When I was a teenager in the late 1950s, virtually everybody who shot game had been introduced to the sport through rough shooting. Back then, there were a few small ‘working-men’s’ syndicate shoots where the members did their own keepering, while the larger estates usually ran private shoots for the benefit of their titled owners.
It sounds inconceivable now, but in those days there were still plenty of rough shoots available, with lots of smaller farms still eking out a living from as little as 30 acres. However, as the old boys began to retire, the changing face of global commerce made it difficult for their sons to earn a viable living from the smaller acreages. Some diversified while others found secondary employment to supplement their ‘hobby farms’.
But many small family farms sold out to younger neighbours or to the bigger agricultural concerns. This coincided with the late 1980s surge in corporate entertainment and suddenly the commercial shoots that catered for this market wanted to hire every available acre near their boundaries to meet with the increasing demand.
The downside to the burgeoning interest in driven game shooting was that many of the older grass-roots Guns suddenly lost the rough shoots that had given them sport for so long.
I was one of the lucky ones. I may have only had permission to walk over five farms but all of them had moved with the times and had either purchased a few acres or hired extra land. This gave me about 350 acres of mainly arable land at the peak.
This was in the days when sugar beet was a profitable part of the crop rotation and gave me some excellent early-season sport, though walking the rows on a wet day really is a younger man’s pastime.
No matter, this walked-up sport gave me a good education at a stage of my life when I couldn’t afford to join a formal driven shoot. In my 50s I did join a syndicate on a nearby estate and spent what I considered to be a small fortune; the proprietor charged us what seemed an extortionate £12 a bird on 50-brace let days.
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