The art of shooting (and cooking) game

I love game, me. Not the great game, of course, which is football. But game, real game, the sort that was running about in hedgerows and copses, and in fields of spent brassicas and wintry stubbles, until you shot it. At this time of year there’s nothing better, to my mind, than a day out in the country with a gun and a dog, shooting a few brace of pheasant or duck, and then taking them home for a bit of butchery. People talk about from farm to fork. Good for them. I think from trigger to tongue is even better. I know that butchery sounds grisly and may be

Are the builder boyfriend and I falling apart?

After the landowner told us to be out in three weeks, then admitted we had three months to move our horses under the terms of our lease, the search began. We set about putting my house on the market and looking for a place with a few acres, but it was soon clear we were not going to find anything in budget. With the clock ticking on our notice period at the farm we’ve been renting, we had to look for livery for the horses. The timing could hardly be worse. Vacancies don’t tend to come up as winter approaches. But I always find the Good Lord provides when your

The end of an era: after 20 years we must move our horses off the farm

The letter arrived in a hand-addressed envelope, inside of which was a handwritten note. After everything we have been through, we were expecting something typed, from a solicitor. It began by politely thanking us for looking after the land so well. But in the next paragraph, the landowner attempted to serve us three weeks’ notice to move our horses, claiming that was all she needed to give. We texted her immediately to say our lease states three months. She replied later to say three weeks had been a mistake, she meant three months. She tried to make light of it. But we already know we are losing our smallholding because

We have incurred the wrath of the shoot boys

Since telling the shoot we won’t let them use the land we rent, we have been beset by a series of unfortunate events. It began more than a year ago now, when we first dug in our heels and said there were to be no standing guns in the fields where we keep our horses. The lady who owns the land backed us. They didn’t help themselves by demanding to use it for free. The idea was, we pay the rent and move our horses somewhere else during the shooting season so they can shoot pheasants in it. I don’t think so. They argued that they had established a recent

The shooting of a journalist – and the dark world of Dutch organised crime

In an attack that has rocked the Netherlands, a leading Dutch crime reporter is fighting for his life in hospital after being shot in broad daylight. Last night, at around 7.30 p.m., the investigative crime journalist Peter R De Vries was shot five times on a busy street in central Amsterdam after leaving a television studio where he was recording a talk-show. The horror on the face of the Amsterdam mayor was visible at a hastily-organised 11 p.m. press conference to discuss the attack, while tributes for De Vries flooded in from everyone from Dutch king Willem-Alexander to caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Rutte called the shooting ‘an attack on

How to take up shooting

With summer on its way and Covid restrictions (hopefully) easing, what better time than now to take up a new hobby? Clay shooting is a hugely popular sport in the UK – and we Brits are quite good at it too, with a team of five set to head to the Tokyo Olympics, and a tally of two bronzes from the 2016 Olympics. At the Commonwealth Games, Wales, England and Scotland are often at the top of the medals tables, too. It’s no surprise then that there are plenty of people all across the UK willing to teach you to shoot. Whether you’re looking to refine your skills ahead of

The joy of a day spent bagging almost no birds

The highlight of my country calendar is when I’m lucky enough to be invited to what even the host describes as ‘the world’s best worst shoot’. It’s the worst shoot because the bag is often truly atrocious. This year, for example, in the course of six or possibly seven drives — the details are hazy — we managed a total of nine birds between us. That works out at an average of one and one eighth of a bird per gun over an entire day. But still, disappointingly, we were well short of the all-time record low of three. I’d love to be able to blame this shaming tally on

Letters: Shoots should be about quality, not quantity

Bad sport Sir: At last a respected member of the shooting community has popped his head above the parapet. Patrick Galbraith has had the courage to express the view that many of us from the ‘bygone sporting era’ hold, but have either been too afraid of the commercial consequences, or too idle, to go public (‘Dangerous game’, 12 October). The shooting fraternity has done an awful job of educating newcomers about what constitutes a great day out. It has allowed quantity to prevail over quality. It has failed to ensure that appreciation of the ‘craic’ and the environment are an essential element of the experience. Like all activities, when you do

The commercialisation of shooting may kill the whole sport

A few years ago I was sitting on the sofa at Sandringham enjoying a ham sandwich with the Queen’s then-head gamekeeper, David Clarke. The thing about working for the royals, he said, is that if a drive’s a flop, they completely understand. What Clarke meant is that even if no royal bags a bird, they won’t complain. It’s about the day, not the numbers dead. Sandringham (unsurprisingly) provides a snapshot of a bygone sporting era, a time when most shooting syndicates were collections of friends and locals, before entrepreneurial types sussed there was a few quid to be made out of shooting. Nowadays, armed with just an iPhone, a bloke

When did ‘big girl’s blouse’ become an insult?

Fotherington-Thomas was introduced by Nigel Molesworth, the narrator of Down with Skool!, in 1953: ‘As you see he is skipping like a girlie he is uterly wet and a sissy.’ Geoffrey Willans featured the school sissy again in How to be Topp (also illustrated by Ronald Searle, who had spent time in a Japanese prison camp): ‘It is only fotherington-tomas you kno he sa Hullo clouds hullo sky he is a girlie and love the scents and sounds of nature.’ Last week, Sky News revealed what Boris Johnson said about David Cameron in private cabinet papers, after it had obtained an ‘unredacted’ copy of documents disclosed to court. The Prime

Lads and dads go out to play

Earlier this year I wrote a defence of driven shooting and ended by saying I hoped my children would have a chance to participate in the sport one day. Believe it or not, I wasn’t fishing for invitations. It was intended as a piece of liberal-baiting, on the assumption that any left-wing prude who disapproves of grown men spending a day shooting game birds would find the prospect of children being inducted into this ‘barbaric’ practice even more appalling. But it has in fact led to several invitations, for which I’m very grateful. The first was to spend a day grouse shooting in Yorkshire along with my three sons –

Stricter gun controls won’t turn American into Denmark – but they’d certainly help

There’s a scene in the touching Richard Linklater film Boyhood where the young Mason goes to visit the rural family of his estranged father and is given a Bible and shotgun for the first time. I felt a niggling terror watching it, remembering Chekhov’s maxim, that the film would end with the boy taking the gun to himself, or his family, or his school classmates. It’s understandable why the audience might fear the worst, seeing as America’s spree-killing epidemic seems to has no end in sight, with a new low reached on Sunday in Las Vegas. Why doesn’t America just ban the damn things, people ask, or at least make

All four of my kids will learn to shoot

I spent Monday morning being taught how to use a shotgun at E.J. Churchill, a shooting ground in High Wycombe. If you’re a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds you probably won’t approve, but it gets worse. I was with my friend Merlin Wright and we had taken our 12-year-old sons with us so that they could learn how to shoot, too. Needless to say, after they’d hit a few clays they were completely hooked and couldn’t wait to take aim at the real thing. Merlin brought his own gun and is an experienced shot, but I’m a bit of a novice. Until two years ago

Why Scotland’s rural communities need grouse shooting

Tomorrow, 12 August, is the ‘Glorious Twelfth’: the official start of the grouse-shooting season. This normally means plenty of tweed and guns heading north, in cars, in planes, and on the railways. This year, however, there’s something of a spanner in the works. Just weeks before the start of the season, ScotRail announced that they would be banning all guns on their trains. This is despite the fact that unloaded, properly licensed firearms are allowed on trains, as long as they are carried ‘in accordance with the law’. The sticking point here, however, is the part that says ‘with prior permission of the train company’. So if ScotRail have decided

Britain’s countryside is about far more than ‘good versus bad’, or ‘us versus them’

Last month, an article appeared in The Telegraph under the headline ‘Head of Wildlife Trust faces call to resign over hunting past’. An alternative headline could have been: ‘Anti-hunting activists have whole worldview turned upside down’, because that is really the only story here. The hunting past of Mike Bax, head of the Kent Wildlife Trust, is simply proof of what every pragmatic conservationist already knows: that hunting, shooting and fishing go hand in hand with conservation. Mr Bax has been a dedicated member of the Kent Wildlife Trust for 30 years. During that 30 years he has also hunted with a pack of beagles, which, if you don’t know,

Sherry to start

Someone came up with a century-old quotation plangent with irony and sadness: ‘The year 1916 was cursed: 1917 will surely be better.’ That was Tsar Nicholas II. Poor fellow: tragedy for him and his family, tragedy down the decades for tens of millions of his subjects. Its spectre is still haunting Russia. Although we raised a toast to the tsar’s memory, tragedy was far from our minds as we welcomed the latest New Year in a mood best described as eupeptic pessimism. Not hard to do: Dorset is one of the least dyspeptic places on earth. My friends who live there sometimes try to discourage me from praising their sweet

Is factual accuracy too much to ask from BBC presenters like Chris Packham?

On Sunday evening, the BBC presenter Chris Packham took to social media to tell the world that they should support his anti-shooting campaign because declining populations of lapwings are ‘still being shot’. Unfortunately for him, this is utter tosh. No one is shooting lapwings, as Packham acknowledged five hours later in an apology on Twitter. 12 hours after that, a similar retraction appeared on his Facebook page. Yet even now, almost 48 hours on, neither of the original posts have been deleted. This fixation with the passing of mere hours may sound petty, but in the context of social media 48 hours is a lifetime. Packham has 48,608 followers on

How can the BBC be allowed to break their own editorial standards?

I recently had the misfortune of featuring in a BBC documentary that repeatedly breached the corporation’s own editorial standards. I happened to be at the gym when word reached me that BBC Inside Out London wanted to interview me the following day. It was late in the evening, and I was told that the documentary was looking at game shooting and game meat, and the growing popularity of both in London. Not an anti-shooting piece at all, I was assured. Arriving at Regent’s Park for the interview, the team from the Beeb were decidedly furtive. There was much fiddling with phones and muttered conversations between interviewer and producer, in which

Dear Mary | 29 September 2016

Q. When an invitation to shoot arrives in the autumn, I have a sense of both excitement and dread. The dread is because at the end of the day, metropolitans request that the guns must each tip to the gamekeeper a sum far higher than would be the norm for traditional country folk. Indeed, in a ritual of trumping one another they often double the going rate. The shoot owner rarely intervenes since he is obviously keen for his keeper to receive as much as possible. It leaves someone like me (I am 20 and without a City salary) in an awkward situation. Either I put myself very much out

Field studies | 8 September 2016

Think back to any time you spent outside at school, and you’re most likely to recall a muddy sports field. At my school, one of the few times we were let loose into the surrounding countryside was when we took our Duke of Edinburgh’s award. Apart from that, the vast majority of our time was spent inside at our desks. Is that a good thing? The official curriculum might not factor in the great outdoors, but many schools have come to realise the benefits — both long-term and short-term — that being outside brings to their students. Traditionally, private schools have led the way in teaching youngsters about the ways