Game shooting at Devon Castle.
Far away from the hustle and bustle of the city, hidden away amongst the rolling south Devonshire hills close to the River Dart, lie the ruins of Berry Pomeroy Castle, a haunting structure originally built in the 12th century for Norman knight, Ralph de Pomeroy, as a reward for his loyal services to William the Conqueror.
For many years, part of the castle’s 2,800 acre estate was a deer park where the Normans would hold court and hunt. Although the French nobility may now be no more, sport has remained. Spread over 2,000 acres, with two beats containing an impressive 27 drives, the shoot is encircled by an ancient deer wall, providing guns with a constant reminder of times past. There are still deer to be found, but the roe roam in secret.
Each drive is walkable so guns have the opportunity to take in all around them. Six tenant farms are scattered about the estate, two adding a dairy population to the land, but there is little from the outside world to disturb the tranquil landscape.
Shoot manager, Howard Green, who also acts as the keeper, has overseen the smaller beat, Longcombe, for the past five years, and last year a change in circumstances led to him gaining the Castle beat, resulting in a three-fold increase in the number of drives under his stewardship.
Howard, who had worked as a keeper on a Belgian shoot for five years prior to coming to Devon, is candid about the new acquisition and the increasing size of the shoot itself: “Last year we did a bit of pick and choose about what we could do but it takes 12 months to get the feel for the land. The Longcombe beat is very popular, people always want to go and shoot there, especially because of Harcombe Lane which offers the highest pheasants.”
In these stunning surroundings, those taking part in any of the 22 let days on the estate will be in for a challenging time and at £24 a bird, this is certainly value for money.”
“We always aim for 150 bird days when shooting with eight guns, although it can go up to 250 depending on the quality of the team,” said Howard. “The guns have to be versed with quality birds. Then again, that’s what people pay for. The Longcombe Down drive is the one everybody always wants to end the day on. It’s up a very remote valley and is a pretty place, but you can only really take the most experienced guns there.
Peter Woolmer is part of a roving syndicate which has shot on the Castle beat in the past and concurs with the assessment of the surroundings and the need for guns to be alert when tackling the pheasants. “The Castle beat has good topography and on one or two of the drives you really have to sort yourself out. We shot just above the normal bag, but you do not want to be faint hearted. It (the Castle beat) is one of the best new shoots I have seen in a long time.”
There are plans afoot to increase the number of birds put down, and new pens are already being built and existing ones increased in size to cater for the higher population. It is hoped that the anticipated increase in bird numbers will in turn lead to an increase in the number of let days from the current figure of 22 to 30.
The number of drives should be increasing too, with plans to develop a block of 600 acre woodland in time for next season which in itself will offer a whole new day’s worth of shooting. There is also a big programme of hedge replanting current taking place and a study into barn owls in conjunction with the Game Conservancy Trust.
After the shoot day, guns head for The Wellington Inn, in nearby Ipplepen, where the day’s bag is laid out for the guns before the shoot dinner and traditional bunfight. An acquaintance of Howard’s is a local butcher and will process the game, so guns and locals have the chance to consume the spoils. Given the strong sense of community in the shoot, you wouldn’t expect them to have it any other way.