Wednesday 31 October 2007

Ted Andrews illustration

I love the regular cartoons that Ted Andrews creates for the magazine, but he has really surpassed himself with a special illustration for Jackie Drakeford's article in our Christmas issue (out at the end of November). This is a detail from his piece, which shows a day's rabbiting.

If you're a fan of Ted's work, check out our online auction of one of his original works, being sold to raise funds for NOBs.

Saturday 27 October 2007

Leatherman Charge Ti

Being in the business of outdoors journalism, over the years I've used just about every multi-tool ever invented.

Many are rubbish. Some are ok. But to my mind Leatherman have always been the best - and this is the best Leatherman I've seen so far.

It's the Charge Ti. Like any multi-tool, it's got a list of tools and features - needlenose pliers, straight and serrated blades, saw, screwdrivers, can/bottle opener, etc.

But just comparing a list of gadgets is missing the point. Many multi-tools feel like a lump of scrap metal in your hand. This one just feels right. Like a well-balanced knife or hammer, it fills your hand with a good, solid feel. You feel in control. The edges are rounded so they don't dig into your palm, and the stippled surface gives extra grip.

Other tools have a habit of pinching you as you fold or unfold them. Don't ask me how, but the Leatherman simply doesn't. Good design, I guess. That good design is apparent in all sorts of little details. Look at the liner lock that holds the main blades open, for instance (highlighted by the red arrow in the photo - click the pic for a larger version). It locks automatically as you open the blade (which can be done one-handed), it holds the blade safely open, yet you can release it and close the blade again with one hand when you're done. And the locking mechanism for the smaller tools is effective and easy to use too.

Plus the Charge Ti has a pair of scissors built in, something that I find really useful (eg for fishing) and which is lacking on many tools.

What really impresses me about the Charge Ti is the sheer quality of engineering. Some tools actually rattle if you shake them. No chance of that here. Everything fits together like the lockwork on a fine gun.

This is a top quality tool that will last a lifetime and is a real pleasure to use. More info on the Whitby & Co website. Price around £120, with leather or nylon pouch.

Dubarry Wexford boots

As someone brought up in rubber wellies or leather walking boots, I was always a little wary of people who wore leather wellies. It just didn't seem natural.

Then a year or so ago I got a call from a very nice person at Dubarry who insisted, in the nicest possible way, that I tried their Wexford boots.

Well, it seemed rude to refuse, but I was sure I'd hate them and go back to rubber wellies as soon as I'd given the Wexfords a token try-out.

I was wrong! These really are the most comfortable wellies I've ever used. They insulate your feet much better than rubber, so you don't get frozen toes waiting for the drive to start. They breathe well, too, so your feet don't get sweaty. And they are even comfortable enough to walk in. I won't be using them for hill stalking - they don't fit tight enough round your ankles to give the support of a walking boot - but they're fine for a day's beating.

Plus they have a Gore-Tex lining, so they really are totally waterproof - earlier this year I stood in a Scottish loch, with the water lapping round the upper leather band, for two hours, and not a drop came through.

So I don't care if my so-called friends make jokes about musketeers or village people. I'm throwing away my rubber wellies and wearing these in future. I'll have the last laugh when their toes freeze!

Other points: the zips look nice but I've found I never bother - the boots slip on and off easily without undoing them. And the soles have a really good pattern, similar to a Vibram sole, which gives excellent grip on rock and grass.

Tempted? See them here but be warned - they cost £275!

Meet the ferrets

I realised I hadn't introduced my ferrets on this blog yet, and with the ferreting season approaching I thought it was long overdue - so here they are. An entire hob and two jills, they have a large run and two hutches at the end of the garden. I feed them on James Wellbeloved complete ferret food, which saves all the bother of feeding raw meat (like the ferrets hiding rotting chunks of meat in their bed, for instance).

I have a selection of purse nets (about half of them bought, and the other half made myself) and a 50-yard long-net, and I use a Deben Ferret Finder 3 (best invention ever). Sometimes, such as when there's just too much undergrowth, I'll shoot the rabbits rather than net them.

I should be out ferreting a few times from November onwards, so I'll add a few posts to let you know how I get on.

Friday 26 October 2007

Just what we don't need

Sad to see this story in the Daily Mail today, and on the paper's website. On the face of it, someone at the Queen's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk was seen to shoot two hen harriers. But look closer and it's all supposition - someone from Natural England, and a couple of 'members of the public' heard a bang, and thought they saw what they thought was a hen harrier fall from the sky. Twice (a right and left?). Add two and two to make five - and you have a headline-grabbing story about the Queen's gamekeeper shooting rare birds. A similar story appears on the BBC website.

So how did it make the papers? Well there wasn't a journalist standing watching at the time. So one can only assume that someone from Natural England - either officially or unofficially - called up the paper with their 'hot news story'.

And what really happened? Time will tell. In the meantime, where is the quote from NGO or BASC emphasising all the sound conservation work that's done by shooters and keepers? I'm prepared to bet that neither the Mail nor the BBC thought to ask them for a comment.

Update Wed 31 Oct: Hard to believe that Prince Harry is now in the frame for the alleged killing (story here). Apparently "the Prince and a friend were the only people known to be shooting in the area last Wednesday when the two hen harriers were killed".

There are still huge gaps in the story though. Like, where are the dead harriers? And why is is that the spokesman for Natural England "heard a shot and saw one of them fall and heard another shot and saw that one fall"? Does sound travel faster than light in Norfolk these days?

Thursday 25 October 2007

Robbery outside Shooter office

Breaking news, as they say on the telly: this is a bit off topic, but within the last half hour there was a robbery on a security van outside the window of the Shooter office. The photo shows the view from our office window, as more and more police cars pile up outside.

Update: Piecing together comments from various people, it seems that a lone woman security guard was collecting cash from a local shop. Two lads spotted an opportunity, pushed her to the ground and made off with the bag. They hadn't really thought it through, however - their car was parked 200 yards up the side street, and several people saw them get in and drive off, and someone got the car's number. The car belonged to one of them, so the cops won't have too hard a job tracking them down.

Monday 22 October 2007

The Wild Gourmet effect

"Shooting needs its own Ray Mears"

Several shooters have commented to me about the new flush of game cookery programmes on British TV. You can hardly turn on the telly now without seeing some earnest-looking chap (or girl) walking out with a gun, shooting some wildlife, chopping it up and eating it - all the while explaining why it's the natural, sustainable and tasty thing to do.

Great! This all helps to get our message across, and portray shooting in a good light. The fact that TV editors are prepared to let this happen proves that there's been a mood change. Shooting to eat is acceptable again. Carrying and using sporting guns is acceptable again.

But there's something even more important going on here.

People tend to think in stereotypes. We all do it. What picture comes into your head when someone says... 'fireman', 'rock star', 'teacher'? Now think hard about that image. Is it accurate? Is it favourable? Are all firemen, rock stars or teachers like that?

Say 'gamekeeper' or 'game shooter' to the average member of the public and they picture a grumpy, arrogant, tweed-clad fool with a gun, killing everything in sight until there's nothing left to kill. It's not fair, but they do.

We need to replace that image with something fit for the 21st centry - and the quickest, most effective way to do that is with TV personalities. Shooting needs its own Ray Mears. We ain't got one yet, but Tommi Miers and Guy Grieve, Channel 4's The Wild Gourmets (pictured above), are the closest we've come so far.

I'd like to think they were the result of some far-thinking PR on the part of the shooting organisations. I suspect, however, it's more of a happy accident.

Comments? Click on the 'comments' link in the next line, and have your say.

Sunday 21 October 2007

Sporting Shooter podcast - episode 6

Here's the latest episode of the podcast. This month we visit a pheasant shoot near Salisbury in Wiltshire to meet Doug Titt, the winner of our Beater of the Year Award for ‘06-07. We also talk to Mark Elliott of NOBs, and visit the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s partridge demonstration project at Royston with Dr Stephen Tapper. To listen now, just click the 'play' button on the gadget below...

Friday 19 October 2007

Lords v Commons

I'm just back from the annual Lords v Commons clay shoot, organised by BASC. This year it was run as a simulated game day at Squerryes Court, near Westerham in Kent.

It was a fun and interesting day, although not quite as I'd expected. Having never attended this event before, I'd imagined a bunch of MPs who'd never handled a gun, being introduced to the sport. In fact it was more like preaching to the choir - all the guns looked like they spent most of their spare time on a grouse moor or a driven pheasant peg. Still, it was a good chance to hear about the political side of our sport from the horse's mouth.

At lunch we had short presentations from Mark Elliott of NOBs, and Judith Howell, BASC's politics and policy officer. Discussions afterwards ranged from the Revenue going after beaters' "wages", to the Shoot Assurance Scheme, to whether big commercial shoots are a threat to the sport.

Plus there's a bit of concern about the trophy. Apparently it's gone missing and no-one is owning up to knowing where it is. Policians, eh - can't trust 'em!

Filter tip

Here's a smokers' tip from Mark Elliott of NOBs... To stop your fag packet getting soggy and crushed in your pocket, buy one of those tins of strong mints, eat the mints (or throw them away!) and keep your cigs and lighter in the tin. Handy for stalking, wildfowling etc, as well as beating. If you need to move quietly, just remember to pack it tight so it doesn't rattle.

Thursday 18 October 2007

I meet our award-winning beater

Doug Titt, Beater of the Year

Today I joined the Elcombe shoot at Alvediston, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, for their first day of the season - and met Doug Titt, the winner of our Beater of the Year Award for '06-07.

It's a real family affair, with farmer Trevor running things, his wife Sue helping out and cooking up a hearty lunch, and daughter Christina keepering. It was a glorious sunny day, and everyone was enjoying getting back out shooting again after the close season. You couldn't ask for a warmer welcome than I received, and the whole atmosphere of the day was fabulous.

Trevor and Christina

Doug himself is a real inspiration. A keen pigeon shooter, he had been beating and picking-up at Elcombe for 6 or 7 years when, last July, he suffered a stroke. He was in hospital for more than 3 months, but couldn't wait to get back to the shoot: "That's all that's worth living for," he told me. "When I was in hospital, it just wasn't worth waking up in the morning."

Doug's black lab, Missy

He went out on the shoot at the end of last season, first just sitting in the pick-up and then getting out to work his black lab, Missy. That's when keeper Christina nominated him for our award - and when Mark Elliott of NOBS and myself judged the entries, Doug's story really stood out.

Doug picking-up on the shoot

Doug was great company - as were the rest of the bunch at Elcombe. He's always ready with a quip or a joke, and keeps a very positive outlook despite the difficulties he has to overcome: he suffers fits every now and again, which he finds very draining, and he's bought extra-warm fur-lined boots as he finds his feet get very cold now.

You won't hear him complaining though - he's always looking ahead. In fact, he told me he'd like to look into training dogs for drug detection work as it would be a new challenge while still doing what he loves best, working with dogs.

Next time I'm under the weather and starting to feel sorry for myself, I'll think of Doug!

Listen to my interview with Doug on the podcast.

Special thanks to Nestle Purina BETA dogfood and Runnarkop for providing a superb collection of prizes for Doug and his colleagues on the beating team at Elcombe. Thanks also to Mark Elliott and NOBs for their support of this award.

Sunday 14 October 2007

Letter to a thief

Here's a letter I received by email from Sam Green, who has clearly retained his sense of humour in trying circumstances:

I would very much like to thank the shooter who stole my hidefspex glasses and made my weekend on the 30th September at the Kreighoff FITASC at Lakenheath.

For your information, they're only a week old, and if you'd like to get in touch with me, I have a spare lens!

Saturday 13 October 2007

Damp start to the pheasant season

Today was my first day's pheasant shooting this season. The first drive I drew No.1, so I was right at the end of the line, which put me almost behind the beaters in the cover crop, looking down the valley where the rest of the guns were standing. Most of the birds went forward of course, so I had a splendid view of the shooting. Then a lone bird headed back, straight over my head... and I knocked it neatly out of the sky with a single shot.

It was the perfect start to the season, except for the small matter of a persistent drizzle that fogged my glasses all morning and generally dampened everything - including the keeper, Martin, who had taken one of the beaters' advice on whether or not he'd need his hat and coat. He'll be checking the forecast himself in future!

You can see me looking a bit soggy in the photo above. I actually enjoyed the day enormously, depite the rather hangdog expression!

If you look closely you'll see I was shooting with a Beretta Silver Pigeon 20-bore - the first time I've tried the gun at game. It was a real treat to use. Mike Yardley tells me he rates this gun as the best ever made for game shooting, and I'm inclined to agree. It's light, handles beautifully and the recoil is very soft (I was shooting 25g Lyalvale Express 7s from And when I hit the birds, they were killed as cleanly as with a 12, even the higher ones on The Oaks drive.

Also pictured is my new Barbour 'Linhope' jacket. I was dead chuffed when this arrived out of the blue, with a letter from Lord James Percy, no less, asking if I'd like to try it out. Well yes, I think I could manage that!

It's too early to give the jacket a proper review, but so far I am very impressed. It's a world apart from the old wax Barbours that I remember from years back. The materials are top-notch, and the quality of design and construction is just amazing. I keep finding clever little details, like the way the hood fixes into the collar with a combination of press-studs and velcro. In fact the closer you look, the more you realise has gone into this coat. Even the press studs are all arranged so the word 'Barbour' is the right way up. How many other coats offer that sort of attention to detail!

I'll give the coat a thorough try-out over this season, and report back on important stuff like, is it really waterproof, and does it really breathe (although I think I already know the answers to those two).

Here's a short video clip of a flush of birds over the guns at The Oaks. Unfortunately I missed the chance to capture the wonderful sight of a swan which flew along the line about 30ft up, turned over my head on peg No.8, then made its way back down the valley, during the previous drive. My excuse is that it was raining harder then, and I was keeping the camera safely in my pocket!

Sunday 7 October 2007

Check your traps from the breakfast table

Whilst at the National Partridge Conference, I met Dick Bartlett from British Moorlands. He has developed a clever system that allows a keeper to check his traps by mobile phone.

Basically each trap (or a group of traps close together) is connected to a transmitter, like the one Dick is holding in the photo.

At a pre-defined interval - perhaps each hour - the device sends a radio signal to a receiver placed somewhere in the centre of the estate. The signal says "no change - trap still set".

If the trap has gone off, the "all clear" signal isn't received, and the receiver unit logs it. The same lack of signal would occur if the transmitter had failed, so the system has a built-in fail-safe.

Now here's the clever bit. The central receiver has a mobile phone built in. The keeper calls it from wherever he happens to be - and receives a text telling him which traps need to be checked, and which can safely be left alone.

The system saves time, fuel and more - allowing a keeper to cover more traps over a wider area. It could also mean that trapped animals are dealt with more quickly, because the keeper knows exactly which traps to visit straight away.

Estates can hire or buy the system, which Dick says works out at around £10 per trap. More info on his website

Looking out for partridges

On Friday I attended the National Partridge Conference in Cambridge, organised by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (the new name for the Game Conservancy).

The morning session was a series of lectures, where we heard from the scientists who have been researching into our native grey partridges for the past 30 years.

English partridges were once widespread across the British countryside, but have suffered a decline of 86% over the last 30 years. They're now the subject of a government Biodiversity Action Plan, with the GWCT as 'lead partner'.

In the afternoon we were taken to the GWCT's flagship partridge recovery project at Royston in Herts - where they have proved that the partridge's decline can be reversed. A combination of habitat management and predator control has seen partridge numbers increase from 20 pairs to 184 pairs in just four years.

To prove the point, GWCT keeper Malcolm Brockless and his team of beaters positioned the delegates at pegs like a partridge shoot, and drove several large coveys over the line. Several hares came though the line too, proving that managing land for partridges is good for other wildlife too.

I couldn't help feeling sorry for Malcolm when a fox burst through the line, with all the GWCT top brass watching. I bet he'll be doubling his efforts to catch that particular charlie!

Saturday 6 October 2007

Back door law

We've mentioned in the magazine that police forces seem to be trying to tighten the law on firearms by the back door.

Basically, if you apply for a new FAC, or a variation for a new calibre rifle, you may find a new condition appearing on your certificate - requiring you to be "supervised" by an experienced shooter.

That condition was never intended by parliament, and it's not even in the Home Office guidelines, but if we don't watch out it will become standard practice - putting another obstacle in the way of people taking up the sport.

Here's a letter we received recently from a reader:

Having spent most of my adult life serving in the army I was trained to do many things including qualifying to be a Skill At Arms Instructor, (the guy who teaches soldiers how to safely and effectively use many types of weapons). Imagine my surprise when the local police support office explained that because I'd only got a rimfired.22 Brno on my certificate that I would need to be supervised when shooting my new Steyr Mannlicher 308 (NATO 7.62), a round I'd fired for more than two thirds of my career.

Having asked around one of my mates offered to help out having shot locally for a good few years, the plastic copper was more than happy to have a 22 year old teach me how to handle "Such a powerful weapon."

The point is I now have to bug him every time I get a problem with deer stripping the tops off my newly planted woodland, taking him away from important work he's trying to do on his own land, just to satisfy some pen pushers whim.
All I can say is thank God for good mates in the shooting fraternity.


P Andrews

If you find your local force are trying to impose a similar condition on you, contact BASC for advice (assuming you're a member - and if you're not you should be!).

Wednesday 3 October 2007

Stalking in Scotland

I'm just back from stalking in the hills above Pitlochry, Perthshire, in the company of Jim the stalker/keeper at Tarvie. It's hard to imagine a nicer way of spending a couple of days: the weather was glorious and the countryside was looking fabulous (apart from the heather beetle damage, but that's another story).

It's become a regular trip for me at the beginning of October each year, and one I always look forward to - although it's rare that I'm so lucky with the weather.

Jim - that's him above - is great company, a true countryman who knows his patch like the back of his hand. I always enjoy catching up with the gossip from the estates round about. Plus he always has a tale or two about the ridiculous red tape that's part and parcel of running an estate nowadays. Jim knows more about the wildlife on the estate than the pen-pushers could comprehend, and yet they're always ready to dictate how things should be done.

One recent bit of nonsense was when they wanted to tell him how to burn the heather, specifying the precise dimensions of the burnt strips and suggesting that each burnt strip (300 of them) should be fenced off to prevent grazing of the regrowth!

If you ask me, these muppets should have to spend 5 years as a ghillie before they're let loose near a computer. Then they might have a clue what their diktats actually mean to real people and real wildlife in real places, rather than the Disneyland in their heads.

Anyway, on to happier subjects... Jim's skill brought us in range of a nice stag on each of the two days, and much to my relief I was able to do my bit and put the bullet in the right place. Result: 2 stags in the larder, and a host of happy memories to cheer me up when I'm stuck behind a desk in dreary old London over the coming weeks.

Here's a vid of Jim bringing the carcass down using a trailer behind his Honda ATV.

I was staying at Killiecrankie - at the Killiecrankie Hotel, which I can highly recommend if you need somewhere to stay in the area, not least because the new owners have a very cute cocker pup called Beanie who lives in the entrance hall and welcomes the guests. It's on the River Garry - pictured above - close to the famous Soldier's Leap (the story is told on the sign below, although it completely omits to mention that the battle was fought on 27 July 1689, and that the Jacobites thrashed the Redcoats, although it did them little good in the end - there's a good summary here).

The area is one of the few remaining strongholds of red squirrels, which you can sometimes see from the dining room, as they run around the fir trees in the gardens. Sadly a good few end up squashed on the road, despite the signs warning motorists to look out for them.

All in all, I had a fabulous time and feel extremely lucky. Now I have to knuckle down and get on with the next issue. Ah well!