Eagle Hall is a mixed-game shoot with traditional Lincolnshire topography, whose new owners are aiming to make an impression next season.
Eagle Hall was featured in the July 2016 issue of Shooting Gazette
It is an interesting time to be involved with Eagle Hall, a pheasant and partridge shoot set across 3,700 acres around 10 miles from the A1, A46 and A17 junction at Newark-on-Trent. Shooting Gazette first visited in December last year when it was under the stewardship of Jonathan Airey.
Following a change of ownership in the spring, I returned to the shoot lodge in late May to meet the new team, headed by Martin Snell and Trevor Hawkins, to discover their plans for taking this traditional Lincolnshire shoot forward into the new season and beyond.
In many ways, it’s all change and no change at Eagle. An infrastructure including 30 established drives, brand new pens and an ambitious woodland management programme has been bolstered by a recent six-figure investment in new birds, with everything being overseen by headkeeper Wayne Pryer, now in his sixth season at Eagle Hall.
Wayne joined the shoot after stints at Longleat amongst others, and with the help of wife Cheryl in the shoot lodge kitchen, there is evidence to suggest this newly formed team is starting its new journey firmly on the front foot.
From what we saw back in December, the shoot also has the potential to show the kind of sport that will thrill those who like to be kept on their toes. Guns experienced a variety of good sport in woodland and over tall hedgerows on open fields stretching almost as far as the eye can see.
While that is certainly something Trevor wants to exploit in his endeavour to show testing French partridge, both he and Martin are under no illusions about the enormity of the task that has been in front of them since they arrived in March. Their wish is to offer comfortable and relaxed shoot days, but they take the management of the shoot extremely seriously.
“We strive to fulfil the guns’ expectations,” Martin told me while the three of us settled in at the shoot lodge. With the pair starting afresh there is clearly pressure on both their finances and reputations, but that’s not to say they lack the experience for the battle.
“We are in a strong position because of our standing in the farming community, and that’s why we’ve been able to take the shoot on. We welcome the challenges ahead as we know the excellent sport we can provide,” Martin added.
A strong contact book is everything to a fledgling shoot. Away from Martin’s pig farming operation, Trevor, who grew up close to the shoot and now lives near Caistor in north Lincs, has, through his pest-control business, a strong relationship with local farmers and the area’s shooting community.
The former Riseholme College gamekeeping student runs and hosts small days with friends near Louth several times a year – shoot days he affectionately describes, quoting Archie Coats, as “a labour of love rather than a financial bonanza”, adding that the opportunity to come to Eagle Hall was one that he “relished”, as the shoot lends itself particularly well to showing traditional partridge over tall hedges and pheasants over established woodland.
Martin and Trevor agreed Wayne’s knowledge and experience has been vital in them finding their feet, and the three are realistic in what they can achieve during their first season.
“We sat down and discussed what was feasible,” said Trevor. “We have a target we’d like to achieve this season, and hopefully with repeat bookings, build on that for the season beyond.”
The shape of things to come at Eagle Hall
Owing to the volume of birds the shoot currently has, there will be around 30 shoot days at Eagle Hall next season, with bags starting at 200 head across a four-drive day. Days will be back-to-back, meaning that no drive is shot over twice in one week and the birds have seven days’ rest, keeping them away from gunshot and gundogs altogether.
If the first season is a success, Trevor and Martin will look to build on that momentum with a range of simulated game days on the farm. There are also plans to significantly increase the amount of game cover on the land. This would be followed by the shoot rearing its own birds from day-olds, which will of course mean Wayne needing a hand – something Trevor and Martin are keen to encourage, especially if their plan to form a syndicate or two on the shoot comes to fruition.
“The end of the season will determine exactly how we go forward,” explained Trevor. “It’s going to be very hard for a single keeper to cope with what we want to put in place. When I was at Riseholme College, the other students there were really keen to do the courses, but while they enjoyed it, the positions just weren’t available to put their skills into practice when they came out. It would be nice to encourage the next generation into our industry. At the end of the day we would like to promote it and give someone a leg up, the opportunity for an apprentice would be fantastic.”
There will no room for complacency though, and Martin has high expectations for the shoot.
“I’m very successful at what I do, and I don’t accept failure. To be successful everyone involved needs to be dedicated and passionate about playing their part,” said Martin. “Our aim is to create a shoot for everyone. We want everyone to be stretched and challenged.”
While Trevor and Martin know they are working against the clock, they are not putting too much pressure on themselves. Here are two successful businessmen who have approached their task with sensible heads. A number of external issues (like the effects of Brexit) are out of their hands, but they won’t have hung around between the time of our meeting and you reading this article to get things in place before the first trigger is pulled in mid-September.
The shoot has its own website (a tool Trevor is keen to promote through the shoot’s new Facebook page) with a welcoming layout that puts names to faces and thoughtfully includes small but important details such as the format of the day alongside the dates available.
“We’d be daft not to use social media to our advantage,” said Trevor. “I feel like we get a lot done by just pressing a button, getting the message out there, it’s very powerful. For example, showing the shoot in action with updates during the close season is a fantastic way to keep our followers in the conversation.”
The 43-year-old is an energetic and enthusiastic person, and wants guns to be comfortable and relaxed from the moment they arrive, agreeing with my analogy that a concierge rather than a police escort will take them through their day (it just came out like that). Trevor is looking forward to being the face of each shoot day from the first handshake to the last, his constant presence matched by attention to detail.
“It doesn’t take a moment for me to remind guns to let pickers-up know they’ve brought their own dogs and would like to work them prior to the picker-up taking over. A thumbs up from the gun is all you need – you don’t need to say ‘you may do it now!’ or anything like that. For me it’s very important to encourage mutual respect. That’s the way it has got to be.
“I’ve shot on days when you just feel a bit cautious because you don’t want to do anything wrong and feel like you can’t just mention something to the shoot captain or headkeeper for fear of looking daft in front of the other guns. I think the day flows so much better when you are relaxed.
“I’m sure I will be a little nervous on our first day, but not about our capabilities to show good sport because of what we have put in place beforehand. Everyone from the local area has been very supportive to the shoot, and that’s worth its weight in gold to me.”
The coming season is unlikely to be a record breaker at Eagle Hall, but every day, which will be taken as it comes, will be meticulously planned and executed with passion.
Eagle Hall is offering around 30 let days for the coming season with bags of around 200 twice a week from September until January. For further details, visit eaglehallshoot.co.uk; email: email@example.com; or call Trevor Hawkins on 07733 227082.
The area guide
Eagle Hall Shoot is located within Long Farm just outside the village of Eagle in north west Lincolnshire. Access is via the A57 from the north or the A46 from the south and then the A1133 out into the open countryside for a few picturesque miles. Long Farm is a busy working farm, so drivers are advised to take it easy when heading the 500 yards down the farm track towards the shoot lodge. Anyone thinking of travelling by train on the East Coast Mainline should alight at Newark Northgate (the shoot can arrange for their collection if necessary).
The beauty of Eagle Hall’s proximity to Newark means that you can be at the shoot relatively quickly from anywhere in the Midlands. If you’re coming from a little farther afield then there is the 80-bedroom Bentley Hotel in South Hykeham near Lincoln to the north of the shoot (bentleyhotellincoln.co.uk), or the Manners Arms at Knipton, near Grantham (mannersarms.com) to the south. The Bentley is closer to the shoot and has the added advantage of leisure and spa facilities. The Manners was originally built as a hunting lodge for the 6th Duke of Rutland, and with 10 bedrooms has a much more intimate feel.
Cheryl Pryer, headkeeper Wayne’s wife, heads up the kitchen at Eagle Hall’s shoot lodge and if her team hasn’t managed to fill you up after a generous elevenses and shoot dinner at the day’s end then you’ve got a stronger appetite than most. Should you prefer to head to a local hostelry, you’ll have to take it steady between the shoot and the A46 to make sure you can count all the pubs along the route: the Lord Nelson Inn at Besthorpe and the Grey Horse Inn, Royal Oak and King’s Head (all Collingham) are all worthy of your patronage.