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A beautiful black labrador prepares for a day picking up at a Westcountry pheasant shoot
Michael Hockin, founder and owner of the Brownstone Manor Shoot, near Holbeton in South Devon, has a theory about what makes a great shoot. “It’s 60% about the shooting, 20% about the people you are shooting with and 20% about the landscape,” he suggests.
As we are tucking into roast pork with vegetables, stuffing and perfectly crispy crackling, he might have revised his percentages to include great food. The lunches, cooked by the brilliant Sandra Vallance, are legendary at Brownstone. And they are served in the estate’s own “pub”, the Dog and Duck, created from a barn in the grounds and warmed through on this cold, wet day with a roaring woodstove fed from the estate’s own timber.
Guns, beaters and pickers up all eat together, guns at one table, the beaters and pickers up at another. It makes for a very convivial break in a day’s shooting or, if the guns “shoot through” without a break, as on the day the Western Morning News was there, the perfect, relaxing end to the day.
But the meal is just the icing on the cake at Brownstone, name checked alongside some of the Westcountry’s most famous shoots in a new edition just out of a classic reference guide to the UK’s shooting estates, Great Shoots by Brian P Martin (Quiller £35).
Michael and his son Christian, who run the shoot together, are rightly proud of Brownstone’s appearance in Great Shoots. And on Tuesday last week, there was an opportunity to give a group of their friends, many of whom have shot at Brownstone for more than two decades, a day to remember.
A day’s pheasant shooting has to be organised well in advance. So when the day dawns with the rain hammering down and the westerly winds rising, cancelling is not an option. So it was that 10 friends of Michael’s donned waterproofs, pulled on caps and headed out for the first drive of the day, the aptly named Alston Heights, where the birds fly from a steep, sloping and well-wooded hill over beautiful lakes created from a dammed stream.
The landscape may make up only 20% of the enjoyment of the day in Michael’s calculation of what makes a good shoot. But it has taken 100% of the effort he and the family have put into creating the Brownstone shoot, turning it from a bare arable farm, when he bought it, to the tree covered, pond and lake-dotted oasis for wildlife that it is today. Recently the RSPB’s director for the South West, Nick Bruce-White visited Brownstone and praised it – and other well-run pheas-
Shoot owner Michael Hockin on Main Drive.Below, a shot bird is retrieved from the lake
The game shooting season is in full swing. Philip Bowern spent a day at the Brownstone Manor Shoot in South Devon, named in the new edition of the book, Great Shoots