Llandinam shoot is a game shoot that delivers excellent partridge and pheasant shooting.
Every time I get in the car to go shooting and the journey involves skirting around Welshpool, I know I am heading for some dramatic scenery and correspondingly good birds. This shoot is named after the village of Llandinam, which sits beside the River Severn as it meanders north-east through Powys on the way to Shrewsbury. At 220 miles, the Severn is the longest river in the UK, which hardly makes it the Amazon or the Nile, but it does make it a notable landmark. And in this part of Wales it is also close to some considerable hills. And where there are hills there are high birds, hence the excitement about passing Welshpool with a shotgun and slab of cartridges in the boot.
So it was that I came to spend the night before this shoot day in the picturesque ‘black and white’ Maesmawr Hall hotel, which has the Severn almost flowing through its back garden, and is a couple of miles from Caersws. They are clearly used to shooters here as my gun was whisked away from me and locked up before I could say: “A pint of bitter please?” And after an excellent evening meal it was a pleasure to meet the team for breakfast in the private dining room in the morning.
The lie of the land at Llandinam shoot
The shoot has been running at Llandinam for 25 years and the 7,000 acres of shooting rights are rented from the Davies family. Mark Partridge, originally from rather flatter Bedfordshire, started as headkeeper here 23 years ago. He operated in this role for 17 years before taking over the whole package six years ago. So he now runs the shoot with his charming wife and local girl Stephanie. The shoot has always been run as a commercial pheasant shoot but the partridge drives were added two seasons ago, so they are a relatively new enterprise. Clearly, after 23 years here Mark knows the ground, and he thought the particular area where the partridges are now shot would not only hold the birds but would also offer some exciting shooting. The birds are bought in as day-olds and are reared at Mark and Stephanie’s smallholding a few miles from the shoot.
In the season just gone there were 15-plus partridge days and more than 30 pheasant days, and the shoot can cater for everything from 150 to 400 bird days. This season the high-pheasant drives on Llandinam shoot achieved a cartridge-to-kill ratio of 10 to 1 with good teams of guns. So with around 50 driven days a season split between partridges and pheasants, this is a serious shoot and word has it the pheasants are something to behold, although we were not near that part of the shoot on this day.
A team of hot shots from the north-west
On the day of my visit the team of guns had mostly travelled from Cheshire, Manchester and Liverpool, and were hosted by larger-than-life character John Warburton and his wife Pam. A man who loves his shooting, John was happy to stand back during the day, expertly picking off the odd high bird, but for the most part enjoying watching his friends shooting. He has been visiting the shoot for a number of years and his genial endorsement can certainly be taken as a seal of approval.
To get to the partridge beat the guns take a 10-minute drive west from the Maesmawr Hall hotel and then head up a steep track just outside Llandinam village. The terrain changes quickly from the fertile valley bottom to a more barren landscape, with a few ominous-looking banks. Here the wind blows, and no doubt that was one of the reasons Mark thought the area would be good for partridges. After all they don’t need much of a breeze to get the after-burners going and leave the guns below scratching their heads.
Old habits die hard
During the shoot day Mark marshals the beating line; clearly old habits die hard. After 17 years as headkeeper here before taking on the shooting rights, he just can’t quite bring himself to stand back and let someone else do the hard yards. Not that he doesn’t have an able young underkeeper in Sam Parkes.
So while Mark and Sam control the beating line and the flow of birds, Liverpudlian Phil Heaton takes control of hosting, in conjunction with Stephanie. I was told that Phil has a background in stand-up comedy and judging by his never-ending store of lengthy jokes I wouldn’t be surprised. But he’s not just a comic turn, as he keeps a close eye on the drives as they unfurl and will notice if someone is out of the shooting. Radio contact with the beaters then allows the drive to adjust.
Fast birds and top guns at Llandinam shoot
And from what I saw, this well organised and close-knit team have got things right. The partridge beat is confined to one relatively small area on the hill, which is the case with many partridge shoots, so there is not much driving around during the day. In fact, apart from driving half a mile down the hill for a good lunch stop in a farm building, the vehicles didn’t move all day. This means guns can walk between drives, all of which provide curling, fast birds all the way up and down the line. The beaters take their time and it’s obvious this is where Mark’s influence comes in. All his years of experience have told him that slowly does it is the best way to keep guns happy.
The Quarry drive was the highlight. Here guns are well spaced out at the foot of the main hill, and the birds first pour over the left-hand side of the line at a testing height before the centre of the line get to stretch their necks on some screaming birds.
Luckily there were some superb shots in action and Lee McLachlan was in a particularly rich vein of form. Elsewhere in the line Jonathan Kemp and Chris Pringle accounted for their fair share of the birds, while John Latham cut a fine figure in a smart shooting suit and shooting a stunning W. Richards boxlock.
Clearly Mark and the team know how to put on a good day’s shooting but I was interested to find out what the transition from keeper to owner was like? Mark explained: “It’s a steep learning curve because suddenly you have to be able to sell shooting, juggle finances, and be able to delegate. You also need a good team for front of house to meet the guns and take care of hospitality throughout the day. That really helps to take the pressure off. But when everything goes right it is so rewarding to produce top quality shooting and know you have done it the right way. Ultimately the most important thing is that the clients have a lovely day with the right quality and quantity of birds.”
The team of guns on this day certainly went home with smiles on their faces, so I asked Mark what the plans are for next season? “We are hoping to do more days next year because of the overwhelming interest we’ve had this season, plus we are putting in some extra high drives because that’s what the clients want, even though the high drives we have now are already producing the wow factor. We listen to what the clients want, rather than working from what we think they want, and we take on board any constructive observations.”
In this attractive part of rural Wales the money the shoot brings in to the local economy is very welcome indeed. And with such a well run shoot in place it would be hard to think of any reason not to go and try it yourself.