The DIY shoot
Julien Pursglove describes the perks of a DIY shoot, an alternative route to great sport, friendship and 'doing your bit' satisfaction.
It never ceases to amaze me what can be achieved when like-minded men and women join together to their mutual advantage and, in this case, the benefit of their sport. I refer to that increasing number of sportsmen and women who join together from the end of one shooting season until the start of the next, and toil diligently throughout the spring and summer. For these are the members of that growing number of DIY syndicates that exist throughout the country.
This type of syndicate offers sportsmen the opportunity to enjoy game shooting at a modest cost, provided they are prepared to put the work in during the closed season. This work usually involves operations like coppicing, the clearing of rides, the siting of feed hoppers, maintaining the integrity of the pens, vermin control, bird rearing and husbandry, and participating in feeding rotas, to name but a few.
The Primrose Farm Shoot, a case study
The Primrose Farm Shoot in East Sussex is situated mid-way between Lewes and Eastbourne, on the inland side of the picturesque South Downs, which has recently been granted National Park status. Now in its 16th year, it is run by a management committee headed up by Tony Fish, who has been with the syndicate since the very start. Tony takes care of the admin side – the work parties are organised by Andy Beale, while Geoff Burgess, Dan Morgan and Alan Blunden oversee the vermin. Due to the nature of the farming enterprise, corvids are a major problem. Peter Riggs has also been involved from the start and is still very much a senior figure and guiding hand, together with Peter Appleton, the landowner.
During the time the shoot has been in existence, many a person new to the sport of game shooting has taken their memorable first bird at Primrose. The shoot is based on a 400-acre dairy farm, all in one block. The land consists mainly of good grazing pasture, interspersed with broadleaved coppices and planted cover crops of maize and sorghum under-sown with shorter growing cover crops.
The River Cuckmere runs through the centre, en route to the English Channel, which probably explains the ever-increasing mink problem. The main quarry on the shoot are pheasants. Poults are bought in from the local game farm and generally go into the pens in late July, although some of the members have been known to rear birds themselves on occasion. The shoot has a number of small rearing pens and there are two inter-connected ponds in its centre, onto which seven-week-old ducks are released. The Pond Drive sits between two large strips of cover crop, to make it a mixed drive. Partridge have been tried in the past with little success.
The work parties usually commence during late-February, following the end of season shoot dinner, and occur every two to three weeks after that. This year the shoot undertook a major venture to completely replace the Wynham Coppice rearing pen – the main pen situated in the centre of the land. It was a big job dismantling the original pen and tidying the area in preparation for the erection of its replacement. For posts, we utilised wood cut during the winter on the shoot.
A major feature of these work parties are the lunchtime barbecues, cooked by head chef Mike Weight – another founder member. The Wynham Coppice pen site is our alfresco venue. Members bring a selection of meats and breads, and during the morning, while the members are about their tasks, Mike prepares them a feast over an open fire with a few other delights thrown in. Dessert may take the form of member Sophie Brookwells's rocky road flapjacks, which she often brings along on shoot days too.
All the hard work that the team puts in during the spring and summer months doesn't just benefit the pheasants – the enhanced environment means non-prey species also thrive – a couple of years ago a bittern was seen on the Island Drive. Peter is keen to promote all aspects of the countryside and in the early spring there is the Blue Walk, a trail the public can follow, with signs directing them to items of interest. This has absolutely no impact on the management of the shoot and offers us the opportunity to engage with the public and discuss and explain what it is we do here.
The names of the main drives are Cock (normally the first), Pond, Wynham Coppice, The Island, Golf and Mill Wood, which is traditionally the last drive of the day. There are a couple of others – River has proved successful with the addition of two strips of cover crop, especially in the early part of the season and, on a good day, Set-aside can provide some excellent sport as birds are flushed over a small valley back towards the river.
Another important feature of a DIY shoot is the provision of an informal environment for those who love working their dogs, whether beating or picking-up. They come in all shapes and sizes – and probably wouldn't win any field trials – but they certainly enjoy their outings as much as their masters do.
At Primrose there are opportunities for full and half Gun membership and there are typically nine shoot days per season, run on a ‘beat one, stand one' basis. The Guns are also allocated a ‘guest day' when they can bring along a guest to shoot. In addition to the initial annual joining cost, members chip in £20 a day, which pays for their breakfast and evening meal, and those of the beaters and pickers-up, who are not paid, but do it for the love of the sport. Everyone takes a packed lunch for the midday break.
With all the hard work and effort invested by members at Primrose over the last year, there are great expectations for the coming season, when this DIY syndicate, along with many others around the country, can look forward to reaping the fruits of their labour. Long may it continue.