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Game shooting in Arbigland, Dumfriesshire

Game shooting in Arbigland, Dumfriesshire.
Arbigland sporting tenant Craig Denman was worried about the weather.

Black clouds draped themselves over the secluded lodge in Kirkgunzeon he runs with wife Sarah, and an unsettled forecast diverted his attention from the football and towards the windows.

Later, when we took our places for dinner, Craig, a former stockbroker, announced, “Whatever happens tomorrow, your worst day’s shooting is still better than your best day’s work, isn’t it?”

Arbigland lies three miles to the south east of the lodge.

Its shoot was private from Victorian times until 2000 when Jamie Blackett, a former guards officer, took over the running of the estate from his father, Captain Beauchamp Blackett.

The shoot’s running costs were unaffordable by then, and in a bid to keep the old gamekeeper employed, Jamie outsourced it.

Craig became the second shoot operator under this arrangement in 2006, and since then both he and Jamie have been polishing the shoot to share its family atmosphere with their visiting guns.

It takes a while to work out why the shoot feels narrower than it is.

Even when standing at its heart the undulating landscape makes features in the distance appear much closer – good portents for shooting?

There are 1,200 acres in all, sliding down from Criffel Hill towards rolling arable fields lined with hedges and spinneys that level out onto marshland and two miles of Solway Firth shoreline.

The metamorphosis from private to commercial shoot has been steady.

Craig has thrown in a good deal of his own personality, with every aspect of keepering, bird welfare and drive geography studied meticulously.

Everything is seen through a constructively critical eye, and Craig will never settle for ‘okay’ drives offering ‘okay’ sport.

At the end of the season there is no room for sentimentality if things haven’t quite worked out.

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