Col. John Blashford-Snell OBE interview
Col. John Blashford-Snell OBE: The author and explorer on his worldwide adventures, defending Herefordshire and his love of rough shooting.
Robert Cuthbert: We’re lucky to catch you… you’re away exploring again soon, Colonel.
Col. John Blashford-Snell: “I’m going to Colombia soon to work with the Wiwa Indians. They have been severely treated and have never really dealt with anybody from the outside world other than terrorists and paramilitaries. We are going in to take a medical team, a dental team and engineers who will help design bridges and water-supply systems. We will be building a school too. It’s an aid expedition but obviously it’s a unique opportunity to study a tribe about which very little is known.”
Robert Cuthbert: Do you always take your shotguns on your expeditions?
Col. John Blashford-Snell: “I do sometimes, yes. I don’t always take the 12 bore because it can be amazingly difficult to get cartridges; people tend to shoot more with 16 and 20 bores in places like South America. I have a 20 bore single barrel. At one time I used to position 12 bore single barrels in various countries to save lugging them backwards and forwards. A couple in Guyana, another one in Bolivia… you have this hassle of going through customs, announcing you have a gun and seeing them all take fright. I try to position guns abroad, but I do sometimes take them out with me.”
Robert Cuthbert: What have you shot for the pot during your expeditions?
Col. John Blashford-Snell: “Lots of pigeons and doves, which are very common in South America. Various types of small mammals like Hachis, they’re like large Guinea pigs… very good eating, a bit like rabbit. I wouldn’t shoot large animals because they are largely endangered…the small rodents are the best things.”
Robert Cuthbert: Presumably you began shooting poking around the hedgerows?
Col. John Blashford-Snell: “Not quite. When I was about five my father decided that I should be trained to shoot a pistol so I could protect my mother against The Hun if they managed to reach Herefordshire. I think it was a little snub-nosed .38 Colt. He was an army chaplain and he took me out into the vicarage garden, put up some tin cans and told me to shoot them. I was born in 1936, so it was a time when invasion was very much a real threat. I acquired an air rifle and we formed a gang of lads and girls who were there to defend Herefordshire. We got up to all sorts of tricks. We even made a cannon, mounted on a wheelchair that we borrowed from the back of the church. We loaded it with powder from 12 bore cartridges and I remember that we did serious damage to my mother’s chicken house while testing it.”
Robert Cuthbert: When were you first introduced to using a shotgun?
Col. John Blashford-Snell: “I was about 12 or so. My father came back from the war and he was very keen on shooting. He had a Tisdale 12 bore double-barrelled shotgun. I still have it. It’s a hammerless ejector. He bought me, for about 10s, a Belgian bolt-action 12 bore with a very long barrel from the local gun dealer. I suspect it was a goose gun because it had a rather large chamber. When I’d shown that I could hit pheasants and pigeons with that he let me borrow his Tisdale.
“As I grew older I got a job in my school holidays, shooting pigeons for local farmers. I was paid a small amount of money every week, plus my cartridges, a meal and the bus fair. I used to go and sit all day out in the field with a decoy waiting for pigeons. In those days there were millions of pigeons and they would eat a field dry in no time at all. It was a wonderful job just waiting there in the sunshine. They would come in clouds.”
Robert Cuthbert: Where have you done most of your shooting?
Col. John Blashford-Snell: “Taking half guns on various local shoots. I had one up towards Frome at one time and then I shot for a long time on forestry land near Blandford. I’m hoping to do more in Dorset and I really need to look around for another shoot to get involved with, but I have been away so much that it really wasn’t worth it. I was invited recently but sadly couldn’t go because I was in Oman.
“I also shoot a lot in Cumbria – a friend has a shoot up there. In Aberdeenshire, North Wales and on the east coast too – a friend has some very good partridge shooting there. So all over the place really. I really should get involved with a local shoot again. The other day I went to a clay ground to get my eye in before I go to Colombia.”
Robert Cuthbert: Of all the shooting that you have done, is there a type that you like best?
Col. John Blashford-Snell: “I enjoy a day of driven birds but there is nothing like a nice day, with a good dog, walking the hedges. You get half a dozen birds at the most and that gives me as much satisfaction as a day when people shoot 200. So, in general I would say that I enjoy rough shooting the most because that is the sort of shooting I do when I am overseas. I’ve even developed a little ammunition belt of my own. It’s got a little wooden pouch at the front, holding three rounds. The reason I have it is because most of the time when I’m overseas I use a single-barrelled gun and you need to be very fast to reload if you want to take a second shot.”
For more info about John Blashford-Snell and his autobiography, Something Lost Behind the Ranges, visit; johnblashfordsnell.org.uk