It has to be said the yellow chicken shot well after lunch. Elvis, with his occasional use of black powder loads, was also on form, but the same couldn’t be said of the yeti. Perhaps I should explain. My day out had started relatively quietly; invited over by Mike Reid, I was to photograph his annual day out with friends at the Lemmington shoot, near Alnwick.

All were kept busy on the day at the Lemmington shoot.

The Cussins family has owned Lemmington for 50 years. Set in rolling countryside, the shooting is run alongside the day-to-day farming and has gradually evolved over time. Now, with the involvement of Peter Cussins’ wife Sue and son Jabin, it’s been boosted in recent years, initially by developing the Lemmington shoot and then three years ago when the sporting rights on 380 acres at neighbouring Broome Hill became available. Owned by the Duke of Northumberland and bordering Alnwick Parks, this additional land increased the shooting grounds to 2,400 acres; a sound commercial move that meant they could now offer teams up to 250-bird let and family days.

Dodger waits patiently.

“It’s important to us that everyone enjoys their time at the Lemmington shoot, it’s not just treated as a business,” explained Peter. “Sue’s now my partner in the running of the Lemmington shoot, as well as picking-up on most family days, and we really enjoy seeing everyone having a good time. Partnering up with Broome Hill has allowed us to make a limited number of days available for new teams of guns and this has proved really popular. It’s fantastic to welcome new people onto the estate and extremely rewarding to hear how much fun they’ve had.”

The area’s spectacular scenery provides the Lemmington shoot team with numerous first-rate drives, but the family insists the success of the shoot is down to their gamekeeper Roger Wilson and his team of beaters and pickers-up, who have been working together for 15 years.

“Roger has done a fantastic job,” said Peter, “consistently improving the shoot year-on-year. We’re very lucky to have such a committed and professional crew behind the scenes.”

Mike Reid has been the agent for Lemmington since 1991 and often takes one of the shoot’s late January days with friends and family.

Mike Reid and his team were clearly not the usual Lemmington shoot clientele but the explanation was simple. His day job is as a partner with CKD Galbraith and, although now heading up its utilities department in Fife, he is still involved in estate management.

“I became the agent for Lemmington in 1991 and since the shooting came in hand eight years later I’ve helped out with that. Even though I’ve moved up to Scotland, Peter is keen to maintain our relationship.”

During some seasons late January days can be a bit of a lottery, depending on how well the birds and guns have fared, which is how Mike ended up taking the day.

The Gas Works, another cracking drive on the Lemmington shoot.

“I’d asked him if he could let a small 50-100 bird day for us,” explained Peter. “He kept telling me about the difficulty of letting a day with an unpredictable bag but made a throwaway comment about maybe being able to find a few friends to join him.”

Now, three years on, friends know there could be a late call from Mike to invite them to a shoot offering a modest bag and great fun – a call you can only make to a team like his, made up of close friends and relatives.

“We always enjoy ourselves but hearing that you were here with a camera was a good excuse to do something worth photographing,” laughed gun John Trevelyan. “I dug the kid’s dressing-up box out of the attic and here we are”.

The beaters have a long association with both the shoot and gamekeeper Roger Wilson.

Most of the guns were still modestly attired in tweed as we made our way to Broome Hill Farm for the first drive. The interestingly named Gas Works is centred on a ride through long-established conifer plantations. Sandwiched between John and a kilted Benedict Lawson, I could see guns out in the field but we had to concentrate hard as the birds appeared in the narrow window above us. With Benedict’s spaniel, Dodger, sitting obediently through the drive it was fast and furious work for 20 minutes.

“Good job you got a snap of the dog,” Roger called over, “you might not see him for a while!”

It was clearly going to be that sort of day. Mike, happy with the good start, set off with the guns towards The Tunnel.

Andy Ogilvie ejects another pair at The Mill.

Buzzed by an RAF training flight as we walked uphill past cover crops used earlier in the season, we moved into position with our backs to a mixed hardwood and conifer plantation. The Tunnel was the opposite of Gas Works, with the birds in view for a long way – and most of the shooting line was visible too, giving sport to beaters and guns. Despite Frances Sutton’s protests that there were better shots to watch, her 20 bore had soon pulled down a couple of good birds – much to her relief – and Hugo McGowan was on guard to catch those birds following the hedge line back to the wood.

Lemmington shoot gamekeeper Roger Wilson on the quad bike with the spoils from this good-humoured ‘mop-up day’.

We eventually set off to Cragg Wood, an isolated oval Scots pine and larch plantation high on a hill that promised “really good sport if the wind’s right”, according to Roger. This, he explained, was a drive that Mike was especially fond of because planting the wood had been his suggestion to develop another high bird drive.

With Benedict in a prime position, the serious side of shooting at Lemmington became clear as he and his neighbours had to move up a gear to connect with the high, curling birds. Their form wasn’t spoiled by the noise and smoke that wreathed Mike as he got out the black powder cartridges. As the drive ended and we watched a white pheasant being retrieved for all to see, we learned another valuable lesson – there’s no fine if you’ve used black powder!

Across the shoot at The Mill we were promised ‘a quick duck drive before lunch’. With a pocket full of black powder shells supplied by Mike, John Trevelyan soon decided he would do better with nitro loads.

More ducks added to the bag.

“You can see the birds for a start,” he coughed.

The quick drive turned into serious shooting with guns’ dogs sent mid-drive to recover birds falling into the stream behind us. The ‘mop-up day’ team was doing well and after a quick consultation Mike and Roger agreed we could afford the time for a break.

The dressing-up box had been seriously raided by the time all the guns emerged from lunch. I had already seen Frances Sutton looking fetching in a spaniel ears hat while we ate, and I had travelled around all morning with Selby North-Lewis wearing Bermuda shorts over his tweed breeks.

Frances Sutton with her extremely fetching spaniel ears hat.

But now almost the whole team in fancy dress certainly kept the beaters entertained. The only gun still dressed conventionally was Jabin Cussins.

“I thought Mike was having me on,” he explained.

In the event Elvis, with his remaining black powder loads, and the chicken put in remarkably good performances on Sunnyside, our final drive. The Yeti, sadly, claimed the outfit made shooting high birds a bit too much of a challenge. It was left to Jabin to enjoy his best drive of the day; a testament to well-fitting tweed, perhaps?

Factfile of the Lemmington shoot

Size: 2,400

Quarry: Pheasant and duck

Contact: Mike Reid on 01334 659984 or alternatively email

mike.reid@ckdgalbraith.co.uk

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