Sir Nicolas Soames, the MP for Mid Sussex, on side-by-sides, shooting with the Astors, the forthcoming EU vote and decoying pigeons.
Sir Nicolas Soames MP was interviewed in the May 2016 issue of Shooting Gazette.
Robert Cuthbert: What was last season like?
Sir Nicolas Soames: “It was fantastic, a bit patchy, but I did have an amazing grouse season. I was lucky enough to shoot some wild grey partridge, but they weren’t prolific last season, and some pheasants, but pheasants are pheasants. I’ve just shot some pigeon, which was great fun. I normally go and shoot some partridges in Spain at the end of the season but I wasn’t able to do that this year.”
Robert Cuthbert: If you had to force an MP to share a peg with you?
Sir Nicolas Soames: “Henry Bellingham or Richard Benyon; he’s a very good shot, actually. There are a lot of people who shoot here. I just haven’t shot with them. I had been shooting a long time before I became an MP.”
Robert Cuthbert: What are your earliest shooting memories?
Sir Nicolas Soames: “Spending two seasons walking with my father with a 28 bore with no cartridges. I’d stand in front of him, learning how to swing and follow through a bird. He took me out shooting squirrels and rabbits, but as far as game was concerned I had to spend two seasons with him so he was absolutely satisfied I was completely safe. I learned to shoot with an old keeper in Sussex. I shot my first pheasant when I was 14 years old at Hever Castle in Kent, with the Astor family. My father used to shoot a lot in Sussex and around there. We used to shoot at Leeds Castle, Lady Baillie’s wonderful shoot, run by someone called Captain Bobby Evans, who was great fun. Then I went away to the Army and inevitably one grows up and develops one’s own shooting life.”
Robert Cuthbert: Do you still have the 28 bore?
Sir Nicolas Soames: “We do. We have a pair. My children shot with them and my youngest son still shoots with one of them now. My brothers, sisters and my nephews and one of their nieces all learned to shoot with them. My father bought them cheaply in the early 1960s because he had three sons. I went straight to a 12 from the 28 bore and I’m pondering whether or not to do that with my own son or whether he should go to a 28 bore first.”
Robert Cuthbert: Presumably they are side-by-sides?
Sir Nicolas Soames: “Certainly…by God !”
Robert Cuthbert: What do you use now?
Sir Nicolas Soames: “I had the most beautiful pair of William Evans shotguns, given to me as a wedding present. Unfortunately, although they had been restored, they were light guns and some of these older English guns were not made for modern cartridges. They kept breaking down on me and eventually I sold them and bought a pair of AYA No.2s; they’re heavier, which I rather like, because it helps with your swing. They are 100 per cent reliable. I think they are the most marvellous guns. I also have a Webley & Scott boxlock that I use for shooting pigeon.”
Robert Cuthbert: Do you decoy pigeons or do you flight them in?
Sir Nicolas Soames: “Both. I have just been re-reading Archie Coats and Will Garfit. I’m actually going to go on Will’s wonderful pigeon shooting course in July. There is a lovely man, who is a professional pigeon shooter, who I went out with the other day and I learned so much from him. I absolutely love it. I did so much of it when I was younger and haven’t done so much of it as I’ve got older but it is just such fun.”
Sir Nicolas Soames on high birds, the EU vote and decoying…
Robert Cuthbert: Are you a fan of very high pheasants?
Sir Nicolas Soames: “I love shooting high pheasants. I think one is incredibly lucky to shoot driven pheasants of any type but I do love shooting high pheasants, yes. When I say high, I mean, I think you can go to where you are going to do more damage than not. I only have one pair of guns. I don’t have special choked guns and I don’t use very heavy cartridges and I want to do the business properly. I go in for the science of trying to shoot them properly without the science of different barrels and all that rubbish.”
Robert Cuthbert: And the forthcoming vote on the EU…
Sir Nicolas Soames: “I am a staunch pro-European and always have been but that’s got f*** all to do with shooting grouse.”
Robert Cuthbert: But do you fear…
Sir Nicolas Soames: “No, I look back on the history of our near neighbours on the continent and I understand that we cannot not be part of all that. I think it would be completely absurd not to be. I rely on BASC, the Countryside Alliance and all those marvellous organisations that spend a lot of time trying to get it right, which they do. I think they do a fantastic job. You know, the GWCT is absolutely amazing. If you had any idea how brilliant it is and what it does in Parliament. You know, if it says it, the government will accept it completely. Its science is regarded very highly.
“I think anyone who shoots owes the GWCT a huge debt and all the other shooting organisations that all have their role, they all have their audience and they all do a bloody good job. It’s all to defend and to protect something we all love. More strength to their forearms is my view.”