Simply the best
Gold-medal performances in the field.
Several very serious pheasants were plucked from the stratosphere
This year’s Top Shots feature departs from the usual heaping of plaudits at the feet of our shooting gods and goddesses. Instead, we are celebrating those single, glorious moments that are remembered long after the season has become a blur of muddy labs and damp tweed. As ever, we have taken counsel from our network of keen beans who collectively observed much of the finest shooting in this sacred isle and fined down their offerings, excluding the absurd – such as “the extraordinarily tricky squirrel” – and feats of gunnery perfection witnessed only by the trigger puller.
Readers will doubtless have their own contenders for “the shot of the season” and we encourage them to share them with us via the Letters page. Here, however, is our list of memorable moments that warranted that ultimate accolade, the neighbour’s touch of the cap, last season.
Our experts write…
DAN REYNOLDS, ROXTONS
After consultation with Miltons’ headkeeper (of nearly 30 years), we decided the following made the “outstanding” class.
Miltons has a drive called Collies Head, where the birds are on the limit of effective range. Years ago a helium balloon was sent up from the valley floor on a windless day on a tether and the string ran out at 250ft – and some of the birds were well above it.
Looking at the OS map, I see nine contour lines ’twixt the gun stands and the flushing point, so that’s 90 metres. In other words, it’s a really high drive and not the sort of place to use Impax No 7.
Well, we had a man called Basil Kinch shooting in late October who was cleanly killing these birds with impressive regularity. I gather his son was of the same ilk, too.
Later in the season, when the birds were tougher and stronger, our old friend Nigel Mustill was on No 1 peg (arguably the most difficult as the birds have an evil, subtle curl to them) and I have never seen a
man acquit himself so well. Several very serious pheasants were plucked from the stratosphere.
Finally, Peter Schwerdt did shoot a stupendous pheasant from No 4 peg at Howe Wood – arguably our “signature” drive – in mid January. How high it was I know not but it was one of those that the keeper and I thought really was safe. Naturally, we heard all about it for the rest of the day from Mr Schwerdt.
CHRIS PRENDERGAST, FARMER
With some reluctance, I would have to nominate an unbelievable hen pheasant on Howe Wood at Miltons shot by Peter “I’m amazing” Schwerdt, using a 12-bore loaded with Alphamax 3s.
I saw it coming and turned to my loader and said, “Well, that’s not coming down.” The gun to my right had a fiver bet with his loader and two others, who are renowned high-bird shots, also concurred that the bird was safe. Sadly, Mr Schwerdt was on top form and killed the hen and those that followed (not quite as high but still exceptional shots). It was one of the very highest birds I have ever seen killed. We were a strong team shooting the best that Miltons could offer. Schwerdt was killing them consistently, as were other members of the team. Cartridges were generally No 4s of varying load sizes and all were using 12-bores.
DAVID FLUX, GROUSE GURU
At Miltons, Exmoor, on 6 January, Rex Everitt at Howe Wood, No 5 peg, shot at (and brought down) the most ridiculously high pigeon with his 34gm No 4s. Other guns had ignored it as “too high” and when Rex shot it there was that noticeable delay between the bang and the impact.
On the same day, Charles Bowes was on No 3 peg at Collies Head shooting his 20bores. The first bird of the drive was a real skyscraper of a cock and Charles’s first shot killed it right in the engine room. A spectacular shot. And then he didn’t hit another bird for the next 51 shots.
DR JAMES HAY, JMH GROUP
If I had to choose one shot that stood out for me last season (and I declare a personal bias) it was a hen pheasant killed by my wife, Fitri, on the Macmillan Bridge drive on 16 November. This was the first drive and we had waited until some fog lifted. At ground level visibility had increased to more than 100 metres but the fog was still swirling over the trees. Fitri was back gunning and suddenly a hen bird appeared out of the fog around 40yd up, going like a rocket and curling. The front gun never saw it. In a flash Fitri had the gun up and killed it stone dead with her 20-bore.
SERENA WILLIAMS, CAERHAYS ESTATE
The shot of the season for me was watching Miss Victoria Young-jamieson kill a high pheasant on her father’s Carnanton shoot in Cornwall. It was so high it needed breathing apparatus but came twirling to the ground, shot in the head with her first barrel after it had been missed by the whole line.
RACHEL CARRIE, FORMER TEAM GB CLAY SHOOTER
One of my best friends, Liane Burton, is a keen clay shot who started to shoot game last season. I invited her to share my peg on the last drive of the day at Lady Clarissa’s Nawton Towers. The birds here are really high and I started to have reservations – had I perhaps thrown her into the lions’ den? But before I could say a word, Liane lifted her gun, addressed a cock bird out in front and brought it down with a clean, single shot, turning to then take on the high, sliding hen
A partridge took the same line at a similar altitude and he was able to shoot it with his first barrel
soaring over on our right. The hen was right up there and any seasoned game shot would not mind missing but, once again, she killed it perfectly, first barrel.
GEORGE DIGWEED, MULTI-WORLD CLAY-SHOOTING CHAMPION
The most outstanding shot I witnessed last season was a partridge shot by Brian Neave on a little partridge shoot on the North Kent Downs. It shows some very nice birds and on one particular drive, some exceptional birds. On this particular occasion, I had just mentioned to Brian that a partridge had taken off from the drive the last time we had shot it and flown over a co-host who had looked at the floor in a valiant effort not to see it.
We were halfway through the drive when a partridge took the same line at a similar altitude and Brian was able to shoot it with his first barrel. That was comfortably the highest gamebird that I saw shot last season in our area.
LORD STAFFORD, SWYNNERTON HALL
You will not be surprised that James Percy and his brother, Ralph, pride themselves on consistently bringing down exceptional birds both at Alnwick and Linhope.
On this occasion, a spectacularly high hen pheasant, rather than cross the valley on one of the drives at Linhope – described by an American as “mega” – foolishly flew down the line where three of us, including me, each fired two barrels at it and missed. James then folded this pheasant in full view of all of us.
At the time, I could not understand why on this occasion he was so delighted as it’s in the Percys’ DNA consistently to wipe people’s eye the whole time. It turned out that two months earlier at Burncastle, Ralph had wiped James’s eye on an equally high pigeon, something I had enjoyed witnessing at the time but subsequently forgot all about as I knew it was no more than a lucky pellet.
Not so James. This pigeon, he told me, had sent him into a massive decline – so much so that when he returned the eyewipe with this hen pheasant it was as if he had dispelled a demon. He was so delighted that a huge grin appeared, which he wore for the rest of the day.
Please don’t tell me these Percys don’t take their shooting seriously. They do – which is exactly why they are so good.
GERWYN JONES, CONTRACTOR
The most memorable shot for me was Nick Baikie on a grouse in the Highlands. We were on the side of a munro and a pack lifted and went straight off the summit. I was at the top of the line and they were very high over me and Nick was four or five butts farther down the hill. The grouse went level out over the glen but were jinking as well. At what seemed an extraordinary range, Nick fired and the grouse fell dead on the other side of the glen, where it was picked. It was one of those shots you remember all your life.
FROM A GUN AT GUNNERSIDE, LATE IN THE GROUSE SEASON
Bob Miller, owner of Gunnerside and now in his eighties, had a covey of screaming downwind, late-season grouse coming to him. He bowled over the first two well in front, changed guns and took another two behind – all dead as coconuts.
FORMER OLYMPIC COACH
I cannot think I witnessed any particular shot last season worthy of merit apart from seeing some birds shot by long-range fluke shots that I do not think we should be encouraging. However, I did myself witness one extraordinary feat by a well-known and respected grouse shot who had best remain nameless.
Grouse were coming to his butt wide on his left. He shot at one of these in front and missed, raised his gun, turned, and with
his second barrel shot at the leading grouse behind and killed that as well as another one that was some 5yd behind the first.
He then reloaded and there were four grouse crossing the line some 40yd out in front, travelling from left to right. The gun shot at the front grouse, missed it, but killed the second and the third grouse some distance behind the first one he addressed. The remaining two grouse then crossed each other as he shot and he killed them both. The gun in question was very honest and owned up to missing the first bird of this covey. In essence, then, he shot four cartridges, missed twice but killed six grouse.
NICK ZOLL, NERVOUS WATERS
Undoubtedly the finest shot I saw made in lowland England during the 2017 to 2018 season was from John Hamblin on a screamingly fast, downwind, stratospherically high woodcock.
The woodcock had flown out of a long belt on a high escarpment over a wide valley. Nine guns were arranged in a broad horseshoe around the point of the belt and some distance from it. The bird continued to lift as it appeared over the gunline at No 3 peg. Having flown into the teeth of a very strong westerly and sustained hostility, Old Woody flew past the guns only to curl back over No 4 and straight down the remainder of the line in a huge arc. “Hambo”, at No 7, saluted the bird with his first barrel, crumpling it with the second, where it was collected by the right flank of the beating line, stone dead, about 150yd from the guns.
JONATHAN IRBY, HEAD OF SALES, PURDEY
George Juer, my colleague at Purdey’s, shot a duck on a species day that he had no right to have hit. Why? Well, partly because it was so monstrously high but mostly because it was over his neighbour’s head. To make matters worse, he’d shot a staggering right-and-left at mallard on the same peg the year before. On that occasion, we all denied seeing it but this time we could not avoid admitting it was an exceptional shot.
ROB FENWICK, MANAGING DIRECTOR, EJ CHURCHILL
Stewart Denton was shooting grouse at Gunnerside when he shot three with his first shot about 60yd out the front and then killed a single with his second shot in front. He turned around and shot three out the back with his second gun with two shots.
Bradley Pointon is one of the best young shots I have seen all season, consistently good and I saw him kill 14, all cleanly, with 14 shots, and he’s aged 17.
Charlie Jenkinson is another cracking young shot (16), who’s starting to shoot as well as his father. I saw him shoot a stunning bird at Ozleworth that fell dead 10yd in front of him. A cracking shot.
Another unforgettable performance was by Dave Kempley, who shot four of the highest birds I have ever seen shot at Murton Grange last season – and all on the same drive.
If you witnessed an outstanding shot last season that you wish to share, please send details to firstname.lastname@example.org
In essence, then, he shot four cartridges, missed twice but killed six grouse