(the Other Passion)

Nice Footwork and a great stance

My son Edward has accompanied me to many Syndicate and Farmer’s shoots and now it’s time
for him to have a go. At the age of 7 having acquired a nice little side by side .410 with a
shortened stock I take him along to a local clay range and he is lucky enough to get some
personal instruction from a former world champion clay shot and accomplished game shooter.

Going well with the .410

He shows a fair bit of promise and is soon busting clay after clay and enjoying it.  First time out
at a local Lincolnshire farm shoot he “back legs” a hare so it is the begining. Despite being
naturally gifted Edward never had a competitive edge and although he could play rugby and beat
any boy his aged at 100 yards he just didn’t seem to be inclined to do so. Scalextrix Race cars do
nothing, and only after the acquisition of a high powered air rifle do I see some sense of “the will
to win” as we bust toy soldiers into oblivion from the prone position out of the lounge french
windows. We move on to a 28 bore Franchi and his prowess improves with each outing but of
course the gun will be outgrown as he gets bigger.

Post Holiday high bird with the Beretta 682

I had been back from Saudi Arabia in September just before the Gulf War and I had seen a nice
little 20 bore at Greenfields, the local gunshop in Salibury Wilts. As I’m coming back from Saudi
again just before Christmas I have this gun earmarked as a Christmas present to go with a 4
day holiday to Ilfracombe in Devon for some clay shooting and a little driven shooting to put the
icing on the cake.

Both eyes open, keep swinging

Granny and big sister Sally come to watch

Bags are packed and off we go to Ilracombe via Salisbury. I search high and low but can’t find
the gun I had mentally earmarked. It was sold that morning!….. so now we have a major problem
….. every gun is tried and tested and there is nothing in his size or my price range so things are
now getting desperate and I’m running out of ideas and the whole Christmas thing is looking
decidedly shaky. The salesman says he may have a new Beretta 682 upstairs and it could be the
special lightweight model…….. he comes down with the new gun and of course it fits like a glove
….. 2 and a half times what I had intended to pay but never mind it’s Christmas.

Pull up at our seafront hotel in Ilfracombe and as its late straight to bed. Next morning a great
breakfast and packed lunches arrive with thermos and off we go. Sign in at the range and just
outside is the first stand which is supposedly a following pair of incoming grouse. Edward takes
out all 10! I’m impressed,  first time ever with a 12 bore and a perfect score. Fortunately for me
I too get all 10. On to the next, springing teal, either take them on the rise or to cheat wait till
they get to the top and take them before gravity takes a hand…. try and take them on the way
down…..I don’t think so! Again boy child gets 10 for 7 cartridges and I am on to stay with him.

Stand 3 is high pheasants on report so as you fire the second clay is launched. I get the full 10
this time and he got 9 but I think 1 was missed because he didn’t take off the safety. Over to a
crosser and rabbit on report. I get all the crossers but only 2 of the rabbits as I always seem to
fire just as the rolling clay hits a bump and gets airborne. Edward misses 1 crosser but picks off
all the rabbits! Overall he is now 1 up on father. The round continues and the boy is shooting well,
safe, superb footwork and very elegant style. No matter what I do I can’t get ahead or even back
on level terms and the final scores are Edward 88, and yours truly on 85. As a competitor no one
likes being beaten but in this case as it’s your own son there is a smug smile of pleasure.

Another round of clays in the afternoon and Edward has does well again but I manage to retain
the “Alpha Dog” position so honor is satified. Back to the hotel and while 10 year old runs up and
down the seafront I consume several excellent pints of Murphys.

The next day we are pheasant shooting and we arrive in good time at a farm which runs a
commercial shoot. Lots of coffee and eventually the head keeper comes over and says we are
still waiting for the “other” gun, I tell him he is already here and introduce Edward. Off we go with
instructions not to shoot any Reeves pheasants that have the 3 foot long tail.

We are positioned either side of a long draw and our team of beaters knock up some fine birds
from a small wood on the top of a hill, the birds oblige and do as the keepers ask and either
present high shots or challenging incoming downhill planing shots as they follow the draw. As we
are on a limited budget and they are costing around 25 quid a pop I have told Edward to be
selective! He is and I see a couple of high birds that I personally would have let go come tumbling
to earth ….. very impressive!

Another drive and our last 4 are in the landrover but the keeper says we can have some freebies
as there are plenty more in this wood. He may have regretted that statement as we take out
some challenging shots and double the bag! Paid for 12 ….shot 24!

Lunch in the pub and I’m spent out for today but it was a lot of fun so I’m considering what to do
with the afternoon when the head keeper asks me if Edward and I would like to join another
shooting party at no cost? Are you serious? Is the Pope a Catholic?

Edward goes with the Keeper and they take up position on the corner of a wood while I’m
positioned on a high knoll overlooking the valley where the other guns are in the classic
semi-circle and in a perfect world the majority of birds should flush over the center giving numbers
4 & 5 the most shooting, then on subsequent drives we all move up 2 positions so 4 becomes 6
and 5 becomes 7 so that everybody gets a fair share.

Well today it doesn’t work out like that, and most of the birds that flush climb then turn towards
me so without “poaching” I take out 15 or so and I’m getting most of the shooting. On a later
drive the host of the shoot has Edward and myself as flank guns walking either side of a wood
behind the line of beaters. We are not allowed to shoot anything that goes forward but have the
all clear on anything that turns and flies back. Edward takes 8 on his side and gets lots of praise
from the Head Keeper and I keep my end up with 6 nice cock birds on my side. Doesn’t seem to
matter where they send us we are always in the thick of it and this is all free!

No more shooting until the following Christmas when I’m home from Saudi again for my 30 days
and I have booked quite a few pheasant days on commercial shoots to go with the farm shoots
I’m hoping to get invited to.

The first one we go to becomes a real “sour graper” for some. 8 guns meet at the appointed
hour and enjoy the standard pre shoot beverage of sloe gin and then draw for our pegs. First
drive Edward stays with me and keeps his gun in it’s slip and I get a good number of nice birds
while others are missing wildly and birds fly on completely unmolested. On the next drive the
Shoot manager says that Edward can be a “Back Gun” and go and stand 20 yards in the wood
some 40 yards behind the line of guns.

As the birds go hammering over our distinguished gentlemen and the 12 bores discharge both
barrels into vacant air there can be heard a single shot from behind us and this continues on a
regular basis until the whistle blows to signal the end of the drive. As birds are retrieved Edward
emerges from the wood with 4 birds in one hand and 5 in the other. @ more drives before lunch
and the same game as Edward continues to wipe people’s eyes with single shots on high birds
that had been missed.

At lunch the Shoot Manager says that Edward can’t shoot any more as the paying guns are
complaining! However he also said that if Edward hadn’t been shooting we wouldn’t be
anywhere close to the bag! A fine compliment for a 11 year old and with that he and I shot
alternate drives in the afternoon and instead of marveling at the boy’s talent some of them were
still pissed off! Father just smiled……..

Still shooting well, 2007 at Ben Avery

Tony Down

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