Category Archive 'Shooting Driven Game'

12 Aug 2020

The Glorious Twelfth

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“A gentleman will be wearing tweeds weathered to the same consistency as the suit of armour his ancestor wore at Agincourt.”

The twelfth of August, known as the Glorious Twelfth, the first day of grouse hunting season was established by the Scotch Game Act of 1773.

In honor of which, and in order to keep it in print, NYM is republishing, Gerald Warner’s 11 August 2008 Telegraph essay, “Better to kill a fellow gun than wing a beater.”

This week sees a significant date in the British sporting calendar — and it has nothing to do with the Olympics. The Twelfth will inaugurate the grouse-shooting season, though it also becomes legal to take a pot at snipe and ptarmigan if that is your bag. For dedicated sportsmen, the driven grouse, flying high, is the quarry of choice.

Grouse shooting is still conducted on some scale, despite the problems that have afflicted it in recent years. There are 746 upland properties in Britain, covering nine million acres, that shoot grouse and 459 of them are grouse moors. The sport supports the employment of 700 grouse keepers and represents 12 per cent of total United Kingdom shooting provision, which contributes £1.6 billion to the economy.

So we are talking about a significant economic activity. That, however, is not the atmosphere on the moors, among the participants in a sport that, second only to hunting, is the essence of Britain (one feels compelled to eschew Gordon Brown’s horrid, synthetic neologism “Britishness”). The heather is in bloom and there is a feeling of keen anticipation. Of course, the shooting will actually be better in a month’s time, when the birds have been fully nourished and matured, but the Twelfth has a ritual significance that cannot be gainsaid.

This is still rather a smart sport: even the grouse has a double-barrelled name: Lagopus lagopus scoticus. There is a correspondingly acute awareness of social nuances among the guns themselves. A novice kitted out in brand-new knickerbockers and deerstalker might as well wear one of those conference badges saying “Hedge fund manager”. A gentleman will be wearing tweeds weathered to the same consistency as the suit of armour his ancestor wore at Agincourt.

If he has been obliged to replace his Barbour since last season, he may take the precaution of driving his tractor over it several times. Nor should the olfactory sense be neglected: if you cannot out-stink the wet gun-dogs, your bona fides may be suspect. It should be noted, too, that protocol dictates that shooting another gun dead is an unfortunate accident; winging a beater or, worse, a keeper is unforgivable.

It is not necessarily ill-bred to shoot a human quarry: some of our best-born sportsmen had form. The Duke of Wellington was more lethal on the moor than on the battlefield. While visiting Lord Granville in 1823, he accidentally shot him in the face. When shooting at Lady Shelley’s, he hit one of her tenants who was hanging out her washing. “My lady, I’ve been hit!” moaned the victim. To which Lady Shelley replied: “You have endured a great honour today, Mary — you have the distinction of being shot by the Duke of Wellington.” More recently, Willie Whitelaw notoriously winged a keeper and simultaneously shot an old friend in the buttocks, after which he courteously gave up shooting.

Shooting, like hunting, has its distinctive humour and literature, including the cartoons of Mark Huskinson and books such as Douglas Sutherland’s The English Gentleman’s Good Shooting Guide. The classic works of fiction are surely JK Stanford’s chronicles of that veteran sporting gun Colonel the Hon George Hysteron-Proteron, known to fellow members of his club as “The Old Grouse-Cock”, whose game book ran to 20 volumes after he had shot “about 200,000 head”.

Such prolific slaughter would be condemned today. A common complaint is that roaring boys from the City are ruining shooting with their vulgar drive for extravagantly big bags. Over-shooting may be frowned on, but historically there are precedents that are far from plebeian. By the time the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury died in 1841, he had killed 10,744 partridges, 8,862 pheasants, 4,694 snipe and 1,080 woodcock — but no grouse: in Georgian times, it was wall-to-wall partridge. In accomplishing this record, he had fired more than four tons of cartridges.

In the succeeding generations the 6th Lord Walsingham shot 1,070 grouse in one day on Blubberhouse Moor in Yorkshire in 1888. He fired 1,510 cartridges during 20 drives and twice killed three birds with a single shot. In the following January, he shot the most varied bag ever recorded: 191 kills of 19 different species, ranging from 65 coots to a rat and a pike shot in shallow water. The seal of royal approval was given to large bags when George V downed more than 1,000 pheasants in one day in 1913.

The scale of events on Tuesday will be much more modest. Ticks, parasitic worms, floods and raptors have taken a heavy toll of the grouse. In Scotland, long regarded as the doyen of upland game terrain but plagued with problems, this season is predicted to be slightly better than last, but it is very patchy. Grouse stocks are reported to be up by somewhere between 20 per cent and 50 per cent in the Lammermuirs, but further north the ticks have done a lot of damage.

Yet the devotees will have their sport, rewarded for all their efforts by that heart-quickening moment when the sky first fills with the quarry. It is the timeless experience that, years ago, caused the Duke of Sutherland’s loader to exclaim excitedly: “Grace, Your Grouse!”

A more modern complement to the outdoor sport is the competition among restaurants to be the first to serve grouse on August 12. In 1997, this reached a new pitch of extravagance when the first birds shot on a Scottish moor were rushed to Heathrow and transported on Concorde to New York where, thanks to supersonic flight and the five-hour time difference, they were served to diners at the Restaurant Daniel the same day. A similar extravagance featured a courier parachuting into the grounds of a gourmet hotel to deliver grouse.

The Twelfth is a day for extravagance, nostalgia and enjoyment. Here’s to good sport for now, and the perpetuation of a great British rural tradition.

03 Nov 2019

Clarkson Takes on Anti-Hunters With Left-Wing Faces

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Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson has taken his millions and done what wealthy Brits always do: Move to the country to enjoy rural life and sports.

And, like any good country squire, Jeremy has taken up Shooting Driven Game.

His column is behind a paywall in the Sunday Times:

I was up early the other day because I was keen to write about the Britannia Hotels group’s incredible achievement of being voted the UK’s worst chain for the seventh year running. Imagine. You’re told you’re rubbish once and then you keep on being rubbish for six straight years. I wanted to comment about such an extraordinary level of commitment to slack-jawed slovenliness.

But then I noticed that the survey had been done by Which?, an organisation that is really only interested in reaching adenoidal people in action trousers and sandals who contribute to TripAdvisor and run the neighbourhood watch scheme. As a general rule, I’ve always reckoned that if something does badly in Which?, it’s probably pretty good.

As I sat, deciding which side to take in the great hotel debate, I was distracted by an annoying man on Radio 4’s Farming Today show. He was from the airborne wing of the Labour Party — also known as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds — and he was talking about how he thought shooting game birds might be a bad thing.

The RSPB has always been prevented by its royal charter from campaigning against the shooting industry — Mrs Queen likes to strangle a pheasant or two at Christmas time, as we know — but it has worked out that it can comment if it reckons shooting is done by rich bastards in Range Rovers.

Now, the columnist Charles Moore said recently that the actress Olivia Colman had a “left-wing face”. I won’t comment on that, but I will say that Martin Harper, the man the RSPB sent to Radio 4, had a left-wing voice. Chris Packham has both a left-wing voice and a left-wing face, and he wants us all to stop using fly spray.

Anyway, Martin reckoned that if you release 50m non-native game birds into the British countryside every year, it’s bound to have an effect. When pressed by the interviewer for a specific effect, he said: “Er, climate change.” That was lucky for the Britannia Hotels chain, because I immediately abandoned my original plan and decided to write about shooting instead.

The first thing I did when I started a small shoot was plant several acres of so-called cover crops. Maize, sunflowers and something called kale, which can be eaten by humans if they are very deranged. These crops provide warmth, food and a place to hide from Johnny Fox, not just for my pheasants but a whole squadron of other birds too.

We keep reading about how endangered the yellowhammer is these days; well, not on my farm it isn’t. Since I started my shoot, the skies are black with them. And goldcrests. And wrens. And skylarks. The dawn chorus used to be nothing but the occasional squawk of a murderous crow, whereas now it’s positively philharmonic.

Research has shown that if you run through a field of crops planted by a shootist, you are 340 times more likely to encounter a songbird than if you do a Theresa May and run through a field of grass.

So, Martin, if the RSPB does manage to ban shooting, then, yes, you will be championed as a class hero throughout the vegan strongholds of Islington and Shoreditch, but you will also be responsible for the deaths of a million linnets. Which, as far as I know, isn’t why the RSPB was founded.

And then there are the woods, where the pheasants are held until they are old enough to forage on their own. Woods are beautiful and still. They’re places to shelter from the endless drone of light-aircraft enthusiasts. Mine are full of roe deer and muntjac and squirrels and badgers, and at this time of year there are many mushrooms too. I love to spend an evening down there as the leaves turn golden, giggling. Everyone likes woods, except if you are in a horror film.

But they generate no income. So if shooting were banned, I’d have to get Brazilian on their arses and turn them into farmland. Is that what you want, Martin? Because I fear that would create a damn sight more climate change than my Range Rover.

Of course, I’m well aware that some people might bridle at the sight and sound of eight hedge-fund managers in tweed shorts, braying their way through a pint of sloe gin while brandishing a pair of £20,000 shotguns, but what good comes from making them take up golf instead?

There are many hobbies that inflict far more pain and misery on others: light aircraft — I’m not giving up on that — the violin, motorcycling, strimming, morris dancing and so on, so why pick on one that’s good for nature and good for the way the countryside looks?

Pointedly, it’s good for birds too. Not just songbirds, but the kind of stuff that makes kids point at the sky and squeak with joy. Birds of prey. Since I started a shoot, I have seen a huge increase in the number of kestrels and buzzards over my farm. I even think I spotted a peregrine falcon the other day, and that made my heart soar.

Was it here because it likes eating my pheasants and partridges? There’s some debate about that, but the truth is I don’t really care if it does take a few. Because I like having it around.

Clarkson is right in saying that the Ringneck pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) is not native to Britain, but they were actually introduced by Julius Caesar a very long time ago, you’d think they’d have been given naturalized citizenship by now.


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