Film star Vinnie Jones talks to us about his love of the countryside, his favourite sporting quarry and his views on big bags
Vinnie Jones, the former footballer turned actor, is famous for his tough- man image, but his love for fieldsports is less well known.
Shooting Times: What are you up
to at the moment?
Vinnie Jones: I’m working on a new TV show called Deception for ABC in the US. It’s about an illusionist who joins up with the FBI to solve crimes.
Film star and devoted countryman Vinnie Jones was a guest speaker at the final Gamekeepers’ Welfare Trust (GWT) Gamekeeping for…
ST: Your father was a keeper. Where did he do that?
VJ: He ran a shoot in South Mimms in Hertfordshire for 35 years, so I was involved at an early age. My sister and I would go beating. I shot my first pigeon there when I was five years old, sitting with my father in the pigeon hide among the decoys. I saved up my beating money and bought my gun — a Baikal over-and-under, non-ejector, double trigger. It cost me £169. It was delivered on the Saturday morning and we were going vermin shooting — my first two shots with it was a right-and-left at foxes.
ST: Do you go shooting in the US?
VJ: I was invited to a quail day in Georgia, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I didn’t fire a shot in two days. However, I went driven wild boar shooting in Hungary, which was great.
ST: What about in the UK?
VJ: I’ve got a cottage in Sussex where I’ve got a quad bike, trailer and Land Rover. In the cottage it’s camouflage and tweeds, callers, telescopic sights, shooting gear, guns, rods, lamps and all sorts. I look forward to it when I get a job back in England because I can spend some time there and escape from the world. One of my best mates is Dave Whitby, headkeeper at Petworth, and I do lots of stuff with him.
Last January I took a young lad of 14 out ferreting. I hadn’t been ferreting in years, but it was my passion when I was that age. This lad had been out once and had one rabbit. So we did it all properly. We put the nets down and I showed him how to do it — we didn’t even dig one hole. We had 16 rabbits in a morning. When I was growing up we’d get 30 to 40 rabbits in a day, but those days are gone.
I love pigeon shooting — building the hide, putting the decoys out. It’s the same with rook and crow shooting. Lamping is probably my favourite. I’ve spent a lot of money on customising my Land Rover for lamping. If the farmer has a fox problem I love going out and dealing with it for him.
ST: What do you shoot with now?
VJ: My game gun is a Beretta EELL and I have a Beretta for pigeons. I’ve ordered a semi-auto for wildfowling and I bought a lovely little Belgian 20-bore for bolting rabbits.
ST: Where do you go wildfowling?
VJ: I shoot all my wildfowl inshore.
ST: Presumably you could afford
a 300-bird grouse day, but what sort of shooting do you really love to do?
VJ: A friend of mine is one of the best keepers in the country on the grouse moor in Yorkshire. I have been up there on a couple of back-to-back days and the grouse shooting is spectacular. It’s something that I love doing now and then to appreciate it. I had a fabulous day a few years ago with George Digweed up in Yorkshire or Derbyshire; we had good crack trying to shoot the birds. I have known George for years and shot with him on many occasions. He really gets you worked up, he is such a good shot. I like a great driven day, I love partridge shooting, but you know, just man and the field, I love a fantastic day decoying pigeons. My perfect day would be to get up early, get the hide out, shoot pigeons all day, bagging 200, then go lamping all night and get half-a-dozen foxes.
I had my own shoot for a while at Newmarket, called Littlebury, which was a syndicate with my friends. Now I’m in a couple of roaming syndicates, including one at Haywards Heath.
ST: What does the future hold
for shooting in the UK?
VJ: It’s an uphill battle. I started off part of the march on fox hunting. I’ve been hunting a couple of times. It’s not my sport, but country people have to speak as one on that, as well as on shooting, fishing and conservation. It upsets me when there are splinter groups as it is only going to put more pressure [on us]. The Government tries to put pressure on, too. That’s where BASC and the like do such a great job.
ST: What’s your view on big bags?
VJ: Shoot owners have to look at the bags. A few years ago the game dealer would buy birds from you — I can remember pheasants at £1 a piece, but what are they now? We have to look at our numbers; if we are having 150-bird days and the game dealers take all 150 birds, we can cope with that. But I don’t think they can cope so well with 300-, 400-, 500- or 600-bird days.
ST: When you retire, will you buy an estate here and settle down and shoot for the rest of your days?
VJ: I have the best of both worlds right now. I can come back to the UK where I’ve got the cottage and fishing and the shoot on my doorstep.
I look at the estates in Country Life and I am tempted. I’ve run a shoot — it’s difficult and expensive. I’d like another syndicate, but I would limit it to seven Guns. Seven is the magic number — seven days, seven Guns. That way you are not overshooting. The birds can come back to the woods and you can feed them and keep the woods quiet for longer periods.
ST: It’s morning in California right now. What’s your view like?
VJ: I’m sitting by the pool, looking out over the city of Los Angeles. Golf was called off today. This is my golf country, England is my shooting and fishing country.
Vinnie Jones has just signed up as an ambassador for Eley cartridges, encouraging conservation and getting youngsters to get out into the countryside.