A sport to be sipped, rather than gulped

Af­ter 30 years of shoot­ing wood­cock, Mike Daw­nay tells John Bat­ley why he con­tin­ues to be drawn to this wild and un­pre­dictable quarry

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - GAME SHOOTING -

It is al­most 60 years since Mike Daw­nay hunted and claimed his first wood­cock. At the age of 10, on a fam­ily shoot dur­ing the school hol­i­days, he watched a wood­cock drift high above an oak. It was brought down with Mike’s sec­ond bar­rel, its colours and that long beak mar­velled over af­ter the con­grat­u­la­tions of the fam­ily at the day’s end. It was only then that Mike re­alised the shot had been taken with an Al­phamax goose load, left over from a pre­vi­ous out­ing wild­fowl­ing.

It was an aus­pi­cious start for the man who has ded­i­cated most of the past 30 years to the study and the hunting of th­ese most elu­sive of wild quarry as a way of life and com­mer­cial en­ter­prise.

Un­til fairly re­cently, lit­tle study had been done on Scolopax rus­ti­cola, but now the GWCT and oth­ers — both here and fur­ther afield in Europe and Rus­sia — have in­vested in pro­grammes that are shed­ding light on num­bers and pat­terns of mi­gra­tion, as well as count­ing seden­tary birds in the UK and Ire­land. The sci­en­tists are be­gin­ning to tell us of the de­clines and in­creases in pop­u­la­tion of this mys­te­ri­ous bird and the num­bers we shoot.

The first ques­tion of the in­ter­view for this most fo­cused and knowl­edge­able of coun­try­men is why hunt this bird, about which we still know so lit­tle and are un­sure of its fu­ture in to­day’s sport­ing world?

The re­sponse is clearly from Mike’s heart as well as his head: “I love wild and un­pre­dictable sport and shar­ing it with like-minded peo­ple.”

This sets the tone for the con­ver­sa­tion. Mike has ac­cess to nearly 10,000 acres in west Wales and, dur­ing the past three decades, he has made a metic­u­lous study of the ground, the weather, the wood­cock and the peo­ple who hunt them.

“Wales is the last out­post of the west­ward mi­gra­tion and Pem­brokeshire is like the fun­nel end

“The shot will prob­a­bly be in­stinc­tive and you must not hes­i­tate; if it is a safe shot, take it”

of a net,” Mike ex­plains. “The cli­mate is milder here than their first land­fall in the east of the coun­try and the to­pog­ra­phy of undis­turbed an­cient wood­land, scrub and forestry of­fers the ac­com­mo­da­tion the birds need to sur­vive the win­ter. Hedgerow bot­toms and warm hide­aways un­der

The sport­ing wood­cock has shoot­ers com­ing back for more, year af­ter yearInset above: The lit­tle bird’s gor­geous plumage

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