Good­bye clay, hello game

As the days draw in, Dr Mal­colm Plant and his friends en­joy some high-qual­ity shoot­ing but the con­di­tions can be chal­leng­ing — par­tic­u­larly when the wind gets up

Sporting Gun - - Instruction Shooting In A Crosswind - Www.shootin­guk.co.uk

The shoot­ing sea­son is over for the clay club here up north. We shoot one evening a week dur­ing the spring and sum­mer. Usu­ally it is a 40-bird Sport­ing com­pe­ti­tion, fol­lowed on some evenings by a driven flush of 40 clays for teams of four Guns. With a mem­ber­ship limit of 50, we all know each other and, un­der the watch­ful eyes of our safety of­fi­cers, take it in turn to help set up the traps and tar­gets.

Com­pe­ti­tion is en­cour­aged and vis­i­tors and novices are al­ways wel­comed. Things be­come a lit­tle more se­ri­ous on a cou­ple of evenings, when we en­ter­tain two lo­cal clubs for com­pe­ti­tions. As one visi­tor re­marked: “You get a bet­ter qual­ity of in­sult about your shoot­ing.” It is, of course, sup­posed to be fun.

What more could you want on a sum­mer’s evening? I drive past the cricket match on my way to the clay ground, my good lady is play­ing ten­nis at the lo­cal club and be­hind the Malt Shovel pub the lawn clinks to the sound of sum­mer. And we all meet there later. Well, it is York­shire.

A num­bers game

A group of us from the clay club form a wan­der­ing game syn­di­cate dur­ing the win­ter and take one or two mod­est days at lo­cal but high-qual­ity shoot­ing es­tates. This is when know­ing who you are shoot­ing with re­ally counts. It is a num­bers game. Let’s say, like our late Oc­to­ber date, we or­gan­ised a 150-bird mixed par­tridge and pheas­ant day and agreed that nine of us would take the day and share the cost. We have shot with Mark, the shoot­ing agent on the es­tate, for many years and Woj, our team leader, has, over the piece, agreed with Mark that his more chal­leng­ing tar­gets are what our com­pe­tent line of Guns like to ex­pe­ri­ence.

Know­ing your com­pan­ions be­comes im­por­tant at this stage to ev­ery­one in­volved in the shoot­ing day. As we walked to our first line of pegs, we knew that each of us was ex­pected to shoot about 16 par­tridges and pheas­ants dur­ing the day and also that we would not shoot wood­cock. Wood­cock is my favourite game bird to eat but there are not a lot about at the mo­ment. Back in the 1970s, one of my col­leagues from Teesside al­ways had a brace for his Christ­mas lunch.

I sat on my newly ac­quired an­tique shoot­ing stick, wait­ing for the first of four or five drives to start, de­pend­ing on how the day pro­gressed. Due to the stiff west­erly, which was fore­cast to slowly in­crease, ev­ery­thing could be a lot more chal­leng­ing — for the keeper, the beat­ers, the pick­ers-up and for us Guns. My re­mit was to put four birds into the bag per drive, to go into a game casse­role.

Woj sug­gested that the team of nine Guns should move up two pegs af­ter each drive. It was ei­ther that or three.

I drew peg eight to start, which meant that I would be pegs one and three as the morn­ing drives pro­gressed. You may think that be­ing at the edge of the Gun line for the whole morn­ing sounds un­promis­ing but not nec­es­sar­ily, par­tic­u­larly with a breeze

“Be­ing at the edge of the Gun line may sound un­promis­ing but not nec­es­sar­ily, par­tic­u­larly with a breeze blow­ing”

blow­ing. This can push the birds any­where and you might end up in a hot spot.

Age­ing bal­le­rina

There was a lot of bang­ing go­ing on dur­ing the first two drives, but the birds were very chal­leng­ing — high and fast, go­ing down and across the wind and re­ally curl­ing.

I was tight up to high, ma­ture wood on peg eight for the first drive and as Mark placed me at my peg he said: “You’ll need to look sharp here.” He was right. I was shuf­fling around like an age­ing bal­le­rina to get my feet set up to take the curl­ing crossers, which seemed to be com­ing from all di­rec­tions across the face of the wooded hill­side.

I sus­pected that some of the other Guns were hav­ing sim­i­lar dif­fi­cul­ties. Af­ter drives one and two, ev­ery­one was com­ment­ing that they had put three or four in the bag, but no one was of­fer­ing an in-depth ap­praisal of their ra­tio of car­tridges to birds.

Dur­ing a sausage roll and sloe gin break af­ter the third drive, our host said it was not Mal­colm’s shoot­ing stick was made by Mills Mu­ni­tions around the time of World War I and en­tre­pre­neur­ial char­ac­ter. He trained as a marine en­gi­neer and de­vel­oped an ef­fi­cient and safe mech­a­nism for launch­ing lifeboats from ships. He then started the first alu­minium foundry in the UK in Sun­der­land, named the At­las Works. He was a keen golfer and patented the first alu­minium heads for golf clubs. In the early 1890s, he started a foundry in Birm­ing­ham mak­ing cast­ings for the mo­tor and air­craft in­dus­tries, par­tic­u­larly en­gine blocks. By 1915 he had opened the Mills Mu­ni­tions fac­tory, where he de­vel­oped and made the Mills bomb, the fa­mous pin-and-lever hand grenade. Mills and sub­con­trac­tors made 76mil­lion grenades of this type. One of the Mills fac­to­ries made the en­gine blocks for the Rolls-royce Mer­lin en­gine, which pow­ered the Spit­fire in World War II. Wil­liam Mills was knighted in 1922.

So there I was, sit­ting on a Mills shoot­ing stick al­most 100 years to the day af­ter the end of World War I, shoot­ing pheas­ants in North York­shire. Makes you think a bit, doesn’t it?

Many thanks to E J Churchill for its help with this ar­ti­cle. Visit: www.ejchurchill.com

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