What does shooting mean to you? What image does it conjure in your mind? What should our sport really stand for? These are the questions we have been asking ourselves increasingly in recent times, as shooting has come under continued attack from every angle.
I think we have all looked at ways to defend, or justify, our relationship with the natural world. For me, all the forms of shooting I love most – stalking, duck flighting and walked-up shooting – have a shared end purpose: they take me out in the countryside – often to some really wild places. And, although bag size is generally modest, there is usually something fabulous for the pot at the end of the day. The satisfaction that having hunted, butchered, cooked and eaten your quarry brings is like nothing else.
While I do enjoy the company and spectacle of a driven shoot, if I am being perfectly honest, a walk-up with a few mates would be my preference every time. Why? I love to watch the dogs working and I want to savour every shot – not just my own, but the success of my comrades; I want the bag to be the star at the dinner table, along with a tale or two about how it arrived there. And, if I had to pick just one venue to do it, it would be the West Highlands. Walking-up snipe and woodcock over tough terrain with even tougher dogs, surrounded by spectacular scenery... if it isn’t on your shooting bucket list, it should be!
The West Highlands’ milder winter climate, mellowed by the Gulf Stream, makes it an attractive destination for woodcock migrating from the frozen north. The thick forestry, plentiful watercourses, boggy ground and the proliferation of grazed pasture provides an ideal habitat for these birds. It’s no surprise, then, that large numbers populate the area every year.
Shooting pressure on the Ardnamurchan estate is strictly controlled, with limited numbers of Guns and shooting days throughout the season. While Ardnamurchan has become a regular destination for my winter deer stalking in recent years, last year’s late-November trip coincided with prime woodcock shooting, so the chance to mix up days on the hill with a day’s walking-up was too good to miss.
We started our day on humpy, coastal ground that drops away into the ocean. Views don’t come much better or air much cleaner. As we got our gear together, we got a stern briefing on safety – despite both Guns being pretty experienced.
We were told from the off that if we carried our guns broken all day, we wouldn’t have many chances. The opportunities are fleeting, and much of the shooting is instinctive: chances come and go in a split second.
Of course, that means that muzzle awareness is of the utmost importance. You need to be constantly checking where the dogs and other Guns are. Fellow Gun, Frederic (our Blaser host), was wearing a jacket with a blaze orange flash and an orange hat band. Wearing an armband or scarf would be an excellent idea — if not a legal requirement — to aid recognition. But, whatever your wardrobe, you need to trust your fellow Guns to be super safe at all times.
‘These birds aren’t known as brown ghosts for nothing! They appear as if by magic, flashing out into the open sky, demanding a quick, instinctive shot’
Working the dogs
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RSPB gives mixed message on shooting
Having recently attended the RSPB’s virtual AGM, Conor O’Gorman discusses the outcome of the charity’s year-long review of game bird shooting
Causeway for concern
Alan Jarrett’s renewed interest in reading takes him down memory lane to an offshore island duck flight that very nearly ended in disaster
Through a purple patch
The Garrows Estate is taking a conservation-focused approach to restoring the wildlife populations and biodiversity on the Scottish heather moorland.
When the wheels fall off
Losing form on a day’s shooting can be infuriating, especially if you’ve been shooting like a god up to that point. Simon O’Leary looks at some common causes and how to remedy them
Beaches, books & bad behaviour!
The annual Kay family vacation to Northumberland offers a chance to give the cockers a blast on the beach – although they don’t always shower themselves in glory, as Ryan Kay recalls...
Using the Stop whistle
Now you’ve instilled the basics, it’s time to up the ante with some more tricky distance work. Howard Kirby explains how to take the core Stop whistle command to the next level
The humble teal
They may be tiny, but as far as Rupert Butler is concerned, the appeal of this little duck is huge. He recalls some of his most memorable nights in pursuit of these aerial acrobats
Mike is impressed with the Fabarm Elos B2 Field Notte, which offers great value for money, is suited to fieldwork or clays and is future-proofed for use with steel in all choke constrictions
CALL OF THE WILD
Dom Holtam reconnects with one of the purest forms of shotgun shooting as he walks-up woodcock over pointing dogs in the Scottish Highlands
A yen for the Fens
Tony Jackson recounts a memorable duck flight over an area of Fenland in Norfolk with his friend and author, the late Alan Savory
A VIEW FROM ABOVE
Topping out the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge
Who Was Albert F. Mitchell?
When somebody hears the words “Sharps rifle,” the first things that probably come to mind are the great buffalo hunts, the “Wild and Wooly West” and tales of long-range shots, Indian attacks, and hunters freezing in blizzards.
German settlers brought unique culture to Texas Hill Country.
Cal Ripken Jr. hits another milestone in Cherry Hill.
What a President Pours
Wine and politics have often blended in awkward ways
After the Hurricane
The little creek I crossed on my way to work became a surging river
WESTERN ART IN PANDEMICS, THEN and NOW
Museum curators, gallery owners and artists remain optimistic about the future.
Looking For Frederick Douglass
How a visit to his birthplace helped me understand this moment in America
THE AUDI FIS ALPINE Ski World Cup
In La Thuile, Italy, the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup was held from 29 February to 1 March 2020. Here, SYLVIE BERTI ROSSI and RUBEN MONTAGNOLI share their experience as Heartfulness trainers at the event.
WHY ARE WE NOSTALGIC?
WE’VE ALL FELT THAT JAB TO THE SOUL YOU get from driving by your old high school haunts or hearing a tune you once danced to. But why is that bittersweet sort of reminiscence so universal?