Francis Fulford, the outspoken owner of Great Fulford, on his shooting background, family and the changing face of the sport.

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Robert Cuthbert: So Francis, you’ve refreshed the attitude towards shooting and hospitality at Great Fulford?

Francis Fulford: “As with many country houses now, we carry out a variety of activities, one of which is shooting. The shoot is getting up there and doing well. I have a shooting tenant and an excellent gamekeeper, both in their third year here. We allow guests to stay in the house with the eight en-suite bedrooms; it appeals to a lot of people as a day’s shooting can be ruined by having to get up early and drive around miles of countryside only to get lost.”

RC: Who introduced you to shooting?

FF: “I started shooting with my father in the 1960s – a different world. We still walked-up after wild grey partridges in this weird part of Devon. We walked every acre of the estate in September and October for the odd chance of a shot. Looking back at the game book, my father’s shooting in Devon was very different. If he went out and they shot a hundred birds or more, it was a big day in Devon in the 1950s and 1960s. Things have changed amazingly. He’d be surprised by the scale of shooting now. It’s something I don’t think any of us thought would happen.”

RC: So, what’s really changed it all?

FF: “I suppose the advent of game cover: it’s revolutionised shooting. It used to be nothing but coverts, shooting from woods. When I was a boy, pheasant shooting was as it had been in 1900 – rearing fields with hens in coops. Keepers still had bicycles.”

RC: Who are your shooting contemporaries?

FF: “Devon is like a big club and we all shoot together. We all shoot at each other’s shoots. So, I shoot at places like Powderham Castle, Castle Hill, Haddeo… Devon and good shooting are now synonymous.”

RC: Do you ever shoot with your father’s guns?

FF: “I do, although I despair of the bloody things as they have a tendency to give up the ghost at the wrong moment. I couldn’t shoot with an over-under, although I sometimes pick up an over-under 20-bore. It’s what you have been brought up with, isn’t it?”

RC: Who built your father’s guns?

FF: “William Evans. I’ve still got the invoice for them, from 1948 – £250 for a pair of guns… not bad for best London sidelocks. I suppose in modern money you would have to multiply that figure by about 40, so you would come to something in the region of £10,000 or £12,000 now. It’s also quite interesting how expensive cartridges were in the 1940s and 1950s… very expensive then.”

RC: Your children’s introduction to shooting must have been a little more laidback than you father’s?

FF: “My father was born in 1898. He was a Victorian, but not in his ways. He was a relaxed man. He was good with us and we loved him. I’ve got three boys.”

RC: Who would be the most accomplished of the boys? I recall Arthur seemed quite tidy shooting dinner plates off the ramparts on television recently.

FF: “Probably Edmund, my youngest; he has the best hand-eye coordination. He’s always been a good cricketer. He’s good at sport; he’s good at games, it’s that simple thing, hand-eye coordination.”

RC: Do they have their own guns?

FF: “I have two 20-bores and two 12-bores. I’ll have to go to auction and buy another couple of 12-bores one day. At the moment they use my guns. Edmund uses a 20-bore – a glorious gun by Sable, I think. I also have a Purdey sidelock – a 20-bore – beautifully engraved. I got it for £110. A non-ejector sadly or it would be worth an awful lot.”

RC: I think I know the answer, but do you swear a lot when you miss?

FF: “Yes I do sometimes. It’s not the difficult birds you mind missing, it’s when you take on something you should hit and you miss it and you think where the f*** was I there … probably in front of it, actually. Yes, I can swear a bit.”

For more information on Francis Fulford and Great Fulford, visit greatfulford.co.uk