The Shoot

by Bradley Cutts

Us beaters, armed with stout sticks,
whack tree trunks and bash bushes.
Three pheasants flap up,
and beaks pointing straight ahead, tug away.
The shooters are waiting.
Bang-bang. Bang-bang.
Ten double-barrelled guns ring out.
Pheasants spin and fall to the ground.
The dogs race, eager
to be the first to get the prize.

We carry on through the wooded area.
Spot sprints off after a rabbit.
Sharp teeth bite neck and shake.
After several long minutes
it is dead. Phew.
No more screaming.

At the end of the drive,
after walking around the headland,
through the elephant grass and the short set-aside,
we count up. Twenty-nine pheasants,
a rabbit, and seven woodcock.

I love carrying the tiny wood-cock
by their necks
between my third and fourth fingers,
like Bernie showed me.
Their warm feathers feel like silk.
Blood bubbles in the corner of their eyes.
Their delicate hooked beaks
open slightly and tiny drops of blood
trickle down like sweat
staining my gloves red.

The pheasants have to be tied by their feet
with orange bale-string,
in braces, two to a string,
evenly balanced over a shoulder.