Tuesday 30 December 2008

Pike fishing on the Mole


Caught up with my brother Nigel today, fishing on the River Mole at Downside, near Cobham. He had been at it since dawn, but we joined him an hour before sunset. It was a cold day - the frost on the bank had never thawed completely, despite the sunshine, and as the sun sank behind the trees the temperature plummeted.

He was fishing a deadbait - a Waitrose sardine - with a treble hook on a wire trace, with a big red float above. As we watched, the float bobbed, then set off upstream. Nigel waited - apparently the pike was turning the bait in its mouth, so it could swallow it head first...


Then he struck, and the fight was on. This was a smallish pike of just a few pounds. Nigel carefully removed the treble hook with forceps, and slid the pike back into the river.


Just as it was getting dark, Nigel hooked this monster - a 15-pounder. He explained that like many predators, the big pike prefer to feed at twilight - either dawn or dusk. The smaller pike have to make do with feeding during daylight hours.


Just look at those jaws!


Monday 29 December 2008

Shooting the Air Arms S510

Looks cold doesn't it - it was!

I was hugely impressed with the Air Arms S410, which I used during the summer and which features in my airgun hunting DVD. It's a great rifle - simple to use, consistently accurate, with a neat bolt and magazine arrangement so you can reload quickly. After years of shooting spring powered (and Theoben gas-ram) airguns, shooting a precharged pneumatic was a revelation.

The S410, though, suffered some sort of accident that rendered it pretty much useless. Basically, the barrel got bent. My best guess is that either the dog or one of the kids sat on it while it was in the gun-sleeve, laid across the back seat of the car. The S410 has a very thin barrel, and the large can-type moderator fitted on the end only serves to increase the leverage if it falls or gets leaned on. Yes, I know, it's important to look after your gun etc etc - but in the real world things don't always go according to plan, especially when there are youngsters and clumsy labradors around.

So... I've been looking forward to getting my hands on the latest version, the S510. This one is in .177 calibre (the S410 I tried was .22), not my normal choice for hunting. I took it out today, not for any serious hunting but just to zero it and get a feel for how it works.

First impressions were superb. The most obvious difference from the S410 is the barrel, which now has a larger shroud. This is, in effect, a full-length moderator, which makes the whole package much shorter and improves handling beyond belief. I found the S410 rather unwieldy, and certainly awkward to use from a vehicle or in dense woodland. The S510 is totally different, balancing nicely between the hands and coming to the shoulder so well you are almost tempted to shoot it shotgun-style.

The build quality on this gun is superb. I was specially taken with the woodwork - nice crisp chequering, and lovely dark wood inserts at the end of the fore-end and grip-cap. The stock shape is perfect for a right-hander, with a good high comb bringing my head into line with the scope.

The S510's bolt is a huge improvement
- and easy to operate with frozen fingers.

The next major difference is the bolt. The bolt on the S410 reminded me of the old Crosman bolt - rather thin and wiry, and not very positive to close. You'd close it, walk a few paces, then feel you should check to make sure it was still shut properly. Pulling it back to cock and reload was suprisingly hard work, with only a small rounded knob to grab hold of. The S510 bolt is completely different, and a huge improvement. It's not a traditional bolt at all, more like a miniature side-lever with a straight pull-push action. It's easy to operate, and opens and closes very positively - brilliant!

I fired a few shots at paper targets to get the scope zeroed, and was pleased to find that the rifle shoots just as sweetly as the S410. Accuracy is every bit as good, and the .177 pellets certainly hit the backstop hard (I was using Bisley Super Field - the only .177s I had in the cupboard, but they seem to work well in the S510).

I plan to adjust the trigger (which seems straightforward, looking at the manual, and the allen keys came with the gun), shoot a few more targets at different ranges, then get out and do some hunting - I'll let you know how I get on.

Sunday 28 December 2008

Airgun zeroing target

Airgun zeroing target, originally uploaded by james.marchington.

Here's a handy airgun zeroing target that you can print off at home and use to get your scope zeroed. It's calculated for 25 yards range, but can be used at other ranges.

Update: I've now worked out how to allow access to the full-size version of this file on flickr - just click the image above then choose to dowload the 'original' size.

What other targets would you like to see here? No promises, but let me know and I'll see what I can do.

Thursday 25 December 2008

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Animal rights terrorists convicted

Strangely, you won't find this story on the websites of Animal Aid, LACS, or any of the other animal rights nutters who are usually so quick to jump on a bandwagon. Maybe that's because it gives us too much of an insight into the characters who infest the animal rights movement - and by doing so actually hold back the cause of animal welfare.

Animal Aid, incidentally, have just released a ludicrous video of their "Undercover Footage From The 2008 Gamebird Shooting Season" - several minutes of wobbly video of, gasp, people firing guns in the air. Gosh, never knew that happened on shoots. And, ooh, a gundog retrieving a shot bird which is promptly dispatched by the handler. All interspersed with some even wobblier shots of a sick partridge in a pen. As if that proved anything. Oh, and guys, if you walk up to a larsen trap and poke a video camera at the decoy bird, you are causing it distress. Please don't.

Honestly, if people want to see what happens on a shoot, there's no need to skulk about in the bushes with a handheld camcorder. They only have to ask. We have nothing to hide. Unlike certain animal rights activists.

Thursday 18 December 2008

How much lead?

How much lead?, originally uploaded by james.marchington.

Anyway, enough boring stuff about anti's. Here's a useful guide we published in the magazine a couple of years ago. If you print it out at 100% (46cm wide), you can stick it on the wall and mount your gun so the muzzles almost touch the paper. The birds then appear the correct size in relation to your muzzles - and the arrows show the correct amount of lead needed at various speeds and ranges. Fascinating stuff - but remember to keep the swing moving after you pull the trigger, or you'll still miss behind!

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Animal rights extremism

Bonkers anti-shooting organisation Animal Aid is trumpeting its new patron, Peter Tatchell.

It would be easy to go all Daily Mail about Tatchell's career campaigning for lesbian and gay rights, including a spell acting as press officer for "Faggots Rooting Out Closeted Sexuality", and a campaign to lower the age of homosexual consent to 14.

I shan't, though, because that would draw attention away from what this really tells us about the dangerously extremist aims of Animal Aid.

Tatchell himself explains: "The campaigns for animal rights and human rights share the same fundamental aim: a world without suffering, based on compassion and care."

The key word here is "rights." Organisations like Animal Aid are very good at drumming up support - and funds - by showing cute photos of fluffy lambs, and banging on about how they're fighting cruelty.

But what's the real agenda? They want animals – all animals – to be given "rights" equivalent to the human rights that are now enshrined in European law.

Just think about the implications, when every animal from an elephant to a rat has rights like these, no doubt vigorously defended by the same nutters currently found in organisations like Animal Aid.

Want to ride a horse? Sorry, Article 4 prohibits slavery and forced labour. Want to trap that rat in your kitchen? Nope, Article 2, right to life. Eat meat? No chance. This is Animal Aid's "kinder, gentler world," "based on compassion and care."

Goodness knows what they make of predators killing prey. Perhaps that's ok because it's "nature" (and H. sapiens eating meat for 200,000 years isn't).

All the shooters I know abhor real cruelty. They are horrified by the ill-treatment of animals, whether it's pets, livestock or wildlife. That's animal welfare, and believe it or not shooters, Joe Public and antis are broadly in agreement on animal welfare.

Animal rights, though, is something else entirely. The public may fall for Animal Aid's fluffy lamb marketing hype, but they will never back the extremist aims lurking in the shadows behind it. Tatchell may have a great campaigning record, but he will prove to be a liability to the animal rights movement.

Monday 15 December 2008

Desperate times at Animal Aid

Things must be bad at Animal Aid – their latest 'report' is hilarious. Talk about clutching at straws!

It reveals – wait for it – it costs more to produce a pheasant than it's worth on the supermarket shelf.

And – gasp – game is promoted by pro-shooting organisations like BASC and Countryside Alliance.

Wait, there's more... apparently, cartridges are quite expensive nowadays – eek! And on and on.

I laughed out loud when I saw Animal Aid, of all people, rubbishing surveys and questionnaires. Apparently results are possibly biased towards people who have strong views on particular issues. Oh really? You mean like the "opinion polls" constantly quoted by antis to "prove" that the public oppose hunting, fishing, snaring, eating meat, wearing tweed or talking a bit posh.

Dress that up with a few irrelevant but ugly photos of "dumped body parts" (looks to me like wings trimmed from pheasants being prepared for the oven), "incarcerated" pheasants and dead foxes, and – hey presto – you have a "damning new report".

Damning it certainly is – it shows how desperate the antis have become, now that what remains of their support is dwindling away!

From a US reader

I was delighted to receive this from a reader in the USA:
I have recently began reading your posts and the online magazine and I must say that I have enjoyed them immensely. I am 30 years old and live in the U.S. and have been hunting and fishing all of my life and I just have to say that I am in total agreement with you and your position on firearm safety. I do have a question as to where I can find a glossary of terms for hunting in the U.K. as I said I read your posts religiously and as many terms are different than we use hear and as you could imagine it can be problematic at times. I was also wondering if you could possibly steer me towards more blogs that deal with shooting and fishing in your part of the world? Thankyou for your time as I am sure you are a very busy man. Keep up the wonderful work! Kent McCartney
Kent raises a good point - there is a need for a good glossary of British shooting terms. Wikipedia has a basic overview of hunting and shooting in the UK here, but it doesn't go into much depth. It's the sort of thing that the wiki format would be well suited to, but I haven't the foggiest idea how to start. Can anyone out there help me get one started?

As for blogs, well, there aren't many covering shooting & fishing in the UK, but I enjoy this one by Nigel Milsom of the Tufton Arms hotel, and there's this one from Outside Days. Can readers recommend any others?

More anti tosh

Further to my earlier story about anti's whining over cruelty to clay pigeons, now the League Against Cruel Sports has jumped on the bandwagon. The princes are "setting a bad example" says an anonymous LACS spokesman. "A lot of people think that shooting animals for sport is wrong... they're not sending out a good message."

On the contrary, they're sending out an excellent message: Don't sit at home listening to bigoted class-hating animal rights extremist numpties - get out and discover the countryside for yourself, get some healthy exercise and fresh air, and bag yourself a tasty dinner!

Sunday 14 December 2008

Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells

I love the magazine's readers, I really do. I often meet them when I'm out and about, and 99.99% of them are the nicest bunch of people you could hope to meet.

But the other .01%! They'll get the hump about something in the magazine, and launch in with all guns blazing.

Here's the latest one, from someone we will call 'George':
Once again I feel the need to draw your attention to a photograph boldly displayed in you magazine Sporting Shooter. On page 13 in the article OUR SHOOT, a photograph of a guest gun standing with his, I presume loaded gun, dangerously resting over his forearm. This is a dismal failure on your part allowing such a photograph to appear in a magazine that should endorse safe shooting. I cannot believe that I will be the only person who will see the fault and complain as I have.
Another glaring blooper is on page 22, Ask The Experts. Here you suggest, that on a variable power scope, taping the zoom ring to stop it being moved.....why ?. Unless you are using absolute poorly made or old equipment, I see no reason on earth to follow your recommendation, it is plain nonsense. Modern quality scopes can be adjusted with complete and utter confidence, and no change in zero can be detected, which I assume you are implying will happen if it is not taped. What absolute rubbish.
I doubt I will ever waste my money on another of your magazines again.

And here's my reply:

What gives you the right to accuse a man of dangerous behaviour when you weren't there and cannot possibly know the circumstances? And what could possibly be wrong with wrapping a bit of tape round something to make quite sure it cannot be accidentally moved? Belt and braces perhaps, but hardly foolish.

And even if you were right, why the rude and aggressive tone? Do you talk like that to people in the street?

I suspect you are being put up to this by some troublemaker, or have some other agenda, but if this really how you feel then I can manage quite happily without you as a reader.
Too harsh? Not half as harsh as the reply I wrote and then deleted before sending!

And the story continues:
There are no circumstances, ever, when a gun is held in this manner. In my pre shoot speech on H&S, it is made perfectly clear that anyone seen either standing or carrying their gun in such a Davey Crockett manner will be asked to immediately adopt a safe carrying style. How on earth you can defend this is beyond me, safety is paramount, and if rudeness is the only way of getting this message across to a negligent and dangerous gun, then I am sure I'm not alone in endorsing this approach.
It is perfectly clear that again you attempt to waffle you way out of what is an obvious dereliction of your duty as an editor. You are clearly not the man your father was, neither in knowledge nor the ability of putting it on paper. As for losing me as a reader, well your too late for that.

Well, I think you are wrong. It is not inherently unsafe to hold a gun in that way, and to label it 'Davey Crockett' doesn't make it so. There are circumstances in which that hold would be unsafe; that would depend on what was in the line of the muzzles.
And you think I am wrong. So there we are.
The difference is that I am not maligning you and your family, accusing you of 'dismal failure', 'dereliction of duty' etc.
Are you incapable of having a discussion without becoming offensive?
And on...
On the contrary, it is extremely unsafe to hold a gun in this fashion,
and you made the point so very clearly by saying in the line of the muzzles, and this is the point. The barrels are not in the line of your sight, unless of course your eyes are at the side of your head. No, I won't state what I suspect.
You should always be aware of where your muzzles are pointing, no circumstances, no waffling excuses. If you don't do it, ever, then you will not fall into this dangerous practice that could put some other innocent persons life at risk.
I have, and have always had the most respect for the writings of your father, therefor, I have not in any way maligned any of your family. My offensive approach, if that is how you perseve it, is directed purely at you as the editor of a shooting magazine. As I mentioned earlier, I very much doubt I will be the only person who will take you to task regarding publishing this serious infringement of good shooting practice and safe gun handling. Hopefully, and maybe only then, will you be man enough to accept it.
And on...
Meaning you think I am wrong. See previous emal.

Animal Aid whining about cruelty to clay pigeons

Trust Animal Aid to jump on the chance to take a cheap shot at the Royal Family – and then shoot themselves in the foot!

In the Mail's story, AA director Andrew Tyler is quoted moaning about Kate Middleton "senselessly taking the lives of birds" and being "drawn into the Royal habit of killing for fun" (an appalling misrepresentation of what a day's shooting is all about, but what would he know?).

But take a closer look at those photos. Are they shooting pheasants? I think not. It's certainly not a formal driven shoot - guns standing round watching as one shoots, nobody on a peg. And it doesn't look like rough shooting to me either. They're clearly standing in one spot, calling for a target from a known location.

No, I'm quite sure they popped out for a bit of clay practice. And I bet they're having a good laugh about the stupid comments in today's papers!

I'm in the Mail!

...spouting about the etiquette and safety rules of shooting, as they relate to Princes William & Harry, pictured shooting with friends at Sandringham. They cut the article short in the printed paper, but the full piece is on the website here:

I had a call from a Mail journalist yesterday afternoon, asking for a comment on the photos, which they couldn't let me see but would only describe over the phone. Difficult to have an opinion then!

Still, I did my best, and they quoted me reasonably accurately (would I really have talked about "walking from one shoot to the next"?!) And they kept in my comment about the excellent safety record of shooting.

Shame they didn't ask me what I thought of photographers sneaking round in the bushes with ultra-long lenses, grabbing shots of the royals minding their own business!

And honestly, "deployed her pheasant-blasting skills"??!! Who writes this rubbish? Clearly someone who wouldn't know a Purdey from a Kalashnikov.

Incidentally, what do you think of the photo of William, apparently firing rather low over the others' heads? It looks like a most unsafe shot, doesn't it. But then look at the others' eyelines - they are all looking to their front, apparently at his target. I reckon the very long lens has foreshortened the perspective, and he's actually firing at a target 20 or 30 yards in front of them.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Stolen dogs and Land Rover

Keep an eye out for this Land Rover, and the 5 dogs stolen with it from Kent dog trainer Chris Burns in Leigh, near Tonbridge (report here »).

The dogs are:
  1. Black cocker spaniel bitch 6 months old with white front
  2. Black cocker spaniel bitch 9 months old
  3. Liver and white springer spaniel bitch 8 months old
  4. Black and white springer spaniel dog 8 months old
  5. Black and white springer spaniel dog 2.5 years old
If you have any information you can call police on 01732 379217 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

Sunday 7 December 2008

Police need a sense of proportion

There's a worrying trend in the UK for police to mount anti-terrorist style dawn raids on fairly flimsy grounds. And shooters are more likely than most to fall victim to this heavy-handed approach.

I was horrified to hear from a shooter last week, who had been accused of threatening behaviour towards ramblers on the farm where he has permission to shoot. He maintains it's a case of mistaken identity, and all he's ever done is ask the odd dog walker to get back on the footpath.

Maybe he did, maybe he didn't; I wasn't there. But the idea of being 'innocent until proved guilty' goes out the window where guns are concerned. The police barged into his house, and removed all his guns and ammo. Weeks later he has not been found guilty of anything, but he still doesn't have his guns back. He fears they're standing in a cold, damp police cell, slowly rusting away and will be worthless by the time he gets them back.

There have been worse cases, of gamekeepers' doors being kicked in at 6am, people being questioned for hours, fingerprinted and DNA sampled, their computer and mobile phone confiscated, etc, all on an unproven allegation. It took gun dealer Mick Shepherd 9 months to clear his name; will his business ever recover? No doubt the police will cite Health & Safety (their own), danger to the public, the possibility of an accused person disposing of evidence. And no doubt they are careful to stick rigidly within the law (albeit one that was passed to combat international terrorists).

The excuse that gets trotted out on these occasions is that police 'can't afford to take risks where guns are concerned'. Well sorry, but yes they can. That's what they're paid for. Life is one big risk, and we expect police to manage risks in a sensible, proportionate way. Otherwise they'd be calling in helicopter missile strikes on fleeing carjackers. Or suspected fleeing carjackers... once you start thinking in those terms, there's no end to it. 

It's all very worrying for those of us who keep guns, and do our level best to stick within the law, but know that a malicious complaint from an anti could lead to a terrifying ordeal and our lives being turned upside down. 

MPs discovered that they aren't immune from this kind of treatment, when police raided Damian Green's home and 2 offices recently. And they don't like it. Good. Maybe it will lead our politicians to reconsider the powers they keep handing to the police, and the ways in which the police use those powers.

My local force has adopted a slogan: 'With you, making Surrey safer'. If you're quick, you can sometimes see it on the side of a police car as it tears through the village at twice the speed limit. I want to believe it's true. But I'd also like to think that if some malicious ratbag phones them up and says I've been mouthing off, they'll pop round for a polite chat, rather than hitting my house Princes Gate style and frightening the life out of my wife and kids, 'just to be one the safe side'. 

Friday 5 December 2008

New member of staff

Every shooting magazine office should have a gundog around the place. And now we do. Meet Rio, a 4-year-old cocker who's been in the Sporting Shooter office today. He belongs to Rebecca, our new assistant editor, and spent most of the day curled up under her desk, only becoming a bit restless when the people in the office below cooked up some popcorn in the microwave and the smell of food became too tempting!

Thursday 4 December 2008

Rifle shooting at West London

Yesterday (Weds) the Sporting Shooter team, and friends, went to West London Shooting School at Northolt, for a day of instruction with Ian Spicer of Red Deer Outdoors. I've been to WLSS many times to shoot clays, and never even realised they had a rifle range – but they do, and a good one at that, with a covered firing position and a 100m range. 

Ian is a great tutor – knowledgeable, patient and calm, but strict when necessary. He helped me with some ideas on how I can combat my big problem when rifle shooting - the flinch that comes from years of shotgun shooting. There's much more work to be done, but he was a big help.

We fired a .22, .243, moderated 6.5x55 and an unmoderated .270. More on our trip later, either here or in the mag or both, plus I'm fairly sure you'll be reading about it on the Suburban Bushwacker's blog too! (He's recently been saying some nice things about my rabbit hunting DVD – thanks mate!).

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Badgers and piglets

Had a call from a farmer at the weekend - he's losing piglets to... foxes? Or what? We walked around the field (in rain and a freezing wind!) looking for clues. There was little sign of foxes, but I did find some unmistakeable badger tracks. Looks like they're pushing under his 8-strand electric fence. I reckon they're mostly after the pig feed, but perhaps the odd one gets a taste for fresh piglet. Have any readers come across a similar problem? Any suggestions how he could (legally) deal with the pesky badgers?

Zeroing the .17HMR

I spent some time at the weekend checking the zero of my .17HMR. It's a heavy-barrelled CZ, and a superbly accurate rifle, although the trigger lets it down somewhat. I managed to get a fairly tight group and move it onto the spot at 100 yards (it started off about an inch low and 1/2 inch to the right).

My dad was always labelling things with his Dymo labeller, and I seem to have caught the bug - although I use a more modern version that prints black letters onto strips of sticky plastic. I've printed out the trajectory of the bullet and stuck it onto the stock, for easy reference in the field. I'm sure there's a better way, but it's always right there when I need it!

Saturday 29 November 2008

Rabbit shooting dvd

DSC00017, originally uploaded by james.marchington.

Well I finally got it finished. Since the summer, in my spare time I've been working on a video about hunting rabbits with an air rifle. When I started I knew it would be a lot of work, but I had no idea just how much!

I wanted to show how I stalk a rabbit, using natural cover and the lie of the land. Which is simple enough because you can just set up the camera and do the stalk in front of it. But I also wanted to show the quarry, right up to the moment of taking the shot. And that's not so easy!

For some of the shots, I got within range carrying both the air rifle and the camera on a tripod. Then I set up the camera zoomed in on the rabbit, and left it rolling while I set up and took the shot with the airgun - hoping that the rabbit wouldn't hop out of the frame before I fired.

For others, I wanted to show the view through the scope as I took the shot - "Guncam" style. That meant I had to rig up the camera on the gun, looking through the scope. That caused enough problems of its own, because the camera has to be fixed very firmly in position, at exactly the right distance behind the scope and in perfect alignment. And then, because there's a camera in the way, you can't look through the scope to take the shot - you have to use the little preview screen on the camera, which is not the easiest thing to aim with. It means you can't hold the gun firmly against you in the normal way, so it's hard to get the gun steady.

If any readers have experience of filming shots like this, I'd be very interested to hear about your problems, and how you've overcome them.

With around 8 hours worth of footage 'in the can', I then had to edit it down to a video of around 1hr 10mins to make it watchable. No-one wants to sit through hours of wobbly shots of bushes while I mutter to myself "where the @$%& has the little $&*£@ gone?!!!"

Like a lot of people, I used to snigger at the huge teams of directors, producers, gaffers, grips, lighting cameramen and the rest that are involved on TV shows. Now I understand, and I have huge respect for the people who produce the programmes I enjoy watching. And of course I watch them with a different eye, analysing camera positions, edits, audio and what-have-you.

Anyhow, the DVD is now finished, and I've even sold a few (details at www.marchington.com). I've a long way to go before I recover the money I spent on camera and audio gear, tape, blank discs, etc, etc, never mind see anything for my time. If you're ever tempted to make a video in the hope of making a fortune, think again - you'd earn more per hour sweeping the floor in the local supermarket!

Preview here:

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Broken down on the M11!

Picture sent from my mobile

At least I've got a nice warm Seeland coat with me!

Update: 2hrs in the bushes beside the motorway, 3hrs tracking down an ATS with the right tyres in stock, eventually reached the office at 4.30pm for my 11am meeting. Still it could have been worse – I might have been going shooting!

Saturday 22 November 2008

The best way to spend a sunny autumn Saturday

IMG_8533, originally uploaded by james.marchington.

...is shooting pheasants with a great bunch of people. And lucky me, that's exactly what I was doing! Shot like a muppet on the first drive, but got the hang of it in time for the notorious Oaks drive, and managed three right-and-lefts in a row with the Silver Pigeon 20ga. Very satisfying!

More photos on my flickr page »

Flighting woodcock with Mark

IMG_8296, originally uploaded by james.marchington.

Thursday afternoon I headed down to Kent to flight woodcock with Mark Gilchrist. I always thought woodcock flying around at dusk were 'roding' and it wasn't really cricket to shoot them, but Mark put me straight. Roding is the mating flight that they do on their breeding grounds in the spring. At this time of year, what they're doing at dusk is flying out of the woods where they've laid up during the day, and heading off for their feeding areas - in this case a wet field where they can probe around for worms etc in the soft soil. Anyway, no luck for me - the woodcock didn't come my way!

Thursday 20 November 2008

BASC centenary reception

That's me second from right. Thanks to Helen at BASC for locating the photo

Attended the excellent BASC Centenary reception in London last night, where their patron, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh spoke about the huge amount of conservation work done by shooters. Whilst there I met, among others, Labour MP Martin Salter who it seems is being bombarded by hate mail after shooting his first brace of pheasants.

I was in the middle of chatting to Martin when I turned around to see HRH advancing on me, hand extended! It's one of those moments when you hope that some intelligent comment would spring to mind - but caught totally off-guard I fear I just mumbled 'er, er, good evening'. We talked briefly about the wide variety of shooting magazines on the market, before he moved on.

Predictably, my teenage daughter was totally underwhelmed by the news that her father had met HRH, which put me firmly back in my place. The BASC photographer snapped the meeting, so I'll see if they can let me have a copy to inflict on readers! (Update: Helen at the BASC press office came up trumps and located the photo now shown at the top of this post).

Thursday 13 November 2008

More lies from Animal Aid

Shooting has welcomed the FAWC opinion on the welfare of reared gamebirds (See here and here). It pretty much echoes the code that the industry has been following of its own accord for ages.

The nutters at Animal Aid, however, are trying to claim it as a victory. 'Government welfare body attacks gamebird battery cages' shrills their press release

Indeed it does – it attacks the cages that Britain's game farms don't use, because long ago we looked at what some continental game farmers were doing and didn't like it.

So do Animal Aid just not know how gamebirds are reared in Britain, or are they being devious and disingenuous?

I'm going for the latter – not least because their press release is littered with more lies, distortions and half-truths. Such as: "gamebirds are not produced for food" (a lie), "the majority of the birds are not even eaten" (a lie), and "nearly forty million [gamebirds] are factory-farmed each year" (a lie).

Does anyone take these histrionics seriously? I do hope not.

Big cat evidence from Wales

There's a Welsh sheep farmer who always drops in to see us at the Midland Game Fair. I look forward to catching up with him each year, and hearing the latest news in his struggle with the local big cat population - or whatever it is that keeps nabbing his sheep. He's convinced it's a big cat, and having seen some of his photos of mangled sheep it's hard to argue with that.

He has just sent me this photo of a fox that was shot one night at 1.30am and hung on the barbed wire fence. When the farmer went to collect it at 9.30am, it had been half eaten by... well, what do you think?

Martin Salter's first pheasant

Here's a pose you won't often see from a Labour MP – Martin Salter with his first ever pheasant. The Reading West MP went rough shooting with TV chef Mike Robinson in Berkshire, and he loved it: ”I really enjoyed my day’s shooting with Mike Robinson and my colleagues from BASC in the beautiful Berkshire countryside. Rough shooting is much harder than it looks but it was good fun and helped me learn more about the sport.”

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Not that sort of rabbit!

Researching my article on Glenn Waters' design of rabbit snares, I visited The Hunting Life website. In the corner was one of those Google Ads boxes, where the clever software at Google puts in ads that it thinks are relevant. I think this time Google got the wrong end of the stick – Glenn's snares were never designed to catch Rampant Rabbits!

Pheasant at Lidl

Lidl is the sort of place I associate with frozen burgers and oven chips - so I was amazed to see the supermarket offering pheasant as part of their 'Luxury for All' promotion.

Great stuff - it shows how far game has come in the last few years, when what is, let's face it, a fairly downmarket retailer reckons it can make a go of selling pheasant to its customers.

At £7.99 a bird Lidl should be making a good mark-up, which I don't begrudge them one bit if it helps to establish pheasant in the urban British diet. After all, it's hard to be anti-shooting and enjoy a roast pheasant at the weekend.

Friday 31 October 2008

Danny the champion of the rabbit catchers

Meet Danny Sumpter, the man who has just taught me a whole new way of catching rabbits. He learnt it from Glenn Waters, who sent Danny this note 12 years ago:

Shortly afterwards Danny sold his ferrets and his rabbit cage traps - they were redundant, because Glenn's method was so effective he didn't need them any more.

The system is based on a special snare rig, made from high-tensile fence wire. This holds up a 23 1/2 inch brass wire snare, which is set in a rabbit run directly over the 'beat' where the rabbit's feet land as it runs.

There's no fiddly tealer stick - it only takes a moment to set. The loop is set much larger than I used to do it - but it certainly works!

Danny took me to a field where he had set a couple of dozen snares last night. As we drove in through the gate, it looked like it had been raining dead rabbits. We picked up 16 rabbits in all, which is a phenomenal catch rate.

Below is a video of Danny showing how to set one of his snares. I'll explain the snare and his methods in more detail in the Christmas issue - don't miss it!

More info about Glenn Waters' snare designs here »
Buy the snares ready made here »

Thursday 30 October 2008

The trouble with lead-acid batteries...

...is they make holes like this in your clothes. And gloves:

I visited Robert Bucknell yesterday, and he showed me the damage to his foxshooting coat - the result of carrying the old style non-gel lead-acid batteries to power his lamp. The camouflage pattern is Czech, apparently, and he finds it particularly effective, so he still uses the coat.

Nowadays he has gel-type batteries that don't spill - and like me he's looking forward to trying the ultra-light new lithium ion battery from Deben. Deben's first batch sold out in no time, but more are on the way.

Robert has built a new tyre tower at a strategic spot on his farm. He's a big fan of the tyre system, especially this time of year as the tyres give plenty of protection from cold winds. More info and photos in the next issue of the magazine.

Monday 27 October 2008

'You're weird'

Three cheers for Angie Payne, commercial director of Staines Town FC, who had the guts to stand up to the animal rights whiners who complained about the shooting of pigeons at the club's stadium. "Don't send me emails like this again, you're weird," she replied to one of them. Read the story in the local paper here »

Gamekeeper in the Guardian

There's a surprisingly balanced interview with gamekeeper Geoff Garrod in the Guardian here »

Thursday 23 October 2008

Testing the Purdey Sporter

I spent this morning at the West London Shooting School, trying out the new Purdey Sporter over-and-under - the result of 5 years development by Purdey in conjunction with the Italian firm Perugini & Visini of Brescia.

Richard Purdey watches the gun being put through its paces at the grouse stand

And how did it shoot? In a word, amazing! A year or so ago I shot a plain black-actioned prototype, which was a lovely gun to shoot. Some 84 separate refinements later and Purdey have breathed magic into the Sporter. Richard Purdey described it as 'flattering' to shoot, and it certainly flattered my shooting.

It feels natural and lively in the hands, and performed as well on fast, close partridge targets as it did on driven pheasant clays off the WLSS high tower. We finished up with one of WLSS's famous flushes, and that's where the Sporter really came into its own. Although I normally shoot a side-by-side, I quickly forgot about the gun and was able to concentrate on the targets, which is how it should be.

Stephen Murray, who has been in charge of developing 
the Sporter from the beginning, tackles the flush

The Purdey Sporter really is a lovely gun. It's a true Purdey, despite the amount of CNC machining that goes into it, and the association with P&V. If anyone tells you it's a badge engineering job, a Perazzi with a Purdey label, then they're talking rubbish. This feels and shoots like no other over-and-under I've ever used. Every detail has been picked over and refined by Purdey's gunsmiths, who put hours of hand labour into every gun - the machining simply speeds up the early stages in the building of the gun.

Not a sign you see every day

The Purdey Sporter is currently available in 12-bore only, with 30in or 28in barrels and Teague chokes. It has a round bar trigger plate action, with removable trigger mechanism. Weight is around 7 3/4 lbs. And it costs a cool £28,750. Credit crunch or not, you'll have to be quick to snap one up in Purdey's South Audley Street shop, otherwise there's a 6 month waiting list. A 20-bore is on the way, and should be available mid-2009.

At that price I won't be getting one anytime soon, more's the pity - but it was a real privilege to have the chance to shoot this fabulous gun.

FOOTNOTE: Normally after firing 100+ shells, I would expect to have a bit of bruising on my shoulder. With the Purdey, no noticeable mark at all. That must say something about the gun, either the stock shape or the recoil or both. Thinking back, it was very comfortable to shoot but, like so much about this gun, the difference is as much about what you don't notice as what you do.