Grand hunt­ing in York

Robert Black has ex­pe­ri­enced hunt­ing in Aus­tralia and around the world but he writes that it all pales into in­signif­i­cance when you step onto the fa­mous York­shire moors in Eng­land for a driven game bird shoot.

Field and Game - - GRAND HUNTING IN YORK -

Over my years I have been priv­i­leged to shoot nu­mer­ous ducks, quail, rab­bits and hares across the length and breadth of Vic­to­ria. I have en­joyed many jumps across the ditch to New Zealand, the land of the long white cloud, tak­ing first class bag lim­its of Mal­lards, par­adise ducks and canada geese, along with nu­mer­ous hares that thrive over there as they have no foxes.

It all pales into in­signif­i­cance once you at­tend a driven English game bird shoot in glo­ri­ous York­shire, UK, as this truly is the ex­pe­ri­ence of a life­time.

My group of eight guns, or­gan­ised to per­fec­tion by our shoot leader Jon Thomas of Cobaw Sport­ing Clay Shoot­ing Re­serve, took off late Oc­to­ber 2017 for Manch­ester. On ar­rival, we hired rental cars and com­pleted the three-hour drive over to the glo­ri­ous pic­turesque vil­lage of Helm­s­ley, York­shire, which I deem to be the shoot­ing cap­i­tal of the north of Eng­land.

Dress code is strictly tweeds, silk shoot­ing ties, breeks, long stock­ings, knee high and sport­ing flashes or flags and for footwear, wellies, or should I say the orig­i­nal Le Chameau gum­boots.

If you don’t dress the part I’m not cer­tain our English cousins would al­low you to par­tic­i­pate in th­ese Down­ton Abbey style shoots. I think if you turned up in Aussie shoot­ing camo and waders with your face black­ened with char­coal you would be given the short shrift and promptly sent around the back of the manor so they could set the hounds on you.

That said, the dress code adds to the un­be­liev­able at­mos­phere and am­bi­ence of rub­bing shoul­ders with the Lords of the Manors and their first-class game­keep­ers and es­tate man­agers.

Our group set­tled in the Black Swan Ho­tel, the hub of Helm­s­ley, which su­perbly caters to ev­ery whim and wish of shoot­ers. Guns are wel­come and you have your own in­di­vid­ual dou­ble-locked com­bi­na­tion gun safe and ac­cess to a gun clean­ing room.

Rooms are beau­ti­fully ap­pointed, full English break­fast is served at 7 am and staff are at your beck and call and there to en­sure your stay is noth­ing short of first class and, more im­por­tantly, mem­o­rable.

A typ­i­cal shoot­ing day com­menced at 8 am in the vil­lage square where you were in­tro­duced to your shoot­ing agent for the day by or­gan­iser Jon Thomas, who then promptly gave in­di­vid­ual cars the post­code of the es­tate we were bound for. Most trips took about 45 min­utes.

Upon ar­rival at the manor house, we were greeted by the game­keep­ers for an early morn­ing cup of tea or cof­fee and, on oc­ca­sions, a ba­con and egg roll.

All were warmly wel­comed and with­out fail, a com­ment al­ways came forth about the up­com­ing ham­mer­ing the Aussies would soon suf­fer when The Ashes com­menced, but as we sus­pected, his­tory now records the op­po­site.

The English take their shoot­ing very se­ri­ously but their cricket is clas­si­fied like a re­li­gion and non-be­liev­ers are frowned upon.

The game­keeper out­lines safety and eti­quette for the day: the golden

rule is quite sim­ple — blue sky above your gun bar­rel. It is a driven shoot so nat­u­rally, beat­ers and dogs are driv­ing the game to­wards you. Low birds should be left for an­other day.

Oc­ca­sion­ally the odd quip is thrown in about how 200 years ago you lost a point for shoot­ing a beater but to­day it’s a life sen­tence in Dart­moor Prison.

The day nor­mally con­sisted of five drives, pegs are drawn and each shooter then has their start­ing num­ber for the day and af­ter each drive you sim­ply move up two pegs.

The an­tic­i­pa­tion fac­tor on each in­di­vid­ual drive is equal to the ex­cite­ment and build up one ex­pe­ri­ences at Duck Open­ing. The at­mos­phere is elec­tri­fy­ing as you await a mag­nif­i­cent cock pheas­ant or fast-fly­ing hen bird or a par­tridge trav­el­ling like a scud mis­sile flash­ing across the sky, at times at heights that present the ul­ti­mate chal­lenge even to the most ex­pe­ri­enced high duck shot.

As the drive con­tin­ues you are truly amazed and look up in dis­be­lief at the sheer num­ber of game birds that fly over your head. Hun­dreds is not an ex­ag­ger­a­tion and as you fi­nally set­tle down af­ter the ini­tial rush of blood to the head you slowly start to re­alise you can se­lect birds that you not only con­sider sport­ing but ones that pro­vide the ut­most chal­lenge to your shoot­ing prow­ess.

At the end of the first drive, which is sig­nalled by the blast of the game­keeper’s horn, you up stakes and re­turn to your cars to fol­low an es­tate car to the next drive. One must bear in mind some of the es­tates we were for­tu­nate and in many ways priv­i­leged to shoot on were more than 10 000 acres of mag­nif­i­cent hills, dales and for­est, so the next drive could be any­thing up to a kilo­me­tre away.

The ba­sic shoot is based on an honour sys­tem, mean­ing if you have booked a 300-bird day (that’s birds downed not birds re­leased) and there are eight guns cov­er­ing five drives, you al­low roughly 60 birds per drive so each gun aims to take seven to eight birds per drive. Nat­u­rally if per chance you are on a lean peg and only shoot, say, two to three birds, the next drive you have an hon­ourable bag limit of about 12 birds.

Af­ter two or three drives the shoot comes to a halt and you par­take of elevenses, although most of the time it was af­ter noon when we reached a well set up shel­ter. The wait­resses served ‘in the field’ pork pies, slices of fruit cake with a de­lec­ta­ble slice of ched­dar cheese on top and sloe gin to wash it all down. Sloe gin is mixed with bub­bly wine or in some cases true cham­pagne, or if it’s a bit nippy out, bull shots, which con­sist of beef tea, laced with fine sherry.

The shoot then recom­mences and the fi­nal drives are com­pleted. Then it is back to the manor house to re­place gum­boots with clean footwear and en­ter a mag­nif­i­cent din­ing room for a first-class meal ac­com­pa­nied by G&TS, beer, and ex­cel­lent red and white wines.

On all shoots, the game­keeper ad­dresses the group, giv­ing out in­di­vid­ual game cards bear­ing the names of the guns, game bird tal­lies, names of drives and weather de­tails.

Our group en­joyed two days of shoot­ing the prince of game birds, the much-revered grouse, on the vast York­shire Moors. Grouse shoot­ing is the re­verse of shoot­ing high-fly­ing pheas­ants and par­tridges as it in­volves shoot­ing from pits in the ground at birds that seem to travel at the speed of sound, zig zag­ging across the vast acreages of heather, at times no more than 150 mm or six inches above the heather. Not for the faint-hearted or short-sighted shooter.

One out­stand­ing day that de­serves an hon­ourable men­tion was on the Eg­ton Es­tate, per­son­ally hosted by the Lord of The Manor, The Hon. Olly Fos­ter. A truly un­for­get­table day.

The beat­ers did a first-class job of driv­ing pheas­ants high over the trees pre­sent­ing all guns with first-class chal­leng­ing shots. The day con­sisted of four drives and we took 281 pheas­ants. On one par­tic­u­lar drive along­side the River Esk, it was in­cred­i­ble see­ing birds hit the fast-flow­ing river and watch the splen­did dogs div­ing in the fast-flow­ing cur­rent to re­trieve ev­ery sin­gle bird.

Olly seemed to en­joy the day as much as the guns, not only act­ing as a spot­ter but also a loader; he made you feel like an in­vited guest on his re­mark­able and out­stand­ing North York­shire Es­tate, not just a pay­ing cus­tomer. That goes down in my book of life as a true red let­ter day.

I will add that five of our group took their own guns and bat­tled with cus­toms on the home front and in the UK, while the other three sim­ply hired guns on the way to Helm­s­ley.

A very happy and thor­oughly sat­is­fied group of shoot­ers fi­nally em­barked home­ward bound and all ex­claimed it was cer­tainly the shoot of a life­time.

An­thony Tal­lack with a prized pheas­ant

Dr. Bill Davies and An­thony Tal­lack (stand­ing) and Bob Black (seated) in full shoot­ing re­galia. Back row: Ian Wal­dron, Tony Bar­rett, Jon Thomas, Paul Schem­bri, An­thony Tal­lack and Pe­ter Bob­eff. Front row: Judy Wal­dron, Dr. Bill Davies and Bob Black (seated)

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