From a North Yorkshire farm to the MD role at E.J. Churchill, for Rob Fenwick shooting has been a dominant theme throughout.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in North Yorkshire on a farm. I had a wonderful childhood spending most of my days walking round the fields shooting any vermin that moved and hunting with the Middleton Hunt whose kennels were only four miles down the road.
When did you start shooting?
From as early as I can remember. It started with an air rifle with my father and then I moved onto a .410 and then to an AYA 20 bore. Then, strangely, onto a non-ejector 25" Churchill 12 bore, which a member of our shoot syndicate loaned me. I killed a pheasant with my first ever shot with it. I used to come home every day from school and go out shooting pigeons with my parents. I remember getting my shotgun licence at 13 and was so excited by this!
Who taught you to shoot?
Ken Crackett from Thimbleby Shooting Ground put the basics into me and then Phil Stokes was the one who really developed me into a serious Shot. I met Phil while at Harper Adams and he spent loads of time coaching me and the college shooting team. We won the British University Championships all four years I was there. By this time I had moved onto a 12 bore Beretta over-under and it all seemed to click into place.
What is your favourite type of shooting?
Grouse would be number one for me, then high pheasants, but I'm equally at home shooting pigeons, or even clays! I just love the wildness about shooting grouse and seeing specks coming over a hill miles in the distance and realising that they are the beaters! It is such a buzz!
Do you have a personal favourite shoot?
Alnwick in Northumberland would be my number one. I love the county (home to my wife!), and the birds are as good as anywhere. The team there are brilliant and the park is the most natural yet immaculate and stunning place I have ever seen.
Who would be in your dream team of Guns for a day's shooting?
Edward Dashwood, the most enthusiastic and passionate Shot I know; the late Brigadier Watson, who got me into serious driven shooting from the age of 15 when I used to load for him at Duncombe Park; my father, who gave me so many chances growing up to shoot game and has given me so much support; my grandfather, headkeeper for Her Majesty The Queen for 25 years in the Windsor Great Park; Louise Baltesz, a great friend and a real supporter of E.J. Churchill; Phil Scott-Priestley, one of my oldest and closest friends, but a useless Shot; and then The Duke of Northumberland, hoping that he would then invite me back to Alnwick!
Who would you rate as the greatest game Shot alive today?
The Duke of Northumberland.
What do you regard as the hardest shot in the book?
A really high curling pheasant. You need to practice and take time to learn how to shoot these birds.
What advice would you offer to new or aspiring game Shots?
Invest in lessons at a reputable shooting ground and make sure you experience all forms of game shooting. It is important to take the great days with the not so great days, so you then appreciate every day you are on and don't get spoilt! The day is not about firing lots of cartridges, it is about appreciating others shooting well, seeing birds fly well, seeing different parts of the country and meeting new people. The latter is the part I really love.
What gun do you shoot with?
I shoot with an E.J. Churchill over-under Crown sideplate. It is my pride and joy. It is one of our guns that we make in collaboration with Perazzi. It is choked ¾ and ¾, has 30" barrels and has a pistol grip with a very slight palm swell. It is set up quite high and certainly does the job. I use this for everything, no matter what I am shooting at.
Cartridge of choice for high driven pheasants?
E.J. Churchill Hellfire 32g 5Cu or 32g 4Cu if very high. All fibre wad.
Any particular thoughts on the lead shot debate?
I am worried as I see how poor and non-effective non-toxic shot is compared to lead when shooting wildfowl. We are all countrymen and we want to make sure we kill as cleanly and accurately as we can and I just don't see this with the options over lead.
Other interests aside from shooting?
I used to play a lot of rugby, although going to work the next day with black eyes and a broken nose was not a good look! Many of the premiership teams come and shoot with us and I have made some great friends from the sport as a result. I am a complete petrolhead as well and love both bikes and cars. We sponsor a gamekeeper who races our E.J. Churchill superbike – he is completely mad and it is remarkable what they do on them!
How did you end up at E.J. Churchill?
I applied to an advert in the Farmers Weekly nearly 13 years ago. I started as an events organiser and then worked up through the ranks. I built our college's (Harper Adams) new shooting ground when I was there and ran the club, this gave me a good insight into the sport.
What sort of things might an average working day in the life of the MD of E.J. Churchill entail?
Stress! It's very full-on here as we have so many facets to the business. In the really busy months, when all of them are booming, we can have 100 people on the shooting ground, a corporate charity event on the estate, lessons, gun fittings, four game days occurring and then the normal issues that all businesses face on a day-to-day basis. Keeping control of all of this is challenging, but we have a brilliant team on-hand who all really care about what they do and take great pride in it.
What aspects of your job do you most like?
The people! I feel very privileged to work in a world that I love and with people that love our sport. I get inspired by our clients as many are extremely successful and I love listening to them and learning. I then love relating and implementing what I learn into our business.
And are there any aspects that you don't like?
Nothing. I live and breathe the business and hope I am in the industry for as long as I can be.
Are there any particular role models in the industry that you have looked up to over the years?
I worked for Mark Osborne for eight years, which was a good apprenticeship (some would say I deserve a medal!), but he instilled core skills into me and permanently pushed me to succeed. I think these skills have certainly stood me in good stead and have helped me with the development of E.J. Churchill. I am also lucky enough to have Sir Edward (Dashwood) as our chairman and owner – one of the keenest sportsmen I know, who lives and breathes the business like I do. We are worlds apart, but I like to think make a great team. He has given me so many opportunities in life and without him I really wouldn't be where I am today.
Are we proactive enough in getting more people into shooting?
I am sure we could always do more, but as an industry we do more now than ever. Game shooting is not getting any cheaper and I worry that the young of today aren't going to be able to afford to go game shooting on a regular basis and have the disposable money that it takes to do it.
In game shooting, do you have a pet hate or something that you would like to change?
Dare I say this... I would ban plastic wads on all game shoots. We should go strictly fibre only. Fibre cartridges have come a long way in the last 10 years and when I see what people can kill with fibre I don't think you need any more. We should also be looking after the environment that we are shooting in, and in my opinion, scattering plastic wads around the countryside is not doing this. I would also implement a strict policy that cartridges could only be made in one colour depending on what calibre they were, i.e. yellow for 20 bore etc. I'm sure this would stop so many mistakes happening.
Is the future bright for game shooting in the UK and what do you recognise as the greatest threat?
I think the future is very bright. Our shooting school is going from strength to strength and we see so many new people coming into the sport every week. Others in the industry all say the same, so this is great news. However, we must not take our foot off the gas and we should all support the various bodies that look after our sport. If you look at how much driven game shooting can cost and then look at how much we donate to these bodies, it is pretty poor from most of us. I would like to see consolidation of some of these bodies though, so that they then have real power, enabling them to work towards ensuring that our way of life and industry carries on for many generations to come.