The Land Rover bumps home to Dalswinton House, a Georgian jewel with
baths the size of dry docks. Roy, with Brian Forrester, Buccleuch Foods
managing director, has arranged for London chefs to sample the estate’s
beef before a day’s driven game-shooting; though the chefs easily
demolish the tender meat they’re less confident about the morrow. It’s
reputed that even the great James Percy had the wobbles here two
seasons ago and Rab tells a story about “a team of guns, as good as I’ve seen, who took on one of our partridge drives when there was a bit of a wind”. He pauses. “It had 22 partridges for 428 cartridges.”

The following morning a small invasion force assembles in front
of Drumlanrig Castle, as the dogmen take the opportunity on “house”
days to train their charges. We’re expected to shoot around 150
pheasants and the chefs show their skills aren’t confined to a skillet.
With 120,000 acres, the Queensbury keepers have drives to suit every
team’s abilities, and today the birds are drifting out of small hangar
woods over the streams that lace Dumfriesshire. We have to concentrate
but by 11am there’s a quiet confidence among the guns.

Roy pulls on an Embassy, exhales and takes me aside. “Now we’ll take them for a surprise,”
and with that we clamber into the cars and on to the moorland. The
hills grow with the miles, until we’re in a ravine between a couple of
junior mountains. He’s brought us to the Drive of Doom.

The first drive borders on the mad. The partridges are being
pushed over at an angle and curl as they collect the freshening wind.
But some of the lower, easier ones are at least possible. The return
drive is more an exercise in trying to spot specks, and the guns hold
fire on the majority of the birds. “We don’t really shoot them this late in the season,” explains Roy. “The
birds come over too high. But I thought you’d like to admire them as
they pass – and see that redlegs can do well on high ground so long as
you feed them.”

Back by the huddled vehicles, the keeper’s lad is adding our meagre
contribution to the gamecart. Kieran’s finger is still bandaged after
his wrestle with Nipper. The rain shrouds the hills. Another wild day
ends in a wild country. For further information or details about the
sport and the beef, visit the Buccleuch website.