Four seasons ago I came the closest I have ever been to achieving membership of the exalted Shooting Times Woodcock Club. I was enjoying a day on the Cefn Mine shoot, on the beautiful Llyn Peninsula, opposite Anglesey. The area is popular with holidaymakers, second homeowners and migrating woodcock. Wingtip to wingtip, a flawless pair of woodcock flushed just a few feet in front of me. They would have made the perfect duo. Unfortunately for me and all the other Guns present, this pair emerged just as the whole party was wandering back to the farmhouse for tea at the end of a fantastic day. There wasnt a single barrel loaded among us let alone the obligatory two. I swear I heard the birds soft laughter as they drifted nonchalantly up the track.
No-one ever said woodcock shooting is easy and certainly becoming a member of the Shooting Times Woodcock Club has as much to do with luck as it does with skill, but surely there must be a way to maximise your chances of success? If you are seeking the sporting equivalent of the Holy Grail, exactly where on the map should you go?
Plotting the woodcock
To try to inject a little consideration into the equation, I plotted club applications for the past season on a map. It is hardly a scientific study worthy of Dr Andrew Hoodless at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, but more than 80 shooters claimed membership of the club in the past few months having shot a witnessed right-and-left at woodcock. In geographic terms, these ranged from the very tip of Cornwall all the way up to Aberdeenshire and way over to County Mayo. In numerical terms, the quantity of right-and-lefts this season is considerable more than 80 new members of the club in one season indicates that either the UK and Irelands shooters are becoming more accurate or, more likely, this season was a bumper one for woodcock. No surprise given the cold weather, which pushed many birds in our direction.
A hotspot for the season
Nigel Amos, from Cambridgeshire, was adamant that his good luck was thanks to the snow. On 2 January he shot his right-and-left at Gedney, in Lincolnshire one of the seasons hotspots. I was shooting with a few friends and we were walking down a line of trees with a bit of thick cover growing against it, explained Nigel. Right at the corner, my dog flushed three woodcock that were all sitting together, sheltering from the snow and wind. To my amazement, I managed to shoot my right-and-left. He added: On our shooting grounds we have few trees and little cover to speak of. Im lucky to shoot a woodcock every three years, so shooting four in two weeks was fantastic. His luck was echoed this season by seven other shooters within a 40-mile radius, making Lincolnshire a definite hotspot this season. You could say that in the Skegness area, woodcock truly are bracing!
Steer clear of the western Home Counties if you fancy your chances. This season, there were no right-and-lefts recorded in Hampshire, Surrey, West Sussex, East Sussex, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire or Hertfordshire. And the Midlands werent much good either, with normally strong shooting counties like Shropshire, Cheshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire all drawing a blank. If you want that elusive right-and-left, perhaps you should take the lead from Daniel Kincaid, Jamie Vant-Harrison, Raymond Ongley, Ben Palmer and Paul Nicholls, who all shot theirs within 20 miles of Ashford in Kent this winter, making it another of the seasons hotspots. If you really want to show off, do as Mr Nicholls did and use a .410. Meanwhile, just across the estuary at Steeple, in Essex, 13-year-old Harry Partridge also knocked a pair of woodcock out of the sky. Some wait a lifetime
Theres a definite theme to this seasons lucky shots stick to the coast if you want to shoot a right-and-left. While there were many pairs of birds shot inland, the overwhelming majority were shot within a few miles of the coast. Thats not a huge surprise if you consider where the birds are likely to make landfall, but judging by this seasons records there are certain coastal hotspots where you can really boost your chances. Get down to the sea at Llanelli in South Wales, Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, or Newton Stewart on Wigtown Bay all of these areas recorded multiple right-and-lefts this season within the space of a 15-mile radius.
If such a thing is possible, there is one place where you can almost guarantee that the opportunity of a right-and-left will occur the Isle of Islay. Every year, without fail, new members sign up to the Shooting Times Woodcock Club thanks to a fortunate encounter on the Inner Hebrides. This season, four lucky Shots achieved their own version of sporting Nirvana on the 30-mile-long island. With more than 130 miles of coastline, plenty of wet moorland, dense, warm plantations and a relatively mild climate thanks to the Gulf Stream, Islay is a frequent stopover for thousands of woodcock, making it one of the hallowed places in this country that passionate woodcock shooters head to.
So if you really want to join what The Daily Telegraph recently, and rather flatteringly, described as one of Britains 15 most exclusive clubs, next season make space in your sporting diary for a trip to Islay. As for me, Im happy to wait in anticipation for another season one day my ship will come in!
To join the exclusive Shooting Times Woodcock Club you need to shoot a right-and-left that is witnessed by two people. Sounds easy? Note that the gun must not be lowered between shots.
As a member of the club you will be sent a certificate, a badge and an invitation to the annual dinner, which provides an opportunity for members to meet, exchange news and bid for the fantastic lots in the charity auction (in aid of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trusts research into woodcock). You will also be kept informed with a regular newsletter.
For more information, contact Katharina Doyle, tel 020 3148 4741 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.