The imperfect shot
JC Jeremy Hobson recounts some shoot day faux pas, embarassing errors and funny stories
Leaning a Best London gun against the back of a vehicle is never a good idea. A Gun once did this with an un-sleeved 12-bore on a West Yorkshire grouse moor, so keen was he to get to the mid-morning drink, which had been brought by the vehicle’s driver. Stopping only long enough to deliver the necessary, the chauffeur reversed out to return to the lunch hut — running over the full length of the gun with both front and rear tyres as he did so.
Well-made though any London gun may be, it is no match for the total tonnage of a Land Rover when sandwiched between that and several millennia of hard Yorkshire grit stone.
Choose your firearms
Lord Baden-Powell apparently had a Boer friend in South Africa who, when he was harvesting his corn, left narrow strips of it standing, which the quail came to use as cover. They were thus easily walked-up.
“On the first day that I shot over his ground he accompanied me in his Cape cart, with refreshments. When I shot my first quail he shouted out his admiration, and when shortly afterwards I got a right-and-left and bagged them both, his enthusiasm was unbounded. He said he had never seen anything like this before and it was a matter for celebration; so accordingly the stone bottle of brandy was uncorked and libation offered.
“He then examined my gun with great curiosity and wonder. It turned out that he had never seen a shotgun and had supposed that I was shooting those tiny birds with a rifle.”
“A few years ago, we had a Gun who wasn’t particularly clued-up on quarry identification. We called a jay and he shot it but he didn’t really know what it was. We convinced him that he had shot an escaped parrot owned by a lady in the village on which there was a sizeable reward if returned. He was mortified and his shooting went downhill. We put him out of his misery at the end of the day — and he took it in good spirit but was mightily relieved.”
Put in his place
Tom Sawyer was, for many years, headkeeper for the 3rd Viscount Cowdray at Midhurst, West Sussex. Forthright and dour, Tom was never afraid to make an acerbic observation.
At Tom’s funeral, Robert Smallman, headkeeper at the Cocking shoot with which Tom became involved during his retirement, spoke of his invaluable help, advice and friendship. He recalled the day when the singer-turned-country-estate-owner Madonna and her then husband, Guy Ritchie, were shooting at Cocking — and the disarray that followed their announcement that they would not draw for pegs in the normal fashion, but would always be placed in the middle of the line of Guns (where the best shooting was expected).
Robert said that on more than one occasion during the day, the star’s husband reminded the unimpressed Tom, who was in charge of placing the Guns, that his name was Mr Ritchie and not “Mr Itchie”.
That sinking feeling
It’s a mistake not to find a good position near the gun peg. When shooting, stance and foot-work is all-important. One keeper told this tale.
“We had a guest Gun on a syndicate day a few years back who, on our best partridge drive, sank up to his knees on a wet, drilled field. The boss kept calling birds to him because the guest wasn’t shooting, but he got the reply: ‘I know they’re bloody well over, but I’m stuck’ — which the boss found even more amusing and continued to shout ‘over’, before shooting the guest Gun’s birds behind him. Sadly, the Gun didn’t see the funny side and has never been since.”
Getting one’s comeuppance
Taking birds from other Guns in the line is obviously a heinous crime — yet it is one of the most common gaffffes and errors observed. Many years ago while loading for my then employer on a very prestigious estate, our neighbour spent all morning dropping what should have been “our” birds at our feet. While it was good for the contents of my cartridge bag, it did little for the temper of my boss who, on the last drive before lunch, said: “Right, I want you to load like never before.”He then went on to kill and deposit at his feet every single pheasant that should have been our neighbour’s.
As my employer was an extremely good Shot, the point was well made and I earned myself an unexpected tip at the end of the day as a reward for my part in our greedy neighbour’s downfall.
Keeping it in the family
Back in the 1970s, Bing Crosby used to shoot on the North Yorkshire grouse moor on which I was then employed. As well as friends, his “team” also consisted of his second wife, Kathryn, and their eldest son, Harry.
On the first day, Bing and Harry had drawn adjoining numbers and, as he placed the sticks either side of the butt that would ensure no shooting down the line, Harry’s loader was asked what they were for. After explaining, he commented, “After all, you wouldn’t want to shoot your father, would you?” To which Harry replied (in a heavy Texan drawl): “Awww, shucks, it’s fine, don’t bother with that, he’ll just shoot back…”
Several of us who are non-smokers on a day-to-day basis nevertheless enjoy a cigar on a shooting day. It is therefore perhaps relevant to note that many Cuban cigars come in aluminium tubes, which are ideal for protecting their contents when one is out and about.
As the girth of some cigars resembles that of a 12-bore cartridge, these tubes can fit comfortably into a standard cartridge belt. However, these similarities can cause confusion. An avid cigar smoker tells this story against himself.
“On a walked-up shoot, I was surprised by the large number of birds. I was smoking a Ramon Allones Specially Selected 4 7/8 50-ring gauge at the time. Having fired both barrels and needing to re-load quickly, I became confused and loaded my cigar into the right barrel instead of a new cartridge. I was able to extract the cigar, but I failed to shoot the second wave of birds: a waste on two counts.”