Game shooting at West Molland, Devon
How long has the West Molland shoot been in the Bettws Hall stable and what was its history prior to that?
The Throckmorton family owns the ground on which the West Molland shoot is based and it forms part of their country hunting estate.
Red deer are still prolific around these valleys and adding pheasants to the sporting scene is magical.
The sporting rights to West Molland became available in February 2005, following Holland & Holland’s tenure of more than seven years.
In that time the shoot, which was already highly regarded, saw guests from all over the world enjoy its spoils.
Guests still meet in the oak-panelled shoot rooms at Great Champson Farm House, which is on the edge of the Molland village near South Molton.
It is a working farm and the tenants, the Darts, have been rearing their Ruby Red beef cattle here for generations.
The drives cover a variety of terrains, from steep valleys to wider, more open landscapes.
What acreage is the shoot, how many days do you shoot a season and what is the typical bag size?
The shoot itself covers approximately 2,000 acres, however the Molland estate, to which the shoot is attached, has shooting rights over more than 5,500 acres.
The shoot uses a fantastic series of valleys to present some wonderfully high and sporting birds in a glorious setting.
There are classic West Country drives, where birds glide gracefully from one side of the valley and others, which are more open and seriously challenge guests, as the birds twist and peel with the wind.
At West Molland we usually shoot about 35 days a year, with the first day towards the end of October.
It’s a high pheasant shoot with the occasional partridge (lured from Molland next door) mixed in.
Although our birds are released very early, waiting until the end of October works brilliantly.
The leaf is just about to come off the trees, the birds are bigger, stronger and faster, and they really know where they want to feed and roost.
This all stacks up to make great shooting.
Most of the days we organise before Christmas have anticipated bags of around 400 birds.
We feel that days such as these enable everyone in the line to have some great shooting and on every drive which is a real plus.
Post-Christmas the bag sizes decrease towards the end of January.
Who is the headkeeper and the rest of the keepering team?
For more than 13 years Caleb Sutton has been involved with West Country shooting.
He first joined West Molland as headkeeper over 10 years ago and in that time he has shaped the shoot into what we see today.
Caleb is now our West Country shoot manager and hosts most of the days at West Molland whilst overseeing Molland and Chargot too.
His expert knowledge of flying and keeping pheasants, together with his passion for country life, attention to detail and energy, ensure that anyone visiting can be assured of a good day’s shooting.
Our headkeeper is Robert Luxton, affectionally known a Baldrick.
He is a West Country man through and through.
Originally a whip with the Dulverton farmers hunt and a farm contractor on West Molland, his knowledge of the estate, built up over the last seven years, is extensive.
As his interest in the shoot grew, so he quickly progressed from beatkeeper to headkeeper.
He is assisted by current beatkeepers Nigel Franklin, Eli King, Kevin Simpkins and Dan Liddle.
Who makes up the picking-up and beating teams?Are they locals and all regulars?
Our beating team are brilliant.
They are all fairly local and come together to enjoy a day in the country.
Many have been with us for years and their knowledge of the shoot day and how a drive works is invaluable.
They are all characters and the shoot would be soulless without them.
We also have a great team of pickers-up, headed up by Val Moon.
There are lots of ladies (and a few chaps) but all have a selection of great dogs on hand throughout the shooting season to help us.
Guns with their own dogs are warmly welcomed too and many comment that this is the friendliest place to bring a gundog.
Some of the efficient picking-up team.
What shoot development work has been undertaken and what plans are there for the future?
There are many areas of the shoot which are wooded and some heavily.
Therefore the shoot is continually morphing, especially as trees set root and others grow taller (and wider.)
This creates new challenges for the keepers each year and specific shoot management has to be adhered to if the shoot is to maintain its premier status.
This usually involves the chainsaw.
Game crops are also somewhat of a problem as ever-increasing costs incurred by them rise far faster than the retail price per bird.
In the past we were almost dedicated to maize and kale for holding and flushing crops.
However, there has now been a big resurgence into triticale as a feed and holding crop on many shoots and many shoots, including us, have also now dabbled with direct drilling.
We have also tried under-sowing our main crop with chicory.
Although it does come through in the first year, the real growth is seen in the second year and that is where the cost benefit is realised as you don’t have to work the game plots annually.
Where do the guns typically come from and where do they stay?
Many of our guests travel from far afield in search of great shooting in the West Country.
America, Canada, Europe, Australia are just some of the places they come from.
But, we also have a huge national following and the majority of our guests are from the UK.
Lots return year after year and the guests have built up a great rapport with Caleb and the gang, making the days really special.
However, a great day’s shooting would be incomplete without the night before.
I always think guests should meet up the night before, where possible, and start the shooting break with a bang.
On Exmoor there are lots of great places to stay, but none more convenient than the Molland Manor.
The manor is a wonderful private residence for guests to relax in. Set in the heart of the shoot what could be simpler?
For those looking for more of a pub atmosphere there is the Tarr Farm Inn, the Royal Oak at Winsford (and Withypool) and the Crown at Exford.
All are great and the hoteliers, who are all used to shooting parties, look after our teams wonderfully.
What are the catering arrangements on the day?
For me a day’s shooting is not just about pulling the trigger and as I (along with many of our team) am a real foodie, the catering plays an important role.
The aroma of fresh coffee fills the air as you walk into the house and the scene is set for a great day to come.
Champagne, sloe gin, soups and sausages keep hunger at bay throughout the morning and when you return for lunch you will not be disappointed.
Rare Ruby Red roast beef or roast Exmoor lamb might just be on the menu, followed by a selection of home-made puddings suitable for a Food Heroes award.
It is all mouth-watering but leave room for tea.
Action from a wet day at West Molland last season.
What height are the tallest birds presented at West Molland and what would you say is the average range of birds presented?
There are some truly great drives which will test all those who stand beneath the birds.
West Molland Wood is probably the best known and loved drive on the shoot.
Its setting is picture perfect and the birds, which are driven from high above the tree line, fan out over the guns obligingly.
At about 60 to 80 yards up, they are tricky. But when you connect – what a feeling.
Other notable drives are Good Heavens, Pullery and Kerswell, and all present birds between 50-90 yards.
What do you consider to be a good cartridge to kill ratio for visiting guns?
The shooting here is undoubtedly good and there are some drives on the estate which will push guests into double figures in terms of shot to kill ratio.
But, demoralising guests is not what we are about.
We want to test them and show some great birds, so they feel challenged and yet have a sense of achievement.
Therefore, if we can end a day with a six to one shot to kill ratio, everyone will have had a very testing but satisfying day.
But it is not all about the ratio, the emphasis here is on consistent good quality shooting.
What affect did the global economic crisis have on bookings last season and how is it looking for the 2010/2011 season?
Certainly things have been tougher as the credit crunch has taken hold.
Disposable incomes have been stretched and in many cases the shooting budget has been slashed or decreased.
However, that said, we have still maintained a core client base of guests looking for top quality shooting and this year we have seen many clients return to us as alternative venues did not meet expectations last year.
This year we are up on the last and have very, very nearly sold all the days which is great news.
How much does shooting at West Molland cost?
The cost per bird is £37 plus VAT and this includes coffee upon arrival, elevenses, a superb three-course lunch with wine and port and afternoon tea and cakes.
Not forgetting all that goes into such a day like the beaters, stops and pickers-up.
There are one or two days available for the coming season and could be taken in November, December or January.
Will Criddle is Bettws Hall’s resident sporting agent and the portfolio includes The Brigands, Vaynor Park, Maesmawr Hall, Gregynog Hall, Chargot and Molland. For more information contact Will on tel. 07889 601843 or visit www.bettwshall.com