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Why I started reading Shooting Times

Some reminiscences about Shooting Times, and a look back at when it was founded, show that time moves on — but some things never change says Alasdair Mitchell

vintage shooting times cover

Shooting Times has been a popular publication for many years

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, as somebody once said. Yet it is sometimes pleasant to wallow in the past. Shooting Times was founded in 1882. It has been read by many generations of shooters and it is still going strong.

My own relationship with Shooting Times started when I was at boarding school. I had discovered that at the school shop you could request newspapers or magazines and they would subsequently appear on the end-of-term bill under ‘sundries’. My reckoning was that my father was far too busy running an international business to bother reading the small print of an invoice. (Take out a subscription to Shooting Times here.)

As it happens, I was mistaken. But he very kindly agreed to continue funding my nefarious habit. In retrospect, I think he was relieved that I was actually reading something. As it happens, what first attracted me to Shooting Times wasn’t shooting, but ferrets. They were on the front page of the edition in question, flagging a feature inside. I was passionate about ferrets in those days. I didn’t come from a traditional shooting family, but it was reading the magazine that started to spark my interest in shooting.

Among the regular advertisers was Elderkin & Son, the gunmakers of Spalding, Lincolnshire. This venerable firm had started up two years earlier than Shooting Times, in 1880. I remember huddling in a payphone booth, clutching a handful of coins and calling Elderkin’s to enquire about a gun they were advertising. I have always remembered the courtesy of the chap who answered. He gently suggested that, given my age, I might not be eligible to buy the gun on credit, so it might be better to save up my pocket money. He exuded kindly advice and encouragement.

I am pleased to say that Elderkin & Son is still going today, being run by the fifth generation of the family. Good customer service never goes out of fashion.

At about the same time that Shooting Times was founded, the great Victorian sportsman-naturalist Abel Chapman was punt-gunning with his assistant, Selby Allison, on the flats at Lindisfarne, on the Northumberland coast. He later drew on his adventures in a book, First Lessons in the Art of Wildfowling, published in 1896. It is a vivid picture of wildfowling at that time. (You can find our wildfowling section here.)

Mr Chapman would probably be surprised to learn that punt-gunning still goes on at Lindisfarne today. The site is now a National Nature Reserve and shooting is heavily regulated, with a waiting list for permits. But the punt-gunners still brave the winds and tides each season, employing the same skills and fortitude as in his day. Shooting and the countryside have evolved over the years — but not always for the worse. In 1898, Abel Chapman moved to Houxty, a villa in the North Tyne Valley. Roe deer were rare enough back then for him to get excited when one was seen near Houxty. How times have changed: I shoot very near his old home and I can assure you the place is lifting with roe today.

It may be wishful thinking, but I have an inkling that as long as there is shooting, Shooting Times will exist in some form or other.