Though I’m lucky enough to be asked to some smart shoots I am by nature a hedgerow moocher and pot hunter and have been since I first picked up a gun in my boyhood. There’s deep satisfaction in setting forth and coming back with something for supper, whether it’s a bag of plump pigeon or a hatful of mushrooms.
As I have so many pheasants and redlegs coming through I always take off the breasts and legs and discard the rest, as do the vast majority of my keen shooting friends. If I need whole birds for roasting I’m usually fortunate to be given plenty of “oven readies” during the season. And I always breast pigeon, geese and mallard.
With so much game it’s tempting to freeze it but we make a concerted effort not to do so and to use it fresh. And we do so ruthlessly. Got a jar of cook-in tandoori sauce? Then pour it on the pheasant breasts shamelessly. It is, after all, the cheapest meat you’ll ever have.
No commercially-produced hipflask-filler tastes as good as homemade - and mine did win first prize at my village show…
Whether you use gin or vodka is immaterial. I prefer vodka.
Sloes are the traditional fruit to use but if you can get damsons so much the better - being bigger, they’re less effort to pick and I think the result is just as delicious.
Whichever you choose, make sure the fruit is really ripe. With sloes, you can wait until November, when the leaf’s off the bushes - it makes picking them easier. Once picked, put them in the freezer overnight then thaw them out when you're ready to make your liqueur. They’ll split, which means you don’t have to prick them with a pin to release the flavour. With the damsons, I cut a gash in their sides before putting them in the spirits.