Shooting Gazette contributors select the pheasant shoots that have taken their fancy over the past few seasons
Every shoot is different in its own way. We asked our contributors for their nominations for their best pheasant shoots from seasons gone by and here is what they came up with, in no particular order…
1. Hornby shoot, Cumbria
“The best syndicate shoot I have ever visited” is how the editor described Hornby Shoot, which, until its recent closure, had been run in part or in full by the Hilton family since the 1950s. Nestling close to the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this syndicate shoot had a real family feel to it and made the most of its rolling topography, steep wooded hillsides and geographical signposts, including a drive straddling the River Wenning. There wasn’t an inch of ground the Hiltons, the Guns, beaters and their ancestors wouldn’t be able to tell you a story about, such were the deep roots that existed here. Lunch was a simple affair, taken in long, narrow huts where old friends caught up over doorstep sandwiches, real ale and ice slices as big as house bricks. The birds, well, they wouldn’t have looked out of place at some of the more famous names on our list – especially on No.1 Big Wood where the snap shooting was frankly incredible.
Set in 8,500 acres of parkland and with an English Gothic Revival house as its centrepiece, Apley, near Bridgnorth, the seat of Lord and Lady Hamilton, has a rich history and its current story is quite impressive too. The estate is home to a renowned farm shop, and sells game far and wide the whole year round, spreading the sporting message well beyond the peg. One Gun from the day seemed to sum it up perfectly, saying: “A 125-bird day here is worth 300 or 400 elsewhere. To be able to shoot such high-quality birds gives intense satisfaction.”
3. Consall Valley, Staffordshire
“An unlikely shoot location, but how it delivers” were John Walker’s opening words about this Staffordshire shoot, a carefully managed environment which has steadily grown in size and stature under the stewardship of the Pointon family. They began hosting shoot days here in 1999, with the majority of drives on this 1,200-acre estate now found on and alongside a block of 70-year-old pine and traditional woodland where challenging pheasants can be found in abundance, especially close to the myriad water features. Off the peg is as important as on for the Pointons; the uber-modern Bullpen, a bespoke oak-framed chalet that serves to supplement the beautifully executed main shoot lodge and the Hellfire Gunbus being prime examples of how they make your day extra special. For more information about shooting at Consall Valley, email Carl Pointon: firstname.lastname@example.org
Of all the shoots in the Bettws Hall portfolio that Shooting Gazette has visited over the past 31 years – we’ve done them all, more than once – the editor insisted that this be included, simply because he never stops talking about it. Set in jaw-droppingly beautiful landscaped grounds above the village of Berriew, the main house, home of the Corbett-Winders, is the perfect starting point for a day, one which will take in stunning views of Powys (especially in autumn) and imaginative drives set in woods and valleys that are home to the kind of birds that will make you wish your torso was made of plasticine. Prepare to be tested, treated and taken aback throughout and fasten your seat belt if Hanging Wood is on the game card. The shoot’s close proximity to Bettws HQ means that other pantheons in the portfolio, such as Plas Dinam and Brigands, aren’t far away, though based on our visit, we won’t judge anyone for taking back-to-back days at Vaynor Park.
Given that its castle was designed by John Nash (who designed Buckingham Palace and Brighton Pavilion) the question should really be, why wouldn’t Caerhays make our list? Chris Warren headed to this Cornish gem in November 2017 and was blown away by its whole offering. There’s something for everyone, from its long association with the Williams family (who’ve been in residence since the 1850s) and their splendid home to the high, curling pheasants on Old Park, which Chris identified as his drive of the day, if not the season. Special mention was also made of the culinary skills of chef Kevin Murray, who created a “lovely mix of tradition with the refined” where steak and ale pie, a rich chocolate mousse with Cornish clotted cream and a range of local cheeses were served along with red wine and port.
There is so much to see and do on this estate that you’ll have to set aside a week to see it all. Swinton has long been renowned for its grouse moor, but its pheasant offering is equally worthy of high praise. With drives close to two reservoirs, numerous wooded valleys and open fields with views of the Dales and North York Moors, there is plenty to catch the eye. The days are often led by Mark Cunliffe-Lister, Lord Masham, whose knowledge and genial approach to his hosting is something both admired and appreciated by his guests.
Anyone coming here for sport and staying at the Gothic hotel will be spoilt from the moment they arrive, with multiple bars and eateries available. The arrival of EJ Churchill’s new shooting ground at Swinton makes this an all-round experience not to be missed by anyone.