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
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.
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