Hunter earns a few feathers in his cap gunning for materials

Fly fisherman Roger Beck pictured in action on the River Rye
Fly fisherman Roger Beck pictured in action on the River Rye
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One of the rituals of my Christmas is fur and feather harvesting. Don’t you dare to go all soppy on me; you’ll scoff turkeys and geese by the million soon and what do you think happens to lovely fluffy little lambs? My best opportunity for plume garnering is my invitation for a day as the guest at a small shoot just up the valley.

Last December, we gathered in the farmyard, meeting old friends and a few new ones, exchanging banter and views on the price of spuds. The dogs, meanwhile, were enthusiastically reacquainting themselves with each others’ nether regions. We humans just shook hands.

As usual, to make sure that everyone is organised, this shoot has developed a cunning plan. Everyone picks a card and depending upon the colour of the suit chosen, each of us is issued with a similarly coloured bit of stick. Written on each bit of wood is a vertical list of numbers that provides useful information about one’s movements for the day.

Empowered by the rule of the sticks, men and dogs climbed into the back of a huge covered wagon that would not have been out of place in Utah in the 1840’s; except for the tractor. We discussed prospects for the day, the accuracy of weather forecasts and the government.

The canine incumbents, now in a confined space, created a line of nether region sniffers hemmed in by feet and leather cased gun butts; the cocker spaniel at the back of the queue looked disconsolate.

Twenty yards up the hill out of Helmsley, there is a loud bang! Bill explained that it was a terrible shame but the pesky rear left tyre was burst. A chorus of “well blow me down” erupted.

The dogs were “encouraged” by their owners to stay behind but the rest of us descended the rear steps in order to lighten the load. A brief conference concluded that the tractor could pull the trailer into the nearby gate. At this juncture, we could all go in search of feathers whilst Ghandi was summoned to change the wheel.

The folk innocently driving into Helmsley may have become rather alarmed at the sight of a posse of armed guards flanking a large trailer as it limped up the hill. A line of motley muzzles peered over the half door.

By lunch time, man and canine companion had accounted for waterhen bloa, snipe and purple and Endrick spider. We sat in the barn with our sandwiches, tears streaming down our faces – from some ox tail soup laced with chilli that Peter insisted we all try. The spaniels had a brief falling out whilst the labradors searched the cobbles for crumbs.

We sallied forth again full of pork pie, good humour and a little sloe gin, except John, who drove the tractor. Mid afternoon saw us returning to base as the light faded; all missions accomplished.

Anyone not driving was allowed another nip of sloe gin; there was little interest in a re–fill of Pete’s soup. The dogs were worn out, just retaining the energy to curl up and investigate their own nethers.

We contented ourselves with robust handshakes and an exchange of seasonal compliments; another successful harvest complete.

Please, do enjoy the season in the way that you choose to celebrate.

May 2013 bring you a bountiful harvest of whatever you would wish for.