Shooting Times – December 2013

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December 2013

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As I sit at my computer writing this month’s article we are already halfway through the shooting season. I have already had quite a few days out and still have some to look forward to. To date everything has been good, with plenty of birds all well grown and flying well.

December is a bit of a defining month both for the gun and the gamekeeper. For the gun it means that most of the shooting is now pheasants rather than partridges – though both are still in abundance – but as the leaves come off the trees we can now really get into the woods rather than the outlying cover crops that have been the mainstay so far.

Woodland shooting creates its own unique atmosphere in wintertime, as mostly you can hear the beaters tapping their sticks at the far end of the wood as they start to push birds forward. The sound of a single bird taking off and rising through the branches as it powers upwards, often followed by calls of “forward” is guaranteed to get the pulses racing.

For the keeper, now is his chance to concentrate his birds into the main drives. So far his birds may have been scattered all around the shoot, as abundant cover and a plentiful food supply has allowed them to roam, but with the cold weather and frost on the ground they seek food and warmth in the woods that are the main drives on a shoot day.

Many things go into the make-up of a shoot day. Meeting regular friends or making new ones is a big part of it, as is the anticipation as we all make small talk prior to the morning briefing that will outline the rules for the day. Numbering left to right, move up two, no ground game, all are instructions given to ensure the smooth running of the day, but above all we are always told to be careful and shoot safely. Basically, if the bird does not have the sky behind it we do not shoot; safety is always paramount. There is part of a rhyme that says ‘all the pheasants ever bred won’t repay for one man dead’ and we can never underestimate the truth in that.

Part of the ambiance of the day is the mid-morning break, usually after the second drive when a shot of sloe gin and a piece of Lincolnshire pork pie with English mustard is offered; this might be followed by plum bread with butter – all can be eaten standing up without the need for plates or utensils. For me it is a magical occasion, as all too often it is taken under the trees or in a quiet remote spot – it just gets me so close to the land and I love it.

Formal driven days are wonderful occasions but so too are smaller boundary days or rough shooting. This may entail just a few friends getting together for a bit of a ‘walk round’, as my dad used to call it, with a few assorted and often wayward dogs. It is fun to hunt up bits of cover or woodland that might just hold the odd bird or two; with this type of shooting it is the dogs that will tell you if anything is hiding, as they momentarily stop dead-still, with their nose down – this is the signal to get ready, as any second a pheasant will burst forth with a rattle of wings and a loud cackle as it tries to make its escape. The bag on this sort of day will probably include a rabbit or two, or perhaps a woodcock, but almost certainly a few pigeons that left it just a little too late leaving the trees as you approached. The bag at the end of the day is unimportant; as long as each gun has something to take home the day will have been a great success.

With the festive season almost upon us the question of a suitable gift will be uppermost in many people’s minds, whether giving or receiving. The children will probably have been dropping hints for weeks, no doubt suggesting the latest all-singing, all-dancing electronic device that enables them to communicate around the world in seconds. As important as these things are in our modern world let’s not forget things that may be considered a little more traditional as well as practical for the country sports family. Mother always got me gloves, socks and hankies for everyday use, but my first proper shooting jacket forever stays in my mind. For the youngster with an interest in shooting, anything along these lines will be remembered. So have a good Christmas and I will talk to you in January.

One evening in 2006 Malcolm Bennett – ‘Mally’ to his friends – was having a quiet pint in the pub when a pal came in and said, ‘How do you fancy setting up a shoot from scratch?’ He had heard of a 250-acre forestry commission wood that was available to rent.

Mally was already a member of a shoot not far away, so they decided to go and take a look. On walking round it was clear that it had been used for a shoot previously, as it had the remains of old pens and rusting tin feeders dotted about. The rides were overgrown, but it clearly had potential, so the decision was made and he took it on.

Having little capital, it was decided to form a syndicate, so the word went out and slowly the phone started to ring and members were recruited. Pretty soon, work parties were formed and they set about tidying up and selecting sites for release pens, in order to put a few birds down to supplement the wild stock. Getting materials was a challenge; old Heras wire fencing panels, the type seen on building sites, were used for the first pen, along with twenty-five-litre plastic jam tubs from a local bakery converted into feeders. With the help of the members things slowly took shape.

Mally was the first to admit that his game rearing knowledge was limited, so he joined the National Gamekeepers’ Association. With the help of a local farmer who kept turkeys, and advice from shoot members, the first batch of day-old pheasant chicks arrived. Things did not always go to plan, as no one had told him that, for the first few weeks of life, a pheasant chick just seems to want to commit suicide by any means. Nine weeks later, with a bit of trial and error, he got his charges out into release pens in the wood so that they could grow and mature in relative safety prior to complete release into the wild.

He told me that in 2007 he was joined by Gary Burkinshaw, a keeper from Mansfield. “He initially joined as a gun but his help and assistance has been invaluable, not least in easing the workload and providing knowledge and help. By our third season we had made the decision to buy in poults and with improved pens and much work done by both ourselves and the forestry commission in improving the wood we have made it the success it is today,” said Malcolm. “In 2011, due to other commitments, Gary took the decision to leave the shoot and I now run it on my own, but I am not truly on my own, as I have a great team of guns that will pitch in when needed.

“This is not a big bag shoot, shoot days are walk and stand and this means that guns are divided into two teams and take it in turns to walk one drive as beaters, then a standing gun for the next. This way everyone does their fair share of walking, as it can be a bit heavy going in the dense woodland.

“Taking on a forestry shoot is not without its trials, not least the issue of public access, but providing you are polite and welcoming to everyone it is okay; in fact, we have regular visitors who compliment us on the efforts and work that we do. We also have to work around the forestry operations of tree felling and planting work, but at the end of the day they do have a business to run but we have a good relationship with the agent – so most problems can be pre-empted before they become an issue.”

Mally is a big man with a booming voice and shoot days start with a briefing and he makes it clear that sporting traditions, safe shooting, as well as gentlemanly conduct are his driving forces, and there are no exceptions to these rules. Four drives will typically be done before a break for lunch, often taken in a woodland glade. Frequently a hot sausage stew will be simmering on a gas range, with French bread and butter along with pork pie, scotch eggs and an array of cheese and biscuits; this is usually provided by Mally and one or two others that take it upon themselves to provide a feast every shoot day.

Anywhere between thirty and fifty birds is an average bag for the day; not huge by some standards but typical of many shoots up and down the country, where the pleasure of the day outweighs the bag. Mally is proud of his shoot and rightly so. I asked what motivated him and he said: “When I look around at everyone’s beaming faces at the end of the day, I know my efforts are appreciated and that is enough for me.”

For Help for Heroes and Disability Shooting Project
Hemswell, Keelby and Market Rasen Rifle Clubs organised and held the first charity fifty-metre shooting competition at Kirmington range, Lincolnshire in aid of the Disabled Shooting Project and Help for Heroes.

The competition was exceptionally well supported on a wet and windy October day and competitors came from as far afield as Boston and Doncaster. The event was held over four divisions with Olympic and Commonwealth Games medallist Barry Dagger taking first place by ten points in the A division.

The two-day competition saw a wide range of abilities from novice through to national competitors; what was especially pleasing was to see a good number of junior shooters taking part in the event and giving some of the senior members a run for their money.

Thanks to the generosity from Southerton guns the shooters were kept dry in the tent loaned for the weekend by Graham Southerton. Raffle prizes were provided by Paul Wiseman Electrical, Jewson’s of Immingham and Timber Specialists and the generosity of the shooters saw the grand sum of £400 being raised, which will be split between the two charities Help for Heroes and Disability Shooting Project.

Divison A
Barry Dagger Springfields 570
S Rooke Scunthorpe Air 560
L Wilkinson Market Rasen 548
Division B
D Markham Hemswell 549
D R Johnson Keelby 538
D Lill Keelby 527
Division C
G Jakeman Boston 513
M Bradley Hemswell 509
D Holmes Keelby 509
Division D
M Holmes Keelby 498
D Westman Hemswell 471
D Carter Market Rasen 462
• If anyone requires information on the shooting opportunities around the county all clubs can be found on the Lincolnshire Small Bore Rifle Association website

Holts is all about guns and their associated militaria but in essence it is the excitement of the auction that spurs so many on – that one-time opportunity to acquire a dreamt-of item, like last month’s .28 bore Holland and Holland, previously owned by the Nawab of Bhawalpur.

The largest recent collection to appear was made by William Wellington Greener. He was the second generation of a family that started making guns in 1829. His father worked under Joe Manton, probably England’s greatest gun maker.

This man was responsible for choke boring – quarter choke, half choke, full etc – and the cross bolt in 1867, that made his guns the strongest in the world. By 1900 he had the world’s largest sporting gun factory employing over 450 craftsmen. He even found time to write several books like ‘The Breechloader and How to Use It’ published in 1892. He invented the self-righting lifeboat, and the device that opens for level crossing gates simultaneously. He knew Prince Albert, who was a fan.

Two recent sales demonstrate his diversity. Lot No 1396, a Royal 8 bore ejector, carved fences and scrollwork by Gilmore and game scenes by Mills, completed in 1906 estimated £30–50,000. Best quality wildfowling pieces are rare. It was originally sold in Greeners New York office, as one of a pair, owned by the Japanese Ambassador – almost unused! It made £30,000.

Lot No 1369, a little used, cased, martini-action light model Harpoon Gun. This model is best known to the general public for being wielded by Robert Shaw as the inimitable Quint in the 1975 classic thriller ‘Jaws’.
It was estimated at £300–500. Extraordinarily it made £4,600 in its case with accessories (a licence would be required!).As ever, potential vendors can contact me on 07860 300055 for a free valuation.

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