Read­ing Be­tween the lines

What cri­te­ria should one use when de­cid­ing on whether or not to take a day’s shoot­ing on an un­tried es­tate?

Shooting Gazette - - This Month - WORDS: JEREMY HOB­SON | PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: CHRIS WAR­REN

What does a shoot have to prove to you be­fore you’ll con­sider buy­ing a let day there - is it all nec­es­sar­ily about the birds in the sky? by Jeremy Hob­son.

Un­less they are ac­tively in­volved in run­ning such a thing, most guns only ever see a shoot in win­ter – and have but a ba­sic knowl­edge of what hap­pens in the sum­mer to en­sure a per­fect day’s shoot­ing. It is, how­ever, the work put in by the game­keeper and oth­ers dur­ing from when one sea­son ends and an­other be­gins that makes or breaks a shoot – and re­sults in new­com­ers pos­si­bly want­ing to take an­other day.

Preda­tor con­trol; work on the rear­ing field and in the re­lease pens; the care of sea­son­ally planted game crops and, of course, on­go­ing habi­tat man­age­ment are all es­sen­tial in en­sur­ing that the shoot con­tin­ues to thrive and im­prove. But how do even ex­pe­ri­enced guns ‘read be­tween the lines’ in order to im­prove the like­li­hood of an ex­cel­lent day’s sport when de­cid­ing whether to join a syn­di­cate or tak­ing a day some­where new?

Ad­ver­tis­ing tells you what the es­tate wants you to know. Per­sonal rec­om­men­da­tion and an on­go­ing rep­u­ta­tion tells you so much more. It’s fa­mously said that a rep­u­ta­tion is far more eas­ily lost than it is gained. I know of one shoot where the rep­u­ta­tion earned over a decade was dec­i­mated dur­ing the pe­riod of time dur­ing which the owner de­cided to let out the sport­ing rights to a ten­ant. So much so that pay­ing guns who had pre­vi­ously taken days on a reg­u­lar ba­sis be­gan to go else­where for their sport.

What had changed? As an out­sider look­ing in, prob­a­bly very lit­tle. The keeper re­mained as dili­gent as ever; the birds were there on a shoot­ing day (at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son, at least) and the drives were as they al­ways had been. There was, how­ever, an in­crease in the sale of com­mer­cial days – there’s very def­i­nitely a fi­nite limit as to how many days’ shoot­ing any es­tate can suc­cess­fully host. In ad­di­tion, the ten­ant – ac­cord­ing to some of those who shot there – wasn’t well versed in so­cial and or­gan­i­sa­tional skills.

The word ‘dis­jointed’ springs to mind – as do the words of E.C. Keith who, writ­ing in 1937, pointed out that there needs to be close co-op­er­a­tion be­tween host and game­keeper in order that a day can suc­ceed: “That it was to be a good day I knew… The owner and the head keeper were both ex­perts; they had man­aged the shoot jointly for many years, and it would have been a clever man who could have im­proved on their meth­ods.”

So, apart from an ob­vi­ous un­der­stand­ing of how best to pro­vide an ex­cel­lent day’s sport on the part of host and keeper, what, in are guns look­ing for? Is it the cost of the day, the avail­abil­ity of sport­ing birds and per­fect hos­pi­tal­ity? And, if so, in which order? Some might say the food and hos­pi­tal­ity is equally as im­por­tant as the sport and an en­joy­able day can be spoilt by medi­ocre food. Oth­ers reckon that it’s the ev­i­dence of or­gan­i­sa­tion so un­ob­tru­sive one is hardly aware it’s there – at least un­til think­ing back over the day and re­al­is­ing just what quiet ef­fi­ciency there must have been be­hind the scenes.

One man who has shot at more places than most is Tim Crow­ley. When I asked him his opin­ion, he quite tellingly com­mented that as a re­sult of his ex­pe­ri­ences, he didn’t think there were any ‘hard and fast in­di­ca­tors’ of what could prove to be a ‘good shoot’ and that it was more a com­bi­na­tion of things.

That aside, what might a game­keeper re­spon­si­ble for look­ing af­ter a mainly com­mer­cial shoot think? One men­tioned that, in his opin­ion, guns ought to see ‘the en­thu­si­asm and friend­li­ness of all in­volved with the shoot… the

“Guns ought to see the en­thu­si­asm and friend­li­ness of all in­volved with the shoot, the plan­ning that went into some of the drives…”

plan­ning that went into some of the drives with re­gards to cover crops etc.… but mostly the con­ser­va­tion work and the ben­e­fits this brings to the coun­try­side and the wildlife on the shoot.’

An­other, in sim­i­lar vein, said: “Wildlife di­ver­sity… it shows an em­pa­thy to the keep­ers work.” A third quite sim­ply stated that, in his opin­ion: “If it’s a good shoot, guns will al­ways come back.”

More than just birds in the air

Whilst all of this is true, it’s im­por­tant to read be­tween the lines when it comes to notic­ing what steps are be­ing taken to im­prove habi­tat and the like. What’s good for game is also good for bio­di­ver­sity and con­ser­va­tion – and vice-versa. Take an imag­i­nary yet – to most guns – eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able sce­nario whereby you are stand­ing at your peg wait­ing for the first birds to come over. Look around. What can you see – and why is it there? Is it a happy co­in­ci­dence or a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to im­prove the shoot­ing – and, per­haps by de­fault, the im­me­di­ate en­vi­ron­ment?

Is there, as E.C. Keith noted of a shoot­ing day: “a long covert run­ning along the edge of a hill, and be­low – a beau­ti­ful grass val­ley with a few trees and a river… on the far side an­other covert”? Or, as he ob­served dur­ing a visit to an­other shoot some­time later: “no hills or val­leys… merely un­du­lat­ing ground. For the main drive… we were fac­ing a wall of high oaks and ash, mixed with spruce and Scots fir.”

A mixed habi­tat would ap­pear to be the likely key to suc­cess. As one stands on a peg for the first time – pos­si­bly hav­ing been told at the preshoot brief­ing that, al­though ‘live on pegs’, one shouldn’t shoot an early pi­geon un­til the first pheas­ants ap­pear’ – there’s much to see.

When vis­it­ing a new shoot and hav­ing been placed on the peg by your host, are you left look­ing around for a few min­utes while the keeper slashes down an over­grown hazel bush in a last-minute at­tempt to make an ex­tra gun-slot or is, as one would hope, where you are stand­ing part of an on­go­ing shoot regime? Mind you, hav­ing said that, up­right, well-kept, well-main­tained gun-stands are not, as Tim Crow­ley men­tioned to me, nec­es­sar­ily in­dica­tive of a well-run shoot.

I asked John New­ton-brown at Firle Shoot­ing, near Lewes in East Sus­sex, where he or­gan­ises sim­u­lated game shoot­ing days that are as close to the real thing as you could imag­ine, “What do your guns, as they stand on a peg wait­ing for ac­tion, see around them?”

His re­ply was telling: “They [are] sur­rounded by the stun­ning es­carp­ments, slopes, val­leys, graz­ing and arable land, and scenery of the beau­ti­ful South Downs. I point out any­thing that I think they may find in­ter­est­ing, such as the buz­zards, the odd red kite. I like to make them feel that they are part of the coun­try­side and not just there to shoot.”

It would be good to think that most of those who shoot have a good gen­eral or­nitho­log­i­cal knowl­edge and can iden­tify and ap­pre­ci­ate a well-run sport­ing es­tate by its wealth and va­ri­ety of flora and fauna – even to the ex­tent that an un­ex­pected sight­ing might take prece­dence over the main aim (no pun in­tended) of the day. As one gun told a keeper­ing ac­quain­tance when con­grat­u­lat­ing him on a par­tic­u­lar drive: “That was su­perb; they were the best birds I’ve ever seen – and I had two gold­crests in front of me be­fore the drive had started. They were fan­tas­tic to see.”

Flora and fauna do, of course, live on the shoot all year round. Whilst it might, dur­ing the shoot­ing sea­son, ap­pear some­what bar­ren, a wood­land ride is, through­out the sea­sons, the per­fect home to many. No won­der then, that in what­ever ca­pac­ity one is in­volved in a shoot, there is so much to think about.

Roger Dray­cott, head of ad­vi­sory at the GWCT, re­cently wrote en­cour­ag­ing ‘guns to be more conscientious con­sumers’ and talked of the ‘sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits for wildlife’ to be found on a well-run sport­ing es­tate. Mr. Dray­cott fur­ther pointed out that: “The re­al­ity is that most shoots are well run with a high level of en­vi­ron­men­tal care in place.” As he pointed out: “They have to be, oth­er­wise the shoots would not be suc­cess­ful, es­pe­cially in the long term.”

So, there’s un­doubt­edly a lot of read­ing be­tween the lines to be done when con­sid­er­ing a shoot for the first time. Hope­fully, if all is as it should be, your host will, at the end of the day, be able to say – as this one did: “Guests that visit our shoot al­ways seem to have a great day and can’t wait to come back… this does make me smile as we must be get­ting some­thing right.”

Who wouldn’t sing the praises of a shoot on which ev­ery­one mucks in to en­sure their patch can be held to the high­est stan­dards?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.