Those who remain boys at heart need no reminder from any shooting diary to recall the exhilaration that follows a first successful shot at any fresh bird or beast; as witness H. Hesketh Pritchard’s epic description on the bagging of his first goose when a mere lad. It rings so true that I will quote his final lines: “ The feeling that long ago flooded my whole being has never again quite reached that first tide-mark.”
At the age of fifteen I was still considered too young for any weapon but an ancient single muzzle-loader that Experience had chosen for me, but on that particular September day his pet 12-bore lay on the gunroom table instead of under lock and key. Naturally, I fell, as any normal boy would, and was soon among some roots where a covey or two harboured in hot weather.
Unfortunately for my plans for a most enjoyable morning, that field lay next to our hop-garden which was being picked, and where, unknown to me, my father was busy. A covey rose and two birds fell, while the rest of the pellets pattered down among the villagers. This brought the Guv’nor into immediate action, and I was lugged along by the ear to apologise to those astonished patrons, and worse still, no more shooting for me, and I was used as a beater until school started again. It is not easy to forget such things.
Another, lad, equally keen, was bent on bagging his first snipe, although their marshes were ill-provided in that respect barring a few jack, and, being a town-bred youth, his natural history was a bit too shaky to discern any differences between the two Gallinagos, nor were his seniors any better informed—apparently. At any rate, accompanied by a sedate retriever, he banged his way round the edges of fleets and flood-water for some weeks before success appeared.
The sequel was rather amusing, for, when the owner took the dog with him for a really good day among the long-tails, he was horrified to see his hitherto non-slip favourite legging it flat out for the first bird when it fell far behind the line of guns. Not only once, but again and again, until a borrowed lead was snapped on; all of which did nothing to improve either his shooting or his temper, and on returning home explanations were demanded in double-quick, time.
It appeared that the boy, to whom all snipe were one, had seen one or two drop to the ground soon after his shot, and being that keen had run in, on the expectation of handling a dead bird, and, as evil companions corrupt good manners. Sambo soon followed suit, until it became a race, with no prize at the far end, except a further flush and another wild shot, and so on, ad infinitum.
First published Shooting Times
November 26th 1949
Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )