Game shooting at the Bodfuan shoot, Gwynedd
For those unfortunate enough to spend much of their lives, working or otherwise, in a city, shooting is a great opportunity to get back in touch with the fields and forests that make up the majority of the UK. Many guns are prepared to travel long distances to make the most of their sporting breaks, but the Bodfuan shoot on the Llyn Peninsula in north-west Wales has to offer something special to encourage them to trek across the Snowdonia National Park to reach it. Happily, it was clear even at the time of my visit in December 2011 – just three months into its first season – that the Bodfuan shoot is well worth the trip.
The estate’s history dates back to the early 16th century, when a young Anne Boleyn spent some of her early years at the manor. On her marriage to King Henry VIII she was given land adjoining her childhood home, which she bequeathed to the Wynn family, Lords Newborough, leading to the creation of a large estate on the peninsula. It is thought the shoot was established in the early 1800s. In 2010, the freehold shooting rights over almost the whole 4,000-acre estate were bought by Bodfuan Shoot Ltd., and under the stewardship of Jono Garton, shooting has flourished.
The wild beauty of the landscape on the Llyn Peninsula is well worth the journey.
The landscape of the estate includes nearly 1,000 acres of low-lying marshland, which attracts snipe and teal, while the heights of Garn Boduan, which peaks at 1,000 feet above sea level, host the estate’s extreme partridge drives. In between are wooded areas that attract migrating woodcock and a number of established beats over the estate’s varied terrain, including pastureland and parkland, offering both high driven pheasant shooting and walked-up days. As well as let days, the estate plays host to three syndicates for extreme partridge shooting, parkland pheasants and ‘outside’ days combining smaller and boundary drives with walked-up shooting. The estate also puts on simulated days during the summer and hosts field trials.
There’s only one Jono Garton
An energetic and engaging young man, Jono is the shoot manager at the Bodfuan shoot and is the heart and soul of the Bodfuan shoot. He also has some surprisingly enlightened attitudes; bags are set at the time of booking, but if you do not reach the bag and the line has not seen sufficient birds then the group will be charged £30 for each bird they have shot. No overage is charged and no criticism offered for shooting any bird as long as it is a safe shot. This is all part of Jono’s pursuit of putting together a highly professional and well-organised shoot day, but one where all the participants can relax and enjoy their surroundings and their company, along with the shooting. It begins with bacon sandwiches and coffee in the morning, extends to elevenses in the field and ends with a meal in a comfortable lodge, with some excellent shooting and good company in between.
Elevenses, and time to decide between sloe gin, orange juice or Champagne. Chocolate fingers are mandatory.
“We want the Bodfuan shoot to have a nice, relaxed atmosphere,” Jono explained. “The bag will be what it is: if the guns want to shoot low birds or high birds they are most welcome – we are only concerned that the shooting is safe. We want the guns to shoot to their abilities and more than anything else to have a good day. The guns are paying for the day here, so there shouldn’t be any pressure to restrict the number of birds you can shoot at each drive: it is our team’s responsibility to show the guns the right number of birds.
“The first line of our website and all our advertising reads: ‘Traditional British game shooting.’ When the sport was starting in the late 1800s and flourishing in the pre-war period, they weren’t setting bags. I hate the idea that a day’s shooting gets broken down into numbers. Say you’ve got 10 guns and five drives on a 150-bird day, some will say that’s 15 birds each, three birds per drive – that’s just rubbish to me, shooting shouldn’t be like that. It’s up to us to make the figures work, not the guns. Hopefully by taking away that pressure we can encourage customers to come back.”
“I’ve been involved in shooting since I was a kid. I fell out of it for a few years, as many often do, to try to make some money, but when I moved back here I met Bob Valentine, who runs a nearby shooting school. He was a big inspiration behind my return to shooting. Rhys (one of the underkeepers) and I had a small syndicate shoot nearby where we got started on things, and when this place came up for sale we made an offer and managed to buy the freehold shooting rights. We know that no one can ever pull the plug on us, and that gave us the freedom to invest in the infrastructure of the estate in the knowledge we won’t suddenly lose all that time and money.
“Initially when I sold my business I worked out it was cheaper for me to run a shoot at a loss than it was to pay for all the shooting I was doing! But then I got a bit more commercially-minded and realised I could sell days here. We shoot 40-45 days a season, many of which are smaller days.
“I have two great underkeepers, Rhys and James, and I’m very hands-on to make sure everything is perfect. We’ve brought in a partridge keeper as I know nothing about partridge – for me they’re totally alien. Our partridges are similar to the big shoots in Spain, high but not out of cover crops. We have natural topography for pheasants, mountainous with gorse and heather. We want them to be high and curling over the contours of the land rather than just smaller, slower pheasants.
Drives like Scotsman’s on the Parc Beat illustrate the variety of sport shown at the Bodfuan shoot.
“Richard looks after the partridge and I keep an eye on the pheasants. I’ve learnt about keeping from DIY shoots, but I’ve always had a keen interest in what goes on behind the line for as long as I’ve been involved in shooting. I wanted to be able to know all about shooting from both a business point of view and through a gun’s eyes.
“With the recession, everyone has cut back on their shooting – those once taking 300-bird days are now looking for 150-bird days; those once shooting 50-bird boundary days are now looking for walked-up shooting. There seems to be a massive increase across the country in people who just want to spend around £125 on a day’s shooting, who are happy to take part in walked-up days and shoot two or three birds each. For us, there’s almost as much profit in that type of shooting as there is in a 150-bird day, due to the cost of things like paying the beaters and pickers-up. We treat all our guests the same, so no matter how much they’ve paid we’ll do everything we can to put on a great day.”
The shooting on offer at the Bodfuan shoot makes full use of the existing terrain and woodland, and no cover crops are used. Although Jono admits they could be beneficial in certain areas, he feels cover crops can become more of a risk with the more unpredictable weather the UK has faced in recent years.
Fast food delivered with style and grace.
“I worry about being one of these shoots that relies on cover crops, where one particularly hard winter or poor growing season can decimate the cover crops and have a serious impact on the shoot’s ability to operate,” he explained.
“We don’t have unlimited money to spend on the Bodfuan shoot, we’ve got to run a working business. This is why we have to make the most of what the land can offer us. I’m concerned with doing things the right way, even if it means making a few sacrifices. This extends from our conservation efforts to putting up signs, stiles, gates and fences on land that we don’t own, but which we use. We bear a responsibility to look after the land properly.
“We’re constantly looking at what we do and how we can do things better. But a lot of it is about looking after those that do make the effort to come to shoot with us. The Llyn Peninsula is a long way from London. We had a couple of young lads who came to shoot with us who could only afford to share a gun on the day, but when they got here and I’d spoken to them for a while I thought ‘what the hell’ and let them both shoot. They went away having had a great, unexpected day’s shooting. There are lots of older people shooting, and once they’ve stopped the industry could find itself in big trouble, so we’ve got to do all we can to bring these younger people in.”
On to the next drive for more soaring pheasants and stunning scenery.
Though the birds are of an exceptional quality, offering something for almost every ability including some truly testing high pheasant, and the historic setting is often breathtaking in its beauty, it is clear that the warm, welcoming atmosphere that imbues the Bodfuan shoot is its greatest characteristic. A seemingly permanent grin adorns Jono’s face and it is obvious that the Bodfuan shoot is a real labour of love for the Bodfuan shoot manager. Every aspect of the Bodfuan shoot bears his stamp, from the highly unusual spent bullet casings used to select peg numbers at the beginning of the day to the final drive, which is always “Jono’s Choice”, selected not on the status of the bag and changed at the last minute, but in the effort of putting on the best day possible for his guns.
As such, it is hardly surprising to discover the Bodfuan shoot has some devoted syndicate members including guns from the local community as well as people who travel some distance to shoot.
This loyal following has allowed the Bodfuan shoot to easily find its feet but also allows Jono and his team to take a few risks and experiment with drives in an effort to put on the best day possible. The syndicate members know that even if one drive doesn’t work out well that they will enjoy a good day’s shooting, and that an excellent meal and a warm wood burning stove awaits them in the comfortable shoot lodge. The loyalty this encourages allows the let days to be of the highest possible standard, resulting in greater sales and greater investment in the Bodfuan shoot, safeguarding its future even in troubled economic times.
Factfile of the Bodfuan shoot
Size: 4,000 acres
Quarry: Pheasant, partridge, woodcock, snipe and teal
Contact: Jono Garton on 07920 517289 or visit
Looking for a B&B near the Bodfuan shoot?
A trip to the Llyn Peninsula must coincide with a stay at the Old Rectory in Boduan. Just 100 yards down the road from the Bodfuan shoot, this wonderful B&B is run by Gary and Lindsay Ashcroft and offers supreme comfort and a great atmosphere. The house is approached from a long drive and is surrounded by delightful gardens. It is near to Bob Valentine’s Shooting School, the town of Abersoch and a number of restaurants, including the Plas Bodegroes.
Chuck a log on the fire, pour another Scotch and settle back into soft leather.
The first meal of the day here is taken in a dining room at a huge table, with excellent traditional or continental breakfasts featuring local meat and free-range eggs alongside local and homemade bread, jams and marmalades. This makes for a great start before a hard day’s shooting, and packed lunches can be organised on request. All rooms are en-suite, and cost £95 per night including breakfast. There is also a two-bedroom self-catering cottage available.
For more information visit www.theoldrectory.net or telephone 01758 721519
For more features from Shooting Gazette click here