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

The Field - - YOUNG IN THE FIELD -

“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

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