Three years ago I left my home county of Kent and moved to Suffolk, leaving behind the twin delights of the M25 and the M20. I also left the shooting syndicate I had been a founder member of in 1976 and had been involved with ever since. No, I haven’t missed the motorways (I have even revisited them several times since), but I did miss my pals in the Oakover syndicate. There was a solution to this. Why not get them all up for a day’s shooting in Suffolk? Peter Smith, the shoot captain and fellow founder member of the syndicate, thought this was a great idea, especially as I now live on a renowned shooting estate. So we both started work on the project. While I explored the idea with the estate, Peter sounded out the syndicate members for their reaction.
The response from the estate office was encouraging. Yes, they could probably fit in a small extra day for the Oakover boys at the end of the season. Peter received an enthusiastic response from the syndicate members and the date was fixed for 24 January. As that happened to be my birthday, too, it was easy to remember. Many weeks later all the planning came to fruition. The first drive took place within sight of my new home, but it was difficult to see as flurries of snow reduced the visibility. I was in a mild state of panic: what if it snowed all day? I had promised exciting shooting, but not many partridges came through, while the pheasants were convinced that, in view of the weather conditions, it was safest to keep as low as possible. A few birds were shot, but it wasn’t a great start. Had it all been a big mistake?
The answer was an emphatic no, for suddenly the snow stopped, the clouds dispersed and for the rest of the day the sun shone brilliantly. That was just how the birds flew, too, with everyone getting sufficient shooting really to enjoy themselves. A modest 100-bird mixed day had been arranged and only one drive after lunch was needed to exceed that target comfortably, counting just partridges. I was a relieved chap, and I did have a happy birthday, after all.
The Guns and their wives enjoyed themselves so much that they all want to come back again in January 2008, while the one member of the syndicate who missed the day this year is determined not to do so next year. I have written in the distant past in these pages about the Oakover shoot. It’s a small, friendly affair, shooting over little more than 250 acres of the Sussex High Weald. Guns usually stand for one drive, walk for the next, and one of the requirements of syndicate membership is a dog. In more than 30 years’ shooting the maximum bag has only once exceeded 50. It’s usually between 20 and 30 pheasants, plus the odd pigeon and a few wild duck.
It’s not a big enough shoot for partridges, so one of the attractions of the Suffolk excursion was the fact that driven redlegs would be the principal quarry. Another tempting factor was the luxury of a formal driven day, with a professional gamekeeper ensuring a steady stream of challenging birds. (There were in fact four gamekeepers out for the day, as Karl, who runs the Sapiston shoot, was joined by his colleagues from Euston: Alan, Bob and Andrew.) For a few members of the syndicate it was their first experience of such shooting. To make the occasion special, my wife, Jan, arranged a dinner for the Guns the night before in the Tythe Barn, our local village hall. As several Guns came with their wives, this was quite a big party and Jan recruited her friend Ruth to help with the catering. At the Tythe Barn Guns could provide their own drink, and a fine variety of wines appeared for the dinner. The following night we had dinner at a local pub. This was good value as it happened to be the special steak night, but on balance the Tythe Barn was more popular. With the experience of the first year firmly established, I have made suggestions below for anyone tempted to follow my example.
How to organise your shoot
Host-with-the-most David Tomlinson offers his 10-point guide to help readers who are considering hosting a day
? Set the day up as far in advance as possible, so that it can be firmly fixed in diaries.
? If you have made the first contact with the estate or shoot, hand over as quickly as possible to the shoot captain so that he can discuss details of the day. This is vital, especially as it may well prove to be the most expensive day’s shooting some members of the syndicate have ever had.
? Ensure that the shoot captain has discussed carefully with both the shoot and syndicate members what to do if, on the day, the bag looks like being exceeded. A big bill for extras has the potential to be a financial disaster for anyone who is stretching their budget in the first place, and
can be highly embarrassing.
? If your Guns have dogs, do emphasise to the estate that for many members (and their wives), half the pleasure of the day would be picking-up with their own dogs.
? Check carefully on the lunch arrangements. Some Guns prefer a light lunch, followed by a meal after the shooting has finished, rather than a large lunch in the middle of the day.
? Assuming that the visiting Guns will be staying locally both before and after the day’s shooting, ensure that they have a good variety of places to choose from for their accommodation. ? Accommodation has to be dog friendly. When checking out places to stay, do mention that the visitors will be bringing dogs. Most of the Oakover Shoot dogs live indoors, so the opportunity to bring the dogs into the house after the day’s shooting was an advantage.
? If you plan to arrange dinner for the Guns, check on special dietary requirements.
? Make sure that everyone is 100 per cent clear about where they are staying, and that they know the meeting times for dinner and for the shoot.
A printed programme with map and contact telephone numbers will be appreciated.
? Wives or friends of the visiting Guns may well like to join the beating line. Liaise with the keeper beforehand to make sure that he will welcome them, and establish his rules on dogs in the line.