It happens that some photo projects get their start by opportunity. I’d been invited to participate in my first traditional driven pheasant shoot in Hungary. I was told to buy a Barbour jacket and wellies in preparation for the cold. I practiced shooting with lessons in skeet and sporting clays. By the end of the first day I knew that I wanted to put down my gun and pick up my camera.
Pheasant shoots are very much a ritual and rich in tradition and culture. Formal hunts were organized as early as the 17th century. The sport is not for the underprivileged, bags for a group of 8 shooters can be as high as 500 birds in a day, at an average cost of $40 per bird, not to mention the cost of guns, shells and the proper shooting attire. The shooting season is only four short months from October through January.
The shooter’s dress consists of many layers: long wool socks with garters; tweed waistcoats; breeches called plus two’s or plus four’s; all-important wellies, and flat wool caps. As our four-wheel drive vehicle cut through deep ruts in a muddy track, we arrived at fog-covered rolling green field surrounded by stands of forest. We uncovered our shotguns for what was expected to be a lovely day of shooting unless of course you were of the winged pheasant species. Numbers were drawn and shooters took to their assigned pegs in anticipation of the horn signifying the beginning of the shoot. The beaters began their job of rousing the birds out of the fields and forest, and the eager hunters began firing their first of four rounds. The highly trained and skilled dogs were then sent in by their handlers to fetch the fallen prey. The beautiful enthusiastic dogs were an integral part of the experience, and I found myself totally intrigued by them.
Midday we were called for lunch which included long tables set up in a field with many delicacies such as caviar and champagne. In the closing at day’s end, there was a beautiful celebration blessing the shooters, the dogs and their handlers, the loaders, the beaters, the birds, and all others that were involved.
I was surprised by how magical and romantic the entire experience was for me. With all of its majesty and wonders, it felt like the Out of Africa movie albeit in a different kind of scenery. The tradition and rituals of this sport seems unchanged by the modern world. Since my initiation into pheasant shoots, I’ve grown passionate about this unique and exclusive sport and have participated in many more shoots in England and Scotland with both my shotgun and camera.
By Shelley Calton