An in­vi­ta­tion to shoot driven grouse sends Tim Mad­dams into a bit of a panic, but a les­son at Calvert Sport­ing soon calms his nerves and proves to be an ex­cit­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in its own right

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

An ex­cit­ing sport in its own right

Some­times in life you fall on your feet and this is one of those sto­ries. For a while now I have been work­ing with, and do­ing my bit for, The Coun­try Food Trust. This char­ity has been set up to feed the needy in our land with pheas­ant and par­tridge meat from shoots across the coun­try, and it’s do­ing so in the form of ready meals. I have helped de­velop the recipes for these and I am proud to be a part of such a sen­si­ble and help­ful cause. Of course, I was very happy, then, to of­fer them an auc­tion lot for their char­ity supper ear­lier in the year… but I did not ex­pect what hap­pened next.

A lovely email from Tim Wood­ward, who runs the char­ity for the trustees, de­liv­ered the news that my lot (of­fer­ing to cook din­ner for a team of Guns) had been bought by the team that had also bought a day’s driven grouse shoot­ing at the Purdy-award-win­ning Weardale moor – a lot gen­er­ously do­nated by none other than trustee of the char­ity, Michael Stone. Great, I thought, I love a trip north and watch­ing grouse drives is some­thing I have had the plea­sure of do­ing be­fore. Happy days, maybe I’ll take the dog and give him a good out­ing pre-sea­son. Then the phone rang; I had been in­vited to shoot. Driven grouse. Dou­ble-gun. I couldn’t say no – I re­ally want to do it, it’s a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity. I have to ad­mit, though, I agreed with more than a lit­tle ner­vous­ness. This is a unique form of shoot­ing, and I do not wish to com­pletely hash it up or, worse, cause of­fence (or even worse) with bad shoot­ing or safety. I have seen this sport done prop­erly by some of the best shots in the coun­try; it’s hair-rais­ing stuff... I don’t even own two guns!

As time has gone on I’ve re­laxed and be­gun to look for­ward to Septem­ber – what shooter wouldn’t given such an op­por­tu­nity? Key to this is that I booked my­self a grouse shoot­ing les­son with a man who has built his busi­ness around teach­ing oth­ers to shoot this ex­cep­tional quarry. I think it’s fair to say that to shoot driven grouse is be­yond most of us, sim­ply be­cause of the ex­pense. But the les­son in the butts at Calvert Sport­ing in Ox­ford­shire is some­thing we could all save up for and I have to say it was the most ex­hil­a­rat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence I have ever had with clays.

I ar­rive on a very windy but, thank­fully, dry day in June for my al­lot­ted time with Adam Calvert, a busy man; it was a lit­tle tricky find­ing a date for a les­son. “I do get quite busy, par­tic­u­larly as we get closer to the start of the sea­son,” ex­plains Adam, and this is an un­der­state­ment as both Penny (Adam’s wife and busi­ness part­ner) and Tom (trap op­er­a­tor, gun man­ager and all-round good chap) are both con­stantly bustling around, mov­ing guns, book­ing peo­ple in, and there is only the three of them here. Adam doesn’t only teach peo­ple to shoot, or to im­prove their shoot­ing; he is also busy fit­ting and han­dling the sale of guns for var­i­ous clients as well as look­ing af­ter guns for for­eign clients. This is a dif­fer­ent world from the one most shoot­ers are fa­mil­iar with, but the same pas­sion is here. Adam is brim­ming with en­thu­si­asm, knowl­edge, re­spect and ad­vice on ev­ery­thing from safety to eti­quette – this is a man who knows his stuff. I am all ears.

Over cof­fee we dis­cuss ‘where I am’ with my shoot­ing. I am char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally blunt about it. Adam smiles: “Tim, re­lax. I am sure we can get you onto a few tar­gets to­day, but the rest is more im­por­tant. Let’s go.” And off we head to the butts, a short drive from the of­fice. On the way we chat: where will I be shoot­ing? Have I dou­ble-gunned be­fore? Do I mostly shoot driven game? Have I done any pi­geon shoot­ing? “I’m glad to hear you know a bit about shoot­ing pi­geons, Tim. One of the worst things you can do in a grouse butt is move about too much, and a pale shirt is a no-no… you need a lit­tle field­craft. And, the shoot­ing style can be sim­i­lar – you need to be ag­gres­sive. The birds can be low, and very, very fast, but, again like pi­geon, they can pro­vide all sorts of dif­fer­ent shots.”

We ar­rive at the butts and a good 40 min­utes is spent on safety. Adam ex­plains that ac­ci­dents can hap­pen and that is why we use safety sticks – sim­ple wooden frames ar­ranged at the edge of ei­ther side of the butt – and we keep a high level of aware­ness of where ev­ery­one else is. “You can have a flanker out at 125 yards one minute and in at 50 yards the next time you look,” ex­plains

Adam. “It is your job to make sure you are safe; your loader will prob­a­bly set up the safety sticks but it’s up to you to make sure they are where they need to be.”

I al­low this to sink in. This is a dis­ci­pline that re­quires dis­ci­pline. “Your fel­low Guns are at shot-height to your right and left,” Adam con­tin­ues. “You will be shoot­ing at birds be­tween you and the beat­ers. To­wards the end of the drive the keeper will blow a horn for no more shoot­ing in front – but if you can see beat­ers and flankers out in front, and you don’t want to shoot, don’t. At the end of the day you are the one shoot­ing, it’s up to you to be safe.” “Well,” I say, “that is why I’m here.”

A bird be­hind

Af­ter the first horn you are safe to shoot birds be­hind once they have flown through the line, and this is the time to re­main at the front of the butt, so you “do not al­low your­self to bring your gun around the safety sticks in the hope of pick­ing up these fast birds sooner.” I’m im­pressed. Adam has put me at my ease but he has also an­swered all my ques­tions be­fore I can ask them.

We be­gin prac­tis­ing a lit­tle dou­ble-gun­ning with safe guns. I make a mis­take here, but it’s not a prac­ti­cal one. “These guns are light,” I say, “what type are they?” “Fab­bri,” says Adam, “these are mine and they have the short ti­ta­nium bar­rels on them – ex­cel­lent for grouse, very light, very fast.” I looked them up later on when I got home and dis­cov­ered I would have to sell my house, twice, to get a pair. This is a shame as I feel they would make ex­cep­tional pi­geon guns.

We talk some more: watch out for the flanker when you are in the butt one away from each end of the line; re­lax and keep calm; shoot quickly and de­ci­sively. I’m get­ting ner­vous now and Adam knows it. “Right, let’s have a few tar­gets then,” Adam says and he’s on to Tom on the ra­dio call­ing for a “flurry of 30 from the trailer, show us a few first.” And with that, we are off. I am lucky to­day: the wind is against the clays and slows them, but, even so, it takes a few shots be­fore I be­gin to get into them, and even then it’s cer­tainly not easy. Adam gets straight to work be­tween cov­eys of clays: “Get on them quickly and don’t mess about. You are get­ting on the tar­gets but you need to get off four shots in the time you are us­ing to shoot one or two.”

First bat­tle done and the cri­tique is short but sweet. “You lack con­fi­dence and you must stay with the tar­get un­til it dies.” I have, it seems, been a bit too quick to get on to the next bird. “You need to be fast but you also need to fin­ish the job. Ex­clude all other birds in the pack from your mind un­til your tar­get bird is dead.” I know he is right. I do this a lot, and it’s some­thing I know a lot of shoot­ers find hard when faced with mul­ti­ple tar­gets.

We then go through the tech­nique for shoot­ing birds ‘out the back’ once they have passed through the line of the butts. The idea here is to keep your eye on the bird, but un­mount the gun, so that as you turn you are not point­ing your gun down the line. Try­ing to re­mem­ber all this at the same time as re­mem­ber­ing not to move back in the butt, and hand over one gun while col­lect­ing a sec­ond is tir­ing, but I soon get the hang of it, fi­nally man­ag­ing to shoot one in front and one be­hind with a good rhythm. We stop for a few min­utes to change butts and have a glass of wa­ter. I am very well looked-af­ter and Adam has clearly thought all this through. He takes the op­por­tu­nity to fill me in on what will be ex­pected of me in terms of tips for the loader – be­tween £80 and £120, depend­ing on how the day goes, and the keeper roughly the same, but more if we shoot a lot. “But as a guest you may not be ex­pected to tip the keeper; sim­ply ask your host what is best.”

Now for the fi­nale. We are look­ing at two sets of 30 birds in a dif­fer­ent butt, and here it all starts to fall apart, shoot­ing-wise at least. The an­gles have all changed and the clays are re­act­ing dif­fer­ently to the wind. I’m over-lead­ing, miss­ing off the line, but, much to Adam’s de­light, de­spite try­ing very hard and clearly get­ting frus­trated a tiny bit, I “stayed per­fectly safe, even when switch­ing to shoot be­hind. That’s good.”

As we start on the fi­nal 30 Adam tells me again to re­lax, and then adds that these will be the last birds of the day. “We have half an hour left but you are shot out,” he ex­plains. And he is right; I can feel my con­cen­tra­tion go­ing, my left shoul­der is tired. But I want to carry on nonethe­less. I am, it seems, al­ready ad­dicted to this fu­ri­ous, fast­paced, skil­ful style of shoot­ing, and these are just the pre­tend ones!

Af­ter fur­ther cof­fee and a de­brief back at the of­fice we get chat­ting and I am happy to dis­cover that I have done okay. “Tim, I teach a lot of peo­ple here, many of them have been shoot­ing grouse for years and just need a lit­tle tweak on some tech­nique. I do have first-timers through the door a lot too, and you are a good stu­dent, you lis­ten.” I qui­etly note that he didn’t say, ‘good’, or ‘ac­cu­rate’. But I’ll take be­ing a good stu­dent – that is, when all is said and done, all I set out to do to­day.

As I drive home, a happy smile on my face, I be­gin to fi­nally prop­erly look for­ward to my big day on the moor, and I cant help won­der­ing if I might be back next year for an­other les­son, whether I will be shoot­ing grouse again or not. It was an ex­hil­a­rat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and well worth a lit­tle over the £400 it cost. Worth it for the ex­pe­ri­ence? Yes. Worth it for the un­der­stand­ing? Yes. But mostly worth it be­cause I now feel a tiny bit less in­tim­i­dated about head­ing north to shoot this enig­matic quarry, and on a once-in-a-life­time trip, that is what counts.

Safety sticks ei­ther side of the butt help Tim stay within the safe shoot­ing zone

Tim prac­tises with a pair of very light and very fast Fab­bris, their short bar­rels fash­ioned from ti­ta­nium

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