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What is a rough day’s shooting?

If you go roughshooting nothing is really organised and numbers are totally irrelevant. It's all about good old-fashioned hunting, says Nick Ridley

walked-up woodcock

Last week, I received an email from one of the subscribers to my YouTube channel. He had been watching one of the latest head-cam videos and he asked what the difference is between a walked-up and a rough shoot, which got me thinking. The first thought that came to mind is that at times my shooting can be, well, variable and many would consider it pretty rough! But, in truth, I think there is a difference.

First of all, I would say that if you go roughshooting then nothing is really organised. You would have a wander around your permission with your dog and perhaps a fellow Gun and pretty much anything legal that presents itself would be fair game. You would be hunting hedges and edges and you would be relying on a bit of field craft as well as the dog to find and flush your quarry. Numbers are totally irrelevant, if you shoot a wily old cock pheasant or a fleeing bunny it really doesn’t matter, it’s about good old-fashioned hunting.

cock pheasant

A wily cock pheasant is fair game while roughshooting

Comparison with walked-up shoot days

On the other hand, I would consider a walked-up shoot day to be more organised and normally held on keepered shoots. You may still be doing the wild bird mix covercrops, but it is likely the bag will be bigger – although large numbers is not usually the requirement. Between a 15 and 25 head is perfect for a team of four or five Guns, and believe me, you will need a couple of pockets full of cartridges, as the shooting isn’t easy. Bramble runners try to grab your legs like triffids and trees, bushes and hedges get in the way of your aim. Coupled with the fact that you have to keep an eye on an increasingly excitable spaniel and all the while being aware of where your fellow Guns are walking, this is not for the faint hearted.

Shooting over our dogs

I have recently read that finding this kind of informal shooting is becoming increasingly difficult, but to be honest over the past couple of years my little roving roughshooting syndicate, “The Circle of Trust”, has managed to secure some great shooting. Even this season we have found another three new shoots to visit. We are totally self-contained, we like to shoot over our dogs, we all have 4×4 vehicles and we always have a bucket full of laughs at the ready. I think it is this relaxed and easygoing attitude that our hosts enjoy. We book our bag, but it’s no big deal if we don’t get it. We are happy as long as we all have managed to pull the trigger and warm the barrels and that the dogs have had a few flushes.

Last season we tried out some new ground in Evesham, Worcestershire, belonging to Norman and Sandra Onens of Kestralway Gundogs.

Labrador retrieving at rough shoot

A bag of between 15 and 25 is perfect for a team of four to five guns

We had a really good day, so this season we decided to book a few more days and what a good decision it turned out to be. I was particularly excited, as during the close season I had become all nostalgic and gone vintage. I had always wanted an old traditional English side-by-side, although I could never afford a really expensive one and with the kind of shooting I enjoy I didn’t want something that I would always be worrying about scratching the wood or dinging a barrel. I managed to find a really sweet little 20-bore boxlock made by T. Newton of Manchester. It was being sold by a local gunsmith and he had just had it reproofed, as he had to shorten the barrels because the ends had been damaged. It now has 24¾in barrels, with pretty much full open chokes – perfect for walked-up shooting especially in woodland.

A vintage gamebag

From what I have managed to glean from the internet it was made around 1914 and I love the fact that more than 100 years ago someone was very excited about getting a new gun and trying it out on their first shoot – I bet it could tell a few stories!

Anyway that led on to another quest to find a vintage Brady of Halesowen gamebag. As many readers will know, Brady bags are the Rolls Royce’s of game and fishing bags and new ones sell for well over £180 – even second-hand ones still make strong money. After months of searching and bidding failures on eBay, I managed to find one that had been listed incorrectly and therefore it had very little interest. After a nail-biting bidding session I got it for £25, plus a bit of postage. Now, I am not normally very successful at getting bargains and they nearly always backfire on me, but when the bag arrived I was pleasantly surprised. All the leatherwork, brass fittings and netting looked as though they had never been used. The canvas was faded and well worn, but in perfect condition, I was very happy.

On arriving at the shoot I un-sleeved my recent purchase and my fellow Guns straight away got stuck in with the quips. “Ha ha, look he’s got a peashooter!”; “You know what they say about men with small barrels”; “What are you going to do with that – hold up a bank?” They went on for some considerable time, in fact it went on all day and eventually it was decided that the gun would be named, “Barkley” after the bank, but with a doggy twist to it – very funny!

A “fast” gun

The ground at the shoot has been specifically planted and developed for walked-up shooting over dogs and I was in heaven, the cover was a mix of rough grass, young planation and strips of wild bird mix and gamecover. It was thick enough so the birds sat tight, but not so heavy that it took its toll on the spaniels. Mind you, I was glad I had sprayed the cockers with some Tail & Mane as there was plenty of burrs and thistle heads clinging on to their ears and leg feathers to make them look like they were trying to be camouflaged snipers – it saved me plenty of grooming time when I got home.

As we set off I felt quite smug, as it was a warm day and we would be doing a lot of walking. The other lads all had 12-bores, which would be getting heavy as the day drew on while my little gun felt as light as a feather. As we hit a patch of thistles that ran alongside the edge of a small pond, Harry, my cocker, flushed a hen pheasant that scudded out behind me and headed out over the pond.

I have often heard the saying that a gun is “fast”, and the T. Newton came up very fast. Instinctively, I slipped the safety catch and found the front trigger. I had decided to use slightly lighter loads, as it is an old gun and 23gr of lead headed out towards the fleeing pheasant, the shot quickly caught up and she dropped like a stone out in the pond.

A nice retrieve

Harry had stopped nicely to the flush, but was unsighted because of the cover. But, over the years he has developed an uncanny ability to know in what direction I have shot and as I gave him the “get out” command he went straight out along the bank came level with the bird and powered out into the water, he made a nice retrieve and it was smiles all round and a good start to the day. The day just got better and better – we saw plenty of birds, we all had plenty of shots and we probably laughed a bit too much. I got eye-wiped by the keeper’s dog and just for a fleeting moment thought I might buy a Labrador. When we got back to the vehicles and I was having a well-earned cup of tea before I realised that my shooting kit including Dave, my old Series 2A Land Rover, Barkley, the vintage shotgun, the Brady gamebag, and my ever increasing oldness was probably in excess of 200 years old!