Sporting Gun speaks with Ruth Weir, keeper on the North Crawley estate.
Why did you become a keeper?
Now this is a long story, it has a bit of a twist. I was brought up in it, my dad was a gamekeeper, so I knew the world of keepering. For my sins I married a keeper, we were married for around 10 years, but we split up – and this was the estate he was working, where I am now. When he did his midnight disappearing act, he just left everything. I love where I live and I love this estate and I just wanted something to do. So I asked the boss to let me look after the pheasants while
I sorted myself out – so that’s how I got into this job, it was a little unconventional. I took it on and it worked, so I’ve been here for 11 seasons now.
So there was no formal training?
I knew what the job was and what it entails from when I helped out my ex-husband. Most gamekeeper wives get drawn into the world somewhere. But I just learned on the job, really. When I took this job on I was lucky enough to have a lot of other people and other gamekeepers around who gave me plenty of support and advice. They were all very supportive. Especially for a woman coming into this sort of job, there’s people who turn around and laugh and say ‘Oh, that won’t work’.
From the advice you’ve been given, what stands out the most?
To be vigilant and to not cut corners. Just to do the job properly. This is the sort of job where you can’t ignore problems or leave things to chance. Also, there’s always someone you can talk to. Keepers are a closeknit community – they always like to chat about everyone but they’ll always help you out if you need it
What’s your favourite time of year on the shoot?
I suppose it has to be the season. I like all times of the year. Some are quieter than others as we don’t have chicks, but it has to be the shooting season. I like the winter, I like getting out there and everyone having a good day – that’s what you do the job for. It’s a nice social side of the year as well.
Which piece of kit couldn’t you live without?
You need to have something to get about on, especially when you’re working on a big estate – so probably my mule. I’d be a bit lost if that broke down.
What advice would you give a young keeper, especially a woman keeper?
Stick at it; don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. You need to be determined and you’ve got to love it and that way of life. Just do what you do and try and do it as best as you can and there’s no reason why a woman can’t do it.
In your opinion, what’s the greatest threat to our sport, if any?
I’d say education. People not being educated on what we do and what goes on in the countryside.
During your time as a keeper, which breed of dog have you found best as a working dog?
I’ve only got one spaniel at the moment, a springer spaniel, I used to have cockers, too. I have five Labradors, all different ages and abilities – three are workers and two have retired. I also have a lurcher and two terriers. I’ve always loved Labradors, but I’ve had a springer for the last six years. This springer spaniel has a character that I’ve never seen before. He’s a good all rounder and comes everywhere with me. But I couldn’t go picking-up or anything without my Labradors.
So what guns to use on the job?
For my shotgun I use a 12-bore Winchester, it’s quite old but does the job perfectly well.
As for my rifles I’ve got a .22, a .22-250 and .243 – handy for despatching and that sort of thing.
“You’ve got to be determined and need to love that way of life”
Which do you prefer, wellies or lace-up boots?
When I’m working it has got to be Aigle wellies, they are the comfiest boots – I could wear them all day.
unconventional path Ruth Weir, North Crawley Estate keeper, with her trusty mule and her springer spaniel