An ex­pe­ri­enced team has hit the ground run­ning with seem­ingly any­thing pos­si­ble as the shoot en­ters its sec­ond sea­son un­der their stew­ard­ship.

Shooting Gazette - - This Month - WORDS: MAR­TIN PUD­DIFER | PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: BOB ATKINS

How a new team is mak­ing a huge im­pact close to the city lim­its. By Mar­tin Pud­difer.

Can we all agree that our shoot­ing world is get­ting smaller by the sea­son? Not in terms of the num­bers par­tic­i­pat­ing, of course, more that the longer you are in­volved with the sport the higher the chances are you’ll bump into some­one you’ve ei­ther shot with be­fore or you know through a mu­tual friend or ac­quain­tance. Let me give you an ex­am­ple: while I was chat­ting to Guns at Kedle­ston this time last year, I no­ticed out of the cor­ner of my eye a man I was sure I’d met in the dim and dis­tant past but couldn’t place. Later, the man in ques­tion, tall, broad shoul­dered, and from what I saw some­one who knew the ben­e­fit of tak­ing his birds early, ap­proached me and said, with a fa­mil­iar lilt, “Hello, I’m Mar­tin, we’ve met be­fore…” As he smiled the penny fi­nally dropped. It was Mar­tin Snell, a farmer I’d in­ter­viewed a cou­ple of years pre­vi­ously when he was in­volved with a shoot on the Lincolnshire/ Not­ting­hamshire bor­der. I was so glad he in­tro­duced him­self as my men­tal game of shoot re­port Guess

Who? was go­ing nowhere.

So what was Mar­tin do­ing in Der­byshire, and what was the na­ture of his re­la­tion­ship with Kedle­ston’s shoot cap­tain Steven Poun­tain? The two had been in deep con­ver­sa­tion for most of the morn­ing, and as it turned out Steven was run­ning Kedle­ston with Mar­tin’s back­ing af­ter the for­mer had been asked to

“find him a shoot”. The pair had first met when Mar­tin was in­volved with his old shoot and Steven was bring­ing par­ties over from his na­tive Der­byshire. Af­ter a quiet start to the search two shoots, one of them Kedle­ston, were found. While some­thing of a blank can­vas to the pair the pres­ence of wood­land, steep, sweep­ing banks and rolling farm­land meant there was more than a lit­tle po­ten­tial for a qual­ity mixed shoot to be fash­ioned their way, and all of this only two miles from Derby city cen­tre.

At the time of our ar­rival at Kedle­ston late last Novem­ber ev­ery­thing about the new regime was so fresh you could al­most smell the paint and saw­dust. “Good lads, ded­i­cated lads” is how Mar­tin de­scribed game­keep­ers Jamie Maver and Ryan Culling­ford, two Sparsholt alum­nus who af­ter time spent else­where came aboard soon af­ter Mar­tin and Steven to over­see the es­tate’s 4,000 acres. The pair has been in­cred­i­bly busy since the mid­dle of last year; they now share the man­age­ment of three beats and have over­hauled the num­ber and lay­outs of re­lease pens home to par­tridges and pheas­ant, which, from this sea­son, will both come from Bet­tws Hall game farm and are de­scribed by Mar­tin as “very good qual­ity”. The com­mon ring­necks that were shot on the day of our visit are a favourite of his, mainly be­cause they fly so well and they don’t wan­der. They cer­tainly won’t want for food given how much is laid down for them, and one only needed to look at their con­di­tion in the game cart to ap­pre­ci­ate

the qual­ity of their hus­bandry. Stan­dards, it seems, have re­mained high. Work has car­ried on apace and word is start­ing to get around. In the in­ter­ven­ing pe­riod be­tween our visit and by the time you read this, with the co-op­er­a­tion with the es­tate’s “very sup­port­ive” farm­ers, new game cover – maize and mil­let – has been planted, new drives have added or ex­tended and some 3,000 trees added to one of the sig­na­ture drives, Gun­hills.

“We’ve got our birds early this year, in June, they look fan­tas­tic. We’re re­ally look­ing for­ward to our for­ward to our sec­ond sea­son,” said Steven. “We’ve got sin­gle guns from Amer­ica and Ger­many com­ing back and teams from Lincolnshire, Nor­folk and Suf­folk are all set to ar­rive too. Sev­eral teams took smaller days last year to see what we were like and now they are ask­ing us to of­fer some­thing a lit­tle larger. I get a real buzz from show­ing peo­ple around, es­pe­cially those who have heard about us, strug­gle to be­lieve a shoot like this is so close to a city cen­tre, who want to come and see the shoot in the sum­mer months be­fore they, hope­fully, book a day with us. To have achieved what we did in our first sea­son, given that we only took it on a year last May, not know­ing who’d shot here be­fore or any­thing about the beat­ers and pick­ers-up etc., gave me great sat­is­fac­tion.”

Steven didn’t strike me as the type of per­son to get wound up or have sleep­less nights when a shoot day hadn’t gone as planned. He told me he is not the type of per­son to make mas­sive changes when things aren’t quite right, pre­fer­ring in­stead to pick up any

dropped stitches to­gether with his team. “I would have to try and look at things pos­i­tively, try make some small al­ter­ations, I’d rather stick with some­thing and make it work than com­pletely scrap it,” he ex­plained. “On one drive for ex­am­ple, Wood­ford Lane, we had to drive it sev­eral dif­fer­ent ways to find its strong­est di­rec­tion. Be­fore, Guns were stood in a semi-cir­cle fac­ing a game crop/ pit hole high in front of them, now they’re stood in a straight line be­tween two fields. We also moved the flush­ing point as it was from here the birds seemed to want to fly. The keep­ers make men­tal notes from shoot day to shoot day to im­prove the drives, as in this case.

“We still have ar­eas we didn’t use last year, ones we’ll start to bring on more this sea­son, and we’ll be

closely mon­i­tor­ing them with the idea of even­tu­ally cre­at­ing more drives. I sup­pose the se­cret to our suc­cess is Mar­tin’s trust in what we are do­ing, pick­ing up on his ideas and putting them into prac­tice. If there’s a prob­lem we will dis­cuss it and al­ter it ac­cord­ingly. We’re try­ing to achieve what he wants, which is cre­at­ing a shoot that is for all abil­i­ties and gives Guns a fair day for a fair price, to go away happy and come back again.”

De­spite Kedle­ston’s growth in pop­u­lar­ity, Steven is happy to keep things off-the-cuff on shoot day, re­ly­ing on his ex­pe­ri­ence and in­stincts rather than lines re­hearsed in the car dur­ing the short drive from his home to Kedle­ston Coun­try House where the Guns gather for their brief­ing. That’s not to say he isn’t any­thing other than pro­fes­sional. He’s not one for gim­micks in terms of how the days are sold, is re­laxed, ap­proach­able and you could prob­a­bly count on the fin­gers of one hand the amount of times he’d have si­dle up to a Gun to re­mind them about safety or re­spect for quarry – a sign of Steven wear­ing his shoot­ing in­struc­tor’s hat when he needs to. This is a new shoot but the tra­di­tions of the sport run deep, very deep.

“Some peo­ple seem to be ob­sessed with shoot­ing birds that are too high and when they don’t meet the bag they go away dis­ap­pointed,” Steven ex­plained. “At Kedle­ston, we like to see our birds shot fold in the air and be re­trieved. You have to con­sider their wel­fare. We won’t shoot too late in the day when the birds are re­turn­ing to the woods; you want to give them a chance to get there. I don’t like to see birds pricked.”

Here is a shoot that you would feel con­fi­dent tak­ing some­one to for their first day but also rec­om­mend­ing to a friend who wants to push them­selves. As is so of­ten the case, it’s the way birds are pre­sented which catches the eye. I came away from Gun­hills in par­tic­u­lar think­ing to my­self it could ex­haust a gun and put them in their place if they don’t keep their adren­a­line in check. I think it’s a drive and a shoot you’d en­joy.

Some of the shoot’s most test­ing birds are found on Gun­hills.

Wood­ford Lane on the Far­nah beat il­lus­trates the shoot’s var­ied to­pog­ra­phy.

Mar­tin Snell and Steven Poun­tain share a mo­ment be­tween drives.

When the wind blows on Dray­cotts the Guns are in for a test­ing time.

Clive Gib­bons spots birds for Con­rad Schu­macher.

Keep­ers Ryan Culling­ford and Jamie Maver have made a real im­pact on the shoot.

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