Thursday, December 27, 2018

Crippling Efficiency

     This blog is a collection of my experiences and thoughts. From time to time I will express an opinion which many will not agree with. These opinions have formed as a result of spending lots of time afield and shooting. These thoughts and opinions are not meant to offend, nor to be judgmental,  but rather to promote more thought on the subject. If for whatever reason you feel my post is directed at you, it is not; I don't know you. This post is part 1 of several (don't know how many yet) on the subject of wingshooting which some will object to. Fair warning.

     Hypocrisy is everywhere, but no where in fieldsports is it more prevalent than in the wingshooting community. Why is it that we expect the bowhunter and the rifle hunter to be proficient with their weapon, yet so many bird hunters (both uplands, and waterfowlers) get a pass on not practicing and only blowing the dust off their shogun once the season opens? Why is it big game hunters (who are expected to be proficient with their weapon) are chastised for shooting at running game, but bird hunters (who seldom practice) are chastised when they shoot birds sitting on the side of the road or a limb? Aren't we supposed to do all we can to assure we cleanly and quickly kill our prey? Why is this? There are many standard answers, and one I hear the most is the "sporting" answer. Shooting birds on a limb is just not sporting. True, but isn't it then more sporting to shoot at running big game? Or do we somehow value the life of big game more than the life of small game by insisting they are only killed when motionless? If you think I have the answers, I don't. If you think you will find them later in this post, you won't. There may not even be an answer to these questions, but I believe anyone who goes afield and takes a life should occasionally let these thoughts tumble around in their head.

     Because I like shooting birds on the wing I have taken steps to assure that I do all I can to minimize the suffering of any bird I shoot. I practice regularly, shooting skeet weekly, and sporting clays occasionally. I also spend a lot of time training my dogs and making sure they are proficient retrievers. I want any bird not killed in the air quickly retrieved so I can quickly end it's suffering. Do I think all bird hunters should follow my routine? No. But I do think they should have some type of a practice routine. One should consider, too, that our sport is constantly being scrutinized, and that every one of us is a representative of the sport. We have a responsibility to put it in the best light we can, and a bit of improved marksmanship will help do that.

     I did not always enjoy shooting clays. I enjoyed hunting, and shooting birds but I wasn't very good at it, so I began to practice. It was through this practice that I grew to love shooting clays.  Will every bird hunter learn to love clay shooting? I doubt it, but I will guarantee that with a bit of quality practice on a skeet field they will learn something, and improve their wingshooting.

     Practicing wingshooting should not be just going to skeet and shooting a few rounds. Bird hunting is much more dynamic, and how you practice is more important than getting in high volume shooting. Practice like you play. Some of the practice techniques I use can even be done at home.  The  things I have done to become a better wingshooter have been to add the dynamics of the hunt to my skeet shooting. I developed a smooth gun mount, and shoot skeet low gun, not premounted like a competitive skeet shooter. This is practicing like I play. One can develop, and work on building a smooth gun mount at home. With an empty gun, practice smoothly mounting and pointing at a spot on a wall. Don't rush the mount. Make it smooth and perfect every time, and before you know it you'll have a good gun mount. This alone will improve your shooting, but couple it with a few rounds of skeet, and you'll really be moving forward. Want to take it to the next level? There are a few other options that can make skeet more hunting like and dynamic, and for many of you, less boring. Sometimes I will shoot the round with a delayed call. That is, when I say pull, the trapper does not actually pull, but waits between 1-5 seconds before sending the clay. One can also go "trapper's choice" allowing the trapper to decide which clay to throw, the shooter needing to find it in the air and break it. Of course not everyone has access to a skeet field, but trap, sporting clays, and even hand thrown clays will all allow one to build their hand-eye-gun mount coordination.

     Another issue I have, which some will no doubt take exception to, is the use of the .410 for wingshooting. There are some very proficient shooters who wield a .410 with great efficiency. They are few and far between. Why do I feel this way? My experiences on the skeet field have show that even the best shooters have issues with the .410. I'm not talking scores. I'm talking about the quality of the breaks. Of course many of the .410 shooters suffer the loss of a few clays they'd have broken with any other gauge, but the number of clays they split or chip, rather than smash is what has caused me to draw my conclusion. Every split or chipped clay is a wounded bird that may not get retrieved. Unfortunately as it may be, we wing shooters do often put pellets in to birds without knowing it. Thinking it's a miss we often hunt on while a pricked bird, which has managed to fly 150 yards now suffers. Even as a 20 gauge shooter I have my fair share of live, broken winged birds retrieved to me, leaving me with no doubt that I've hit birds and not known it. That is something I'd like to minimize. The .410 no doubt increases the odds of that happening. Couple the inferiority of the .410 with the inconsistency of a hunter who doesn't practice, and...?

     So? What is the answer?  Well, I believe that every hunter, including bird hunters, has a responsibility to practice with their weapon. If you can't consistently break clays (where every flight line is know) you are not shooting as well as you could in the field (where every flight line is a mystery).  I know that practicing and shooting clays has improved my shooting. I also know that it can improve yours, too.  Do we all need to shoot lots clays every weekend? No. Quality is much more important than quantity. I believe anyone who buys a case of shotgun shells in August will learn enough about their shooting to buy another case before October.



Thursday, December 13, 2018

...Of a Different Calibre

     Shooting sports has been a big part of my life for a long time, with shotgun sports such as skeet, sporting clays, and wingshooting, being my primary disciplines. Rifle shooting, on the other hand, is something I enjoy, but seldom get to do. I once shot rifle more frequently, but having switched to a new shooting club, it has fallen off. My previous club featured a 100 yard rifle range, my new club does not.  I have recently found a renewed interest in rifle shooting after getting some trigger time in England, and having a couple of new rifle experiences.

     Like many New Englanders I have a Remington model 760 .30-06 rifle topped with a peep sight. A classic north woods deer rifle. Along with my deer rifle I also own a .50 cal inline muzzleloader. Unlike many, I do not own a small caliber or rimfire. No .22LR. No 22-250. No .17 HMR.  Which is why my rifle shooting has taken a down turn. The club where I currently shoot has a 50 yard range with caliber restrictions. Pistols,  rifles shooting pistol caliber's, rimfire, and muzzleloaders are allowed, but bottle necked ammo is forbidden. So as of late the .50 cal has gotten warmed up, but the .30-06 has only seen the odd day shooting over friends property up north.  It's easy to see how this can add up to a diminished skill set, and my rifle shooting has suffered.

     Shooting both my rifle and my muzzleloader has introduced me to a whole new set of skills to be learned; shooting off sticks. My old shooting club had benches designed for rifle shooting. My new club does not, nor does my friends property, so I have had to learn how to shoot off of sticks.

.30-06, off sticks @ 65 yards. I pushed the first round to the right before settling in. There is still some straightening out to be done.

     I've been considering a rimfire rifle, for plinking and to be able to do more rifle shooting at the club, for some time, now. Of the rimfire caliber's the .17 HMR has been on my radar more than any other. The .17, while smaller than a .22, packs more of a punch and is an extremely efficient small game cartridge. While the cost of shooting a .17 for plinking may be a bit more expensive than a .22, I feel the efficiency of the round outweighs the cost. I don't mind spending a bit more on a round with better ballistics, and the ability to be accurately shot beyond 250 yards. 

New Calibre 
      Though I had been aware of the efficiency of the .17 HMR, I had never had an opportunity to shoot one until my most recent trip to England. It was then that I knew I absolutely needed to get myself a .17 HMR. The .17 is a pleasure to shoot, zipping a bullet out with almost zero recoil. Along with the .17 I got to shoot another lesser known caliber; the .204.  Here in the US .22, ..22-250, and .223 are the most widely used small calibers. I had never heard of a .204 caliber, and was keen to give it a go. Unlike the .17 the .204 had some recoil when you pulled the trigger; not enough to put anyone off, but just enough to let you know you're shooting a rifle. Not being familiar with small caliber rifles I am told shooting the .204 is very similar to shooting a .22-250. 

The .204, using a bipod, off a tailgate @ 75 yards. Each small square in 1 inch. I have a tendency to push rounds to the right.

New Optics
     The hunting laws in England differ considerably from those in the US. One such difference it the ability to illuminate small game, with artificial light, while hunting at night. Night hunting means various styles of night vision optics are common, and I was able to experience shooting with night vision optics for the first time. The .17 HMR was topped with a digital IR scope. This scope is somewhat trickier to use than a conventional scope, and requires familiarization. Being digital I found the image to be somewhat blurry until the rifle is held very still. The slightest motion would blur the image again, which would sharpen up once the rifle was steadied again. At night the mode could be changed from daylight to night, and the IR switched on allowing a clear view of the target in the dark. In fact, I think this type of scope my be easier to use in the dark, than in the daylight.

     The optics on the .204 were more conventional, but with a high powered light throwing a colored beam mounted along side of it. For the first time user I found this much easier to use. Unfortunately neither of these scopes have much use here in the US, as not many (any?) states allow illumination. 

     In addition to new calibers, and new optics I was able to shoot a sound moderated rifle for the first time. Unlike the way Hollywood portrays "silencers" moderators/suppressors do not completely muffle the sound of the report. The report of the .17 HMR was such that wearing hearing protection is not necessary. The gun still let out a good crack, but at a lowered decibel level. The moderated .204 let out a bit more of a crack, and being that we were shooting off of the tailgate of a truck (with a cap) we wore hearing protection because the sound was reverberating back on us. Should we have been shooting off a bench or sticks in the open hearing protection would not have been needed. Again there was an audible crack, loud enough that heads around you would turn in your direction, but far from startling.

     So what is next? I am shopping for a .17 HMR. Being a rimfire I can shoot it at my club, which gets me more trigger time, and this winter I can (should the motivation strike me) use it shoot spot and stalk rabbits in the snow. 


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Reminder, Wear Your safety Gear.

This is why we wear eye protection.

     I love to shoot, and spend a lot of time with a shotgun in my hands, whether its clays or game. Sometimes it is easy to become lackadaisical, and allow the mind to wander from the task at hand. No matter what your chosen sport is, it's important to keep our bearings, and stay safety oriented. So, were your eye protection, ear protection, safety harness, blaze orange, PFD, or whatever safety gear is prescribed. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Keep it Clean, and a Couple New Endorsements

     Being a sportsman means being a steward of the environment. It's a responsibility I find myself taking more and more seriously every year. It is something everyone should think about, and act upon. Often it is the little things that make a difference. Sometimes when everyone makes a small change the impact can be enormous.

     One small change I made last year was the switch to shooting fibre wad shotshells. Most sportsmen carry their empty hulls out of the woods with them and dispose of them properly. It's and easy thing to do. I enjoy counting my empty hulls at the end of the day, and figuring out what my shooting average is. Sometimes I wish I hadn't, but,....  The whereabouts of a plastic wad after we have taken a shot is always a mystery, and I don't know anyone who searches out, and retrieves his wad. Unfortunately, no matter how you slice it, leaving a plastic wad in the uplands is littering. It is also something that doesn't need to be done. Fibre wad ammo may not be wide spread in the US, but it is available, and should the demand for it increase, the supply should also.

     I have been shooting Gamebore Regal. This is a shortened fibre wad hull. It has proven to be a quality shell, and if you are looking for a fibre wad shell, I highly recommend it. Should you decide to give this a try, remember that it is an import and pellet size in the UK is slightly different than here.  This season I shot #5s, which equate to a US #6. UK pellet sizes are generally one size smaller, so get a pellet one size larger than you'll need.

Gamebore Regal 20g fibre wad ammo

     Another change I made was shooting Bismuth in certain upland scenarios. The dog training club I belong to only allows non toxic shot, and I have never been a fan of steel. In the past I had good results using bismuth for waterfowling, so when Kent offered a new upland bismuth line I could not resist trying it out. I shot the 1oz 3" 20g #6s 1400fps load Kent offers. These proved more than adequate at knocking down pheasant, but now that I have secured a couple boxes of the 2 3/4" 1200fps #6s, the faster ammo will be dedicated to waterfowling, while the slower get used in the uplands. Unfortunately these are not offered with a fibre wad here in the US. However there is a fibre wad version available in the UK. In the meantime, my use of these is limited to the club, and a couple of coverts where I have on occasion jumped waterfowl while grouse hunting, until either the fibre wad version becomes available, or I find a fibre wad reloading recipe.

Kent's new Upland Bismuth

     I am certain this ammo will exceed anyone's performance expectations which is why I am pleased to announce that Kent and Gamebore get a coveted ASO endorsement.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Pheasant and Onion Game Pie

     This season, for a number of reasons, I shot more pheasant than any other game bird. I enjoy eating pheasant, and having used pheasant in game pie in the past I thought I would expand upon that. Pies are relatively easy to make, and are the perfect way to use the often overlooked legs and thighs of the bird. Truth be told, the legs and thighs are the absolute tastiest bits, and not using them is depriving yourself of a real treat. When I dress out birds I generally separate the breast from the legs and thighs, saving all the legs and thighs in one big bag, and saving the breasts paired up in smaller portions. Whatever your routine, consider saving the legs and thighs for a separate meal of some type.

     For this recipe you will need:
               8-12 pheasant legs and thighs
               1 large onion (yellow or red)
               1-2 shallots
               2 ready made pie crusts
               1 egg
               poultry herb mix (sage, rosemary, thyme)
               salt and pepper

1- Place all the legs and thighs in a sauce pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 1 hour.

2- Remove the legs and thighs from the water, set aside and allow to cool for about 1 hour. The water can be strained and saved (highly recommended) to be used as a soup stock later.

3- Once the meat has cooled sufficiently, by hand strip all the meat of the bones and set aside. Discard the bones and tendon bits.

4- Dice, or slice if you prefer, the onion and in a deep sauce pan begin browning over medium heat with a good chunk of butter. While the onions are browning mince all the meat and mix with the herbs, diced shallot, and S & P.

5- Add the meat to the onions, and mix well. If the meat still needs some cooking heat through over low heat. At this point you can add a bit more butter if you wish.

Now it is time to fill the pie crust. Each ready made crust has it's own handling instructions, on how to top a pie, and defrosting, but generally you will need to allow the crust to defrost enough to pinch and seal the edges of the top crust and the bottom crust. Anyway,...

6- Fill the bottom pie shell, place the other pie shell over the top, cut a few vent holes, and brush the towpath egg.

7- Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. The meat should have been already cooked through, but  if you are uncertain you can lower the heat to 300 degrees after 20 minutes and cook an additional 10 minutes.

Additional Tips-

     I like to make this pie in a spring form pan. As the pie crust defrosts it becomes malleable, and can be formed and pressed to fit.

     Once baked, this pie can be reheated by wrapping in foil and heating at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Ready to go in the oven.

Fully cooked.

Reheated the next day, this pie didn't last long at the skeet club.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Resurrection, Bringing ASO back to life.

     It will no doubt have been noticed by followers and regular readers of this blog that it has been some time since my last post. It's not that I haven't had anything I wanted to share, but rather a case of having too much to do, and not much free time to write in the evenings. Well,...I'm back. Keeping this blog relevant is, and always has been important to me, and it's time I get rolling with it again, and regularly writing, again.

     I have done plenty of things that could well have been written about, but time has passed, and many of the details are now blurry, so I doubt I'll be writing about them. That said, I shall give you a quick peek at what I failed to share with you all.

     In the spring I organized a shooting clinic, which was held at Green Mountain Shooting in Ossipee New Hampshire, for the Ruffed Grouse Society. A number of people came out to listen to lectures on grouse habitat, hunting equipment, guns, chokes, ammo, as well as receive a bit of instruction from Green Mountain shooting coaches while shooting their sporting clays course. Oh yeah. There was a fantastic BBQ meal, too.

     My pup, Bailey, made his field trial debut, too. Bailey ran under Steve Church in the open stake of the Patriot Sporting Spaniel Club's Springer trial held in North Conway New Hampshire back in September. Bailey had a great first series, but took a little walk about during his second series. While nothing Bailey did during his walk about got him dismissed, it was behavior that needed correcting so Steve made the decision to pick him up. While it didn't go as planned, it was far from a disaster. Anyway, what could reasonably be expected when entering a 14 month old in an open stake?

Training with Bailey

     There was a bit of hunting, too. While I didn't go out to the grouse woods as much as I would have liked to, I did have a few good days on the woodcock, and pheasant. I explored new cover in my home state of Massachusetts, and as feeling hopeful for the grouse population, here.

Massachusetts Woodcock

Pheasants shot at the club

     Oh Yeah. I went to England to shoot driven birds again, too. This was my 4th year going over, and was fortunate enough to be invited for a 5th visit. I will make every effort to return.

England photos by Sue Bell

     Outside of my outdoor pursuits I am happy to report that the high school rugby club where I coach made it to the finals for the 6th time in 6 years, and won it for the 3rd time in that same time period.

Wildcats Rugby, players and coaches.

     Anyway, It's good to be back.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Flyfishing and Wingshooting Expo

     The Flyfishing and Wingshooting Expo was held the weekend of February 24th and 25th at the Split Rock Resort, Lake harmony Pennsylvania. Over the years I've been to a few sportsman's expos here and there. A sportsman expo is always interesting, but always disappointing at the same time. Not being interested in much of what is on offer at a sportsman's expo, nor a connoisseur of beef jerky, I tend to not get terribly excited about them. The Flyfishing and Wingshooting Expo, however, sounded like it would be right in my wheelhouse. So I secured accommodations, and headed to the Poconos for the weekend.

     The Expo was quite enjoyable, once I found the venue. Split Rock Resort is a kinda funny place. The signage in was lacking, and once I did manage to get inside the resort I had a long walk past a video arcade, and hair salon before I was browsing all thing upland, wetland, and stream bound. Inside I quickly caught up with an assortment of acquaintances, before making the rounds.

     There were a wide variety of exhibitors, both fishing oriented, and shooting oriented. I don't think there were many people not finding what they were looking for, though there were a couple of gaps that could have been filled in a little. Not being a huge expo, I felt the size allowed me to chat with exhibitors without many interruptions, but I fear that the smaller size of the expo may not have allowed exhibitors to meet expected sales. Being the first year of this new expo I hope exhibitors and vendor make that a consideration when deciding whether or not to attend next year.

     The expo offered a number of 1 hr seminars throughout both days. I attended two seminars; a ruffed grouse habitat seminar, and something about English Setters. I always enjoy all things Ruffed Grouse, and the seminar I attended was no exception. The setter seminar? Well, I'm still not sure what the purpose of that seminar was.

     Saturday evening there was a sportsman's banquet held at the resort. I bought in to a Ruffed Grouse Society table with my acquaintances. The featured speaker was Dez Young, of Hunting with Hank fame, who made a nice presentation about the history of his TV show. Oh yeah. The food was great.

     I'm glad I made the trip, and plan to make it again next year. I'm certain as this expo grows it will be the premier sporting expo.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Endorsements; A Few From Abroad

     It's been a while since I endorsed a product or shop, but while on my shooting trip to England last December I came across a couple of shops and a product that I feel need mentioning. In fact, I felt they deserve an ASO endorsement, so take a look.

     If you find yourself in the Yorkshire area you owe it to yourself to visit  Davey and Sons in the picturesque village of Wykeham, Scarborough. A family run business, these guys will certainly have anything you might need on a day's shoot. The family/business patriarch, Peter Davey, has been shooting for a long time, and not only knows guns, but has a very keen sense of his customer's desires. It wasn't long after I stepped foot in the shop he was thrusting a beautiful B. Rizzini 20g round body side-by-side into my hands, obviously picking up, somehow, that I've got a bit of a thing for 20g guns, Rizzini's, and round bodies. I had the privilege of shooting with Mr. Davey at Cropton where the Churchill enthusiast put his 25" barreled gun to good use. So, if you find yourself in need of anything shooting related, or even just want to explore an outfitter, Davey and Sons is the place to go.

     Along the same vein, but somewhat different, is Carters Countrywear in Helmsley. Carters is the place to go for tweed shooting clothing. With a very nice, well stocked showroom, and bespoke tailoring, this is the place to go if you want to look good, or as in my case, just splurge a little on new shooting socks and garters. They boast the moto "Some clothes say you are going somewhere, ours say you've arrived", and it certainly seems the case. Should I one day hit the lottery the first thing I will do is book a day shooting driven red grouse in the moors. The second thing I will do is commission a set of bespoke tweeds from Carters for that day.  You know,... "That's the way forward."

     If your budget doesn't allow you to spend the money demanded above, there is still hope. Rydale is a Yorkshire clothing line that offers a range of country and street wear that is easier on the budget. In fact, it very nicely priced, and nicely made. I bought a fleece gilet (pronounced Jee-Lay), which is a fancy way of saying vest, which has quickly become one of my favorites. 
Rydale will ship to the States, but you'll need to email them to get a shipping quote. It should also be kept in mind that UK and US sizes differ slightly, and you may want to order one size larger than you normally would. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Season To Remember, part 4. Fowling with a Legend

     Water/Wildfowling is something I don't do much. I like it, and there is plenty of good fowling around me, but most of it is coastal, or tidal marsh. The type of fowling more fit for a Labrador, than a Springer. So my fowling trips are limited to just a few days of decoying at cranberry bogs, or pass shooting next to a small river. So when I was given an opportunity to spend a morning decoying geese I was eager to give it a go. The morning was especially enticing, as I would be shooting with a local fowling legend.

     The world is a much smaller place than it used to be thanks to the world wide web. The web, and web forums dedicated to game shooting, and the countryside allows one to know what is going on globally. It was such a web forum where I first became aware of HLG. Routinely I would read posts by HLG telling of mornings or evening spent shooting geese and pigeon, often in great numbers. Not only would the size of the HLG's bags be noticed, but also his generosity; he frequently took others out to shoot with him. Being HLG was friends with my host, PP, I was soon the recipient of an invite.

     The morning started well before dawn as we made our way to the Leeds area. The drive took us from the countryside, to the city, to the countryside again, where we posted up in the dark along a hedge bordering a large sheep field. Minutes after we arrived HLG arrived, and pleasantries were briefly exchanged before making our way into the field where we began to plan our ambush. After a quick drive around the field a hedge splitting the field and surrounded my sugar beets spread by the farmer for the sheep was deemed the spot we'd build our hide (blind, for the American readers). With HLG conducting the predawn operations the trucks were emptied, a hide build, and decoys spread. The entire time we could here a symphony of geese from the reservoir below us just past the treeline. Soon we were settled in waiting for the geese. We didn't have to wait very long.

     Over the course of the morning the geese came in infrequent waves, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in larger skeins. Sometimes coming right over, sometimes just skirting us. I'd like to say we shot a huge pile of geese that morning. We did not, but not because they weren't there, but because they just didn't cooperate. Sometimes they zig, when you need them to zag. Such was our morning. Still, we shot some geese. In fact we shot more geese that morning than I could ever hope for in a morning here at home. In fact I saw more geese than I'd ever seen before.  I shot my first Greylag Goose that morning, but more than that, I got to spend the morning shooting with a Leeds fowling legend.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Season To Remember, Part 3; The Sticky Toffee Pudding Massacre

My last driven shooting day in England would be back at Watton. The day started like it always had, with a sausage sandwich and a tea from the farm stand while everyone gathered at the farm yard and the day's plan was played out. This day would be different. Not because the decision had been made to shoot the drives in reverse order, but because some quality shenanigans were in the works.

I've said it before, and I'll say again; driven bird shooting, like most bird shooting isn't about the shooting. It's about a good day spent in the countryside, camaraderie, and the craic. Sometimes it's more about the craic than other times. This was one of those days. And your's truly was the target. I brought it on, myself. And I was relatively certain there would be some pay back for my off season offering.

To make this story complete, the back story is in order. Last year, a photo of two of my mates, in matching tweeds, surfaced. I couldn't let that go, and knew what I'd have to do. So, a screen capture, a bit of cropping, and an internet search later, and I was packing and shipping a pair of custom, nesting coffee mugs with heart shaped handles. Presented at the syndicate's season end dinner it not only got a laugh, but set in motion the events of my last day at Watton.

SL and CC

Now, it is important to know that I full well expected pay back. And I will say that after a days of shooting with the guys, and there yet to have been even an attempt, I was beginning to get a little worried. Surely these  guys were up to the challenge. Well, they didn't disappoint. Last year I'd shown my Achilles heel, when I made my enthusiasm for sticky toffee pudding (with a dollop of clotted cream) known. Sticky toffee pudding is a most excellent dessert seldom found in the US. I liked STP, and that was not lost on them. 

So, as the day began to take shape, I was approached by a member of the syndicate. He came bearing a two pack of microwavable sticky toffee pudding. He'd remembered I had a fondness for the dessert, and had found them at the grocery store, and thought I would enjoy eating them at home. How thoughtful. I was truly pleased and impressed. A couple minutes later another member approached and handed me a two pack of sticky toffee pudding, thinking I would enjoy taking a few home. Wow! How thoughtful, and coincidental, I thought. I do like sticky toffee pudding, so.... A few minutes later I third member of the syndicate approached bearing a two pack of sticky toffee pudding.  Oh! I get it. Looking across the barn yard I saw CC standing by his truck smirking. 

     "I know what you've done!" I hollered. "Well done!" 

Retribution was been handed out,.... all day. Even after the lunch break I was still being gifted sticky toffee pudding. Unbeknownst to me, the sticky toffee pudding I had stowed in the truck was being snuck out and given to others to give to me. They just seemed to be coming, and coming. By days end, I was the lucky recipient of 16 sticky toffee puddings, and a sticker toffee pudding ale.

The Sticky toffee pudding wasn't exactly the end of it, however. The syndicate has a shaming system.  Commit an offense of any kind, and the next weekend you'd be made to carry your gun in a pink gun slip. Well, the week earlier I'd forgotten a few empty hulls on my peg after a drive. I'd alerted a member of the syndicate of my mistake, but the damage was done, and I would be awarded the pink gun slip. 

So this,.....

became this.

As for the day's shooting? Well, I lucked out and found myself with warm barrels on hot pegs, and got in some great shooting. In fact, I'd say it was my best shooting day of the trip.

And as for the sticky toffee pudding, and the craic,.......

...I won.

Monday, January 1, 2018

A Season To Remember; Woodcock flights and England Flights. Part 2

England Bound

     A couple weeks after my last trip north, with my banner woodcock day still fresh in my mind I found myself sitting onboard an Aer Lingus flight to England. Last year when I was in England it was suggested that I spend a bit more time, and get in a few more shooting days. So arrangements were made, and I was off for a 2 week shooting adventure. The trip was scheduled to have me fly the red eye a Wednesday, and depart 2 weeks later on a Wednesday. This gave me a few days of acclimation before my first shoot day, and a few recovery days after my last, with 4 shooting days scheduled from Saturday to the following Saturday. The days in-between shoots would be spent driving the countryside, and exploring outfitters and businesses catering to the shooting community.


     My first shooting day was with the Watton-Carrs Syndicate in the Driffield area of east Yorkshire. My host PP and I were on the road to the shoot early, watching the shy brighten through the windshield of his truck. In what has become a bit of a tradition, just prior to arriving at the shoot we stopped at the farm stand for what may be the best sausage sandwich in England.

     Arriving at the farm I made the rounds, catching up with those I'd shot with before, and meeting new members I'd not.  As the cold was stamped out of toes, dogs allowed to run out a bit of energy, and pie money collected the day began to take shape. Pegs were drawn, and we headed out.  Coincidentally, a guest gun, T,  who I'd met last year was shooting with the syndicate again, adding  yet another level of familiarity to my trip.

     I don't remember which number I drew, but I was stood out in a field facing a wood. There was a hedge and a ditch to my right with PP on the next peg over the hedge. To my left other guns lined out through the field. Soon the shooting began. I've been on somewhat of a quest to shoot a European Woodcock, and late November, and December are when the Woodcock are in Yorkshire. As fate would have it the cry of "Woodcock!" could be heard down the line, a shot rang out, and PP tumbled a good woodcock that had flown the hedge between us. A second woodcock flew the hedge, but I held back, it flying just above the height of the hedge. Not high enough or safe enough to be of my liking.  I mightn't have killed a woodcock, but I would be carrying one out after the drive, PP's woodcock having fallen my side of the hedge.

     The day would have it's moments, and it was the second drive I was to shoot on that I remember the best. It started out all wrong when syndicate member Bubbles tumbled down a steep embankment into a wet ditch. Somehow he managed to keep gun, cartridges, and cell phone out of the 6" of water at the bottom. It is remarkable the protection from the elements a good set of tweeds can provide, Bubbles only a bit damp in a few areas. After hauling Bubbles up the bank we proceeded to our pegs and continued shooting.  On this drive I was stood on a ride between a wood to my left, and "Bubbles Brook" and a hedge to my right. The shooting was much quicker, snap shooting, and at some point I got a good look at nicely presented cock pheasant which I folded with my first shot. The bird tumbled into the wood hitting every branch on the way down, before bouncing off a plastic drum feeder ringing it like a bell, which got a chuckle out of those who witnessed it. After the drive had ended, as we collected our birds and made our way out of the wood Bubbles emerged with a fox that had been pushed right to him by the beating line. A bonus, indeed.

    Like always we all stood 3, and beat 3, and had several memorable moments. Like can happen, I'd not drawn the best pegs, and I don't recall how many birds I killed, but I'd killed the one's I'd felt I should have, and had a great day. Shooting with a walk 1- stand 1 syndicate is about much more than just killing birds. The time spent beating and putting good birds over the line, and the craic are equally important.


     On Wednesday I found my self again in tattersall and tie, this time heading out to shoot with another walk 1- stand 1 syndicate in Cropton where I was able to fill in for a regular member show couldn't attend.  Cropton is a bit different from Watton. Watson shoots over fields, with the birds being driven from woods and hedges. Cropton is a woodland shoot. Some birds are driven over fields, but many drives are also out over breaks in the woods. the topography is very much like where I hunt grouse and woodcock in northern New England, and some of the woods I saw at Cropton I would have been more than happy to rough shoot for woodcock over a spaniel. Another difference is that Cropton employs the use of a shoot trailer to shuttle people around.

     Cropton was interesting in many ways. Again, and I wouldn't know this until the day had ended, I didn't draw good pegs, from a shooting stand point, but from a spectators point of view they were pretty damned good. The first drive of the day was awesome. I was part of the beating team, but the wood didn't require all of us, so I was stood behind the line of guns and tasked with marking and picking up shot birds. The guns were stood in a line in the bottom os a steep valley with a stream just in front of them. The beaters pushing birds from high on top of the opposite side, which had been logged. The birds came high and fast, some curling on set wings, and descending slightly to make for tricky shooting. Sometimes coming in small flushes, and at other times coming in singles and pairs this drive was exciting to watch.

     My first drive was like none I'd seen before. I was stood in a somewhat marshy area that looked more like somewhere one would hunt moose. Surrounded by tall pines the birds came by in singles and pairs. The shooting was quick, snap type shooting, but with more of a window than when I was stood on the ride at Watton.  I got in a fair amount of shooting at marginal birds a bit far, or crossing in front, which I didn't mind missing very much because they were marginal, but when I good cock pheasant came over, trying to get past between me and the gun to my right I was happy to fold him into the baby pines and thick underbrush behind us. Fittingly, it was PP's cocker, Snitch, who was on pick up duty in my area and picked my bird.

The walk in to the first drive I would shoot at Cropton.

     As the day progressed I was on a peg in the middle of the line, in a field looking at another wood I was certain would hold woodcock. On this drive PP and snitch stood at the ready to load and pick if needed. Neither was to be, and the same 2 cartridges I dropped in to my 20g Browning O/U made it back into my pocket after the drive. The drive, however, proved to be great to see some good high birds killed. The second and third guns down the line to my left, closest to the bordering high pines were on hot pegs, were shooting with some efficiency. I've seen some nice YouTube videos of good high birds being killed, but there is nothing like watching it as it unfolds. Were these towering birds? No, but they were consistently right around the 50 yard mark. It was a pleasure to watch.

Myself and Snitch on The Spectator Drive. The gun stood next to the treelike behind me in the picture has some awesome birds come over him. It was a thrill to see some high birds killed.

     Later I would have the pleasure of watching Snitch in the beating line as we beat a big brushy cut towards a swath of pines, the guns stood on the farm road on the other side. The beating line produced plenty of good birds for the guns, but it was at the bottom when twice Snitch turned on the wind, and drove in on tight sitting birds making good hard flushes.

The cut we pushed where Snitch did some great work.

     The day concluded with everyone making their way to the Blacksmiths Arms for a post shoot drink and a full dinner. While I had not drawn a hot peg, and had only killed one bird, I was happy with the way the day played out.  got to see some spectacular shooting, some sporting birds, mouth watering drives, good dog work, and met some great people. Like I said, it's not about killing birds, but about a day in the countryside with good friend and good people.


     We would pick up the shooting again 2 days after Cropton with a visit to the Escrick Park Estate just south of York. In planning my trip I was presented with the possibility of being part of a team of guns being assembled for a day at the estate. I had never been on an estate shoot, nor even taken part on a fully driven day. Until this point all of my driven shooting had been walk 1- stand 1, but now I would experience nothing but unadulterated shooting for 5 drives on a 150 bird day.

     The day began before sunrise as the team of 10 guns dressed in their finest tweeds assembled at the shoot lodge for a full English breakfast before heading out for the first drive. Over sausage, beans, toast and coffee the day's craic began to get going. The shoot manager arrived as we were finishing off our coffee, gave us the ground rules, and we drew pegs. Escrick uses an old method of moving up and down pegs on successive drives; Odd numbers move up, even numbers move down. This means on each drive you will have different neighbors. I drew peg 2 for the first drive. This would mean on the second drive I'd drop to peg 1, then 3, 5, and 7 respectively. I didn't know it at the time, but my poor peg slump was over, and I'd be on some hot pegs.

An Escrick Park estate dog.

     The first drive had the line of guns in a field facing a tall hedge about 75 yards forward, other about the same distance behind. Standing on my peg I was doing all I could to try to ignore the numbing cold in my fingers. The weather had turned and a bitter cold had settled on the area, and the wind was howling. My the numbness and tingling made me begin to doubt whether I'd be able to slip off the safety, and pull the trigger. I'd soon find out when a good cock pheasant came over to my left. The cold forgotten about I turned, and swung the gun on the bird. Well, not only had I forgotten about the cold, but I also forgot about the safety, and my gun remained silent. It was only minutes later that partridge began streaming over the hedge in small coveys, and while none actually came my way I got to warm my barrels a bit trying to secure a few my neighboring gun had missed as they went out the backdoor. I hadn't expected to be shooting partridge, and it was a welcome addition to my species list. I can also attest to how exciting they are when they come streaming over a hedge.

     On the second drive I was assigned to peg 1, which was a walking gun. This drive was similar to the first with the guns facing a hedge, but much further away this time. The beating line moved roughly perpendicular to the line of guns on the other side of the hedge. That was where I came in. the walking gun is responsible for birds that try to break back over the beaters. And they did. No sooner than the drive had begun, 2 partridge tried to break over the hedge and back away from the line. They failed, both being brought down by my bottom barrel. As the drive progressed others, both partridge and pheasant tried to exit stage left where I was waiting. Some made it through, some fell on my second shot, and a few were exactly the kind of challenging connections we hope for. About a third of the way through the drive a hen pheasant, broke back over the beating line, high and well over the hedge. Swinging through I secured the hen with a single pull of the trigger, and getting a rousing cheer from the beating line who'd seen it, appreciating that their hard work was not wasted. A few minutes later a cock pheasant tried the same escape route, and like the hen, was brought down with a single shot, again making the beating line happy. The shoot manager, who had been walking with me remarked that its a good thing when the beaters like your shooting. "Make sure they know it was the Yankee doing that shooting" was my reply. At the drives end I'd killed 6 or 7. I was happy. Off for a bit of elevensie.

A happy gun? Or trying to catch a ride on the wind?

Mixed bag at Escrick

     After elevensie we lined out in front of a game crop which was pushed towards us. I was stood with a hedge and a ditch to my left, with a tree straight in front at the edge of the game crop. While the tree was well ahead of me it shielded my view of incoming birds making the shooting a bit tricky. Unfortunately the birds had the wind to their back which did 2 things; make them fast, but put them on us before they had much height. By the drive's end I'd passed on a number of low birds, missed some good birds, and put pellets in 2 others. The added speed meant I'd need added lead, which I hadn't quite gotten my head wrapped around. That said, I'd pricked hard both a partridge and a pheasant which sailed to where the pickers-up were waiting.

The line of guns to my right on the 3rd drive.

     The fourth drive was interesting. I was stood on a ride in the wood with some of the guns lined in the field to my left, and others in the wood to my right. The shooting was snap shooting, with only a small window. The birds were coming over me, but in the shade, with the sun low in the sky my eyes were playing tricks on my. I was having a tough time judging distance, and many times birds were over me quicker than I'd expected. But the cry of "Woodcock!" kept me alert, and twice I had opportunities, though fleeting. The first woodcock passed low, left to right, but climbed as it went over my neighboring gun. A tree between us blocked a bit of my view, but the woodcock quickly emerged high over my neighbor before making it through without a shot fired. The next woodcock did almost the same thing, but passing right to left, gaining elevation. As the woodcock rose I began to swing and mount but the bird made it through a small strip of trees and out over the gun to my left, who made a fantastic shot on the now quite high woodcock. That was not the only woodcock killed on that drive, with J N nearly, but for a technicality, getting a left and a right on woodcock. A good woodcock came over, which he killed. He then took the gun out of his shoulder just before a second woodcock appeared. He then brought the gun up again, and killed woodcock number 2 with the unfired cartridge in his second barrel. Here in the US, killing 2 birds in flight, each with a successive shot is called a double (L & R in the UK). If the report of the gun is what puts the second bird in the air, and it is then killed, we call it a scotch double. J N, not sure if both birds were in the air at the same time, I'd credit with a scotch double.   I, however, would only have but a few spectacular misses on this drive.

JN with his 2 woodcock.

     The fifth and final drive had the guns lined out along 3 sides of a wooded outcrop of tall thick pines. As the beaters approached birds began to filter out, but it was clear that many of these birds had seen a line of guns before. Most of the pheasant  curled around and flew back in to the woods over tree top height before a shot could be fired, the partridge coming out low, many flushing not from in the woods, but when they reached the end. Still, some birds flew nicely, and I was able to kill a few good partridge.

A couple of the pickers-up,....

..and the fruits of their labor.

     The day at Escrick ended much the way it had begun, with the gun team sitting down for a good meal at the shoot lodge. While it was supposed to be a 150 bird day it didn't quite turn out that way. We ended up a bit short with a bag of 104; 36 pheasant, 63 partridge, 4 woodcock, and 1 pigeon. We racked up this bag with 406 shots, for a pretty good ratio. I had finally gotten some good peg, and had some quality birds, and I added another species to my list, having killed my first Red-Leg Partridge. Could the day have been better? Well, I was happy, but I could see why some of the others weren't thrilled. The bag was 1/3rd short, and while we were shown enough birds to have met the bag, a lot of those birds just weren't sporting. Some, as in the case of the last drive, just weren't even shots. I know it is hard to manage a shoot, but I would expect there to be contingency plans for days when the wind, or weather, is a factor. Surely there are drives that show better in such conditions. Anyway, Escrick shall not be judged on just one shoot. Conditions were tough, and given the opportunity I would shoot there again. just hopefully on a sunny, warm, still day.

Have you ever seen a better looking team of guns?

Part 3, The Sticky Toffee Pudding Massacre, coming soon.