Richard Faulks reveals how one squirrel-heavy Rutland shoot is keeping Guns happy with an added clay flush at the end of the day, all for £35.
The first day on the Pickworth Wood Shoot in Rutland is well known for being a tough yomp! The wood covers 260 acres and the brambles and ground cover are still thick and lush in mid-October, before any heavy frosts have started the winter dieback. It’s a typical ‘walk one, stand one’ day in format, with 15 guns and ably run by keeper Adam Cope since 2010. Nobody is expecting a large bag or to shoot too many cartridges, but it’s a fantastic and social occasion nevertheless and all for very reasonable money.
Guns meet at the nearby Willoughby Arms for a bacon sandwich and coffee to steel themselves for a hard day ahead, doing what’s known locally as the “Pickworth goose step” over some of most the impenetrable undergrowth imaginable. If you’re contemplating joining a gym and like shooting, save yourself the gym money and join the shoot instead. This day will have your leg muscles burning and you’ll sweat out at least two stone. They really should make a Pickworth Wood Shoot workout DVD!
The wood is owned by the Forestry Commission and designated a SSSI and is reputedly the largest wood in Rutland. At its peak, when Adam was allowed to feed the wood, bags reached 60 head (pheasant, pigeon, squirrel, partridge, crows and even a guineafowl have made it into the bag), but the fear of leftover wheat germinating and disturbing the SSSI’s natural balance has meant that feeding is no longer allowed and numbers have dwindled to 25 head on average, though the fun factor remains high. After the feeding ban was imposed in 2012, Adam considered closing the shoot, but was convinced by the loyal team of Guns that the day out and the excuse for a social gathering was far more important than the bag total. To compensate, the idea of a clay flush at the end of the walkabout was conceived, mainly to ensure everybody had to clean their gun that evening, which is really the outcome that everybody wants.
Originally working with only two hand traps, the guarantee of some shooting, whatever the day had to offer, proved very popular and now that the Flurry Launcher traps are used, a thousand clays can be launched in rapid succession for the Guns.
The squirrel shoot
Often jokingly called the ‘squirrel shoot,’ pest control is an important part of the day at Pickworth, though magpies, jays, foxes, woodcock, stoats and weasels are not allowed to be shot, for reasons only clear to the Forestry Commission. It’s doubtful that any squirrel drays remain unmolested by the end of the four days shooting and they probably account for half of the cartridges shot.
The October day I visited was unseasonably warm, with clear skies and little wind to motivate the birds. Not perfect weather for the opening day at the wood, but that wasn’t going to dampen our excitement and such was the intensity of the sun, there were even some sun-blushed faces by the end of the day.
With so many leaves still on the trees, spotting birds overhead at that time of year is always challenging and they can arrive from any direction. With so few chances, it’s always worth checking over your shoulder for unwary pigeons or crows passing by. As the 10 walking Guns set off to the far end of the first drive to push the birds (or squirrels) back to the standing Guns, it was worth taking a moment to admire the woods, from the wide rides carved through the trees. One of the joys of shooting for me is time spent in beautiful places.
As distant gunfire echoed from the far end of the drive, the standing Guns raised their heads in anticipation, but it became clear that it was only the squirrels taking a beating. Adam’s always keen for the bag to have at least a few pheasants in it and you can almost feel the relief when the first bird is down, but as he is keeper on the neighbouring Pickworth Grange Shoot as well, it’s a difficult balancing act. But with a great working relationship with the shoot owner and the understanding that the Wood Shoot won’t take liberties, everything seems to work very well.
Adam said: “There are certain areas of the wood that will be full of birds first thing in the morning, with a little planning and local knowledge a massacre of too many pheasants can be avoided by allowing time for the birds to head out to the covers, leaving a couple for the bag.” Micky Johnson was the name of the lucky Gun to get this season’s first pheasants down, which put a smile on Adam’s face. The next few drives were tough and vigilance was needed to spot the ever-present fallow deer population and give them a safe and early exit away from the Guns. This is not easy when you can only see a little way ahead.
Each of the seven blocks of wood were pushed through and the bag filled up, though it was clear the weather and thick undergrowth were going to stop this from being a bumper day. Not that you could tell that from the happy red faces as everybody met after the final drive, weary but contented with the day so far. On most shoot days, that would be it, back to the pub for tea and medals. However, here we were on to the clays!
Clay flush finale
As you’d expect from a group of like-minded game shooters, most of the time in the flush is spent poaching clays from your neighbour and ribbing them. You really couldn’t come up with a better team-building exercise. When asked by one of the Guns how many cartridges he would need, I’d guessed at 50. Luckily, he ignored me and took 100. At the end of the flush, he’d got through over 90! In total, there were roughly 1,400 shots at 1,000 clays and plenty of creative excuses as to why the misses happened – all taken with a pinch of salt.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, most evenings there is a shoot supper for Guns, wives and anybody else that fancies it and this is when the result of the sweep for the number of cartridges shot on the walk around is announced. Anything from 160 to 300. Everything about the day is social.
Such is the popularity of the shoot locally, it now has a waiting list and just the day I was there three guests asked to be considered if places become free. Adam was told by one shoot enthusiast that he couldn’t believe how all the Guns were smiling so much when they returned to the pub at the end of the day. It’s clearly not all about big bags and spending loads of money. Great sport for all at just 35 pounds, including the clay flush. A cheap and great day out!