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Guns on their pegs during a driven shoot

There are lots of interesting articles and amazing photos of British country pursuits that we Post and re-Post for friends and colleagues on our Facebook page that we don’t post on our Blog.

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Mornacott Shoot, Devon – Courtesy of GunsOnPegs

Located in Devon’s famous shooting triangle, between Molland, South Molton and North Molton, Mornacott is now in the sixth season of new ownership and has been completely reinvigorated. Following the successes of the previous seasons a further five days have been added to next season’s shooting calendar.

From the top of Clover Down, one of Mornacott’s signature drives, one can look North to see the stunning scenery of Exmoor and South towards Dartmoor National Park.

Mornacott offers some 1,400 acres of shooting and over 23 drives catering for all levels of experience and most shooting tastes from the stunning high birds of the Lower Cleave drive to the quick snap shooting required in Easter Wood.

Whilst guests come to shoot at Mornacott we understand that a little more is required than simply providing exciting drives and stunning birds.

Shooting at Mornacott is as much about spending time with friends and clients in a relaxed and luxurious environment as it is about the actual shoot.

Whilst some guests choose to bring their own four-wheel drive vehicles we are always delighted when they choose to use our gunbus which seats all in one vehicle and allows for relaxed camaraderie, conversation and friendly banter between drives.

The shootroom where the shooting day begins, and to which all return after their day, comprises a painstakingly converted and furnished barn, which creates an ambience of calm relaxation.

Our new shoot lodges offer luxury ensuite accommodation for up to nine guns or couples on the night before or after the shoot day.

Meals are taken in the shootroom and sometime before the day itself the client host for the day is provided with menu choices comprising a range of dishes using the best locally sourced ingredients many of which come directly from the farm.

We are always delighted to arrange for dinner on the night before the shoot and meals and timings are readily arranged around the requirements of our guests to allow them the choice of a full lunch or “twelveses” in the field allowing them to “shoot through” if required.

At Mornacott we seek to deliver quality and variety as opposed to just quantity. We do not offer days with bags in excess of 300 birds thereby ensuring that our guests can remember their good birds for the day and do not feel the need to take impossible shots which often only serve to inflict injury to birds and to destroy the reputation of our sport.

Part of the secret to providing an enjoyable day is in the planning of it. Prior to any day’s shooting we liaise closely with our client host to ensure that we can match drives to the level of experience of the guns providing loaders, if required, for those who might be relatively new to the sport.

Partridge, pheasant and mixed days are always a delight to arrange for our guests and with a few other types of interesting quarry available we also seek to both add to the fun element of the day and to raise small sums for charity through shooting “fines” should our guests choose to be more adventurous in their shooting.

Our shoot staff are hugely experienced in delivering quality days and many of our beaters and pickers-up spend their whole working week practicing their craft living and working as they do in the heart of England’s best shooting country.

Above all we want to make the day at Mornacott an experience to remember and savour until a return the following year to refresh the spirit.

Ugbrooke Park Shoot, Devon – Courtesy of Country Sports South West

Ugbrooke is set in a serene Devon valley within Capability Brown parkland. The chain of lakes, woodland, copses and undulating hills provide pheasant (and duck) shooting of the most testing standard.  Although unusual to offer duck on the same drive as pheasant, the gamekeeper of 46 years, Alan Easterbrook, takes great pride in providing high, sporting duck for the guns.

Shoots are hosted personally by Lord Clifford, his wife Clarissa and their dedicated team. Hospitality is provided in the beautifully restored Robert Adam House, the Clifford’s much cherished family home. Accommodation includes all food, all drinks and full butler service.

Day shoots may choose to lunch in the Dining Room at the house or alternatively parties can choose to take a more ‘on the hoof’ lunch in the Billiard Room. The format of the day comprises: briefing from Lord Clifford; the shooting party are then transported to the first drive; the second drive is followed by elevenses taken in the field (soup, sausage rolls, cherry brandy etc); third and fourth drive take place followed by lunch; final 2 drives of the afternoon,  followed by tea. Experienced loaders are provided (at no charge).

Beginners are very welcome and well looked after by their allocated loader. Shooting (and staying) at Ugbrooke is a truly memorable experience.

Buckland Pheasant and Partridge Shoot, Somerset – Courtesy of GunsOnPegs

Buckland Shoot is based in the rolling Blackdown Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, covering some 2000 acres of stunning Devon and Somerset Countryside. The Shoot has been running for over 30 years and has really excelled in the last couple of years which has enabled us to offer a bespoke days shooting.

The topography of the land lends itself well to show a good variety of birds which challenges all shooting abilities. The Shoot is made up of vast amounts of rolling grass farmland hills, combined with wooded areas and game cover which offers a mixed days sport.  One of our drives, Thatch Cottage, consists of a steep cut valley with game cover on the peak of the hill which naturally creates high and fast challenging birds.

On a Shoot Day Guns arrive at our warm and welcoming Shoot Lodge and will be greeeted by Tom and Emily. After teas and coffees, there will be a safety briefing from the host and Guns will draw their pegs with a tipple before heading out to the first drive. In the morning, we typically do two to three drives stopping for beverages in between. In the middle of the day we break for a light homemade field lunch, before continuing with the days sport in the afternoon doing two more drives. At the end of the day all the Guns return to the Shoot Lodge to warm up by the wood burner and finish off with a homecooked two course dinner. Buckland Shoot offers full hospitality throughout the day to all Guns.

We aim to offer tailor made days that suit whatever one requires, whether you be a team of Guns or an individual Gun that wishes to join a day. Our days range from 70-200 birds, which include Driven Pheasant and Partridge days, Driven Duck days and Driven Partridge days.

This well-keepered Shoot offers great hospitality along with a friendly yet relaxing atmosphere, striving to make an enjoyable day for all Guns. 

All About Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials – Courtesy of Blenheim Palace

The Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials are now firmly established in the eventing calendar. It has been running since 1990, attracting the world’s best riders and the thousands of spectators who come each year to watch the event.

The Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials is known as a ‘3-day event’, even though the actual event is run over four days! This is because the event is made up of three phases: Dressage, Cross Country and Show Jumping, with the Dressage phase taking place over the first two days.

The start of the event is preceded on the Wednesday afternoon with the first official horse inspection in front of the Ground Jury Judges and the Veterinary Commission. This is followed by two days of dressage (Thursday and Friday), and then Cross Country and Show Jumping over the weekend.

There are two classes held at Blenheim over the four days of the event – CCI3* and a CIC3* class. The latter is for 8 and 9 year old horses and has been specifically developed for younger horses to complete the Dressage test followed by Show Jumping then Cross Country. The format for the CCI3* class, for older and more experienced horses, starts with Dressage, followed by a longer and more technically demanding Cross Country phase, which provides a more exacting test and finishes with the Show Jumping.

Dressage

Dressage

Dressage is the first phase of the competition, in which a series of pre-set movements are judged subjectively. It takes place all day on Thursday and Friday for both the CCI3* and CIC3* 8 and 9 year old horse classes.  The CCI3* is in the main Marlborough Arena and starts at approximately 9am set against the magnificent backdrop of Blenheim Palace.  The CIC3* takes place in the Churchill Arena – which is sited at the top of the picnic areas above the lake, and starts at approximately 10.30 on Thursday and 9am on Friday.

Cross Country

Cross Country

The Cross Country phase is for many the most exciting part of the whole competition. Riders take on the challenge of big solid fences and the unique water complex across the River Glyme. The timed courses run around the beautiful Blenheim parkland, designed by Capability Brown and are renowed for being fast but testing.

The Cross Country courses at Blenheim are designed by Eric Winter and built by David Evans, both are internationally acclaimed for their course building and design skills.

The CCI3* Cross Country phase runs from approximately 9am to 1:45pm on Saturday and the 8 and 9 year old horse CIC3* Cross Country is run on Sunday from approximately 11am to 2pm.

Show Jumping

Show jumping

Show Jumping for the 8 and 9 year old horse CIC3* is on Saturday as the second part of their test (this is because it is less challenging for horses to do the Show Jumping before the Cross Country). It takes place from approximately 4pm to 6:20pm.

For the CCI3* class, Show Jumping is on Sunday in two sections. The first from approximately 9am to 11am and the second from approximately 3pm to 4pm in the Marlborough Arena in front of the Palace. This is run in reverse order with the lower placed competitors jumping before lunch and the higher placed combinations afterwards.

Other Activities

In addition to the eventing action there are lots of other activities. These include the Dodson & Horrell sponsored Pony Club and Riding Club Team Competitions on the Thursday and Friday and the Tri-Zone sponsored BE100 Eventer Challenge on Sunday all in the Bladon Arena and the Eventers High Jump Challenge on Sunday in the Blenheim Attractions Arena.

There are also many equine and other displays throughout the event for all the family, including children’s play areas, a food and drink hall, sports and classic car displays, and more than 200 outlets in the shopping village.

Ground Jury Judges have ultimate responsibility for judging all three phases of the competition.

The Veterinary Commission are responsible for ensuring that FEI regulations are adhered to and that horses are fit and able to complete all phases of the competition.

An Introduction to Walked Up Shooting – Courtesy of BCS Roving Reporter Ian Temple Esq.

So two weeks before the end of my fifth season of UK winged shooting there I was about to do my first walk up day in deepest West Sussex in southern England.

I had no real idea what to expect other than from what I had read and heard about walked up shooting.  I knew the chaps I was shooting with and had shot a good number of driven pegged days on this estate before so I felt relaxed about the upcoming shoot.

On the drive to the shoot the temperature gauge of the car was reading -4C and the forecast was for snow. Two things that do not usually make for fast, strong flying pheasants but to cut a long story short, it turned out to be an amazing day with good sport, great camaraderie amongst the Guns and the shoot staff and a hearty BBQ lunch to round it off.

In keeping with my theme of brevity, rather than go through all the drives let me describe the main differences to a driven shooting day I noticed.

1) every shooting estate does their own thing for a walk up day so have no preconceptions

2) there were a lot fewer beaters and pickers uppers than normal

3) we did a lot of drives – I think eight or nine in total

4) you have to be really alert – shooting only six Guns in the line meant much wider spacing

5) Guns must stay alert and anticipate what might happen as the line advances because with fewer beaters there is less control on when, where and how the birds will flush

6) on some drives we saw few birds while on others lots,  and on some, one great flurry

7) Guns must be able to adapt to the changing situation and scenarios – for instance, on one drive we had a huge flight of duck go over us totally unexpected

8) we did not draw numbers but worked in with the experienced shoot staff who knew their ground like the back of their hand – if a Gun had seen little action they were positioned to be in the hot seat for next drive

9) it was great to spend more time with the beaters and pickers up – these are people who love the countryside and it is a joy to watch their dogs work at closer quarters

10) on most walked up and rough shoots you shouldn’t expect a posh lunch – our gamekeeper fired up the BBQ and we ate great fresh tasty food

11) walked up shooting is not about a huge bag – it is about grass-roots shooting and being able to admire your fellow shots success and commiserate with them about the ones that got away

12) of the six Guns shooting it was the first experience of a walked up day for three of us – all remarked to our shoot captain that it was one of the best days our little roving syndicate had had this season

So if you want a bag of 200 plus walked up shooting is not for you. If you enjoy being out in the countryside amongst great friends and meeting new people this may be a day for you. Clearly the price at about 50% of a driven day appeals as well.

I am sure as a syndicate we shall be looking to do more walked up days in the coming seasons. Two for the price of one – can’t complain about that now can you!

Twenty Years in and Still I Marvel!

A great read.

Alex Jardine Fly Fishing

Last Friday several of us others gathered in the beautiful south Dorset countryside on the banks of the River Frome. The reason, to celebrate my dad’s birthday… you may wonder why someone who forges their living in fishing would possibly take a break to go fishing but there we all were having travelled various distances to be there.

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Whilst I cannot explain to non-fishers the joy of gathering on an icy, wind biting winters morning, to then go and stand in a river with the possibility of hooking something slimy. I certainly wouldn’t dream of convincing them that this is a way to celebrate one’s birthday but I can assure you, for those of us with the bug it is terrific.

That evening my buddy Lewis Hendrie and I had been asked to put together a presentation for the Dorset Chalkstream Club. Firstly we were to do a talk on…

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Game Shooting: The Journey That Takes Pheasants From Field To Plate – Courtesy of the Independent

Worth £2 billion to the UK economy, participants and chefs argue that some people might not think about where their meat comes from.

It’s the middle of the game hunting season on this unusually small estate, and a 15-strong group of mainly men has taken over. Their uniform is luxurious hunting gear and plus fours in earthy shades of checked green and brown; their trousers tucked into thick red Scottish knee-high socks. Joining them is Marcus Verberne, the head chef of London’s Roast restaurant which specialises in British fare.

Marcus’ formal restaurant is elevated above Borough market, a stone’s throw from the busy and claustrophobic South Bank. It is the antithesis of where we are now, deep in the Scottish highlands. The chef, who rotates his menu monthly, is here to shoot pheasant for the first time at the peak of the game season. He’s invited me to join him, in a bid to understand the journey that pheasants make from field to plate.

One thing is clear, shooting is – as Alistair confirms to me later – “big bucks”. Huge, in fact. When all forms of shooting are considered, the sport is worth £2 billion to the UK economy – compared with £1.72 billion from the flourishing video gaming industry.

To reach the hunting estate where Alistair lives, we meet the rest of the shooting party at a small patch of dirt functioning as a car park a two-hour-drive north of Glasgow. Here, cars not equipped for the dirt-track road ahead are left behind. Our gang of crawling 4X4s become insignificant as the surroundings woods swallow us at their whim, before yawning open to flaunt the mirror-like lochs and burnt-orange hills.

At the estate, the group gathers around Alistair, who is leaning casually against his thumb stick – a type of wooden walking staff – outside his home. At any hunting day, the game keeper must brief the ‘guns’, the name given to the shooters, on how the day will work. They are allowed to shoot any pheasants, ducks, grouse, and woodcocks that fly above them, Alistair says. Rabbits, deer and other ground animals are not allowed. He warns that while the weather is uncharacteristically stunning, with the sun beaming and not a breath of wind, the pheasants will struggle to soar – making it harder to shoot them.

Separated into small groups, we manoeuvre across the boggy grass and take our positions at numbered pegs. These are predetermined positions over which the birds are likely to fly out from five plots of dense, engineered, woodlands that dot the otherwise bare landscape. We will visit each one over the next five hours.

Bertie, who has been shooting since his early teens, is training Marcus and hands him his weapon. He tells me it is a William Jeffreys: a “simple English gun” – a machine likely to have cost thousands of pounds.

Busy in the first plot of woodland are the ‘beaters’, waving white fertiliser bags fashioned into flags and shouting “Hoo! Hoo! Heh-heh-heh-heh!” to scare the birds towards the guns, who are poised and ready to shoot.

The first birds fly above the guns, who, deep in concentration, swing their weapons at the soaring creatures. The deep, sporadic, booms from the shots of five guns spirals so loudly against the hills that Bertie has stuffed plants into his ears. In what seems like chaos, some birds glide past the guns unscathed, while those which are shot dramatically plummet to the ground. Armed with excited dogs, the ‘pickers up’ kill birds which did not die instantly, and hand them to Alistair who blows a horn to signal the end of the round.

Swiftly cracking the pheasants neck to ensure it is dead, Bertie takes out his blade and smudges the thick liquid across Marcus’ cheeks.

“You’re lucky, your first catch wasn’t too bloody,” he quips, and recalls how he was blooded as a young teen. This likely sounds like total madness, but to hunting groups on small shooting estates such as this, nothing is wasted and no-one is squeamish of a little blood and guts.

And while today’s hunting party perhaps wouldn’t phrase it in these terms, the idea of man taking his place among nature to tame and sustain himself by killing another beast is certainly a recurring notion. Over the course of the day, each gun tells me how he feel he is connecting to a “carnal instinct” when he shoots, a feeling I don’t quite understand as a clinical city-dweller.

I ask Marcus his opinion, who as a chef in London bridges the gap between city life and carnal instincts by feeding swathes of diners each day.

“I couldn’t shoot something that wasn’t being eaten. I don’t think I chould shoot a fox for that reason.

“A lot of people these days even have that fear of eating something thats not sitting in a polystyrene tray wrapped in cling film. It doesn’t register that its actually an animal that they’re eating. I think it’s important as a chef to be able to start at the very source of the end result. It starts with the husbandry of the animal,” Marcus tells me.

To prepare for these fortnightly events during pheasant shooting season, from 1 October and 1 February, the husbandry starts in the summer when 800 eight week-old birds reared in Perthshire are planted into the plots of fenced woodland. For a fortnight, Alistair will nourish them with vitamin water and “peace and quiet”, or else the birds will die.

This process of maintaining an estate is a strange process, which one gun describes as “conservation by utilisation”. A staggering two thirds of Britain is used for game shooting, with this estate in Argyll a tiny version of larger, more commercial operations. While around 30 birds will be shot today, two handed to each gun and the rest shared among the locals, hundreds of birds are killed at bigger shoots and sold on to suppliers. Before reaching the dining table, birds are hung for as long as five days. During this time the birds’ meat becomes tender, and its diet of woodland fauna and wheat enrich into an intense, gamey flavour.

Alistair explains the balancing act which is his job. “You’re having a big impact on whats going on round about you”, he admits.

“If [game keeping] didn’t happen then there would definitely be less wild game, like red squirrel, in Scotland, because you’ve trapping all the weasels and stouts and crows which kill them. That’s definitely good, theres not enough food for all this vermin – we call them vermin because thats what they are. We’ve got eagles. They’re really struggling for food. If I wasn’t here they wouldn’t eat the deer I shoot for them. There’s not enough food in the whole country for these things,” Alistair explains, with a clear feeling of respect for the landscape.

“Shoots like this are very important because it brings people form the rural area together. In the winter time when it’s dark at 8am, you need a wee bit of the world alive. It’s hard being in the dark, you know,” Alistair says, laughing.

Game shooting is undeniably also a leisurely pursuit, steeped in the language of sport. It has barely changed since the Victorian times, when shotguns improved and blood sports became popular among the gentry, regarded by some as an antidote to the nation becoming “too soft”.

And while shooting isn’t only the preserve of the landed now, and some 600,000 people take part in Britain alone, the archaic quirks remain. I quickly learn asking “did you shoot anything?” is not “the done thing” and it’s rude to too closely count how many birds you kill. No ‘iPheasant’ apps have infiltrated the practice, and the most high-tech gadgets Alistair uses are a walkie-talkie to contact beaters and pickers up, and the new refrigerated larder where he must store kill.

The day will close in Alistair’s house, where he will serve a simple venison cottage pie made from meat he shot himself, as the party sloshes sloe gin sloshes around the table. But the group have another two runs to tackle and the party takes a break. Tupperware boxes generously packed with food emerge from a 4×4 and are cracked open. One is filled with warm, neatly stacked fried sausages encased in a sheet of aluminium. Another is brimming with tangerines and Tunnock’s wafer bars. But Bullshot is what excites us the most. The warm drink takes its curious maroon colour from beef consommé, tomatoes and Worcester sauce, and is made more interesting with a hefty glug of sherry. It is a moment of comfort and reflection in a day filled with navigating a landscape and observing a sport as stark as it is breathtaking.

Shotgun Shell Crimp Styles and Performance – Courtesy of Robin Sharpless and Gun Digest

The crimp on a shotgun shell is easy to overlook, but this simple aspect of reloading holds a lot of sway over the ammunition's performance.

No matter whether the hull is paper or plastic it needs to be positively crimped. And no matter the style applied to a shell, the crimp plays a number of roles in properly functioning ammunition.

One purpose of the crimp is to seal the end of the shell to prevent the shot from falling out and keep dirt from entering. The crimp also keeps the powder and shot properly packed for that micro-second when the primer ignites the powder and pressure begins to build.

The crimp is a patterned fold. Its design is essential for proper powder ignition and controlling the burn rate. Varying the depth of the crimp or otherwise changing a pre-established fold when you reload can quickly and surprisingly affect your shell’s pressure, so mind your crimp as you do the rest of your components and stick to the recommendations of the recipes you use.

A few years ago, two types of crimps were common, the roll crimp and the star fold.

The roll crimp dates from blackpowder days. Blackpowder was bulky, at least compared to today’s smokeless powders, so it needed all the room it could be afforded inside a shell. Everything was packed in tightly and a small over-shot card (also called a wad) topped off a roll-crimped load before the crimp was applied. The crimp, when applied, rolled the hull firmly back on itself and down to the card, thus holding the powder and shot firmly in place.

With the advent of more efficient smokeless powders, less hull length was needed to contain the powder, because less powder volume in a smokeless loading could accomplish the same or better results than did blackpowder. As a result, more hull was available for sealing the shell.

The over-shot card was dispensed with and the final quarter-inch of standardized paper or plastic shell was simply folded over toward the middle. Today’s final crimp depth is about 1/16-inch and has either a six- or eight-segment fold. Your shotshell press should accommodate crimp starts of either configuration, and you should use the right one depending on the number of folds your hull originally had.

Is there a difference between the six- and eight-segment folds? Except for the number of leaves or folds, no, but it is believed that the eight-segment fold holds a little tighter and is, therefore, a little better for the smaller shot sizes of No. 7½, 8, 8½, and 9 used in target and small-game loads.

There is a tendency for the six-fold to be used with larger shot in hunting and field loads. Also, the smaller shells in the 28-gauge and the .410-bore use a six-fold crimp, and though it seems counter-intuitive, the large shells of a 10-gauge also use a six-fold crimp.

Many experienced reloaders recommend that, when you work with a new (not previously crimped) hull, consider using a six-point fold starter rather than an eight-point, if you have a choice. The six-fold is easier to work into a fresh hull and usually realigns more easily.

Editor’s Note: This post is from the book Handbook of Reloading Basics.