Croomes Grove shoot is a testing pheasant shoot which is receiving acclaim from a growing number of fans.
Words and photography Adrian Blundell
I was on my way to unfamiliar territory with a promise to see what my friend Dave Tiley had described as some “seriously good pheasant shooting”. As I turned off the M5 towards Uley, the relatively flat ground of the Severn Vale gave way to encouragingly deep wooded Gloucestershire valleys.
The pheasant shoot in question was Croomes Grove shoot. Run and keepered by Tim Boxall, it’s a shoot I discovered has a reputation to match its acreage – growing consistently since it was set up nine years ago.
As the son of a keeper, Tim’s future was always going to be in shooting. The big question was exactly how, and after a spell as a beatkeeper under Johnny Lewis at Balcombe, he made the grade as headkeeper at Leigh for the estate and grouse moor owner Michael Stone, moving on with him to Ozleworth Park at Wooton-under-Edge.
Established in the Cotswold countryside, with its picture-book houses and steep wooded valleys, he seized the opportunity to strike out on his own when the opportunity arose.
The initial ground was relatively modest at just 400 acres, but the shoot now covers ground from six neighbouring landowners.
“In the early days we had three really good drives,” Tim explained. “But our clients liked what we were doing and we’ve expanded from there to shoot more than 30 days a year, three or four days a week in peak season.”
One client who likes what Tim is doing is Richard Eaton Wells, a regular fixture at Croomes Grove shoot, who flies over from his adopted home in Australia each year to take a couple of days himself and appear as a guest on several more besides. Richard was the host on the day I was there, the team being made up of Croomes Grove shoot regulars and new faces.
“Days with friends that I look forward to immensely,” he beamed, “not least because I get to work my lab, Willow, who unlike me is a permanent UK resident!”
First stop, The Return
As we moved off I was left to choose my own spot and I joined Daniel and Claire Price. On their first visit to Croomes Grove shoot and having drawn peg eight, they were out on their own at the end of a narrow valley called The Return. I wasn’t sure whether I was in the right spot to see the action, but with my friend Dave tucked away picking-up behind us and the game cart nearby, it seemed a worthwhile gamble.
Our wait was rewarded as early birds flying over the valley were replaced by high and curling (mainly single) pheasants that would appear temptingly at a (just) shootable height, heading down the valley to swing right or left in front of us.
As Dave and his springer Isla worked down the bank of thick brambles towards me, I didn’t need to tell him he’d been right about where to stand. I left him, fellow picker-up Deana Cornforth and the leader of picking-up team Steve Bird to complete their work and headed off to get a coffee and homemade snacks brought by the guns.
For the next drive, Black Nest, we moved out of the valley into open territory. From the hedge that cut through the line I was able to watch right and left as the birds took off from the high bank in front of us. They were testing and in larger numbers, leaving the team spoilt for choice, especially on the low-numbered pegs.
“I told you it would be good,” said Croomes Grove shoot regular Jim Hazeldine. “Even a strong team like this can find the birds a challenge, which is why we’re here. The relatively unusual thing though is that Tim has a fixed price for his shooting – he has to judge how well we’re doing and deliver the birds to suit!”
Given that Tim puts the guns out and then personally runs the beating line, I reflected that it was a good challenge for him as well as those pulling the trigger.
The dull weather was brightening and Tim paused to check I was getting all I needed as he flew past on the game cart.
“It’s been a tricky season so far,” he told me. “There’s a lot of natural food about and there are still a few leaves on the trees – a bit of wind would help too!”
Despite his misgivings, the team was happy and by then everyone had been in the shooting. Moving a few hundred yards back towards our original pegs, we turned to face the third drive of the morning. The Pen, like Black Nest, was one of the original drives and is still working well.
With a couple of guns acting as a front row to stop escapees flying back along the side of the wood, and surrounded by the remnants of our generous elevenses, I watched Andrew Brinkley loading for his daughter Georgina, who was clearly in practice. And as the busy drive finished, Dad was left to tidy up as Georgina set her springers Ozzy and Kit to work picking-up.
A spot of lunch?
As the guns repaired to a purpose-converted kitchen and dining room near Tim’s house, pulling each other’s legs about the merits of Croomes Grove shoot’s roast beef or roast pork, I joined the beating and picking-up teams in the bar of the Old Crown, the 17th century coaching inn that is Uley’s one remaining pub.
Despite it being early December we did have time to take a reasonable breather and I waited for the guns as the beaters set off to blank in our one drive of the afternoon, Lampern Hill. This time a couple of the pickers-up directed the guns to their pegs, but most seemed to know the way and were keen to get ready for action, which was a good clue to the potential of the drive. Tim, meanwhile, marshalled the beaters for the last big push of the day.
On the gentle slope, we had a grandstand view overlooking Uley, but no-one was watching. The birds were spread from host Richard on peg eight, down across Steve Cook and his team of springers to Charlie Dixon-Nutt, Denise Butler and Nigel James, who were sharing a peg, and on over Grant Holmes. Very few dipped low, being intent on flying across the wide valley to their home wood behind us, where the pickers-up were busy almost 100 feet above our pegs.
The team was exuberant and as the picking-up began I could see Grant was enjoying getting his labrador Ash out almost as much as the shooting.
Tim told me afterwards that Lampern Hill is a drive that most guns like to end on. I could see why too, because whilst they’d all shown good sport, Lampern was a spectacular way to end the day.
With a dozen drives to offer, Tim told me the obvious advantage of being able to cater for most requirements. “What guns consider testing varies,” he said. “We aim to know what they’ll get pleasure from shooting.”
“When we started it was a bit trial and error,” he confessed. “It took about five years to get it going properly but I think we’re getting there.” Given his shoot dates are now consistently filled, usually sold by word of mouth, his clients clearly agree.
For further information, contact Tim Boxall: firstname.lastname@example.org or 01453 861665.