Fieldcraft to the fore
Experts in the feat of clay-shooting are forgetting the more affordable forms of quarry hunting and the joyous, life-long learning experiences they offer
“So, what do you do for a living?” I asked the girl who’d just scored another straight at the clay shoot.
“oh, I’m still at school,” she replied. “A levels?”
“No, GCSES. I’m 16.”
Miss Amy Easeman then went on to win the Femmes Fatales shoot with an amazing 74 ex 80 (see Faces in The Field, p 20) but close on her heels were a swimming teacher, a couple of doctors, a mature oxford postgrad and a professional stunt woman. All of these chappesses returned score cards that the average bloke would be thrilled to leave lying “accidentally” on the kitchen table; and most had taken up shooting fairly recently.
This prompted a ponder on the drive home. Why did a group of women, all relative novices, shoot better than many of my male mates who’ve held a gun since the days of The Magic Roundabout?
Partly it’s due to the fact that shooting is one of the sports (including fishing, sailing and equestrianism) in which physical strength does not determine success. Hand-to-eye coordination is all in shooting and some men and women are blessed in that department.
Partly, it’s down to training. Most of my muckers have held a gun since boyhood and sort of learnt on pigeon and rabbits. So their “technique” is self taught and often agricultural, whereas these ladies have been instructed by professionals from the beginning and have never acquired our ingrained bad habits.
And, thirdly, most of the girls were clay shooters foremost and practised often, while my chums fish in the summer and the gun stays in the cabinet till the Twelfth (excepting the odd foray at a charity clay shoot).
Why were they mostly claybusters? Some just loved competitive shooting but for many, much as they’d like to take up quarry shooting, it appears both expensive and daunting (as indeed it does to many of both sexes).
The barrier is perhaps the modern conception of what field shooting is all about. The idea has taken root that it involves a smooth transition from shooting-ground clays to simulated game days to formal driven days. It’s all about good shooting technique and where the demand on fieldcraft is minimal. However, the cheaper forms of quarry shooting, such as rough shooting, wildfowling and pigeon control, seem not to have occurred to them.
Now, we do have to accept that rough shooting and pigeon popping aren’t as freely available as they once were and, perversely, it’s mostly due to the popularity of game shoots. With their proliferation, farmers that once were reasonably open to a polite request to shoot rabbits and pigeon now have a shooting syndicate on their land and are prone to pass on such applications to the gamekeeper, who keeps such “perks” to reward his helpers. And while wildfowling clubs are keen to recruit members, it takes a special sort of girl to join the machismo world of mere and marsh.
So, with no obvious route into the world of quarry shooting, it’s easy for women to stay within the competition world of clays. But in doing so they will never discover the deep pleasure that comes with acquiring fieldcraft. It’s a study that never palls, even after a lifetime in shooting. I began my training, like so many others, as a small person armed with a .177 air-rifle despatching starlings raiding the apple trees. And the lessons taught by nature never end.
A few weeks ago, the bush telegraph was humming with friends lamenting the lack of pigeon on the drillings. It’s usually one of the highlights of the sporting year but a cold spring had persuaded many farmers to hold back until the soil had warmed. By the time it had, the ash trees were budding and pigeon, being epicures, saw no reason to abandon their breakfast-in-bed in the woods to eat less palatable spring barley.
After a series of unproductive outings, I received a call from an expert pigeon boy who, having scoured three counties for a decent line of pigeon traffic, had finally discovered them feeding on freshly sown soya beans in oxfordshire.
I packed up the car carefully the night before, including the best part of 500 cartridges, trundled up the A34 and met him watching the field. Good head of hares, the occasional flap of corvids but a dearth of the grey horde we’d expected.
We convinced ourselves that there was a worthwhile flightline tacking up from the home wood and along the middle hedge. If we set up by the sitty tree we would have enough sport to provide a couple of game pies and keep his game dealer happy.
After an hour of straight shooting we’d bagged one corvid and a pigeon. Three hours later the bag had swelled to a massive four pigeon and six of the black stuff. The pigeon had won again.
Yet we agreed it had been a good day. We’d had a chance to chat, seen some pretty countryside and added a little more to our knowledge. And while a bag of 10 would be considered pathetic by most game-shoot standards, it would have marked a red-letter outing on the foreshore.
Would some of the keen Femme Fatale ladies have also enjoyed our little outing? I suspect they would, hugely, and the challenge for quarry shooters is how to assist them and others to make the transition from clays to feathers. And it begins by realising the world of shotgun “hunting” is not solely about driven game days with a big price ticket attached.
Shotgun ‘hunting’ is not solely about driven game days with a big price ticket attached