Sir Barney White-Spunner, the executive chairman of the Countryside Alliance, on snipe in Ireland, smalls shoots and being strict with lead shot.
Robert Cuthbert: Have you managed to get out much this season?
Sir Barney White-Spunner: “I’ve had a couple of days but not a huge amount. Generally, I shoot around eight to 10 days a year. I’ve shot some lovely partridges in Wiltshire. I really do love shooting partridge on a sunny day on the Downs, it’s just wonderful. I’ve had a couple of grouse days up in Yorkshire, too. I’m not really a member of a syndicate or anything like that, but where I live in the West Country we have a little walked-up family shoot, which is enormous fun.”
RC: What sort of acreage do you shoot over at home?
BWS: “We’ve essentially tacked a few farms together, but I’m not sure on the acreage; perhaps 500-600 acres. We have put some pheasant and duck down. It’s very informal. We probably run it more for the dogs’ enjoyment than ours. A couple of my shooting friends, Charlie Fenn and Tony Jackson, make the whole thing work and do all the organisation.”
RC: Which breed of dogs do you have at home?
BWS: “We run fox red labradors – my family has kept them for years. We’ve four at the moment from a good, strong line in Ireland.”
RC: Who were your mentors?
BWS: “We have always shot at home. Sadly, my father was forced to give up because he was crippled and really struggled to stand. He got me going initially. Another man who was an influence was Maurice Goodbody, who used to run the Rank organisation in Ireland. He was a neighbour and great friend of my parents. He got me into driven snipe shooting, one of my early and favourite forms of shooting. My brother-in-law runs a shoot in Sussex – his family has a wonderful shoot and I’ve shot with him since I can remember.”
RC: Can you remember your first driven day?
BWS: “I think my first ever driven pheasant day was in Sussex, although I had shot driven snipe in Ireland before that, around the snipe bogs of Tipperary. I think my first proper driven pheasant day was with my brother-in-law.”
RC: What do you shoot with now?
BWS: “I’ve got a pair of Spanish guns. They were finished nicely by Somerton Guns, a small gunmaker in Somerset who imported Spanish-built blanks and then finished them. I shoot with a pair of 12-bores. They serve me well for everything, driven and walked-up. As a lad I had a .410 for a while, but not for long. I went onto a 12 bore quite early, probably about the age of 14.”
RC: Would you consider yourself to be a good shot?
BWS: “Sadly, I don’t shoot enough to be a good shot. I would describe myself as adequate on a good day and… well, bad on a bad day.”
RC: Going back to your walked-up days at home, do you entice any wild duck in?
BWS: “There really are quite a lot of wild duck around at the moment funnily enough. I can’t imagine where they’re all coming from, but there were quite a lot coming in when we were out last.”
RC: Anything unusual in the bag?
BWS: “Not at the moment. There might be later on. We usually see a few oddments but they are all just mallard at present. We are rigorous about the use of non-toxic shot on our little shoot; I much prefer Bismuth over steel. Frankly, how difficult can it be? We are absolutely hard on that. As you know, the Countryside Alliance and BASC have a joint campaign at the moment about the importance of not using lead for waterfowl. The whole thing about the shooting community is that we really are law-abiding. We have to comply. Further restriction could result in a total ban on the use of lead shot in the UK. People have got to get real about this. I’ve heard people saying that if ducks are shot with lead and not sold, well, somehow, that doesn’t matter. I’ve actually heard people saying that it doesn’t matter, but it does matter, not least because, there’s no other way to put it… it’s the law.”