Current World and European Champion in two separate clay shooting disciplines, 50-year-old George Digweed has won 23 World Championships. He is also an outstanding game Shot. Moreover George and his wife Kate run three game shoots from their home in Kent. And for his generous support for charities he was five years ago awarded an MBE.
Do you have a routine on shoot day mornings?
If I am running a shoot, which is most days in the shooting season, then I am up and out at the crack of dawn to check the weather. At Owley we can get some unusual winds. I set the pegs accordingly. Kate hosts the Guns (I look after the beating line) and will be getting ready for the day before their arrival. She will be getting the soup and sausages sorted for the elevenses, and the egg and bacon baps for the Guns when they arrive at 8:45am.
Do you have a lucky garment?
A lucky tie, which happens to be the one I am wearing when we have had a particularly good day and the birds have flown exceptionally well. I will put it to one side and save it for a really important day (they are all important, but some are more expensive!)
At what age did you first pick up a gun?
I was 12 when I first shot with my grandfather, who was a butcher in Hastings and belonged to a local syndicate, where I was a beater. Out of season we would go after pigeons and rabbits. In the summer we shot some clays. Under his guidance I had a good education. He taught me so much about the sport, and nature itself.
Did you have lessons?
I have never had a shooting lesson. Accompanying my grandfather to clay shoots was a massive learning curve. Once I passed my driving test I went to all the local shoots, looking to pick up tips. I really enjoyed watching the big names of the time such as Barry Simpson, Brian Hebditch, AJ Smith etc. I learned a lot from them. But I suppose my own grounding was in Skeet.
When did you realise you were quite good at it?
I won a few junior competitions, though it is easy to think you are better than you are. If a youngster shows a bit of talent, parents have a tendency to think they have a champion on their hands. But I have always been competitive and tried my hardest, whatever the sport – be it shooting, cricket, rugby, golf or squash.
Did you excel at any other sports?
I enjoy sport, period. I made the Guinness Book of Records in cricket when I bowled five maiden overs for five wickets. And won a club handicap golf championship. But shooting was my first love and there is only so much time.
Who was your mentor?
Without doubt my grandfather, and my cousin Bill Moseley.
What was your first gun?
A Midland 16 bore side-by-side. Then grandfather bought me a Miroku MS150 side-by-side before I moved onto a Remington 1100. Then a Parker Hale 800 Trap gun – I've always liked to shoot with my head up – you can't read a bird so well with a low shooting gun.
Your gun now – and cartridges?
I shot a Beretta 682 before making my final switch in 2000 to Perazzi. I use Gamebore White Gold and Black Gold ammunition.
Your preferred non-toxic shot?
Tungsten Matrix – they are brilliant. If they weren't so expensive I would consider using them for all of my shooting, game and clays.
Was your first shooting at game or clays?
Woodpigeons and rabbits.
Having won a record 22 world titles, what would you say was the key contributing factor?
Probably treating every event as a new competition and wanting to win it. Every morning I look in the mirror and wonder if I have still got it. This is strong motivation. I also never think about other competitors – all that matters is the next target.
Is clay shooting good practice for game?
Definitely. Forget talk about clays slowing down. Modern traps can present what you are looking for and offer great practice for the real thing. Maybe you have a problem with a certain bird – a good coach can quickly put you back on track. I am having talks with Royal Berkshire Shooting School about next year holding a Game Shooting Masterclass, involving 16 people, broken down into four seperate groups, followed by a simulated event after lunch.
Is there a secret to shooting high pheasants?
Hit them in the head!
You also run three shoots in the south-east (Bodium, Owley and Shepherds) – are you hands-on?
Can I just say that we have accounted for 195 foxes since July 1. We have help from one or two others, but Kate and I do a lot of the keepering. Kate looks after the rearing of all the poults, and once we get to mid-September on finishing the clays (I don't shoot competitions from then until February), I am fully concentrated on the shoots. With the odd exception of an away-day!
When out on a day's game shooting does inferior shooting bother you, i.e. wounding game rather than clean kills?
It's difficult, as I don't want to come across as the big time champion, but yes, in fairness to the quarry everyone should take the time for a little practice. It's also so much more enjoyable when you shoot well.
Who have you learned most from?
In the game shooting world it has to be Philip Fussell, a classic Shot and real sportsman. And Bob Hunter, the former headkeeper at Miltons. Not forgetting pigeon shooter Adrian Necci.
Which game Shot do you admire the most?
For sheer class, Philip Fussell. There are perhaps many who are good, but John Ward is outstanding.
Your favourite pheasant shoot?
Miltons – for 10 years from the early 90s I belonged to a syndicate there. It was just fantastic – maybe there are 50 or so shoots that can now rival Miltons, but that period was very special.
How long can you keep competing at such a high standard? Is it not now a young man's game?
I really don't know – I get asked all the time, but I have made a lot of friends and experienced new cultures around the world through international shooting and while I shoot to win, I would genuinely miss this side of it. And while competitive shooting is a young man's game, I'm not ready to quit just yet.
Do you prefer to have a shoot meal at lunchtime or at the end of the day?
It all depends on logistics – distances between drives and timings, and of course available daylight. So on some we go straight through and others we sit around a table at lunchtime. Personally I prefer to stop for lunch.
What is the most important part of the day?
To remember that it's not all about pulling the trigger.