Thursday 31 January 2008

Another foxshooting video with Robert Bucknell

Here's video number 2 with Robert Bucknell. In this one, he describes his custom .223 foxshooting rifle, and explains some of his preferred shooting techniques.

More from Robert about his rifles and preferred calibres in our April issue, on sale 28 February.

Suburban Bushwacker: Who? What? Why?

On Sunday I'm taking someone ferreting. He's called Sten. He works in an office, lives in the suburbs of London, and knows virtually nothing of shooting, ferrets and rabbits. I met him through his blog, called Suburban Bushwacker, and was interested in what he was trying to do.

So what's the 'Suburban Bushwacker' all about then? Well, I always thought that a bushwhacker was some sort of Aussie highwayman. Seems it's more of a hillbilly type of character, which I'm sure Sten wouldn't have a problem with.

In his own words, he wants to "wake from my comfortable homeostasis, rediscover my physical self and embark on the adventure of reconnecting with the natural world."

His ultimate aim is to kill an elk with a bow, then skin, butcher and cook it himself. Plus he fancies using the hide as a bedspread, but we won't go there.

What really interests me is that Sten represents a new type of person coming into hunting, shooting and the countryside. Call them the urban bushcrafters if you like; they are the folks who have seen Ray Mears, Bear Grylls and Hugh Fearnley-Whatnot on the telly, and felt something stir inside.

In shooting, we are all keen to encourage youngsters to take up shooting. And quite right too - they are our sport's future. But let's not forget people like Sten. There are a lot of them about, they are keen to learn about the countryside, and they have a healthy, practical approach to the flora and fauna - not least that they like to eat it.

And the message they get from the countryside is... Welcome? or Gerrof my land?

So I've decided to help Sten find out about rabbiting, shooting and the rest. Along the way, I hope to discover what we look like from the outside. And what we could do to help and encourage people like him to get into the sport we love.

Follow our progress on this blog and his - and feel free to chip in with suggestions and comments along the way.

Saturday 26 January 2008

Filming a pheasant shoot

Blogged from my mobile phone, somewhere in Herts!

Friday 25 January 2008

Jamie Oliver lamping rabbits

Great to see Jamie Oliver on the telly last night, doing a grand job of promoting rabbit as healthy, free-range meat - and showing how lamping is done.

Plus gamekeeper Geoff Garrod was there too, his NGO badge prominently displayed in his hat, explaining why it's necessary to cull deer.

These cookery programmes are finally providing a vehicle for shooters to explain what it's all about. Long may it last!

Thursday 24 January 2008

Foxing again with Robert Bucknell

It's always a pleasure to visit Robert. Quite apart from the copious amounts of tea and Mcvitie's plain chocolate digestives, we always find plenty to chat about, from the activities of the local poachers, to the regional accents of great tits, to the curious habits of foxes.

Today I was taking photos for our next issue, so we went out as the light was fading and I snapped away with this lovely sky for a background - perfect!

The last week or so has been the peak of the fox mating season - so if you've been woken up by eerie screams the past few nights, that's why. Cubs conceived now will be born in around 52 days time - around mid- to late-March. The vixen will stay in the den with the new cubs for the first week or two, while the dog fox (usually) will hunt and bring food to her.

The urge to mate was the downfall of four foxes shot by one of Robert's friends this morning. All dog foxes, they had come in search of a local vixen who was making her presence known.

Sunday 20 January 2008

How effective was our ferreting?

Back on 1 January we went ferreting at my parents' place, and killed 14 rabbits.

Today I was back there, and after dark I walked round with a lamp to see how many rabbits remain.

I've marked on this aerial photo (taken from the excellent Multimap) where we caught the rabbits on 1 January (blue dots), and where I spotted rabbits in the lamp tonight (red dots).

It was interesting to see that there are still one or two in the burrows that we ferreted - I knew that we had let the odd one get away. But also that almost three weeks on, there has been very little movement of rabbits into the now underpopulated burrows, either from the wooded side of the field (top of the picture), or from the hedge along the footpath (bottom of picture).

Once spring arrives and the rabbits begin breeding, I'd expect to see them start to spread out more, as they look for somewhere to have their young.

Thursday 17 January 2008

How much more will your shooting cost this year?

This is the time of year when importers and distributors issue their new price lists - and the news doesn't look good for shooters.

Talking to some of our trade contacts, it seems that last year's price lists were compiled at an exchange rate of around €1.45 to £1. That's now nearer to €1.31 to £1, and factoring in the retailer's margin that means increases of around 10% on guns, ammo and accessories imported from the continent - as so much of our gear is.

And apparently we shouldn't get too excited about the fall in the price of lead. The general view is that cartridges were "too cheap" before the latest rises - manufacturers weren't making a realistic margin. Expect some small price reductions, but it looks unlikely that ammo will fall to what it cost before.

Wednesday 16 January 2008

Fox on a sheep's back

Sporting Shooter reader Trevor White has sent in a remarkable sequence of photos taken by his friend Clive Spicer, near Worthing in W Sussex. The photos show a fox apparently eating ticks etc from a sheep's back. This one shows, in the background, the more common sight of a pair of magpies doing the same thing - you'll often see starlings etc feeding on the backs of sheep, but I've never before heard of a fox doing it, and it's amazing that the sheep doesn't seem to mind. More in the March issue of the magazine, on sale 1 Feb.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Will Simon Barnes stick to his guns?

Seems Simon Barnes, chief sports writer and countryside columnist at The Times, is firmly on the side of the bunny huggers.

Approached by Merlin Unwin about reviewing some of their excellent books, he responded: "Thanks for being in touch, but you have missed your target here. I am not impressed by people who go shooting."

But what about non-shooting books like Rural England? "Damned by association with shooting, I'm afraid," he replied.

I trust Barnes will be turning his back on the RSPB then, now that they have come clean about shooting foxes.

Monday 14 January 2008

Goose shooting video

I've been working on the video shot during our goose shooting visit to Aberdeenshire just before Christmas. Here's a taster...

Wednesday 2 January 2008

Filleting rabbits

After a successful day's ferreting, I found myself with a lot of rabbits to process - and by the time I'd fed the dogs and the ferrets, cleaned the guns, hung up the wet clothing, etc, I wasn't too enthusiastic for staying up half the night skinning and jointing all those bunnies.

So I invented a 'quick and dirty' method which is the rabbit equivalent of breasting a pigeon or a pheasant. Basically it lets you get 95% of the useful meat out of a rabbit, with no need to paunch it or even take the skin off fully.

You can probably see all you need from the photo (click on the picture to see a larger version), but just in case, here's how it's done...

1. Take your rabbit, and make a slit in the skin about half-way along its body. Tip: make the slit over its back, not its belly. The skin here is looser, so it's easier to pinch a bit to get the knife point in - and there's no chance of digging too deep and breaking the gut open. (Regular readers will spot that I'm using my Karesuando knife which I ground a new edge on recently - it worked brilliantly).

2. Slip your fingers into the slit, and tear the skin all the way round - separating the rabbit's jacket from its trousers, as it were. Unless it's a tough old buck, the skin should tear quite easily.

3. Pull the 'jacket' and 'trousers' apart to expose the body and legs. No need to pull the skin right off.

4. With the rabbit belly-down on the table, slit along one side of the backbone, from the base of the ribcage down to the pelvis. Don't cut too deep or you'll break through into the gut area.

5. Use the knife point and your fingers to tease the fillet away from the backbone. Once it's free, cut at each end and simply lift the fillet out.

6. Repeat on the other side of the backbone.

7. Now the back legs: cut in towards the hip joint (marked with green lines on my photo), then turn the knife and follow the leg-bone, removing the meat in two chunks.

8. That's it - you now have six nice bone-free chunks of meat that will make a lovely stew, pie, etc. The rest of the rabbit can be thrown away with a clear conscience - there is hardly any meat wasted.

Tuesday 1 January 2008

New Year's Day ferreting

A great day's ferreting, with myself and daughter Emma shooting; we were joined by her friend Lui, my wife Sara and Emma's Australian cousin Jacob.

We decided not to bother with nets, just moving swiftly from one burrow to the next and shooting at any rabbits that bolted.

Total for the day was 14, including three that one of the ferrets had chased into a dead-end - it made all the digging seem worthwhile!

Plus on the way back I managed to collect a couple of squirrels that had evaded us the other day.

The only cloud on an otherwise perfect day was that one of the ferrets sadly fell victim to what the military call 'friendly fire'. Going to pick up one of the shot rabbits, we discovered the ferret lying dead a couple of yards away - she must have emerged from the hole at just the wrong moment, and collected a stray pellet from the edge of the pattern. Sad but unavoidable - considering the way ferrets are constantly popping up in the field of fire, the only surprise is it doesn't happen more often.