The mellow Autumn morning mists have given way to more sombre weather already. We’ve yet to see a first frost here in East Anglia but the overnight temperatures have hit middle-scale single figures. The driven-shooting fraternity are two weeks into their sport where the birds have matured. I won’t join in, despite generous invitations. Put simply, it isn’t ‘hunting’. I get great satisfaction though from my contribution to the preservation of the game birds. My spring and summer attention to predators with airgun, rimfire, and shotgun has kept corvids, mustelids, and foxes away from my landowner’s birds as best I could manage.
With the stubbles down, I watched a female roe today as she moved between woods across open ground. Even from 300 yards she sensed or scented me and paused while I stole her soul in a digital image. The deerstalker, David, has just six days (as I pen this) to grass the last roebucks of the season. Then it will be fallow or roe does only around here; unless he gets lucky and some of the red deer move south from their North Norfolk rutting grounds.
As things stand around here, the stalker seems to be the only hunter guaranteed a healthy supper. I’m haven’t shot a rabbit on my shooting permissions here for nine months. Nor can I claim responsibility for their disappearance. The few healthy specimens I’ve chanced on have torn at my conscience and I have put the survival of species above my desire for food. If I could find the bastard who introduced RHD2 into this country, I’d demand pistols at dawn. My larder is devoid of coney meat and so is Old Charlies, so the fox has no choice but to target the pheasants and partridges. Even the buzzards are attacking grey squirrels in the treetops; a risky business for a raptor that normally tackles live prey on the ground. Squirrel jaws are like vices and could scythe through a raptor leg easily.
I would never have thought, ten years ago, that I would hold the humble woodpigeon in such high esteem. It has now become my only staple meat source. The nights are drawing down quickly now and this weekend the clocks change. I’ve been roost shooting already before dusk. It’s such a simple way to hunt for the table and protect the drillings at the same time. All you need is a known roost (evident from the guano on the floor). Find some solid cover, keep the wind at your back and (preferably) the setting sun behind you. When the clocks change it becomes easy to bag a few birds on a Saturday afternoon and be back at home breasting them while you listen to the football results. I’ll put up a blog dedicated to roost shooting in the coming weeks.
The October wood is rich in fungal display and many forage with far more courage than me. I was lucky to chance upon a rare cauliflower fungus in the Oak Grove and it gave rise to a crisis of conscience. Harvest or preserve? That same decision I face when a rabbit pops up now. This fungus, though, is as rare as hen’s teeth so I cut half the sponge away and left the rest to disperse its spores around the copse. Later, carefully brushed to remove woodland debris and bugs, I sautéed it in a mere trickle of olive oil. A luxurious treat served on a slice of hot, buttered toast. A small culinary privilege which many who neither hunt or forage would easily pass by. Our countryside is rich with hidden treasures like this if we take the time to study what’s safe and collect them with conservation in mind.
Those who see my blogs regularly will have read my recent post about sweet chestnuts and my glut of green spikey kernels. The apple trick worked as always (and will work for most unripe fruit). Simply place your fruit in a dry sack or tub with a ripe apple and nature will take over. Ripe apples release ethylene gas which promotes the ripening process. The kernels darkened, split intuitively and revealed the mature chestnuts. In nut terms, brown is ripe. Natural alchemy.
As I write this I’m sitting beneath the glass canopy over my garden deck. The only light is that of the screen on my MacBook. For tonight may bring something special again. The Orionid meteor showers, displaying up to twenty meteors per hour burning out in our upper atmosphere. Orion, of course, is the celestial hunter. I’m no star-gazer but there is something primordial about scanning the cloudless sky for shooting stars. Can you imagine what they looked like to our primitive ancestors? They would have been far more open to such displays in the absence of light pollution and fire in the sky would have either thrilled or terrified. A bit like the fireworks that will blight our skies in coming weeks. My late lurcher, Dylan, cowered behind the sofa even at fourteen years old on Bonfire Night (and the week before and after … as it never seems to stop). Charlie the Cocker seems to enjoy the ‘challenge’, scooting outdoors to sniff and watch and darting in when they are too loud. As I said ‘thrilled or terrified’. Keep your dogs safe and keep the faith.
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler October 2019