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A Taste of the Old-World Hunt

Wellingtons, ties and ­double-barrel shotguns

My old hunting buddy Mike Kelly and the Baroness Suzie Boot, at ­Elevenses, the hunt brunch.

We finally heard the sounds of the unseen men and dogs driving the game birds toward us, shouting and beating the thick brush off in the distance. In the midst of nine hunters strung out in a rough line some 200 yards right and left, I fingered the safety on my borrowed over-under 12-bore and tensed.
    A few others working the hunt near the crest of the hill now began to wave large white flags to encourage the approaching game birds higher and faster.
    Off to one side, a ringneck rooster flushed wild and approached, fleeing the beaters and heading for safety over the tall trees to our rear. A shotgun nearer the bird boomed. The pheasant collapsed to the ground. A woman’s voice behind us urged her spaniels forward to collect the bird.
    My friend Mike whispered, “They’re coming now. Remember, only the high birds.”
    To illustrate his point, a rooster emerged out front, flying about 50 feet above the ground. It was a safe and relatively easy shot. But easy shots were considered poor form by our group of nine.
    I also knew that the concentration of shot pellets would be more likely to ruin the table quality of the birds we harvested. All of the game we would down would remain property of the estate hosting our group, destined to be sold to London restaurants.
    I let the bird fly through.
    The flag wavers increased their tempo as more ringnecks flushed. Another flew toward us, this one at a challenging altitude.
    I raised the gun to my shoulder.
    As the gaudy bird closed, another half-dozen approached from a different direction. I changed to the nearer of those only to have it veer off toward the shooter to my right. I switched to the bird behind.
    By now all the birds were almost directly overhead, and I realized I’d made a critical error. Reaching the end of my physical ability to swing vertically overhead to establish the proper lead, I missed badly. There was no possibility of firing the second barrel.
    The guns all across our line discharged now as clouds of pheasants rushed toward us. It was not possible to get a shot at every bird that came in range in this aerial stampede, though I tried. I scored some birds, but my increasing excitement was becoming an ever-greater impediment to my marksmanship.
    “Your turn,” I said to my friend after yet another miss.
    I broke open my shotgun, ejecting the two empties and stepped to the rear, as Mike calmly dropped two shells into his 28-bore over-under, closed the gun and easily grassed the next two pheasants. He reloaded and did it again.
    This hunt was thrilling. Hundreds of birds time were passing over us on the grounds of the expansive estate.
    The ambiance of the occasion was the same as had been established by English sports over the past two centuries. Tweed shooting coats, vests and ties, thigh-high Wellington-type boots and proper shooting hats and gloves were required, as were double-barrel shotguns. I considered myself a lucky man to have a place in an Old World hunt.