Access to, and the availability of, game shooting has never been more egalitarian than it is today. Whether you’re a single gun looking to join a team, a group of friends from overseas wanting your first taste of British game shooting or you are a collection of experienced shots seeking sport on a variety of different estates around the country, there are numerous sporting agents and websites that offer shooting, in all its forms, in every part of the British Isles. And, should you want to be involved in the day without taking part in the shooting; wives, children and (very) well behaved dogs are welcome.
Your actual time on the peg; pulling the trigger, is, in fact, but a small part of the overall day. While it is the sport that brings people together, for many, it is the enjoyment of spending a day out in the great British countryside with like-minded people that brings the real enjoyment. The camaraderie between the guns, beaters, pickers-up and gamekeepers is second to none.
There is more to a day’s shooting than merely reaching the bag as Westley Richards former Gunroom Manager explains.
The cold morning chill; fluorescent, autumnal colours; the smell of gunpowder hanging in the mist; the gentle whimpering of over-excited dogs, the first sip of soul-warming sloe gin; pre-drive nerves followed by an injection of adrenaline at the first flush; the majesty of a towering cock pheasant, wings set, effortlessly gliding across the valley; the quiet admiration of the stylish single shot that folds a super-high bird; and the belly-laughs at that unfortunate friend who can do nothing but clean miss. Just a few emotions that I conjure-up, when thinking about a great passion of mine: driven game shooting. Not only a sport but a way of life for many; a sport deeply ingrained in the history and landscape of the British Isles.
When autumn comes Northern Italy plays host to a very different type of sport with a specific breed of gundog, as Lyn Monk reports.
When the weather turns from late summer into autumn and the cold morning air carries the sound of the deer rutting in the woods it’s time for a small group of enthusiastic owners and their lagotto romagnolo dogs to make the long drive back to the ancestral home of the breed – the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy.
The lagotto romagnolo is a little curly-coated duck retriever and truffle hunter which has been in existence in the region since Etruscan times and the seventh century BC. The breed’s main function then was to retrieve live wildfowl from the vast marshlands back to a flat bottom punt for his peasant masters. There is even a beautiful Fresco painted by Andrea Mantegna in 1474 at the Ducal Palace Mantua showing the Lagotto under the legs of the people. We can proudly say it looks like the same dog that you see today without change. Written records exist from 1591 onwards and in an Erasmus of Valvasone poem The Hunter he wrote about the dog of the region: “We need a rough and curly haired breed of dog that does not fear sun, ice or water that climbs mountains, fords rivers and runs on to steep rocky places, it’s head and hair resemble that of a ram and it brings the bird back to the hunter merrily.”
The pursuit of trophy class Roe buck (Capreolus Capreolus) in the British Isles remains one of the finest sporting challenges for the recreational deer stalker.
Roe buck stalking outside of the rut is about early mornings and late evenings. During April and May the British countryside bursts into life with deer movement all around. Mature bucks establish territories in readiness for the rut late summer. Younger bucks pushed out by these mature bucks often make up the early season quota.
Here at Westley Richards we enjoy the company of many of Britain’s finest artisans, regularly producing exquisite items for our discerning and distinguished clients. Craftsmen and women who are leaders in their individual fields and often, like their parent’s before them, continuing long established traditions in their craft.
Alongside our best gunmaking and highly prized engravings, we are proud to help maintain elite handcraftsmanship on the British Isles, be that with our bespoke leather goods, tailored shooting tweeds, country calf boots, fine hats and neckties and in this article’s case one-of-a-kind stickmaking.
Quite where this year has gone, I am not sure and it’s hard to believe that tomorrow marks the start of the red grouse shooting season here in the UK, famously known as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’. However, I find it near impossible to describe anything that 2020 has given us so far as glorious! If 2020 was a gun it would be a left handed, short stocked, double discharging, weak ejecting, thin walled, out of proof piece of junk made in London. And sadly, she’s not done with us yet!
At the end of July we would have attended the annual Game Fair and the excitement for the coming season begins from there. So quite what the season has install for any of us, is as unknown as the pandemic itself. Each estate and shoot will have carefully planned social distancing measures in place and I’m confident they can keep us all safe and well, of course, it won’t be like any other season and we will undoubtedly see a small reduction in enjoyment but any shooting is better than nothing, right? We will need patience and more importantly, flexibility which I appreciate is not that easy for the scores of international sportsmen and women who travel to our shores to wing shoot. But fingers crossed the virus is temporary, the shooting industry will weather the storm and we look forward to welcoming back teams of guns from all over the world next year.
I’m not sure we all imagined 2020 would be the year of the staycation, but that has been the world we’ve been thrust into. As we emerge positively from lockdown, everybody is in pursuit of making the most of the summer in their home or host nation – and I’m sure like myself, discovering some hidden gems along the way.
Here in the UK we are blessed with a unique and spectacular countryside, especially in the summer months, offering surprises at every turn. Whether you’re an explorer, adventurer, culture vulture, gastronome, antiquarian, naturalist or fieldsports enthusiast, there is literally something for everyone.
It’s morning frost on the hood of a land cruiser that crystallises a complex layer of thorn scratches, lacerations and claw marks from decades of exploration; a cool breeze on your face as you drive around for hours in the hunting rig, blissfully daydreaming until you’re ripped from the reverie by cat-claw thorns tearing through two shirt layers and drawing blood.
It’s the smell of parched topsoil getting its first drink of rain as the monsoons precipitate their arrival; the taste of a hand-rolled cigarette after lunch, lit by the same match that sets an early-season management fire, which in turn brings a chaotic hurricane of birds to devour the winged insects fleeing from the climbing flames. Or it’s a midday nap under the shade of an acacia tree with pant legs tucked into your socks to prevent soldier ants from biting ankles tender from tracking buffalo, only to be woken by a lion’s call a few hundred yards away, then not being able to fall back asleep because it might’ve been closer.
There are some things in this world that defy conventional description, where language can fall short of communicating these experiences or the complex meanings behind them. In the same way that an inspiring dream or revelation can evade articulation, I’ve always found it difficult to describe my love for Africa to someone who has never been. However, that has never stopped me from trying to understand the root of this passion that has inspired so many artists, writers, adventurers, hunters and conservationists over the centuries.
In my experience there is little sentimental middle ground; one either can’t endure the harsh elements, relentless insects, and logistical chaos, or one absolutely loves it and the charms sink deep into one’s bones, never to leave. Africa becomes a calling that must be answered and many have pursued it relentlessly even to their demise. But what is it exactly that we love so much? Ask anyone who’s spent an extended amount of time in the bush and they’ll probably tell you that it’s small observations of the senses that provide the vibrant source of what we know Africa to be. These are things you often don’t realise until later, having to reflect on the source of mild melancholy that creeps in once you return home.
When I first arrived at Westley Richards, one of the areas that really impressed me was the quality and depth of photography the company had produced over the years. This in large part began with Simon Clode, the former Chairman & Managing Director of the company, who as a young man developed a keen interested in the medium while studying art at the British Institute in Florence. It was during this time of experimentation with cameras, darkrooms and composition that Simon established his uncompromising eye for fine detail and appreciation of aesthetics.