Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Crap Outdoors Pt 5

Hear that scraping sound? Welcome to the bottom of the barrel, a place where no-one will be expected to walk and chew gum at the same time. Traveling by hand-cart we have arrived in hell.

We've seen sophisticated solutions to non-existent problems before, but really people WTF! How did we get to the spoon-fed point where the outdoorsman is so insecure that he needs a weather tool to tell which way the wind blows? Sheesh! and Sheesh! again. Big wind socks for aerodromes, little flags for rifle ranges, yep I can see that, but by the bones of Ishi, what kind of lackwit would buy this piece of crap? And it's $25 box!

Firefly (originally dubbed, "Windetector") was born out of necessity. We developed and used the powder "puffers" 15 years ago and they worked fine for the most part, as long as it was light out, there wasn't any snow on the ground (contrast of the powder color with snow was difficult to see), and they didn't get clogged up. They were functional but simply didn't meet our needs so we set out to develop an electronic approach. Firefly is the result of nearly 3 years of technological research and development. It's the result of a major investment in electrical engineering married to a form factor and mechanical design that assures precise measurement every time. This electronic instrument works and it can't be fooled. Firefly is not a gimmick, it's not a toy! It will determine wind thermals and light drifts down to two inches per second" - Tom Galley

He's either delusional, or a genius. If he really has spent the last 15 years separating suckers from their cash by selling them a tube of powder to puff into the air I have to concede its probably the latter.

But wait there's more

Hunters fully understand the importance of knowing wind direction. Whether you're a big game hunter, waterfowl hunter or predator hunter, few things are as important as wind direction.

That's why we made a model for all types of hunters.

Erhm, 'all types' excluding: the type who go outside, the type who have skin and of course, the type who are familiar with the bleedin' obvious. Sheesh! and Sheesh! again.

Gather a seed from a plant that uses air-borne distribution - ie the seeds are mounted on a piece of fluff that floats in a tiny breeze - and super glue one stand of the 'fluff' to something you'll have with you on the day, like a rifle or bow perhaps. Take the $49.95 (+ $24.95 for a box) and spend it on strong drink to numb the pain of life at the bottom of the barrell. It's not a permanent solution but it'll at least offer some respite.

More soon
1st seen on the excellent Hog Blog

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Super Dad Catches Trout With Bare Hands!

If America was Russia this gent would be the new Putin
You sir are a LEGEND
PS to anyone who even thinks about crying 'fake' you are a moron

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Deer Management - Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Have you ever noticed how people create false arguments, the answers to which support their agenda? Here's this morning's example, from the NY Times

“Deer have entered our backyards and essentially become unruly guests,” Dr. Rutberg Disney said. “We are bound by suburban rules in dealing with them, and violence is not how we deal with neighbors we don’t like.”

There is a town called Hastings, (not the Hastings I fish) it's about two square miles, with a population of 70 to 120 deer. For such a small space to support so many deer there must be artificial food plots AKA gardens.  In 2011, there were 16 car collisions that were reported, and presumably a few near misses for each collision. Biologists and deer managers seem to think that 5 to 15 deer per square mile is a more appropriate number for the deer's well being.

Built up area, so rifles are perhaps not the ideal solution, the sound of shot guns tends to upset the neighbours. So Bowhunting from highseats is the way forward. Safe, quiet and effective. Start with a doe season. Give the meat to food banks that will feed the hungry.

But no the bleedin' obvious isn't for hastings residents, oh no.

Someone has managed to create a false choice between trapping the deer and killing them like factory farmed cows with a bolt gun, who would want that? and spending $30,000 [and up] on a deer contraception experiment.

You can read the story sorry debacle HERE

More soon

Monday, 8 July 2013

A Brief History Of The Bushcraft Knife

A bit of Recycled SBW for you, I first posted this a couple of years back, and its stood the test of time quite well.

In a recent email exchange with LSP (the lone star parson) he mentioned he was feeling a little 'under knifed'.Never being one to shy away from lecturing my friends I promised him a post with some of my ideas about what really makes for that most elusive of purchases -

'The one knife to rule them all.'

First up, it's only fair that I give you a bit of background to these opinions. I've owned and traded loads of knives over the years. I'm not a collector, but I am an enthusiast and my stuff is put to hard use.

Most production knives are way over priced, and the semi-custom knives I've owned weren't finished to a high enough standard for the money. I've never been able to justify the cost of a real high end custom but I've handled a few and while there are plenty of other things to spend the money on, yes I do covet one.

'Any job is easy if you've got the right tools' As the guy with a hardware store says. But 'easy' is an entirely relative term. Your favorite might be the most cack-handed thing I've ever held. My 'utilitarian' might be your 'plasticy'. Price too has an effect on perception, 'fantastic' at $20 might be 'substandard' at $100.You need a tool that fits your hand and your requirements. There I've made it sound easy haven't I? If only.

The traditional designs have developed as responses to different environments and needs. The flex in the blade of a fish knife isn't what you need when battening firewood. The 2 mm flat ground Lekeu is a perfect tool for daily use [and sharpening] in the Birch forests of the Sub-Arctic, but something a little thicker with a convex grind suited in the Sweet Chestnut forests of southern Italy. One of your needs might be resale value. I'm more a 'wont snap if hit with brick hammer' kind of guy. Only your choice is going to give you the confidence the 'right' tool gives.

That well known outdoorsman, philosopher and blogger of this parish Mr Albert Rasch heartily recommends the Randall Model 18 Attack and Survival knife, never owned one myself, but I can remember seeing one as a lad and thinking them the mutt's nuts. The handle is hollow giving you room for firelighting kit, a few bucks, or whatever you feel should be in your mini survival kit. It's a bit 'tactical' for my current taste, but may well be just the thing if you've got a lot of hogs to impale.
Inspired by the style of the Randall, but seeking something with even more drama, the producers and props buyers of the Rambo movies helped sales of small swords with a saw back, the Rambo knife was held in high esteem for a few years in the 80's, then came the inevitable backlash. Dour Finns and Sardonic Swedes honed their cold hard stares, and cast scorn on the big knives of 'Hollywood'. Around the campfire anyone who produced a blade longer than 4 inches was mocked as an inadequate .
The Scandinavian Tradition has it that a small light blade is all you need for most jobs, practice in it's skillful use will be of more help to you than the brute force of the 'sharpened prybar'. My favorite iteration of the concept is this Desert Scandi by Todd Hill who writes Primitive Point. Todd's people came to the US from Scandinavia, he has harvested the Mesquite for the handle from the area where he lives, and smiths the blade from scrap steel from the area's disused wood mills. Links it all together rather nicely don't you think?

On the east coast of the USA: That contemporary outdoor legend Tom brown jnr had a look at the 'one knife to rule them all' conundrum and, it would appear, decided to take the 'utility creates form' approach to design. He thought of the jobs he used knives for, part saw, part hide scraper, and part tillering tool for bow making, and tried to carve all those different knives out of one piece of steel. I admit it, there was a brief infatuation, but nothing happened. Phew.
On my side of the pond: a chap called Ray Mears looked out upon the feast of 'survival knives' and sighed, his travels had led him to the campfire of one Mors Kochanski. An ingenious chap, who thought you could thrive where others sought only to survive in the boreal forests of the northern hemisphere. In his company Mr Mears had become a believer in the 'not too long, scandinavian flat grind, not too thick, just make sure its 'double bastard sharp' school of thought. After a while he commissioned a knife of his own, called it a Woodlore, pronounced it the 'perfect bushcraft knife' and a whole industry was born, with most custom makers offering a variation on the design. The last time I looked the endorsed maker was able to charge the price of a new laptop for one.

More recently a cheerful young chap called Bear Grylls was wondering how to make the TV racket pay out [a little more] so he launched a shockingly expensive 'survival knife' and kerching! I'm told he really does have people queuing up to give him £350 for one. I rather like it, but for the money? Well there's fly rods, wool camo, guide fees, wining and dining northern tarts, ammunition, that new compound bow, child support, need I go on?
Of course all this had happened before, almost exactly a hundred years before. When George Washington Sears AKA ‘Nessmuk’ was writing about the outdoor life in the 1880's.

'A word as to knife, or knives. These are of prime necessity, and should be of the best, both as to shape and temper. The "bowies" and "hunting knives" usually kept on sale, are thick, clumsy affairs, with a sort of ridge along the middle of the blade, murderous looking, but of little use; rather fitted to adorn a dime novel or the belt of "Billy the Kid," than the outfit of the hunter.'

Not being unduly impressed with what was on offer, he had a chap make one to his design and the 'Nessmuk' we know today was born. They now come in 57 varieties from the littlest 'Neckmuk" by Guy Stainthop,
Rik Plam's faithful realization of Washington-Sears' line drawings,made from an old file,

this deep ground version by Dan Koster

and you can get a sense of the idea in Chris Reeve's 'Ubejane skinner'. Which also features a hollow handle a la Randall. Chris Reeve's knives are extremely impressive, being machined from a single billet of steel. He also makes a large range of tactical styled knives, but this is the one I'd go for.
A few years after G W-S was writing the unfortunately named Mr Horace Ke-Phart was afield, and thought a simpler style would be more suitible to his needs. In the first edition of The Book of Camping and Woodcraft, he outlines his thoughts [and echoes a few others].

“On the subject of hunting knives I am tempted to be diffuse. In my green and callow days (perhaps not yet over) I tried nearly everything in the knife line from a shoemaker’s skiver to a machete, and I had knives made to order. The conventional hunting knife is, or was until quite recently, of the familiar dime-novel pattern invented by Colonel Bowie. Such a knife is too thick and clumsy to whittle with, much too thick for a good skinning knife, and too sharply pointed to cook and eat with. It is always tempered too hard. When put to the rough service for which it is supposed to be intended, as in cutting through the ossified false ribs of an old buck, it is an even bet that out will come a nick as big as a saw-tooth…. Such a knife is designed expressly for stabbing, which is about the very last thing that a woodsman ever has occasion to do, our lamented grandmothers notwithstanding."
The American Bushman owns this glorious re-creation by ML Knives.
“A camper has use for a common-sense sheath-knife, sometimes for dressing big game, but oftener for such homely work as cutting sticks, slicing bacon, and frying ’spuds.’ For such purposes a rather thin, broad-pointed blade is required, and it need not be over four or five inches long. Nothing is gained by a longer blade, and it would be in one’s way every time he sat down. Such a knife, bearing the marks of hard usage, lies before me. Its blade and handle are each 4 1/2 inches long, the blade being 1 inch wide, 1/8 inch thick on the back, broad pointed, and continued through the handle as a hasp and riveted to it. It is tempered hard enough to cut green hardwood sticks, but soft enough so that when it strikes a knot or bone it will, if anything, turn rather than nick; then a whetstone puts it in order….”
His design is still being made today. I've never owned one, but chad is a big fan of the Bark River Knife & Tool Co. version, elevating it to his list of 'things that don't suck'. Should be worth a look.
By the 1917 edition of Camping and Woodcraft Kephart had found a production knife he liked, the Marble’s Woodcraft.
“For years I used knives of my own design, because there was nothing on the market that met my notion of what a sensible, practical sheath knife should be; but we have it now …. It is of the right size (4 1/2-inch blade), the right shape, and the proper thinness.”

Back to the present day: While Mors had the temerity to be able to do it all with a $10 knife from the hardware store himself, he took the time to outline a style guide for what he thought would make the perfect bushcraft knife. One of his students used the style guide to create the Skookum Bushtool.

Basically it's a scandinavian style blade, a full tang with a sturdy pommel welded to it, the the slabs of the handle are secured by hollow rivets. Not Cheap but VERY NICE, and even though the man himself is still using the cheap jobbie from the hardware store, it establishes Mors in the firmament of outdoor writers whose knife designs will still be made a hundred years or so after they've gone to the happy hunting ground. There are alredy lots of makers doing their own 'bushtool clones' and some of them are very nice too.

What is the best shape for a knife?
Is a bit like asking who is the most beautiful woman in the world, or which is the best car for over 100K, assuming you have to good sense to buy a knife designed for the jobs you do, what speaks to you?

Serrations and gutting hooks?
The bushcrafters tend to sneer at serrations, I speculate that that's because either
A: They use mainly natural materials, serrations come into their own on man made materials.
B: They enjoy sneering at everything not used by their heroes or in their favorite book

If you're going to be cutting a lot of multi stranded ropes of man made fibres, you could do a lot worse than carry a serrated blade. Where I do agree with the bushcrafters is that most of the time knife makers put the serration's is TOTALY THE WRONG PLACE. The part of the blade nearest to the handle is bit I use most, the bit with the control needed for the delicate tasks. If cutting manmade rope is one of your requirements, carry a rope cutting folder - I'd look at Spyderco first. When you need to saw wood a Laplander is only £20 and is a far better tool for the job than a serrated back to your knife. If I wanted a gutting hook I'd have one, but it wouldn't be on my main knife, it'd be a tool in it's own right.

Steel Recycled, Tool steel or trick steels (or how often will I need to sharpen it)?
Plenty of knives will take an edge, some knives will still have most of the edge after use. Easy to sharpen, usually equals easy to blunt, on the upside a few swipes a day and your good to go. On the other foot; the extremes of skill and diligence required to sharpen the super steels are repaid in edge retention. You pays your money you takes your choice.

There is some awesome steel just lying around out there, either free or yours for the asking. Road crews will usually give you old blades from their cutting tools, old files are also excellent. Todd from Primitive Point uses nothing but found steel and makes lots of soulful knives that look as though they'd last a lifetime. I have a 'Bushwacker Bushtool' on the way and it's made by Black Rabbit from a recycled file.

At the other extreme the VG10 the lamination that Fallkniven are currently using has A LOT GOING FOR IT, on my recent trip to italy I put an F1 to the test called 'one knife for everything', I harvested and debarked burls, cut roots, shaved parmesan, sliced tomatoes, split firewood, feathered fire sticks and ate my dinner with it. After five days use, it had held enough edge to slice tomatoes in one stroke before I fried them for my pre-airport breakfast on the last day. it's taken me a long time to get even half way competent at sharpening it.

To read some people post about this you'd literally think it was a matter far more important than life and death.
I've never owned a chisel grind knife but I have used one in a kitchen, they rock for vegetables but I can't say what they're like for other uses.
Flat grinds are easy[er] to sharpen on a stone.
Convex grinds have some advantages, in terms of robustness and edge retention, but I've found learning to sharpen them a bit of a grind ;-). Here's the case for Convex made more cogently than I can write.

Currently I'm contentedly convex. Ask me again in a year.

Forged or Stock Removal?
Forged means beaten from a piece of steel that was another shape, a lot of fun/hard work at the anvil.
Stock removal means starting with a flat pice of your chosen steel and abrading away material until only the knife remains. things of great beauty and pieces of junk are made using both methods.

Handle Materials?
Um, Errrr, don't ask me. I like manmade materials for their inertness, I admire natural materials for their looks. It's that Angelina or Kate question again. Your choice will mean more to you than anything I could say.

It only seems like yesterday when you could have something really great for $100 or £50, sadly due to the current climate, those days are over, in the UK at least.

Fallkniven are now getting to be pretty expensive, you get a hell of a lot for the money, but the prices are now aproaching that of the work of the more affordable custom makers. From the custom makers you usually don't get the super trick steel, but you do get a realisation of your Knife. These are the standard all production knives should be measured against. You get what you pay for.

Here are a few of my current favorite makers. Todd and Black Rabbit aren't included as they don't actively sell their work. YET.

Wild. Out There. Recycled. This guy is truly a son of Vulcan. When you want to see forge work as high art Tai Goo's shop is where you go. Todd from Primitive Point is making a video of Tai at work forging some knives, keep a look out for it.
Off The Map Outfitters - you may know him as the blogger Backyard Bushman
He's been making knives for a while and recently seems to have hit his stride, developing quite a range of different styles. I love this shocking pink hiker but most are in more traditional handle materials. Get in there now while they're affordable.

Guy Stainthorp AKA Guy Cep
Some great work, I particularly like his 'bushcrafter' design - a little bit different to what others are doing and very well executed.
If time [on the waiting list] and money [a fair bit of it] were no object I'd be popping in to the Sheffield workshop of Stuart Mitchell for a 'stalkers set' much better, both in use and aesthetic than those silly gut-hook knives. His website just doesn't do his work justice. Use this search of British Blades to see more of his work. THE BEST.

On the subject of British Blades this link takes you to a HUGE list of custom makers from all over the world.

Some thoughts about features:
There's a current fashion for hollow rivets, so the knife can be lashed to a pole. They would have come in very handy in Italy when we'd harvested all the low hanging cherries and were under laddered. Just make sure the tubes are wide enough to clean easily.

The distill taper is surely the sign of the high end hand made knife, it means the tang is tapered away from the blade. You still get the strength of a full length tang, but the weight balance of the knife moves towards your index finger. Classy.

In summation: They all cut, some need more attention than others. You pays your money and you makes your choice. I've never found that ONE knife, but I've really enjoyed looking.

Happy Hunting
Your pal
PS For more info on Horace Kephart visit Horace Kephart: revealing and enigma Fascinating.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Gamekeeping 101 Pt1

If you were going to choose a day for a work party you wouldn't choose the hottest day of the year would you? But that's not the way we roll.
The late start sounded like a good idea, relaxing even, but 'roasting evenly' would be a better description. By eleven the sun was high in the sky and the mercury was high in the vial, hitting 30C. The Bambi Basher and yours truly rocked up and drove across the estate to an overgrown Pheasant pen. The pen's position is a game of two halves, good its very sheltered from the winds that howl off the south downs, bad its effectively a drainage for the field, right next to a stream, and heavily overgrown with Willow. It was cool and damp on the hottest day so far, so in the winter it must be pretty parky and very wet.

The estate is massive and owned by a retired Colonel who with our new friend Keeper Du Bois runs a small informal shoot for family and a few friends. I first met The Col. and KDB helping out on a fox drive a few months ago. TBB is a member of the shoot and as KDB seemed to have his hands full I'd offered to help out as one of his under keepers. Time and tide had kept us from catching up but as the poults will be arriving soon we have a few jobs to do around the estate.

TBB and I set-to with the enthusiasm of un-caged dogs and had cleared a way around the pen when a cheery shout announced KDB's arrival. In one of those 'Youtube gold' moments his greeting and the position of the truck led him to slightly miss the landbridge crossing the stream and he disappeared into a gully; quad bike, trailer and all.

Much hilarity later, with the other fellas from the work party having arrived, we divided up the tools and began clearing some pathways for the beating team to push birds onto the drives. KDB issued me with a Jungle-Buster (basically a more robust weed-whacker or Strimmer). A tool that had led a hard hard life. I was wearing it hanging from a harness with the motor behind me, and swinging the pole from side to side letting the tool do the work. I was suddenly aware of something else behind me and looked over my shoulder. The fuel tank had leaked, the housing had shaken itself loose, and touching the exhaust had ignited. I was on effing FIRE!

I made a few nerve-wracking attempts to un-hook the now blazing machine from the harness, but soon saw sense and wriggled out of the harness and dumped the whole kit into the stream. Which having had a bit of fuel spilled into it from the trailer's earlier baptism promptly burst into flames.

The rest of the day was thankfully a little less dramatic.

Big Shouts to the people who have sent me useful stuff for testing:

SG-20 who sent me some of their two-pack adhesive with which I reattached the sole of one of my beloved Lundhags. The glue is good for mending waders and a lot of your other outdoor gear, I've already used it to reattach the other sole and it's really good stuff.

3M Ultrathon for their slow release insect repellant - DEET incapsulated to provide slow release protection against flying biters - good gear I've used it a few times and it works well, and being Tick Season much appreciated. If you are going afield please read this primmer on Ticks by longterm reader Pablo from Woodlife
Trucker's Friend who sent this hammer, pry bar, nail puller, zombie-whacker, thingy which we used to take some fencing down.

More soon
your pal

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Driven Pheasant And Partridge In The UK

As part of my on going education in to fieldsports the blogger Shooter thought I should have a look at a traditional english driven game day. You should have seen the delight on Mrs Shooter's face when he asked her if she'd mind if I took her place at his side being his 'loader'. Having brought her beloved back alive from the first trip she was mysteriously and unexpectedly 'unavailable' a couple of weekends later.

I met up with Shooter at his place in the far far 'burbs, by the time I arrived it was late so we both turned in. Shooter cant sleep the night before a shoot and I cant sleep at the temperature he sets his heating to, so each of us is up half the night trying not to wake the other. Several times I hear Shooter shuffling about, between my fitful sleeps and torrid dreams of being trapped, sweating, in a bed full of very fat women with webbed feet - seeing as we are going to Norfolk this perhaps shouldn't be surprising - between the over-upholstered, semi-aquatic dreams and being awoken by thirst I find the time to read most of the fascinating The British Boxlock Gun & Rifle by Diggory Hadoke. Great book, crap nights sleep.

Despite both being up over an hour before our agreed time somehow we still manage to leave late. We spend the journey discussing adventure writing, recipes, firearms and seeing as it's where we are going telling our Norfolk stories.
The most windswept of English counties, a place long known for its flat damp landscape, religious fanaticism, poor transport links, and inbred locals (I dont know if they really have webbed feet but its a commonly held belief) .  It's also the home of the worst pizza I have ever seen. Tuna mayo UNDER melted Cheddar cheese. Not an experience I could recommend. Shooter seems to have enjoyed himself on his trips though. To him this is the fabled land of Partridge and Pheasant. Of driven shooting. A land he first imagined from the pages of books in his Grandfather's study back home in India. A land of dreams come true.

Driven Shooting. Nothing gets the Anti-Hunting brigade frothing at the mouth like driven game, so naturally I was keen to see what all the fuss was about. I've been to shoots a few times but this promised to be something very different.
The lads I have beaten for all chip in a couple of 100's per season to cover the grain costs, turn up for some fairly leisurely work days, and the more enthusiastic members of the crew spend a few nights shooting Foxes.
The beaters are either the guns themselves taking turns, or their kids. The bag is never impressive but a lot of competitive barbecuing goes on, a good time is had by all. There is no dress code, no one has a gun that cost more than a weeks pay. Most people have guns that were less than a day's pay. Simples.

Traditional Driven Shooting is something very different. All the numbers are much bigger. This is the other sport of kings, aristocrats the world over have this as a passion, it takes a lot of manpower for a very small number of people to shoot a very large number of what are essentially managed wild birds/ free- ranging farmed birds. Which perhaps has something to do with the strong feelings it evokes in the anti's.

To cut a long story short its a more expensive [and less hair raising] version of the French Battue, that most egalitarian form of hunting. Except it's big on pageantry and ritual, and is only egalitarian in the sense that anyone happy to drop the best part of a grand and up [way up] for a days entertainment can do it.
A line of Beaters 'Beat' (Battue) the cover and animals and birds break cover and come flying and running towards a line of people with guns, in France its Boar, Deer and Hare, here its Pheasant and Partridge with strictly enforced rules against shooting game on the ground. The only exception being that no gamekeeper can endure a Fox to live, so they're shot on sight by the Keepers and any armed beaters.

The French do driven shooting communally, the hunting committee dishing out the bag to all participants. Here the bag is sometimes the property of the shoot, sometimes belonging to the person who bought the day, the guns just get a token brace of birds to take home, and the rest goes to the game dealer to offset the days costs.

Driven game days are something of an anachronism, they take vast amounts of organisation and resources to turn a lot of birds raised, into comparatively few birds brought-to-bag.  Over the season 40% of the birds 'put down' is good and 50% exceptional. The Pheasant and Partridge are raised in pens, defended from crows, stoats, weasels, and foxes. If and when they reach maturity there must be cover crops sown for them to mooch about in, they could be left to forage for their own food but need to be fed to stop them wandering off.  When the season comes around a small army of Beaters are needed to get them airborne and another team, this time of Pickers Up, to collect any birds the guns have been able to hit and the dogs able to find. The whole spectacle takes place over a fair bit of countryside 'drives' are usually quite a way from each other so there must be a Beater's Wagon to move the troops about and everyone needs to be fed. All so eight 'guns' can enjoy a days shooting.

Everyone's money is good these days so you, or someone like me (except with money), can dress up as an Edwardian gent and be part of the fun. The estates, much like fine gun makers, are in the business of selling a dream. Just like Rolex they are selling a super-fine version of something quite basic. You can have a watch or a shotgun that does the job just as well for less than a days pay or you can have a superfine one that announces "I've arrived", letting you join the club of people who feel they need to let others know they've 'arrived'. If that's your kind of thing. There is a whole industry devoted to marketing this pagent of the edwardian sporting lifestyle with specialist driven shooting magazines full of articles about classic cars, fine wines and high end real estate. Their journalists have names like Tarquin and Arabella, they read like the society pages with coverage split between who was at whose house for a weekends shooting and how the latest oligarch and his stunning girlfriend have been welcomed into the local scene. Welcomed in the hope that Ivan and Natacha will bring some much needed cash.

The englsh class system is always entertaining to watch but I've never really felt I understand it well enough to explain it, to an outsider possibly the most puzzling part of the day's proceedings is the dress code. Why you need a dress code to stand in a field has never been adequately explained to me. 'Tweed and a Tie' was the instruction which kind of covers it but not really.
For the first outing I wore the only Tweed jacket I own, its grey and quite moth-eaten so wasn't really in the spirit of the thing. For part two I wheeled out my skip dived waxed cotton jacket, Shooter thought I'd had it from the year dot and that 'skip-dived' was idiom or understatement for 'I've had it a long time' nah I really did fish it out of a posh blokes rubbish bin next door to a building site. Its  smell marks the wearer as a dog-bloke and it's proper dogeared, its the perfect way to blend in when visiting a world where history is everything - it really does look as though its already given several generations of service. No johnny-come-lately would ever stoop to such an attempt to ingratiate himself.

We manage to make up for lost time and rock up at a very handsome pile in the early Victorian style. The Guns assemble in their "shooting gent' outfits. Some people really going for it with the tailored tweed suits which vary from as older than me to brand spanking new razor sharp tailored tweeds. In patterns from subdued to clown-wear. I like the lairy ones myself.

The Guns are an interesting bunch, retired gents and farmers mainly, all greatly looking forward to their days sport. Tradition has it that a wallet of numbered sticks is passed round, the numbers drawn denoting the order in which the guns are lined up. Whatever peg the gun is one he'll be a peg further on on the next drive and so on.
On the other side of the class divide the Beating team wear the classic outdoor wear we'd all recognise, surplace Camo of more than one nation, mismatched with waterproofs held together with duct tape. While the Guns are having their fashion parade in green wellies, the beaters will be fighting their way through the cover in boots and gaiters. Everyone wearing a shirt and tie. Even me.

The Beaters wagon trundles off and we follow in another sport's 4x4's. There is a bit of tromping across fields to be done, Norfolk's thick clinging soil making us look like deep sea divers in leaden boots. Shooter and yours truly struggle to our 'peg' and the whistle goes to announce the start of the first drive. The rule is if the bird has sky behind it it's safe to take a shot. Shooter is very disciplined about this and exceptionally courteous in letting several which I would have shot, fly on to the shooting lane of the next 'peg'. At the next peg but one an older, and super petite lady in furs-and-wellies is a very tidy shot with a cloud of feathers in the airspace above her for most of the drive . Unlike myself Shooter is lethal with a shotgun.  Pheasants and Partridge crash down behind us, twice delicious Woodcock fly past lamentably well out of range.

Each drive probably lasts about 30 minutes before the whistle blows. Trudge across the fields again and it's off to the next one. Sometimes the luck of the draw has us in the thick of it, sometimes were right out at the end of the line which dosent always pay off. The wind is like paint stripper, the mud is thick, we share a flask of Whiskey, and in the face of the wind attempt a shouted conversation about the aqua-dynamics of mud.

Four of these drives later it's time for lunch. Shooter and the other guns retire to the dinning room for their repast. I join the beaters and pickers up in a barn for a really sturdy soup and some sausages. The Beaters range in age from Twelve to late Sixty's and are drawn from all walks of life. Several of the young lads are in agricultural collage learning estate management and gamekeeping, the girls are very 'horsey'.

All kinds of people go beating, the common denominator seeming to be that they lived reasonably nearby.  The day is it's own reward; a day afield, with the dogs, banter with the other beaters, and a couple of birds. Beaters dont get paid a lot for beating but its all part of the interconnectedness of rural life, deals are done, favours swapped and collected on. Once you've dressed for the weather beating is a lot of fun, and if you're a dog person it's a chance to see the dogs working which only the most cold hearted wouldn't enjoy. As one of the girls remarked it's "cheaper than the gym".

During lunch I met TBG (the boy genius) and TUK (Techno Under Keeper) both of whom were top company. TUK lives on the estate, gamekeeping at the weekends and running his IT business during the week. TBG is his mate's lad and the only person who has ever explained HTML to me in a way that even I could follow, and he's only twelve! Literally a boy genius.

TUK and myself wandered around the estate for a while, chewing the fat, and sharing our mutual fascination with shooting lore.

There are plenty of traditional anecdotes about the guns and keepers:

Famous Woman X (often Kate Moss or Madona) turned up at our shoot in Heels (I've heard this one so many times I doubt either of them actually ever spends a weekend doing anything else)

Eric Clapton is actually quite a serious shot although he is to be mocked for having guns engraved with his own likeness.

The keepers had to shoot the birds from behind the visiting americans/germans to flatter them that they were hitting any birds at all.

All scandawegens are lethal shots and have amazingly; well trained dogs and super hot wives.

Lord X [owner of the estate] is a hell of a shot, his father wasn't so keen, but you should have seen his grandfather, now that was as shot/sportsman!

Vinnie Jones is very polite and a very very good shot.

That woman from the posh shooting press is actually 'a rubbish shot despite what she says on her videos and £20,000 gun'. This view is to be seconded by one of girls adding 'The way she suddenly develops a slight lisp in whenever lord so-and-so is within earshot, tells you just what kind of woman she is'

At the shoot down the road the guns has a whip-round to buy Old Tom the beater a new jacket, never having taken the trouble to speak to him blissfully unaware that he sold one of his companies for 300 kergillian and is now holding out for a better price on the other one. Thinks the guns are getting the raw end of the deal, he just likes beating but wouldn't wear his good clothes to do it.

Then there's the ticklish subject of etiquette, you can actually pay to go on a course to learn this stuff. Mostly the advice is just "Try not to make too much of a ____ of yourself".

In London we just introduce ourselves by first name with the implication that anymore information would be a disclosure too far, but in the country that would be a serious breech of etiquette, some of the older guys [65+] still used the family name-first name form of introduction.

A shirt and tie must be worn at all times, no exceptions.

For readers overseas:
Toffs all know each other, or at least of each other; while gun nuts can give you chapter and verse on any obscure calibre you care to mention, football fans can give you a play by play reenactment of games that took place before they were born, toffs all know each others family, scholastic, and personal histories.

" 'Mayo' Pushbarrow-Handcart, Stowe, I rode Biggleswade minor to third in the nerd racing"
[Biggleswade minor denoting the younger of the Biggleswade brothers, Stowe is a private school, nerd racing is racing on nerd-back]
" Andy Maitland-Bell, Eton, weren't you the one in old Cruikshank's class who was caught with a jar of mayonnaise? Badger's brother?"
"Haw Haw Yes that's me"

Some of you will think I'm exaggerating, trust me, I'm not.

The second half of the day is another four drives, but we'll leave that and the rest of the tale for another post.

More soon
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