An ambitious young team at the Knoll shoot wrestles a fantastic shoot day from the ruinous clutches of terrible weather. Emma Harris reports.
Take a peaceful part of the Somerset countryside, add a dedicated team and a generous dollop of showcase drives for those with tight chokes and the ability to match. The result is the perfect recipe for the ultimate day’s shooting.
The first frost of the year greeted me as I travelled to the village of Faulkland, 10 miles south of Bath, ahead of a day at the Knoll shoot. Set within Lord Hylton’s estate, the Knoll shoot is well-established and spreads over 2,600 acres of countryside, with woodland and game cover set within soft, undulating hills. There are 20 drives in total here, ranging from small, secluded sections to big, sweeping woodlands from which birds soar. They are all drives requiring a good eye and a fast trigger finger.
Langdon Turner and James Francis have run the shoot for five seasons, shooting roughly twice a week, with bag sizes averaging 150 birds. The valleys are just the right height to make the birds as sporting as they come, as they rise from steep woodlands and large grass fields.
The headkeeper at the Knoll shoot is headkeeper is George Spiller. He has been at the shoot for three years and has put many hours into his role, working hard to ensure everyone enjoys good sport. He wants to see the shoot grow in reputation and is openly proud of everything the team is achieving here. There are now more game covers than ever before and even wild bird crops have been established. Pheasant pens have been enlarged to benefit the higher drives and to keep up with the demand and the high standards.
On arriving at the Knoll shoot I was warmly greeted by Langdon and James, a roaring fire and hot coffee in a shoot lodge that nestles in amongst the surrounding woodland. The guns greeted each other with vigour, as talk turned to the day ahead and pegs were drawn while enjoying a tot of sloe gin. Instructions were given by George and included a warning that if a white pheasant was shot then every gun – except the person who shot it – must donate £10 each.
There was much speculation as to who would make everyone empty their pockets. Not that anyone would mind as any money handed over is kindly donated to the local air ambulance, something they have done at the Knoll for a while, raising just over £1,500 last year.
On to the shooting at the Knoll shoot
We set out for L Shape, the first drive of the day. With the weather ever changing we encountered heavy rain that looked set to stay, but this didn’t seem to affect the sport or the guns’ spirits as the birds flew out of the cover. L Shape was a lovely drive to start the day and ensured everyone had a chance to get their eye in. Needless to say, all guns came away with smiles on their faces despite their attire being rather soggy.
Not to be disheartened by the weather, we got back into the vehicles and navigated our way to the next drive. The rain was now easing and we had a short walk through a wood with the Wellow brook trickling its way through the middle. We stepped out onto a drive called Pylons, where there are now none present, the last one having been removed in 2013. With these eyesores gone, one has the most spectacular view of the opposite hillside from where the birds are driven. The sun was out, the guns lined up and the air was filled with high birds. Guns at each end of this drive had their fair share of sport, as the birds were steadily pushed from the cover above our heads into the woodland behind. This ended with a crescendo as the beaters reached the middle and flushed out the last birds, the sound of gunshot filling the air.
With skies much clearer now and the chances of more rain ebbing away, we headed for Ringwood. Langdon told me that in the past, birds – predominantly Manchurian-cross and 50 per cent Melanistics – have taken to curling round the edges on this drive, but with guns positioned from one end of the wood to the other, they had all angles covered.
A late elevenses at the Knoll shoot
Albeit a little later than planned, much-needed soup and nibbles were eaten back at the shoot lodge ahead of the last drive. The talk was of high birds and cartridge selection and the debate, I’m sure, could have gone on well into the afternoon. But with the skies looking menacing and the temperature dropping, it was time to load up and drive the short distance to Ranscombe. With a mixture of game cover and a sweeping curled wood, it was only a matter of time before the show started. Father and daughter team Frank and Sarah Shellard were sharing a gun for this drive, and the desire to swap over quickly enough that each could reap the rewards was obvious. At every peg, barrels were frantically reloaded and some guns cursed the fact they had not pocketed enough cartridges.
We were then taken back to the shoot lodge where we found the table laid and the coffee brewing. This, along with the unmistakable smell of roast beef, couldn’t have been more welcoming. After drinks the guns and their hosts sat down to recount the day over supper.
As I headed back down the A361, I had a smile on my face remembering the drives we had enjoyed. I cannot help but conclude that this really is a lovely shoot, with an utterly dedicated team, whose hard work and commitment have made the Knoll shoot one that makes you want to come back for more.
For information about shooting opportunities at the Knoll shoot, contact Langdon Turner on 07971 666648.