Lady?s Wood Shooting School, established 28 years ago by the late Michael Pinker and now run by his widow Karen, is unique, for what other shooting ground operates in conjunction with a woodland nature reserve and organises a Bluebell Day shoot? Where else can you find a wide variety of woodland birds nesting in apparent harmony with constant human activity and the background staccato of regular shooting?
There is much that is unusual about Lady?s Wood Shooting School. Not least is the location and setting ? the 65-acre site comprising woodland and meadows is just off the motorway only two miles north of Chipping Sodbury in South Gloucestershire. When you arrive you have to be careful of the peafowl and guineafowl which wander the attractive grounds, unconcerned by the presence of vehicles or their occupants, the peacocks displaying their dazzling fantails to the apparent indifference of the hens at this time of the year.
Behind the Lodge, where clients and guests congregate, some 35 acres of mixed woodland accommodates a series of stands, largely established along the edge of the wood and adjacent to 30 acres of meadow and pasture. It is an ideal setting, enabling the school to provide a wide range of simulated game scenarios. Looming over it all is the 120ft high tower from whose summit can be thrown the ultimate in high birds, so high and fast, that the High Tower Challenge, which involves hitting 10 x 10 clays, none lower that 45 yards, earns the successful Gun a gallon of whisky ? the last gallon was won in 2004!
A haven for wildlife
One of the most intriguing aspects of Lady?s Wood is the fact that, despite noise created by the presence of so many Guns and the constant crackle of gunfi re, the wood is a haven for wildlife, and a testimony to the fact that clayshooting on this scale is accepted and tolerated by a wide range of birdlife and animals. The wood is home to sparrowhawks, kestrels, buzzards, songbirds, roe deer and muntjac, all of which appear to thrive despite the disturbance. Proof positive is the cunning bird-nesting boxes which have been created by shooting instructor Edward Kent, several of them only yards from a clay stand. These are no ordinary boxes, though. When a tree has had to be felled, a stump of about 4ft is left and a ?lid?, perhaps 3in deep, is sliced off. A substantial cavity is cut in to the remaining stump with an entrance hole, and the lid then replaced. I was shown three stumps a few yards from the Woodcock stand, one containing eggs while the other two held nesting blue-tits and cole tits.
Though not recognised as a formal nature reserve, Lady?s Wood has always been treated as a conservation area and is, in fact, adjacent to the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust?s largest reserve, the 700-acre Lower Woods, which is renowned for its woodland flowers, including bird?s-nest orchid and violet helleborine, and is home to 12 species of British bats. Michael Pinker was always an ardent conservationist and today the woodland remains a refuge for wildlife and a memorial to his dedication both as a sportsman and naturalist.
The founding of Lady?s Wood
Karen told me that initially the shooting school was a sideline for Michael who ran a successful plumbing business. They met when Karen worked as a secretary at his site meetings and she became involved in the shooting ground, almost from its inception. They married shortly after the shoot Lodge was built and, until Michael?s death last year, had worked together brilliantly, with Karen organising and preparing meals for guests and clients and Michael as ?front of house?. Now her workload has trebled, but she enjoys every minute.
Michael?s death from cancer a year ago came as a great shock but, as Karen explained, he is still very much a part of Lady?s Wood ? his cremated remains were loaded into several cartridges and fired by close friends from a Thomas Bland 8-bore over his favoured corner of a secluded lake in the woodland close to the Lodge. He would, said Karen, have greatly approved of his send-off.
Lady?s Wood is not a conventional clay ground. It is really geared to gameshooters, experienced, novice or complete beginners. For this reason the busiest period is July through to the end of the shooting season. The slick team at Lady?s Wood comprises manager Philip Morgan, instructor Edward Kent ? who is joined by additional instructors on busier days ? trapper Simon Harris and Louise Fry who works in the office. Karen told me she couldn?t manage without them.
The comfortable Lodge is also employed as a gallery for displaying top quality guns, sporting art and objets d?art. Michael was an avid collector of works by leading sporting artists, including Berrisford Hill, Julian Novorol, Bob Milliken and, notably, Mick Cawston, of whose paintings he acquired one of the largest collections in the country.
This year I joined the Guns at the Lady?s Wood Bluebell Day, on 27 April, an event that is run every year when sheaves of shimmering bluebells fill the fresh green woodland floor and the ground is looking its pristine best. The guests ? 28 on this day ? were invited to tackle a modified High Tower Challenge and engage in a 50-bird competition.
By 10am the guests had assembled on a warm, sunny morning. They split into five groups, each with an instructor, to work their way around the course. There was only one lady shooter, Isobel Howlett, who has been shooting for 10 years. She normally uses a 20-bore, but on this day she was pleased to try out a borrowed Beretta Ultra-light 12-bore. Later, I watched her hit eight birds out of 10 on a driven grouse stand.
As for the High Tower Knock-out Challenge, I watched in awe as each Gun attempted to hit a pair of high, zipping clays whipping at speed from the tower. Miss two in the first round and you were eliminated; hit one and you went through to the next round when both clays had to be killed in order to stay in the competition. This was testing stuff. The eventual winner, Frank Shellard, put on a remarkable display, missing not a single clay after several rounds and I would be not at all surprised if he one day walked away with a gallon of whisky by winning the High Tower Challenge.
Before I left after a superb lunch, Karen explained that she intends to keep the orginal ethos of the place, she said: ?I want to maintain the present size of the operation ? we don?t want to become too big!?