What's happening to roughshooting?

A traditional side-by-side shotgun is bored with open and choke barrels, to be fired in that order by front and back triggers respectively.

That is because once most shooting was walked-up. You took your first shot at a bird close by and the next when it had flown further away.

Dog's first shoot day

Spaniels and roughshooting

The popularity of spaniels sprang from roughshooting, for it was the ideal dog; not designed for sitting patiently at a peg, but for hunting and flushing. The same is true of many hunting, pointing and retrieving breeds.

When I started out, our sport was nearly all roughshooting. Driven shoots were the preserve of the aristocracy and the closest we got was the annual get-together when the farmers assembled after Christmas, pooled their land and drove it for the few pheasants and partridges that had survived the roughshooters.

 

As a student, I was befriended by a local bank manager who took pity on a young shooter far from home. He had a small shoot by the river Soar. With his son and two lively springers, we marched up and down the rough hedges. A rabbit might pop out and, rarely, a pheasant sprang chortling. Sometimes we attempted to drive a small covey of partridges. At dusk we hid by the river, for one or two mallard usually dropped in.

Driven shoot day

The rise of driven shooting

To this day some such shoots survive, but they are painfully few.

What happened? Driven shooting, suddenly, became available to all. Cheap, sound, imported guns flooded the market. We learned how to rear gamebirds in our spare time. We became a little wealthier, while the social revolution meant that driven shooting was no longer exclusive to the toffs. Farmers combined six excellent roughshoots into one indifferent driven shoot, shot over maybe half a dozen times a year and left alone for the rest of it.

I see this as a thoroughly retrograde step. The countryside with no room for a roughshoot is a poor sort of place, the rich diversity is lost, the grass roots of the sport are forgotten. The modern young Gun is presented with a 20-bore and stands at a peg.

I sense a slight backlash. Instead of offering 300 tame pheasants kicked out of an oak wood at the same price as a cottage in Lancashire, discerning Guns now are taking days with the keeper.

They walk the woods, carry their bags, take lunch alfresco, shoot 50 head and love every minute for a fraction of the cost. Some grand shoots that run such days on the side tell me that they are the first to be booked.

Roughshooting is rich and diverse

To shoot nothing but driven is to live a life eating only one sort of food, and what a boring person it makes you. Our sport is rich and diverse, and a fully formed shooter should enjoy wigeon on the saltings, flighted pigeon, and a walk round with a dog and gun, with a driven shoot as the odd treat. The small day is cheaper on birds, their food and management, cheap on manpower, easy on the environment and outstanding value for money.  And unless you are greedy, just as much fun.

Roughshooting makes room for a youngster to have a chance at sport without a millionaire parent, and that gets my vote. What’s more, the gun left you by your grandfather, which fires the open barrel first, enjoys a new lease of life doing that for which it was designed.