KEDLESTON ESTATE SHOOT, DERBYSHIRE
An experienced team has hit the ground running with seemingly anything possible as the shoot enters its second season under their stewardship.
How a new team is making a huge impact close to the city limits. By Martin Puddifer.
Can we all agree that our shooting world is getting smaller by the season? Not in terms of the numbers participating, of course, more that the longer you are involved with the sport the higher the chances are you’ll bump into someone you’ve either shot with before or you know through a mutual friend or acquaintance. Let me give you an example: while I was chatting to Guns at Kedleston this time last year, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a man I was sure I’d met in the dim and distant past but couldn’t place. Later, the man in question, tall, broad shouldered, and from what I saw someone who knew the benefit of taking his birds early, approached me and said, with a familiar lilt, “Hello, I’m Martin, we’ve met before…” As he smiled the penny finally dropped. It was Martin Snell, a farmer I’d interviewed a couple of years previously when he was involved with a shoot on the Lincolnshire/ Nottinghamshire border. I was so glad he introduced himself as my mental game of shoot report Guess
Who? was going nowhere.
So what was Martin doing in Derbyshire, and what was the nature of his relationship with Kedleston’s shoot captain Steven Pountain? The two had been in deep conversation for most of the morning, and as it turned out Steven was running Kedleston with Martin’s backing after the former had been asked to
“find him a shoot”. The pair had first met when Martin was involved with his old shoot and Steven was bringing parties over from his native Derbyshire. After a quiet start to the search two shoots, one of them Kedleston, were found. While something of a blank canvas to the pair the presence of woodland, steep, sweeping banks and rolling farmland meant there was more than a little potential for a quality mixed shoot to be fashioned their way, and all of this only two miles from Derby city centre.
At the time of our arrival at Kedleston late last November everything about the new regime was so fresh you could almost smell the paint and sawdust. “Good lads, dedicated lads” is how Martin described gamekeepers Jamie Maver and Ryan Cullingford, two Sparsholt alumnus who after time spent elsewhere came aboard soon after Martin and Steven to oversee the estate’s 4,000 acres. The pair has been incredibly busy since the middle of last year; they now share the management of three beats and have overhauled the number and layouts of release pens home to partridges and pheasant, which, from this season, will both come from Bettws Hall game farm and are described by Martin as “very good quality”. The common ringnecks that were shot on the day of our visit are a favourite of his, mainly because they fly so well and they don’t wander. They certainly won’t want for food given how much is laid down for them, and one only needed to look at their condition in the game cart to appreciate
the quality of their husbandry. Standards, it seems, have remained high. Work has carried on apace and word is starting to get around. In the intervening period between our visit and by the time you read this, with the co-operation with the estate’s “very supportive” farmers, new game cover – maize and millet – has been planted, new drives have added or extended and some 3,000 trees added to one of the signature drives, Gunhills.
“We’ve got our birds early this year, in June, they look fantastic. We’re really looking forward to our forward to our second season,” said Steven. “We’ve got single guns from America and Germany coming back and teams from Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk are all set to arrive too. Several teams took smaller days last year to see what we were like and now they are asking us to offer something a little larger. I get a real buzz from showing people around, especially those who have heard about us, struggle to believe a shoot like this is so close to a city centre, who want to come and see the shoot in the summer months before they, hopefully, book a day with us. To have achieved what we did in our first season, given that we only took it on a year last May, not knowing who’d shot here before or anything about the beaters and pickers-up etc., gave me great satisfaction.”
Steven didn’t strike me as the type of person to get wound up or have sleepless nights when a shoot day hadn’t gone as planned. He told me he is not the type of person to make massive changes when things aren’t quite right, preferring instead to pick up any
dropped stitches together with his team. “I would have to try and look at things positively, try make some small alterations, I’d rather stick with something and make it work than completely scrap it,” he explained. “On one drive for example, Woodford Lane, we had to drive it several different ways to find its strongest direction. Before, Guns were stood in a semi-circle facing a game crop/ pit hole high in front of them, now they’re stood in a straight line between two fields. We also moved the flushing point as it was from here the birds seemed to want to fly. The keepers make mental notes from shoot day to shoot day to improve the drives, as in this case.
“We still have areas we didn’t use last year, ones we’ll start to bring on more this season, and we’ll be
closely monitoring them with the idea of eventually creating more drives. I suppose the secret to our success is Martin’s trust in what we are doing, picking up on his ideas and putting them into practice. If there’s a problem we will discuss it and alter it accordingly. We’re trying to achieve what he wants, which is creating a shoot that is for all abilities and gives Guns a fair day for a fair price, to go away happy and come back again.”
Despite Kedleston’s growth in popularity, Steven is happy to keep things off-the-cuff on shoot day, relying on his experience and instincts rather than lines rehearsed in the car during the short drive from his home to Kedleston Country House where the Guns gather for their briefing. That’s not to say he isn’t anything other than professional. He’s not one for gimmicks in terms of how the days are sold, is relaxed, approachable and you could probably count on the fingers of one hand the amount of times he’d have sidle up to a Gun to remind them about safety or respect for quarry – a sign of Steven wearing his shooting instructor’s hat when he needs to. This is a new shoot but the traditions of the sport run deep, very deep.
“Some people seem to be obsessed with shooting birds that are too high and when they don’t meet the bag they go away disappointed,” Steven explained. “At Kedleston, we like to see our birds shot fold in the air and be retrieved. You have to consider their welfare. We won’t shoot too late in the day when the birds are returning to the woods; you want to give them a chance to get there. I don’t like to see birds pricked.”
Here is a shoot that you would feel confident taking someone to for their first day but also recommending to a friend who wants to push themselves. As is so often the case, it’s the way birds are presented which catches the eye. I came away from Gunhills in particular thinking to myself it could exhaust a gun and put them in their place if they don’t keep their adrenaline in check. I think it’s a drive and a shoot you’d enjoy.
Some of the shoot’s most testing birds are found on Gunhills.
Woodford Lane on the Farnah beat illustrates the shoot’s varied topography.
Martin Snell and Steven Pountain share a moment between drives.
When the wind blows on Draycotts the Guns are in for a testing time.
Clive Gibbons spots birds for Conrad Schumacher.
Keepers Ryan Cullingford and Jamie Maver have made a real impact on the shoot.