Upper Vaunces Farm – Norfolk
The presentation of fine partridges isn't restricted to the shooting field for one family in Norfolk, as Mike Barnes discovered.
PHOTOGRAPHY: BOB CLARKE
I had a great day with a very welcoming family.” Photographer Bob Clarke's observation following his visit to the shoot at Upper Vaunces Farm, Pulham St. Mary came as no surprise. It was boys' day and, despite a less than ideal weather forecast, all the ingredients of good shooting practice were on show – top drawer partridge presentation, a keen young team of Guns, well behaved dogs (mostly!) and all present were handsomely fed and watered. But more on that later.
The shoot host is Duncan West, whose great grandfather acquired shooting and grazing rights over 735 acres in Pulham in 1912.
Duncan's grandfather bought the farm in 1962, which now has shooting over 1,300 acres. The shoot has no woodland, and is quite flat with clay soils, so the birds are mostly presented out of cover crops (maize, sorghum and millet) plus there are some wild bird cover margins. They flew really well and were a credit to Colin Pearce who looks after the gamekeeping.
Duncan's father and uncle, who were enthusiastic Shots themselves, both died young, so his own shooting education came through his grandfather.
As with much of Norfolk, Pulham had lots of grey partridges in the 60s, but following the two big years of 1975 and 1976 their numbers took a dive. Recent reports, however, are looking more positive. “They did quite well this last year,” explained Duncan. “There were greys on most drives, though we ask guest Guns not to shoot them, threatening offenders with fines – the money payable to the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust.
“In reality, very few do get shot – they are at their most vulnerable when they come through the line with coveys of redlegs and when they have paired up, from around mid-December,” he added.
Duncan and Claire have four children – Giles (28) who works on the family farm, Hannah (27), Thomas (18) who is on a rugby contract with Wasps and has recently played for England U20s, and Richard (16) who is at Radley College studying for his A Levels. All three boys are hugely enthusiastic about their shooting, and help out Colin where possible with gamekeeping tasks.
Inevitably, the day was a great success.
Nine Guns, some from afar, very good shooting, and a mixed bag of 120 pheasants and redleg partridges. It was fun the previous evening too, with several families descending on the West's, it really was a full house. But a happy one.
And partridge by Claire, please
How often do you hear the mantra ‘We eat what we shoot'? I'll bet a lot more frequently than is actually the case. How many shoot lunches or dinners did you have last season which featured game meat – not roast beef or steak pie (all good as they might have been), but pheasant, grouse etc.?
Well, Claire West has made it her mission to serve game, and nothing other than game on shoot days. In fact, exclusively partridge. “It seemed wrong to me,” she said, “to go out there, shoot the birds and then not eat them. So about 13 years ago I began experimenting with different game meats, starting with venison, and three years later I could see that partridge was the one that everybody enjoyed – clean plates told their own story.” She cooks 14 – 20 partridges for a shoot lunch, depending on the number of Guns and guests. “I prep the previous day, sealing each bird in a hot oven, and leave them to rest overnight on a bed of apple or celery (depending on what's available). Then, the next morning at 6am, I put them in a slow oven for six hours.” The result is a hit every time. Try it!
It should be added that Claire does not like to see guests go hungry, so elevenses involve warm sausage rolls and bullshot. Then at lunchtime, after roast partridge and trimmings, there's a selection of cheeses (and homemade soup for the beaters), and finally when the Guns return from a tough day in the field, they are rewarded with brownies, flapjack or chocolate cake.