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Royal game shooting at Bolton Abbey

The 30,000 acre Bolton Abbey estate in the Yorkshire Dales has a deserved reputation as being home to one of the white rose county’s most stunning shoots.

Able to offer both stratospheric pheasants and zipping grouse, this historic venture incorporates some 13,500 acres of moorland (a notable fixture of the Edwardian shooting sets) and pheasant shooting on its 3,000 plus acres of farmland, woodland and gills that make up the pheasant side of the operation. There is also approximately seven and a half miles of brown trout and grayling fishing on the River Wharfe.

Owned by the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire’s Yorkshire estate is bisected by the Wharfe, which flows into Wharfedale, past Ilkley Moor and Otley on its way to Tadcaster.

Despite the estate being ring-fenced, this does not deter the Duke and Duchess opening it up to the public. Half a million visitors pass through its gates each year, and the Devonshires are delighted to share their privilege.

The fishing on the River Wharfe is highly regarded and with the river keepers knowledge and guidance, wild brown trout are abundant during the season and grayling during the winter months.

Strong tradition

However, it is the traditional aspect of the pheasant shoot which really attracts the attention. Assistant agent, Alasdair Jones-Perrott takes up the tale following a day taken on the shoot in January of this year: “In the 1970s the then Lord Hartington wanted to set up a low-key shoot for family and friends,” said Alasdair, “and that’s how the shoot was started.”

“The shoot was mainly reliant on a wild stock with a very limited releasing policy, which has gradually increased over the years. From a beginning of three double days a season, there is now one shoot a week. It’s run on a very social basis and this is something the family have worked hard to maintain. There has been a desire for quality which far outweighs any wish to unnecessarily increase quantity. In line with this we aim to provide days of between 150-200 birds – a manageable amount and one where guns can go home with that cracking pheasant they got fixed firmly in their memory.”

The lunch there is also something to be remembered, as it is provided by the Devonshire Arms Country House Hotel. Not only was this establishment awarded first place in the top 100 UK restaurants for wine and holds the International Wine Spectator Best of Excellence Award, it does its best to source game and furnish customers with this healthy food source. Alternatively, lunch is also taken in the Cruck Barn of the Craven Arms, a traditional inn at the village of Appletreewick.

Shooting impressions

The first drive of the day, Wharfe View, illustrated by the accompanying photograph, started a little miserably weather wise, but the sport on offer more than made up for this. As a westerly wind drove rain over the waiting guns, pheasants that seemed in large unaffected by this, flew very well, gaining height and speed. Ninety-eight shots for 16 head indicated their quality.

Second up came Low Gill – a young conifer plantation, with views from the aqueduct at Howgill gracing this dreamy country scene.

After this it was the turn of Posforth Gill. Driven fantastically, the birds again flew well. A total of 267 shots produced a drive bag of 17 birds.

Hagg Wood marked the last drive of the day, and a change in wind direction. This particular setting encompasses the Wharfe Valley, and the birds proved their worth once again with a formidable flying display and a final drive tally of 101 shots for 14 birds.

What for the future?

It is often said that a ‘picture can say a thousand words’, and this is readily apparent with this fine selection. But what of the aspirations’ for the shoot, bearing in mind its reputation is surely already cemented in concrete?

“You can never be complacent about a shoot,” said Alasdair, “and no matter how good it is, there will always be something that can be improved or tweaked. The main thing for us is to remain viable and the end must justify the means, and as with any business venture, capital is needed to make it a going concern.”

Yorkshire has always featured highly when it comes to high quality shoots that have been married so perfectly with tradition – if this had to be defined in the dictionary, I’m sure Bolton Abbey would be there as the perfect example.