THERE are just a few iconic sporting moments to which we all aspire but rarely achieve. The red-letter day when you catch a trout on the may fly, or jump that hedge, or shoot a serious January pheasant, is the one that stays with you. And they live in our communal zeitgeist, summing up all that sport means to us. It’s time to make this your year to remember in the field.
JANUARY: SHOOT A DIFFICULT PHEASANT
Many truly memorable pheasants are shot in January, not just because of the height and speed of these strong birds but due to the fieldcraft needed. By the end of the season, even the dimmest of pheasants will have got the message that something is up and will react accordingly.
Respected pheasant shot Jonathan Irby (rbss.co.uk) warns that Guns shouldn’t fall into the trap of following a bird that jinks down: “Safety is all-important at this time of the season. Be mindful of where everybody else is and be clear about what your host is expecting. A good tip is to go to number five shot as the birds are heavier. Don’t be hurried into losing your technique – the front hand takes the muzzle to the bird and the back hand brings the gun to your cheek.” So be alert and make the best of what is presented – the distant crosser is every bit as far away as the traditional high overhead, and will stay in your memory at the end of a thin day.
FEBRUARY: LONG NET A WARREN
Get out with the ferrets at the beginning of February after the brush has died back but before there are any young, then follow Mark Gilchrist’s advice: “Where I go on Romney Marsh is perfect because you can net round the whole warren in the open – you don’t want any hedges, trees or heavy undergrowth, which make it difficult to get a completely escape-proof net.”
He warns that absolute concentration is needed, as rabbits bolted by the ferret are very fast out of the hole and away. For him, the satisfaction is the opportunity to be off-grid and self-reliant.
His protégé, Cai ap Bryn, has taken this a stage further: “I started Game & Flames (gameandflames.com) to bring street food-inspired game cookery to people who wouldn’t otherwise eat a rabbit or a pheasant. For example, I am doing a katsu curry based on pheasant; I want this wild-harvested food to be as relatable to everyone as a Nandos or a Wahaca.” When it is you who caught the rabbit, prepared it and cooked it using one of ap Bryn’s recipes, nothing could taste sweeter.
MARCH: WIN THE HUNT RACE
The hunt’s point-to-point is the only chance most of us will ever get to experience the adrenaline high of being a jockey. But it can be a downer if, when legged up, you hear the commentator announce: “And Mr Astall putting up 24 pounds overweight.”
Jamie Snowden (jamiesnowdenracing. co.uk) was so successful as an amateur point-to-point jockey he is now training racehorses professionally. “Definitely do it, it is the most exciting thing,” he says. For Snowden, however, you want to win as well as just take part: “Fitness is key. You can go to the gym as much as you want but there is nothing like riding to get yourself fit, so get involved with a racing yard and ride out as much as possible. If you are not fit enough you find you can’t think. You have to be aware of where to go and where to be in the race, how to present your horse to a fence.” Snowden confesses to being hooked on that amazing feel of riding a good horse at pace over a decent fence: “You will love the thrill, it is a brilliant way of life.”
APRIL: BUILD A HIDE
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