The kind of shoot you’d want to say you’d been to be­fore ev­ery­body else knew about it.

Shooting Gazette - - On the shoot - WORDS: MARTIN PUD­DIFER | PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: BOB ATKINS

“Owner James’ for­ma­tive years were spent sur­rounded by partridge feath­ers, pant­ing dogs and damp tweed.”

Tak­ing on a new po­si­tion is al­ways daunt­ing, es­pe­cially when the suc­cess of the pre­vi­ous in­cum­bent has left you with big shoes to fill. In Wall Street vil­lain Gor­don Gekko’s book you either do it right or you get elim­i­nated, and that same sen­ti­ment (and pres­sure) ap­plies to those through­out the var­i­ous leagues of com­mer­cial shoot­ing, all of whom live and die by the strength of their last day.

In all my years at Shoot­ing Gazette it has al­ways been a great plea­sure to meet young peo­ple who are chart­ing their own course, be they a fledg­ling sport­ing agent, ap­pren­tice gun­smith or game­keeper – each and ev­ery one re­spect­ful of the past but also brim­ming with new ideas. All have had that mix­ture of am­bi­tion and fear­less­ness which comes with youth, the fire in their hearts fu­elled by a de­sire to show pas­sive de­trac­tors, those who might re­fer to them as “young man” or “young lady”, that they re­ally are the fu­ture of our sport and there­fore com­mand a cer­tain de­gree of re­spect for tak­ing the ba­ton in an in­creas­ingly un­cer­tain world.

I had a lot of re­spect for James Her­rick even be­fore we met on a de­cid­edly crisp Satur­day morn­ing in Le­ices­ter­shire last Novem­ber. The way he had writ­ten to Shoot­ing

Gazette to pre­sent both him­self and The Folly gave more than a hint he was con­fi­dent his shoot would be the kind read­ers such as your­self would want to visit. There were no plat­i­tudes in his pitch. Here was a 20-some­thing with heaps of mea­sured con­fi­dence keen to share his shoot with a wider au­di­ence, and in only his sec­ond full sea­son there, too.

The se­ries of events that led to The Folly’s cre­ation are a case of James be­ing in the right place early. The Her­ricks have had a farm close to the shoot near Kirkby Mal­lory in Le­ices­ter­shire since 1961 and so James’ for­ma­tive years were nat­u­rally spent sur­rounded by beat­ing sticks, pant­ing dogs, partridge feath­ers and damp tweeds. The Folly is made up of some of the ground from The Cadeby shoot, which had pre­vi­ously been a pri­vate af­fair run by Christ­mas tree dealer Alex Theobald, and ground close to the Her­rick fam­ily farm. The story of James’s en­try into shoot man­age­ment might be fa­mil­iar to many in his po­si­tion.

“When I was 16 or so I wanted to leave school and go off to col­lege to train to be a game­keeper,” he ex­plained. “Sadly, cir­cum­stances didn’t al­low that to hap­pen. I was beat­ing on the shoot next door to what is now part of The Folly

and Alex, who could see what my am­bi­tions were, took me un­der his wing. But rather than just putting me in the beat­ing line he got me in­volved with the hospi­tal­ity at elevenses, peg­ging guns out and help­ing with feed­ing and lamp­ing with the then part-time game­keeper. Alex would of­ten have to go up to Scot­land at a mo­ment’s no­tice as Christ­mas ap­proached, which left him need­ing some­one to fill in on shoot day…and even­tu­ally that some­one was me.

“I was 22 when Alex de­cided to retire from run­ning Cadeby but he wanted some­body to take it on rather than have to close it down. He asked me would I con­sider it, and af­ter a pe­riod of re­flec­tion I came to the con­clu­sion that if I didn’t take my op­por­tu­nity to do what I’ve al­ways wanted to do it wouldn’t come round again. Alex knew how keen I was and I sub­mit­ted a 10-page plan de­tail­ing what I would cre­ate with the land avail­able to me (which in­cluded some on the neigh­bour­ing shoot, which they ac­cepted) and we started from there.”

By the time you read this the now 26-year-old James will be in his third sea­son at The Folly. We vis­ited half way through his sec­ond, and there was a smile on his face when he de­scribed his very first shoot days, a re­lieved laugh sug­gest­ing that he’d been on a steep learn­ing curve and that there may have been the odd time when he’d had a word with him­self in the bath­room mir­ror about per­sist­ing be­cause things were even­tu­ally go­ing to come right.

I have learnt re­cently that things are pro­ceed­ing as planned. The client base, which was built from scratch, now en­joys an im­pres­sive mix of four 75-bird syn­di­cate days and 150-bird let days each week from October.

There are few op­por­tu­ni­ties to pause for breath when you con­sider James also runs The Folly’s mod­est game farm, which ap­pears to be grow­ing in rep­u­ta­tion with each pass­ing month. James reared 1,600 of his own par­tridges ahead of that first sea­son, and this has now spread to pro­vide lo­cal syn­di­cate shoots with partridge, pheas­ant and duck.

Please ex­cuse the for­mal­i­ties

They keep things in-house at The Folly. James is aided in his en­deav­ours by fa­ther Ed­die, who acts as shoot host as­sisted by James’ girl­friend Kate. His brother Tom runs the beat­ing line, un­cle Dave drives the gun­bus and James’ mother Joanne leads the charge to get ev­ery­body fed and wa­tered through­out the day, as­sisted by Tom’s girl­friend Rachel.

Don’t be fooled into think­ing James and oth­ers don’t have their game faces on when guns come to call, though. Each vis­it­ing team re­ceives a wel­come pack ahead of the day’s shoot­ing, lay­ing out what they can ex­cept from the day…and what’s ex­pected of them. “Please ex­cuse the for­mal­i­ties” sits atop an A4 page ex­plain­ing the lay­out of the day and the rules which should be taken as gospel, but as some­one who prides him­self on run­ning a tight and tidy ship – the gun­bus is cleaned once a week re­gard­less of its con­di­tion – James would rather guns know the form so they can just get on and en­joy them­selves once they ar­rive. That clean­ing of the gun­bus each week isn’t a case of OCD tak­ing over. No, it comes down to one thing and one good old-fash­ioned thing alone: pride. “I want ev­ery team that comes to The Folly, whether it’s the first day of our sea­son or the last, to feel like they’re the only ones to have been to the shoot,” James ex­plained. “I’ve been on shoots where the gun­bus is filled with six inches of mud from the pre­vi­ous sea­son and I feel that given the money that’s be­ing spent, ev­ery­one should feel like they’re be­ing looked af­ter and that the hosts are grate­ful that they are coming.”

You can add pas­sion to that list too, es­pe­cially when it comes to mak­ing The Folly a hub for game and other wildlife. “I’m not a fan of big blocks of maize ev­ery­where. I don’t think it’s the best game crop out there,” James ex­plained. “You’ve got to use a mix­ture. We tried kale mix­tures for the first sea­son and as the kale took over in the sec­ond sea­son that meant more seeds and the amount of wildlife – es­pe­cially yel­lowham­mers – you’d see in that area was amaz­ing. It ex­ploded. We try and work it so ev­ery game crop has a mix­ture of bi-an­nual kale mix­ture and an an­nual crop which is suited to partridge like lin­seed, trit­i­cale and a peren­nial cover around the out­side. This will last for be­tween five to 10 years and means there is al­ways a wind­break and a nest­ing cover, feed­ing any birds that are left over well into the spring.

While he knows his lim­i­ta­tions James is not scared to try new things. Though some­thing seem­ingly overtly sim­ple like de­cid­ing the or­der of drives can be a “chal­lenge”, he stud­ies each one’s per­for­mance care­fully. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see what a day at The Folly will look like in 10 years’ time, even if the ground it­self hasn’t un­der­gone any mas­sive trans­for­ma­tion. His short-term am­bi­tions are big too, and why not?

“I want to get to the stage where we’ve in­creased the num­ber of drives (15 at the time of writ­ing) and also the num­ber of days,” James ex­plained. With a 1,200-acre shoot made up of two 600-acre blocks, a mix­ture of flat and rolling farm­land,

“I want ev­ery team that comes to The Folly to feel like they’re the only ones to have been on the shoot.”

belts of cover crops and wood­land, there is plenty of room to play with on land that is used to show­ing a lot of birds. James also knows who his customer is. “I don’t want The Folly to be out of reach of those who want to be out as much as pos­si­ble in these tur­bu­lent times. It’s nice to be able to go some­where and feel that even though you’re not spend­ing a lot of money on a day’s shoot­ing you’re still go­ing to get that feel­ing like you’re at a shoot that’s well thought out and as­pires to the high­est stan­dards.”

No young pre­tender

Watch­ing how James was with beat­ers, pick­ers-up and guns dur­ing and be­tween drives through­out our visit re­minded me of a story one of my old tu­tors – a for­mer po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent – once told us about how years be­fore Tony Blair, a then prime min­is­ter in wait­ing, would be­have when faced with a se­ries of press in­ter­views over a short pe­riod. If my mem­ory serves, dur­ing an in­ter­view he was rigidly on mes­sage, his de­meanour calm and col­lected. There was no mut­ter­ing or stum­bling over an­swers. Once the in­ter­view was over it was like he was a dif­fer­ent

per­son for the next cou­ple of min­utes - walk­ing around, jok­ing, talk­ing about any­thing other than pol­i­tics and then tak­ing time to col­lect him­self be­fore in­stantly switch­ing back to in­ter­view mode once he was called.

James was the same in many ways. If a drive was a lit­tle light on birds there was no flap­ping be­cause the press were in at­ten­dance. Some­times it re­ally is just one of those things. He still had time to share a joke with us about how the drive Posh & Becks got its name in what I sensed was his reg­u­lar brand of self-dep­re­cat­ing hu­mour. If the wind changed, or the guns had to criss-cross the es­tate and then wait a while be­cause drives close to one an­other can’t be shot on the same day and beat­ers had to get into the right po­si­tion, so be it – they were the ones who’d ben­e­fit in the long run. And so it proved. James wasn’t chained to his radio dur­ing drives or close to faint­ing if a sloe­gasm ac­ci­dently foamed onto any­body’s sleeve. Al­though he was amongst friends on this par­tic­u­lar day you

wouldn’t have guessed that not too in­signif­i­cant sums of money had changed hands for a sea­son’s shoot­ing. Af­ter all, these guns can say they were here at the start.

It oc­curred to me while do­ing my re­search for this ar­ti­cle what Alex Theobald would make of what James has achieved. I learnt from James re­cently that last sea­son had thrown up some chal­lenges – step for­ward the “bor­ing, still weather” and “skit­tish” early- sea­son partridge which called for a re­think on beat­ing tac­tics – but they cer­tainly didn’t fall over the fin­ish­ing line on Fe­bru­ary 1, with plenty of sport still to be had dur­ing the clos­ing weeks of the sea­son. James is ex­cited about hav­ing se­cured the rights to a new patch of ground that was part of an old quarry and which once land­scaped will form part of the re­birth of a “fan­tas­tic” old partridge drive in a val­ley. That will cer­tainly be a thing to see on what is any­thing other than a farm shoot with ideas above its sta­tion.

The day closed on Wil­lies and showed a mix­ture of chal­leng­ing sport.

Posh & Becks is the kind of drive which re­ally shows off the po­ten­tial of The Folly.

Ev­ery job counts up to the hilt at The Folly and ev­ery­one knows their role.

Bucka­roo was one of the best on this five-drive day.

Birds got the at­ten­tion of the guns on How­dens.

Hosts Ed­die Her­rick (left) with Kate Smith and The Folly's owner and head­keeper James Her­rick.

The en­thu­si­asm of the guns on their pegs was matched by the dogs on their re­trieves.

The Folly's re­fresh­ments were well timed and worth the wait.

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