The Englishman in
Patrick Galbraith visits Little Staughton, thought to be the country’s oldest syndicate, and enjoys a day among those who make it special
When he was 21 years old, George Pecks’s father called him into the pantry, handed him an already well-used English side-by-side and said: “This is yours. Look after it.”
Sixty-five years later, George, who was sitting behind me on a shooting stick on a bright day in Cambridgeshire, had used that very same gun to wipe my eye for the second time in a row.
It was the first time I’d shot on the Little Staughton syndicate. George, on the other hand, told me over lunch that he couldn’t begin to remember how many times he’d shot there over the past six decades.
“It’s a very different sort of a shoot now,” he reflected, as I poured him some wine. “We are usually aiming to shoot about 100 birds, made up of pheasants and ducks. Back then we were shooting 150 head, but it was all wild partridges and hares. In those days a brace of partridges at the butcher cost more than the average farmhand was paid for a week’s work.”
Nowadays, of course, many shoots can’t give their birds away. Little Staughton, however, isn’t one of them. Chris Jordan, a game dealer who manages the shoot and whose father keepered it before him, runs the game cart with military efficiency. It was very pleasing to see each and every bird being treated in a way that ensured it would be fit for the table, from the moment it was plucked from the sky.
As the port was served after lunch George said that he hears grey partridges are “really making a comeback due to environmental schemes”.
“So you don’t find shooting redlegs quite as much fun?” I asked. He looked at me as though I was the biggest fool in the county and said wistfully: “The two are incomparable.”
Seven hours previously, I was standing in a farmyard behind an old tractor on my first peg of the day. We have all been subjected to the lyrical waxing of those who fell in love with the pastoral beauty of some big-name shoot they were at last weekend. That is all well and good, but I’ve always liked a farm shoot that truly coexists with an agricultural enterprise. Dropping three pheasants into some bushesas they soared over a corrugated shed evoked that sublime childish excitement that I believe is unique to fieldsports.
On the way to the next drive, Chris
— whomi first spoke to last year after he called to put me right on an article we’d written, claiming to have found Britain’s oldest syndicate — told me Little Staughton has always been “a village affair”. “There’s no division between Guns and beaters here,” he said, echoing a sentiment I’ve been very pleased to hear on shoots up and down the country this season.
After a mixed drive, during which I shot a lone mallard but
“Coveys of greys broke from cover. A couple of shots were fired, resulting in a lone little Englishman tumbling among the stubble”
Shoot captain Chris Jordan (right) andfamily