Botham and co making waves in Wigtownshire.
Is it out of the way? Yes. Is it worth the effort to get there? You’d better believe it. And there’s a queue forming...
We asked Liam Botham to sum up Dunskey shoot in five words at the end of our interview. It took him no time at all to reply. It is, he said simply, “a unique destination for shooting”.
Shooting Gazette columnists and photographers travel far and wide to report on all manner of shoots, from established names with solid foundations to fledgling affairs with ambitious plans. There are famous names under new ownership, those owners working hard on a shoestring to reverse a decline in their fortunes, and there are others who seem to take a stratospheric rise in their stride.
In Dunskey, Liam has a partridge and pheasant shoot that, with another tonne of hard work to add to the growing pile (and a pinch of good luck), could be something really special. The shoot is apparently gaining a strong reputation amongst the teams who have already visited. These teams will have already experienced the splendour of the newly renovated 10-bedroom Dunskey House, owned by Alastair Orr Ewing and his wife, Anne Tristine Nguyen, and they’ll have ridden deep into its 2,000 acres on shoot day, realising that the long journey was well worth the effort. These are the teams who will remember what it was like to shoot at Dunskey when it was all just getting going and will be treated to something new and exciting with each return visit.
Most of all, it’s a place for those who love their sport to the core, who appreciate the hard work that goes into creating their shooting and the time and effort that goes into managing an estate for shooting 365 days a year.
One thing is certain: if you are that sort of person, you will be welcomed as an old friend...
Shooting Gazette (SG): How did you come to be involved with Dunskey Shoot and what was it that attracted you to it?
Liam Botham (LB): “My fatherin-law, Noel Harrison, had been shooting there for 40 years and asked me to take a look at it. I was aware that the potential to take the shoot in a new direction, one fit for the modern age of shooting, was huge. I think it’s unique. I don’t think there’s another place like it in the UK. You can be on a beach, in a glen or an open field during the day; you never feel as though you’re on the same drive twice.
“Dunskey Shoot is also a ‘destination’. The whole shoot has to be unique, from the accommodation, which the owners have transformed to bring it up to the standards Guns now expect, to the hospitality and testing shooting.”
SG: What can you tell us about your gamekeepers and the work they have been doing? LB: “I’ve brought in Michael Baker from Yorkshire and, credit where it’s due, he’s done an great job. On the day of your visit last December we were using only 20 per cent of the shoot’s full capacity. At the moment we’re running at 60 per cent and I want to get to 80 per cent in the next two years. When we first arrived we only had 10 acres of game crops – now we have 90 acres. We also have 10 new drives on land that hasn’t been used before, taking us up to 24 in total. The wind can have a huge effect on the day, and one of the things we’ve done is tried to use it to our advantage, developing drives that can be utilised when the wind is blowing in a certain direction, an approach that didn’t exist before.”
SG: What does a typical trip to Dunskey Shoot consist of and why have you structured it in this way?
LB: “I don’t have set rules here. If the weather is bad – we’re on the coast after all – we’ll make changes but we’ll structure the day based on the visiting team’s wishes. We always try to have lunch to split the day up, say three drives in the morning and two in the afternoon, but we’ll shoot through if we need to. We want teams to leave thinking they got everything they came for. Given its remote location, you have to make the shoot day a very special occasion from start to finish. For example, we have a fantastic chef who prepares local oysters, lobsters or crab for elevenses, which we take in a Category B-listed Cable House looking out over the Irish Sea.
“Most teams take back-to-back days involving a two-night stay but some have stayed for three because they’re enjoying it so much and want a longer weekend. After the first day’s shooting we’ll finish in the field and then go to The Crown in Portpatrick for a few pints to give something back to the local community. Landlord Craig Currie is a huge shooting man and it adds to the whole experience.”
“Basically, you’re standing on the beach looking at Ireland, often with the seals watching you shoot.”
SG: Which is your favourite drive at Dunskey Shoot and why?
LB: “Well we have got four or five unique drives on Dunskey Shoot but one of my personal favourites is Benji’s, which is named after my son. Some of the biggest names in the shooting world have come away from it and said it’s the best drive they’ve ever shot. Basically, you’re standing on the beach looking at Ireland, often with the seals watching you shoot. Another favourite of mine is Harley’s. It’s down a deep ravine that leads onto the beach and there’s a lot of really good snap shooting to be had there.”
SG: Which type of Gun/team of Guns would Dunskey Shoot most appeal to?
LB: If Guns want to enjoy a fantastic package – the sport, food, scenery and accommodation – then Dunskey Shoot is the place to come. If you’re a team of Guns who likes to turn up, shoot and then go again, don’t come here. We can show some spectacular, testing partridge and pheasant but if you’re specialist high shooters this shoot isn’t for you, either. I think those days are dwindling. I want teams of Guns who want to enjoy themselves, understand about shooting and appreciate the scenery, topography and birds.”
SG: The house must be a huge asset...
LB: “The house is run separately to the shoot but is at the disposal of Guns on shoot day.
“If you want you can even hire the whole house from Alastair and Anne, who’ve done a fantastic job renovating it. There is a breakfast room, a livery, a lounge, the dining room, a shoot room, a gunroom with lockers, everything you want.” SG: How are the coastline drives pegged and driven?
LB: “We have the coastline right across the estate; we’ve just acquired some more farther along, too. It’s absolutely stunning. Each of the six coastline drives we have is different. That look you see in people’s eyes when they see the lighthouse, the coastal views and the Irish Sea…it’s very cool. I don’t peg on any drive on my shoots. I’ve never pegged in my life because as you can image the weather can be unpredictable.”
SG: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how have you overcome it?
LB: “Facilitating change. Making people understand what you want to do is always a battle. Trying to educate them about how the shoot has to be managed to make it a success, such as making sure we have enough drives. We are in a beautiful area and changes to the landscape are always hard to make, especially those involving our woodland. We’ve had a lot of support but there have been some obstacles that we have had to make sure we dealt with in the right manner. There are a huge amount of tweaks to sort through but we’re getting there. The response we’ve had from every visiting team has been positive.” SG: What happens to the game at Dunskey Shoot once shoot day is over?
LB: “At the moment our game goes to dealers but I’ve also been working hard over the past 18 months to get game into readymade meals in supermarkets. This for me is the biggest issue game shooting needs to address, and the whole shooting community needs to buy into. There’s no point us exporting 70 per cent of birds we shoot in this country. We need to make a demand in this country for game. The only way to do that is to make sure it’s readily available and accessible for everyone. I arranged to have a survey conducted by an independent body, a survey of 1,000 people nationwide, about game meat. The things that stood out as reasons why people didn’t eat game was accessibility and affordability: it’s seasonal and it’s too expensive. Why is it too expensive? You go to pubs and restaurants and it’s one of the most expensive things on the menu. I can’t understand it. Shoots are paying for their game to be taken away, which is crazy.
“Our sport hasn’t grown the game market as the demand for shooting has grown. Everybody has to wake up to that fact. We’re dealing with the healthiest product out there and it should be the most affordable meat on the market.”
For more information about the shooting opportunities at Dunskey Shoot, email: [email protected]
A flurry of birds for Gun Pete Rymer and stuffer Mike Fitzsimons.
Liam Botham, the shoot host, with labradors Misty, Oak and Aspen, and terrier Henly.
Careful co-ordination between Robert Surman and stuffer Alec Jardine.
John Lloyd aided by Shaun Edmundson takes his final shots of the day on the coast.
Dave Warne (front) and John Brown (rear) are kept busy.
The lunch is excellent and the comforts of Dunskey House are appreciated by all, but two more drives and some challenging shooting often await the party.