I'm just back from a fascinating trip to Scotland, courtesy of Italian gunmaker Benelli who are keen to promote their 20-bore semi-autos for rough shooting. Our group of 35 comprised gun distributors and sporting journalists from all over Europe. We stayed at the fabulous Gleneagles Hotel, and split into four groups for two days of mixed shooting an hour or so's drive from the hotel, all booked through Graeme Irvine who acts as Benelli/Montefeltro's sporting agent for Scotland.
My group included Karl Waktare and Robert Frampton from UK Benelli distributor GMK, Alistair Balmain from Shooting Times, Benelli commercial director Lucio Porreca and chief engineer Tito Micheli, and a couple of Romanians whose names I never did catch and couldn't have spelt. The first day did for them anyway, so they missed out on the second day.
First day we went to the Cardross Estate near Aberfoyle, where we walked for what seemed like a very long time through some fabulous woodcock country - a tangle of birch scrub with a peaty, mossy floor and patches of dry bracken. There weren't many woodcock in evidence, but I managed to bag one with the last shot of the day. I was most touched by Tito's reaction to the bird - talk about respect for the quarry, the Italians really do love the woodcock.
Next day we travelled to the Urlar Estate near Aberfeldy, where keeper Craig Morris and his team (including wife Jane and children Emma and Craig jr) laid on a great mixed day, with driven partridges, pheasants and duck. A light fall of snow added to the atmosphere of the day. That's us pictured at the top of this post - from the left: Karl, Alistair, Tito, Craig, Lucio, Robert, underkeeper Tom McKenzie, Jane, me, and Craig jr.
Here's Alistair taking a fine shot at a partridge on the first drive. If you look closely you can see the empty shell ejecting from his Benelli 20-bore; not something you'll see often at a driven shoot in Britain. What was it like shooting driven birds with a semi-auto? You'll have to read our February issue to find out (on sale at the beginning of Jan).
Among the many lovely people I met on this trip, I really must mention Mick Tarbet who drove the minibus on the second day. We chatted non-stop there and back, covering every subject from crows to muntjac to fishing flies. He's a knowledgeable chap, and I learnt some useful tricks with snares, "duck's arse" feathers and much more. Plus it turns out there are several people we both know, including Jim Tod at Tarvie. Small world.
I was touched when, at the end of the day, Mick insisted on giving me his stick, a lovely sturdy piece topped with the antler of a deer he shot. I anticipated problems getting it past airport security, but the staff at Edinburgh Airport didn't bat an eyelid - they just stuck a label round it and put it through as "oversize baggage". I shall look forward to using the stick, which will always bring back memories of the trip.
People sometimes tell me I must have the most amazing job, with loads of invitations to shoot. Well, it's not like that most of the time, but after this trip I really do feel very lucky indeed to be able to combine earning a living with my passion for shooting and the outdoors.