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The world’s smallest shoot?

Pulp fiction writer and shooter Guy N. Smith’s 7½-acre shoot is one of the miniatures of the UK. Here he describes how he realised his dream of creating his own small shoot

Back in the 1970s I made a couple of life-changing decisions. I resigned from a secure job in banking to become a full-time writer, sold my house in suburbia and moved with my wife and four children to live in a remote area of the Shropshire-Welsh border hills. Friends told me that I was crazy but wished me the best of luck.

The choice of location for my new home was not made on the spur of the moment — I had been renting the shooting rights over an adjacent 500 acres of Forestry Commission land for some years before. Now I had my own land here, all 7½ acres of it. It would be my very own shoot — a youthful dream that was about to become reality.

The land in question was a steep hillside, grazed down to the butt by the previous owner’s sheep. The only trees were six mature oaks and an elm, which would succumb to the disease that would sweep the UK a year or so later. Would it be possible to create a mini shoot here? It would not be easy but I was determined to give it a go.

Some form of cover was a priority. This entailed the planting of two mixed spinneys, most of the trees coming as saplings from some of my former shoots — their owners only too pleased to get rid of them. Conifers formed a shelter belt around the perimeters, and clearings were made to allow sunlight to infiltrate.

Planting spinneys

On the main slope, we let scrub trees and undergrowth, broom and gorse, grow unchecked and then cut parallel rides horizontally, each of approximately 400 yards. This would provide ample walked-up shooting and take up a good couple of hours to work thoroughly.

My former forestry shoot had been somewhat sparse regarding quarry species, apart from rabbits and pigeon, and my own patch was a distinct improvement, principally because we had created the right habitat. We reared a few pheasants, concentrated on predator control — mainly foxes — and fed regularly. Holding birds on such a small area is not easy but if the neighbouring land is mainly conifer forest and pastureland then you stand a much better chance. I was delighted when some of our pheasants bred in the wild and provided us with a few extra in the following seasons.

In the early days, a covey of around a dozen grey partridges used to visit from time to time. Sadly we have not seen any in the past few years, due to modern farming methods and an increased badger population.
From the outset, overall conservation has played a major role in my set-up. There are nesting boxes in both woods and ample feed around the hoppers during the harsh winter months.

Other wildlife has flourished — adders and grass snakes, and common and sand lizards — and I am amazed at the wild flowers that have emerged on the grassy areas where they have lain dormant for many years.

Roe deer and muntjac

Roe deer are attracted by the natural habitat. Pic credit: A. Ward

Roe deer are attracted by the natural habitat. Pic credit: A. Ward

It was some years after my move to the hills that deer began to appear, mostly roe and the occasional muntjac. They used the nearby forest for shelter but found natural feeding on my land to their liking. We left them in peace to acclimatise for a couple of years before stalking became part of our sport. The rides are ideal for stalking on foot but we now have a high seat on the edge of the upper spinney, overlooking a wide clearing. Given their small numbers, culling, apart from any old or infirm beasts, has not yet become a priority.

I take the occasional roe for the freezer, but do not want this small group of about eight or nine reduced at this stage. During the winter months I feed them stock carrots and hay along with a mineral lick.

Secrets of success

The secret of a successful small shoot, as I have discovered, is a lack of disturbance and not to over-shoot one’s resident game and deer. I am a traditional roughshooter and my policy is to provide for the family table as well as to ensure that any friends who join me go home with something for the pot. I do not want large bags even if that was possible.

I have a small, unofficial and occasional “syndicate” of four Guns. Safety is our priority on this small acreage and it is important that everybody knows exactly where the others are.
Mostly, though, I shoot on my own. One of my favourite guns is a century-old Thieme & Schlegelmilch 16-bore/9.3x82R Drilling. It is ideal for pot-hunting when the freezer is running low and meat of any kind is a priority: rabbit, pigeon or game in season, or a deer if one happens to present itself. With just a flick of the lever there is an instant choice of shotgun or rifle.

Winters are usually harsh up here in the hills above the snow line but a brief outing last year yielded a brace of pheasants and a woodcock in under an hour. I was satisfied.

Mine may not be the smallest shoot in the UK, but it surely ranks among the miniatures. Most satisfying is its continued success and the fact that it was created in its entirety from what was once barren grassland.

The flightpond

Duck flighting pool built and lined, full of algae, but clear in the winter with ducks flighting in. Pic credit: A. Ward

Duck flighting pool built and lined, full of algae, but clear in the winter with ducks flighting in. Pic credit: A. Ward

Creating a flightpond on a gradient was going to be tricky, but there was nowhere else suitable. So we bulldozed a shelf out of the hillside and used the surplus soil for banks. Initially, we lined it with heavy-duty builders’ polythene (right) but eventually replaced this with butyl. The water area was about 20 yards by eight yards, and the surrounding vegetation grew lush in about a year to give it a natural appearance. We had got it right and all the hard work proved worthwhile the following autumn when we flighted a few mallard here. Duck now use it regularly.

Trail cameras and cage traps

Trail cameras are an excellent means of determining just what wildlife is using one’s land. I keep a couple, moving them around on a weekly basis. I can check on how my pheasants are faring, how many deer are visiting and what vermin are about. I wish these cameras had been available in my formative years here.

Another piece of useful equipment is my 4ft by 4ft cage trap for foxes. This is checked on a regular basis, usually to release badgers but it does account for the occasional fox. When I lived in the Midlands, a lady smallholder had a cage that she had made out of vegetable crates and one winter caught 100 foxes. My catches are minimal, though, and I can only conclude that this is because in remote countryside the animals are wary of anything artificial, while around urban areas they are used to man-made equipment.

I am not one to rest on my laurels, though, and there is still much to be done. Woodland management is carried out regularly so that our small plantations do not revert to a wilderness.

Big cats

There have been hundreds of sightings of “big cats” reported throughout the UK in recent years.
We have had our share here, principally a caracal that my daughter watched hunting for rabbits in the gorse for about 20 minutes. Others have seen it and I photographed some tracks in the snow that were confirmed as being those of this lynx species by the late A.J. de Nahlik, a renowned expert on large felines.

It was last seen by a friend who assists me with keeper’s duties last autumn when it trotted out, quite unconcernedly, from behind a fallen tree. We can only wait for future sightings and hopefully a conclusive photograph of this animal on one of the trail cameras.