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My Budget shoot

As the past shooting season drew to a close I began to realise that global politics were likely to limit my participation in shooting fieldsports. This was confirmed by the shoot captain’s speech at the end-of-season dinner as he disclosed the news I had been dreading. The price increases to corn, gamefeed, fuel, electricity, poults, labour, sporting rent and just about every other commodity involved in running a gameshoot were definitely going to increase the syndicate subscriptions by a hefty percentage. In all honesty, this was more than my pocket could take in the current financial climate and I regretfully waved goodbye to my shooting comrades of the past decade.

My first visit to Snowdrop Farm came about when a mutual friend introduced me to a farmer whose meadows were inundated with dozens of rabbits. I no longer keep ferrets but I know a man who does and we rapidly responded to the plea for help as it was already early February and neither of us takes pleasure in ferreting when the does might be carrying young. We discovered that the farm barely covered 100 acres and comprised around a dozen fields demarcated by some overgrown hedges, the elderly farmer later explaining that farming is now little more than a hobby for him.

The farm is something of a nature haven and the rabbits had exploited the favourable conditions. Our first visit was one of exploration and preparation as we used our secateurs to trim back the brambles that obscured many of the burrows.

We returned the following weekend and netted-up, though this wasn’t the easy task we had hoped for. Inevitably, we found a previously unnoticed bolt-hole hidden by undergrowth, so the secateurs once again came into play.

We had a long day working those hedgerow warrens and finished with only 11 rabbits. Many of the smaller warrens were hedge-bound, so we gave up setting the purse-nets and tried to pot the rabbits as they bolted across the meadow. I was a little rusty on the bolting bunnies and this allowed at least half-a-dozen to escape. Then, to further reduce our success, the battery powering the electronic ferret-fi nder faded (we had forgotten to pack the spare) and we had to resort to using traditional methods when the ferret surfaced with his claws matted in rabbit fur. After a prolonged period of digging and the use of a bramble “prod” we finally located three rabbits cornered in a dead end, thus ending the day on a positive note.

As a goodwill gesture we offered the farmer a share of the bag and were amazed when he reciprocated by giving us the shooting rights to his farm, on condition that we keep the rabbit populations under control. Admittedly, 100 acres of mixed meadowland, arable crops and a spindly copse isn’t a great estate, but for us this was an unexpected bonus and, having sounded out our new shoot landlord, we began making plans for our low-cost roughshoot. These include releasing a few ex-laying pheasants to supplement the wild stock and then to get busy with a spring vermin-control campaign that would obviously include Snowdrop Farm’s rabbits.

Only a few weeks previously I had been contemplating a life with little opportunity for shooting, so now that I have secured myself a budget shoot I don’t want to abuse the privilege.