For the first few days after cutting,  many animals seem a liitle disorientated by the new state of affairs and deer and foxes  frequently wander about on the stubble as though they are still hidden by the crops that concealed them so recently.   This is a good opportunity for filming,  photographing and shooting roe,  and for reducing the fox population a little.

We  love the stubble and will be making the most of it!