A team of close friends gath­ers for a day of mixed sport and se­ri­ous leg-pulling.

Shooting Gazette - - News - By Robert Cuth­bert.

Mixed birds and se­ri­ous leg pulling amongst friends.

In the fi­nal in­ter­view I con­ducted with the late AA Gill for this very mag­a­zine, he quizzi­cally brought up the no­tion that peo­ple in cities rarely look up, look up at the skies dur­ing their ev­ery­day lives. They never con­sider the clouds…why would they?

Although de­scrib­ing the ‘com­plete nar­ra­tive’ that is a day stalk­ing on the hill, his sup­po­si­tions on what was hugely im­por­tant and rel­e­vant to him at that time, ex­tends to the field in gen­eral, ‘be­ing wrapped, co­cooned in the day’. I tum­bled snip­pets of our con­ver­sa­tion over in my mind the last time I was in Lon­don’s West End, charg­ing from tube sta­tion to my des­ti­na­tion. In a city, one’s senses are…i don’t want to say as­saulted, as the neg­a­tiv­ity jars, but tu­mul­tuously swamped with so many noises and smells, from the sub­limely good and be­guil­ing to gen­uinely gag-in­duc­ing. I won­der if our fa­tigue after a day in a city is just our strug­gle to process so much; we’ve yet to be fine-tuned to it all.

So with fresh, strong cof­fee in­ten­si­fy­ing our senses and the mem­ory of smoked ba­con rolls al­ready sharp­en­ing our thirsts to an edge, I joined Ru­fina Pavry at her peg in the mid­dle of the line for Pither’s Hill, the open­ing drive at Many­down, near Kingsclere in the Berk­shire and Hamp­shire bor­ders. The only sen­sory prompts and in­tru­sions lanc­ing the si­lence were the stub­ble-washed breezes, the keen­ing of a dis­tant buz­zard and the crackle and rus­tle of the shoot host’s feet in the long straw stalks.

I hon­estly think that dis­til­la­tion of just a hand­ful of sen­sory mark­ers helps make our days so sooth­ing and re­lax­ing.

An ac­cel­er­ated ruf­fling sound her­alded the ar­rival of the team’s quarry; a hard-fly­ing covey of French par­tridge, sound­ing not

un­like a mul­ti­tude of play­ing cards clothes-pegged to a mul­ti­tude of bike wheel spokes. The guns were more than ready, guns up, keenly eye­ing the sky­line.

Now, I must de­clare an in­ter­est in that the head­keeper Kevin Rolls is a dear friend, but I did mar­vel at how his par­tridges had read a pheas­ant’s script in ar­riv­ing in smartly ar­ranged bun­dles of threes and fours all the way along the line. It was tes­ta­ment to an ex­tremely well-dis­ci­plined beat­ing line. The well-spaced in­di­vid­ual shot re­ports echoed away across the vast stub­ble field, in a huge vale, re­sem­bling the most ti­tanic game of pick-up-sticks any child could ever dream of.

Kevin has keep­ered and man­aged the shoot at Many­down since 2010, along with his friend and ven­ture part­ner An­gus Irvine.

At just 20 days, it’s re­fresh­ingly lightly shot, al­most en­tirely by a syn­di­cate. In­ter­est­ingly, they’re just en­ter­ing into another ven­ture at the renowned es­tate Bag­nor, nearer to New­bury. Many­down, an im­por­tant part of the then GCT’S piv­otal bio­di­ver­sity study in the 1980s, is now at the core of a shoot tak­ing in around 2,000 acres of bar­ley, wheat roots and ma­ture wood­land.

Mrs Pavry was swiftly off the mark, tak­ing her birds in good, clear sil­hou­ette above the seem­ingly end­less shel­ter belt trail­ing away to our left; this style of shoot­ing clearly suited her; nine from a dozen or so shots, nailed cleanly in front, at the cen­tral apex of that neat imag­i­nary fun­nel shape em­a­nat­ing from her peg, to tum­ble neatly at our feet.

Ru­fina, shoot­ing a fairly stan­dard Beretta 20 bore, per­haps a nod to her il­lus­tri­ous Ital­ian pedi­gree, seemed happy to leave any birds quar­ter­ing to her right, her friend Jen Suman grate­fully mop­ping them up neatly with her de­mure English­built 16 bore.

“The only sen­sory in­tru­sions lanc­ing the si­lence were the keen­ing of dis­tant buz­zards and the crackle of the host’s feet in the straw.”

Chris Pask, ac­com­pa­nied by his lit­tle boy, was quite ab­stemious through­out the drive, pick­ing out the birds that re­ally stretched him; he had a great view of pro­ceed­ings, slightly higher than the other guns on the far right of the line. This was no gen­tle loosener; the team were straight in to it, with over 30 par­tridges rolled into the dusty stub­bles.

With some quick hedgerow pit stops squared away, the second drive, Nut­wood, af­forded me a slightly bet­ter view of the guns I hadn’t seen much of in the opener. Knee-deep in a rolling emer­ald sea of vivid green stub­ble turnips, Claire Sadler was first to shoul­der her gun; reload­ing in a slick, well-honed move­ment, to the chor­tles and gen­tle snip­ing of her friend Vic­to­ria Knowles-lacks; both ladies were back-gunning Jen Suman on the slop­ing ground on drive one. There was a lit­tle light sledg­ing from Paul Gra­ham, who in fair­ness had taken plenty on the gun­bus on ac­count of his ques­tion­able whiskers, a lamé shoot­ing suit of al­most mythical rep­u­ta­tion, a mag­nif­i­cently se­lected yellow silk pocket square (sadly, all too rare these days) and a dozen or so other points.

The ini­tial wave of par­tridges prompted a united in­take of breath from the team as the large ini­tial flush of birds breasted the hedge line. Luck­ily, half of the large covey ducked the breeze or arced away to the flanks, as any de­gree of tidy shoot­ing would have put a large ques­tion mark over the chance of a third and fourth drive. How­ever, there was no cause for alarm as the re­main­der trick­led through in re­strained but invit­ing groups for the guns to pick out without haste.

Count Odon de Bel­lis­sen, Chris Thorpe, and a new­comer to the group, Piers Pow­ell-shed­den, were all busy tak­ing the lion’s share of the sport. Thorpe, The Count and in a much broader, far hairier sense, Paul Gra­ham, are that es­sen­tial thing on a shoot day – so­cial glue; they sim­ply couldn’t stop with myr­iad ob­ser­va­tions and wit­ti­cisms; a sort of glee­ful in­con­ti­nence of repar­tee.

Elevenses was ro­bust, un­fussy and plen­ti­ful; the chorizo and bean soup was in­spired and quite su­perb, but it did come back to haunt one or two guns later in the day, with one end of the gun­bus sound­ing not un­like a Year Five re­me­dial clar­inet les­son warm-up.

At the ap­pre­cia­bly fresher end of the bus, I wrig­gled in next to the re­li­ably more fra­grant Claire ‘Sads’ Sadler, a Lon­don lawyer, to in­ter­ro­gate her about her sea­son.

“How many days each sea­son? Well, it has var­ied over the last few years due to work com­mit­ments but

the num­ber of days seems to be grow­ing, although this year I’ve had only had about six days as I was out in the US for two weeks in Novem­ber shoot­ing nearly every day, so I needed a bit of a rest when I got back. That was a trip with Vic­to­ria,” she ex­plained.

“We first met when I attended my first ever Shot­gun & Chelsea Bun Club event at Royal Berk­shire Shoot­ing School a few years ago. We have since be­come very close friends. We re­ally lift and sup­port each other through ev­ery­thing we do. We’re very sim­i­lar in that we love our clays and adore ev­ery­thing about our game shoot­ing too. I prac­tise hard dur­ing the close sea­son and I take huge pride in cook­ing game for friends and fam­ily, par­tic­u­larly game I've shot. It’s about be­ing part of some­thing that is such an in­te­gral part of our coun­try life and Bri­tish cul­ture and I am pas­sion­ate about en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to get in­volved.”

I love you re­ally

The core of this team has shot to­gether for a num­ber of years now and it re­ally shows in the ca­sual, with­er­ing and un­re­lent­ing dis­dain they dis­play for each other, gen­er­ally. It’s won­der­ful to be around, that dis­play of not dar­ing to show just how fond of each other they re­ally are. With the third drive ap­proach­ing, they’d just nudged into three fig­ures, not that it mat­tered a jot. As Paul Gra­ham, a di­rec­tor at Pol Roger, poured the rem­nants of a bot­tle into his friend’s flute, he re­flected: “My, I just love shoot­ing re­ally tra­di­tional par­tridges like that,” to a know­ing nod of agree­ment from Chris Thorpe, an ac­coun­tant…but a fun and in­ter­est­ing one.

“At, Paul, you re­ally love shoot­ing at those par­tridges,” cor­rected a friend with a twitch of an eye­brow. The slight was un­founded, as both Gra­ham and Thorpe had re­ally shot out of their skins on the pre­vi­ous drive, each wield­ing a hefty Brown­ing and Beretta 12 bore, re­spec­tively.

Any racket was mer­ci­fully kept to a min­i­mum for once as the guns were po­si­tioned by the chirpy shoot host Dar­ran Ritchie at Hun­gry Hill, one of those prob­lem­atic ‘big sky drives’ with no real dis­cernible mark­ers to help in tak­ing some gauge of height and dis­tance.

Once again, I took up a po­si­tion with Ru­fina, who back-gunned the line at the base of a good slope, with us now squint­ing into a wa­tery sun, Vic­to­ria, Chris Thorpe and Claire in front of us. And as no one in par­tic­u­lar once said, par­tridges wait for no one tak­ing a com­fort break, so with one chap still shak­ing and one lady still dripdry­ing, at op­po­site ends of the line, the open­ing vol­ley of lit­tle birds whis­tled through the in­ter­rupted line to a stac­cato rip­ple of snatched shots which touched not a feather.

Once the ac­tion started, it was brief but fast and fu­ri­ous and dur­ing a lull, a pearler of a pheas­ant came storm­ing to­wards Chris Thorpe, only to be taken at 40 yards by Vic­to­ria

“The open­ing vol­ley of lit­tle birds whis­tled through the in­ter­rupted line to a stac­cato rip­ple of snatched shots.”

with one shot off her left shoul­der and an im­me­di­ate apol­ogy, fol­lowed by hoots of laugh­ter, pheas­ant ear­rings flash­ing in the sun­light.

With only 30 or so to find, the team as­sem­bled for Hutchins – the fi­nal drive of the day. As Kevin Rolls gave me a wave from a dis­tance, one or two guns men­tioned their rum­bling tum­mies; the tim­ing could not have been bet­ter. One of the guns, who af­fected a shoot­ing stick, shot quite well once parted from it, they all did re­ally. In fair­ness, the team were that won­der­ful thing of bliss­ful re­straint con­sid­er­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties af­forded them.

It wasn’t long at all un­til par­tridges and then pheas­ants started ris­ing, quar­ter­ing across the line from the bottom right flush­ing point, with birds do­ing all sorts with myr­iad cover options. Without the need for blank­ing in, it was just one of those fi­nales which sud­denly un­folded without a slow build and wal­lop­ing crescendo, it just bounced into the lat­ter with so many shots and echoes at the end, it sounded like a dou­ble gun day at full tilt.

A pair of glossy black labradors, ef­fi­cient enough to im­press, but with plenty of char­ac­ter, mopped up with lit­tle cor­rec­tion from their friendly han­dler. Jen­nifer Suman, a vi­va­cious City girl with a big heart in the High­lands, picked up her emp­ties and her near­est birds, whilst point­ing out her kills, fur­ther be­hind her, with her thumb-stick… ever the tra­di­tion­al­ist.

They looked around for the re­main­der of the team as the birds were be­ing braced to­gether on a nearby truck. They smiled the smile of an un­spo­ken mu­tual ap­pre­ci­a­tion of a good day shared, and shared with friends.

Sport­ing agent and Shoot­ing Gazette con­trib­u­tor Robert Cuth­bert.

Ru­fina Pavry ac­quit­ted her­self ex­tremely well dur­ing the day.

Dar­ran Ritchie was the shoot host on the day.

Jen Suman and Paul Gra­ham com­pare notes be­tween drives.

Chris Thorpe scans the hori­zon for signs of move­ment.

Head­keeper Kevin Rolls.

Chris Pask’s son Henry.

Jen Suman pulls the trig­ger on Pithers Hill.

Lunch was taken at The Ge­orge & Dragon in Wolver­ton Tadley.

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