The partridges usually came out in family groups, 10 to 12 in close flying formation and traveling a terrific speed. The woodcock generally flew singly and were hard to hit in their erratic flight. The variety of birds and the change of shooting pace necessary to make a kill lent interest and frustration to the shooting.
That first morning our host spread us out in a meadow on one side of a swale, facing a grove of trees and heavy brush on a low hill. The beaters moved toward us, and within a few minutes the birds came out of the trees, flying high and fast across the meadow. The shooting was fast and furious for 30 minutes before the flight was exhausted. I have never seen so many birds. We shot as quickly as we could. After the drive was over, men and dogs gathered the dead birds and placed them in a long line. The count was 338—all pheasants.
My second gun, which was very tightly fitted, gave me trouble this first morning, and I finally abandoned it. But shooting one gun didn't spoil the fun. I would shoot two barrels, the loader would jam in two cartridges and I would shoot again. It was exciting work.
After the birds were gathered into a truck, we moved on a quarter mile to a narrow, wooded ravine. Here the birds came over high and fast and through the trees. It was snap shooting only, with not more than 30 yards of flight before the bird was out of sight. Here I did very well, knocking down nearly all of the birds that came within range. We killed 80 birds in 15 minutes.
We went around a hill to another ravine, where similar shooting occurred, and then came out to a little stone house on the edge of a meadow, where we paused for refreshments—sloe gin, served in little metal cups, with wafers, after which cigars were passed around.
We chatted amiably for a quarter of an hour and then we moved on to another wooded ravine, where the shooting was even more difficult. I suspect we gathered 50 or 60 birds here. The last shoot of the morning was in another open meadow, flanked by low, wooded hills, quite similar to the first shoot. Here again the birds came over literally in hundreds, and we shot over 200.
After this shoot, the Land-Rovers arrived and drove us a mile or two to a small stone cottage, where we were to have lunch. The lady of the house and her daughter were awaiting us with the servants, who had brought the food for our luncheon. We pulled off our heavy outer clothing and were served a glass of piping-hot spiced wine. I think it was a claret with cloves and cinnamon and other spices in it. Coming out of the cold air, it was a delightful and warming drink.
A fire in the fireplace, a long table, a hot soup and hot beef stew, with apple strudel topped with thick cream for dessert were welcome luxuries for the cold and slightly weary hunters. The table was laden with a dozen bottles—wine, beer, Scotch, apple cider. During cheese and brandy after lunch, there was much chatter about the morning shoot. Warmed and filled, we donned our heavy coats and set out again.
After eating we made two stands, both of them in meadows facing high, tree-covered hills. The wind had come up, cold and penetrating. The birds came in over the trees, downwind and high overhead. We all had trouble with these targets. By 4 o'clock the light was getting dim, and the signal to mount the Land-Rovers was welcome.
Arriving at Keir, we changed our clothes and met in one of the great halls in front of a large fireplace for tea. The gamekeeper came in with the score—830 birds killed. In the light of my experience in the States this was an incredible number. I asked the host if this was not some kind of a record. "Oh, no," he said. "As a matter of fact, I think we have killed 900 once or twice here before."