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
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