What does your shoot­ing stick mean to you, and does it mat­ter what it’s made of or where it’s come from? Chris War­ren shares his thoughts.

Shooting Gazette - - This month - By Chris War­ren.

Why we would be nowhere with­out a good shoot­ing stick.

last Jan­uary, whilst out and about on our lit­tle shoot here in Hampshire, I slipped over. It wasn’t es­pe­cially dra­matic. One mo­ment I was edg­ing along a par­tic­u­larly steep sec­tion of one of our hang­ers and then I wasn’t; I was slid­ing rapidly down­hill through the leaf lit­ter. Af­ter a rather fran­tic cou­ple of sec­onds I man­aged to catch hold of a piece of elder, which as usual in this sit­u­a­tion snapped off but then a rather more sub­stan­tial growth of hazel ar­rested my progress. I lay for a few mo­ments run­ning through a check­list of pos­si­ble in­juries but came to the con­clu­sion the only things dam­aged were my dig­nity and a bit of bruis­ing to my ego, but as there had been no one to wit­ness my fall from grace, all was well.

What would have saved me was that coun­try­man or woman’s friend and beater’s tool – the stick. Iron­i­cally enough, what had brought me to this hill­side on that rather dank and chilly day was the search for a par­tic­u­larly straight sec­tion of holly that I had no­ticed when beat­ing on our last shoot. Be­cause I was laden down with a saw, se­ca­teurs and gloves, I had left my walk­ing stick at home. More fool me.

I am guess­ing the first tool was a stone but the sec­ond must have been a stick, and any­thing with a han­dle in my view prob­a­bly started life as a stick. Isn’t a shot­gun just a mod­i­fied stick? Pos­si­bly not, but what is un­de­ni­able is that a stick-less beat­ing line would not be very ef­fec­tive. Apart from the tap­ping and bash­ing as­pects, on the shoots that I beat it is doubt­ful if a beater could get to the end of a drive with­out a trusty stick.

Do it your­self

Ev­ery year, in the win­ter months while the sap is not ris­ing, I like to go out and cut three or four stems that have walk­ing stick po­ten­tial. These then go into stor­age in a shed for a year or two be­fore I use them. Hazel is the eas­i­est to find but holly is my favourite. Hazel tends to grow straight and with lit­tle ta­per and those are the rea­sons that most com­mer­cially made sticks have hazel shanks. Holly, on the other hand, needs a lit­tle more en­deav­our to find suit­able pieces but the effort is worth it. The bark is a streaky mot­tled brown and when stripped you are re­warded with a beau­ti­fully smooth, ivory-coloured wood. And it is a tim­ber that is tough and seems to get tougher.

A stick is a very per­sonal thing. It has to have the cor­rect thick­ness, the right length, the right heft – which is why it’s a good rea­son to choose and cut the wood your­self. And as hob­bies go you don’t need a lot of kit. You need a saw, of course, but that’s about it as far as har­vest­ing the raw ma­te­rial is con­cerned, though gloves and lop­pers make the job eas­ier and more com­fort­able. Once sea­soned, a saw comes in handy again to re­move the twigs, a rasp or two will help you smooth off any knots, and sand­pa­per is use­ful for fin­ish­ing. And you’ll need a good sharp knife if you want to re­move the bark. Should you wish to carve an­i­mal heads, or fit antler and horn han­dles then you will need rather more in the way of tools but a good ba­sic stick needs al­most noth­ing.

The rea­son for col­lect­ing four at a time? Well, you can never have too many sticks and, be­sides, they also have a ten­dency to dis­ap­pear

“A stick is very per­sonal, which is why it’s a good idea to choose and cut the wood your­self.”

when lent to the un­de­serv­ing, or oc­ca­sion­ally they break. I once lent my sec­ond best stick to a friend. At the be­gin­ning of the day it was four feet long but at the end it had shrunk to a dis­ap­point­ing two feet long. Our friend­ship sur­vived but I can’t say I was al­to­gether happy. And from time to time sticks get ap­pro­pri­ated by my other half when she wants a rus­tic pole for the gar­den. How you can pos­si­bly mis­take a sea­son­ing walk­ing stick from a rus­tic pole, I have no idea!

The curse of The for­get­ful owner

You can buy a stick. There are thou­sands avail­able at coun­try fairs and the In­ter­net is awash with them, and very fine they are too. I saw some beau­ti­fully made sticks at a shoot just last year. They were works of art that had three of the guns reach­ing for their wal­lets be­fore pegs had been drawn or ba­con rolls con­sumed. But while I ad­mired them greatly they were not for me. Why not? Partly it was the “How much? For a stick?” tight-fisted sort of thing, but mostly be­cause I en­joy hav­ing a stick I’ve cho­sen and made my­self. I also know, sure as pigs have trot­ters, that were I to own one of these ex­am­ples of a mas­ter’s art that I’d lose it or break it. I am forever leav­ing my stick lean­ing against a tree or stuck in the ground, and I know if I left an ex­pen­sive stick I would not re­mem­ber where. Or I’d run over it, or snap it in a car door or some­thing.

Of course, what I want is the sort of stick I can hit trees with, beat down bram­bles and gen­er­ally abuse so a ‘good’ stick is, for me, out of the ques­tion. Ac­tu­ally, come to think of it, my favourite beat­ing stick was not cut by me at all but given to me by a close friend (though I did sea­son it for a year be­fore fin­ish­ing it). It is a lovely straight piece of holly and all I had to do was peel eight inches of bark from the thicker end to form a han­dle and add a used car­tridge case at the other for a fer­rule. I have used it for a few sea­sons now and it shows its age by the lack of bark and scars at the thin end. It may last for years yet, or it may not. You can never tell with a stick.

My new­est stick was not cut in win­ter but is an ex­am­ple of the old saw (sorry) about cut­ting a stick when you see it be­cause other­wise some other bug­ger may cut it first. The April be­fore last, in an effort to pro­vide the afore­men­tioned rus­tic poles for beans and sweet peas and the like, I was in some woods where I knew there was a sup­ply of crowns of straight hazel. As I col­lected the hazel I came across a piece of holly that had clearly had a bit of a fling with some hon­ey­suckle be­cause of the beau­ti­ful corkscrew shape it had formed. I’d had my eye out for some­thing like this for years but had never found a suit­able piece; they were al­ways

“You can never have too many sticks. They have a ten­dency to dis­ap­pear when lent to the un­de­serv­ing.”

too thick, too short or too bent. I knew if I left it then come the fol­low­ing Novem­ber I would never re­mem­ber where I had seen it. More­over, there I was, saw in hand, ready to do the job.

Eigh­teen months later it is ready. I cut off the twigs, filed and sanded the scars, did a lit­tle bit of straight­en­ing (just steam over a saucepan for 15 min­utes and care­fully bend the op­po­site way) and it was good to go. Ac­tu­ally, it still has a slight or­ganic curve to it, which I like, as some­one said there are not many straight lines in na­ture. It looks like some­thing Gan­dalf might use, which pleases me in­or­di­nately. I am still de­cid­ing whether to mount some­thing in the top. The end of a car­tridge seems a lit­tle ob­vi­ous, an old coin fairly point­less. I do have a pin feather from my very first wood­cock which I sup­pose I could set in resin, but then I’d cer­tainly lose the stick. It’s sim­ply lovely but it’s too good to use for beat­ing. Per­haps it’ll just have to be my tro­phy stick.

Just a few sim­ple tools are all you need to start craft­ing the perfect stick.

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