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It had been 10 years, I realised. I was on a Welsh hillside with a gun in my hand wondering how long ago it was that I first stood on the line for a game shoot. The gun I was holding was the same one I used then, bought from a dealer just outside Chelmsford, and it has been my constant companion on scores of shoots since. It has never broken down or misfired, and has never minded the weather conditions I have hauled it out in.
I was reminding myself last weekend that I have a full decade of experience because I was nervously shooting under the watchful eye of two important people: Mr M, who was making a rare supportive foray, and Peter Wilson, who won gold in the double trap shotgun event at the 2012 Olympics. Earlier this year, Wilson gave an FT Masterclass for this magazine so I decided to ask him to look at how I held my gun.
“Pick it up and aim at my right eye,” he said, standing no more than three metres from me. That felt very uncomfortable, even after I had triple-checked that the gun was not loaded. He looked down the barrel and then asked me to put the gun down and repeat the exercise twice more. His assessment was that I am inconsistent in how I mount and hold my gun, and so I should not be surprised that I am inconsistent in my shooting. Lesson learnt.
I suspect I will be learning for many years to come. Earlier this season I paid my first visit to the Bighton estate, in Hampshire, and met my loader just before I took up my position on the end of the line, where I couldn’t see any of the other guns. I always prefer to have the support of a loader when shooting game; someone local to carry my kit and stuff cartridges into my gun each time I discharge it. I can and have managed without a loader but I find that, standing on the peg at an unfamiliar shoot, it is good to have someone who can tell you about the area’s history and topography, encourage you and sometimes help you shoot better.
I loaded up and stood expectantly looking for birds. “May I offer some advice, madam?” he asked. “Of course,” I said. “May I suggest that you turn around? The birds are coming from the opposite direction.” Lesson learnt.
I admit that my sense of direction is not everything it could be. For the Welsh excursion, we stayed at Bettws Hall, before shooting the next day at The Brigands, 25 miles further on. I was responsible for putting the hall’s postcode into our car’s navigation system, and Mr M was not amused when, after an epic four-hour journey from home, we arrived not at the hall but at the shoot itself, and had to retrace our steps. A 50-mile diversion is not the best way to endear yourself to your husband, and perhaps it was just as well that I was the one with the gun in my hand the next day, rather than him.
One thing that has changed in the 10 years I have been game shooting is that the game you take home is more often than not oven-ready, having been shot by previous guests and then processed by the local game dealer. I am quite keen on this, not being a great lover of de-feathering birds. (This is why I sent Cost Centres #2 and #3 on courses to learn how to do this. If you have a child who you would like to learn more about being hands-on with shooting and field sports, then I encourage you to look at my Ducal Girlfriend’s Belvoir Fieldsports 12-20 Club.)
I am always looking for new and interesting ways to cook game. So I asked Wilson what his favourite game recipe is. He told me that he has several, and indeed has put them all on an app, e-Gamebook. That won’t be of much help to me, as I will be in Australia, thousands of miles from my game-stocked freezer. But I have duly downloaded it anyway and look forward to plenty of cooking, as I go into my 11th year of game shooting.