The three weather conditions gamekeepers hate are no wind, bright sunshine and low-lying mist, and as we arrived at Beckerings Park Shoot in Bedfordshire all three prevailed. The shoot is run by Paul Childerley, of Childerley Sporting Ltd, who is known not only for running a firstclass shoot, but also for being a world champion kick-boxer.
The shoot runs to around 1,400 acres of rolling Bedfordshire countryside, where the sandy, free-draining soil offers a perfect habitat for red-legged partridges. An abundance of hedgerows allows Paul to show the partridges in the old-fashioned way by driving them up and over the hedges to the Guns. The shoot also has several small plantation woodland blocks. Paul knows the ground intimately, as he was headkeeper for 15 years and then took over the running of the shoot when the estate was sold two years ago.
While we waited for the mist to clear, Paul showed us around the shoot lodge, where Guns can enjoy excellent hospitality with either a three- or four-course meal provided as part of a shoot day. He also has a trophy room where there is an impressive display of Chinese water deer heads. Beckerings Park is adjacent to Woburn Abbey and these deer are numerous on the shoot. Paul is also able to offer quality stalking from cull up to medal-quality animals.
By mid-morning the early autumn sun had cleared the mist and the temperature had started to rise. As we made our way to the first drive, Paul explained that they plant around 30 acres of maize and 37 acres of wild-bird mix as covercrops. The estate is still a working farm, so it is important to find a balance that works for both parties. Paul and his keeper, Ollie Thompson, put down two-thirds red-legged partridge and a third pheasant, with a few duck to supplement the wild population, as the shoot has six small ponds and a larger two-acre lake that can provide great sport on certain drives.
During the season the shoot hosts 30 driven days which range from 250-bird days to three 500-bird double-gun days. This year, the shoot can offer walked-up shooting on a separate 1,000-acre area, including a 400-acre block of woodland. The quality of the birds Paul rears is important to him and he has tried various game suppliers, but is keen on birds supplied by Steve Cumbridge of Eastern Game. The partridge start to come in at 14 to 18 weeks old and the pheasant, which are a Fen cross, come in at seven weeks. This year he also has 1,000 pure American pheasants that he is trying in the middle of the shoot.
The ability to change and “modify” drives is a hidden quality of an experienced gamekeeper and Paul has the option of 14 separate drives on Beckerings. Depending upon the wind direction, he can either push the birds straight out of the cover or out to one side. The Guns were not on “fixed” pegs and this allowed Paul to place them in the optimum position to take advantage of a slight breeze.
Stalking and gameshooting
The first drive of the day was Broomhills and almost as soon as the beaters had started to push through the maize covercrop, three Chinese water deer burst out and headed straight through the line of waiting Guns. I have been on plenty of shoots where a muntjac, a fox or even a wayward spaniel has caused mayhem at a flushing point, but the Chinese water deer don’t cause a problem as they tend to run out of the cover rather than backwards and forwards through the birds. I was amazed at the number of these small deer that were flushed during the day – no wonder Beckerings Park is well known for its stalking as well as its gameshooting.
The first day of the season for any gamekeeper can be rather stressful. By mid-morning the sun was blazing and on a couple of the drives there wasn’t a breath of wind. Paul and his team had to work hard to get the birds to fly in the right direction. If you watch and listen to a good gamekeeper during a drive, you will realise that it is akin to a military manoeuvre as he or she makes constant adjustments to the beating line and the flag men. It was the first time that the partridges had been flown and some were reluctant to take to the air and that is where a well-positioned flag man can pay dividends.
On the Kale drive the birds were driven from a large block of maize. To prevent them from running down the hedge line, gamecart driver Dick Timothy’s timing was immaculate as he crouched down below the skyline and then flagged hard as the birds came over the crest of the plough. There was no shortage of birds shown on any of the six drives and Ross Coker and his experienced team of Guns all picked their birds carefully. Some pheasants in among the coveys flew well – in a few weeks’ time they will prove to be testing shots. Scott Shuckford had been a keeper on the estate for five years until he moved to Leicestershire to take up a new role, but he still helps Paul by driving the Guns’ trailer. It was his lucky day, as one of the Guns couldn’t make it. Ross asked him if he would like to shoot, which he did, and he had a fantastic time, though I am not sure if he tipped his former boss.
Despite the late start due to the mist, Paul managed to get five drives for the Guns. With a bag of 204 partridge and three pigeon, it was a good all-round start to the season at Beckerings Park.
For details, contact Paul Childerley tel 07715-638934 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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