1 October 2017
We have thus far this season had four partridge days, all which have gone very well, with a cartridge ratio of 4.5:1 indicating some tough shooting conditions. Towards the end of the drives, it is always encouraging to see the pheasant flying vigorously across the valleys, whetting appetites and boosting confidence that they will prove suitably testing when the time comes.
1 August 2017
With the current shooting season rapidly approaching, it is time to put ‘pen to paper’.
In late April enjoyed a wonderful shooting trip in South Africa with Wayne Dunn at Wildwings Safaris. Shooting Rock Pigeon in the Orange Free State plus Duck and Geese near our base at Winterton in KwaZulu-Natal, we also included a break at Zingella Camp on the Tugela river for a much needed respite before heading to the coast off Durban for exhilarating game fishing. Had a great time and well looked after by Wayne and his expert team. (www.wildwingsafaris.com)
I attended Game Fair last Friday and was encouraged by the number of exhibitors and public visiting the show. I thought Hatfield House was an excellent venue and did a wonderful job hosting this years event.
Having enjoyed a long period of dry and very hot weather, as usual a period of wet weather as payback is underway. In July, we completed harvesting our Winter Barley and Winter Oil Seed Rape, thankfully just prior to an overnight heavy hailstorm, which would have devastated the ripe Rape crop. We are now waiting for the weather to improve to harvest our Peas, Winter Wheat and Spring Barley.
The rearing season has gone well with the pheasant poults now at wood and the partridges set to be released shortly in preparation for our first let day in mid September. The game strips have benefited greatly for the hot weather, have grown well and are fit for purpose – so everything bodes well for the season ahead.
Having completed our eighteenth season running Gurston Down Shoot, I am delighted to report on another superb shooting year. I have no doubt releasing Bazanty Pheasants contributed markedly to this success, proving very testing and forcing the cartridge ratio higher than the previous season. Two years ago we had an excellent season and this one came very close, despite not having the number of windy days we did back then. In addition, I should praise the partridge which as always set the tone in the early part of the season and continued to fly over the guns in good numbers throughout the year. In September we had the rare occasion of one party exceeding 400 partridge on a day with a cartridge ratio under 3:1, which is a reminder of what can be achieved when all guns shoot proficiently. Other than one very wet day, we satisfied our aims of providing good sporting shooting days, with proof of success being the unprecedented levels of return bookings for next season. Partridge returns of over 47% were very pleasing, indicative of the good numbers shot throughout the season; pheasant returns of 37% highlighted the difficulty most parties had with shooting them compared to the partridge, with this being manifested by an increase in the cartridge ratio from 4.6 to 4.8 to 1. Although an overall return exceeding 40% is always to be welcomed, it is relatively meaningless in comparison to the resounding endorsement of clients rebooking their shooting days. For more details please see our Shoot Record for the 2016-17 season.
For those who came to Gurston this season, the Rotunda shelter built at the top of the farm has proved a popular addition to the mid-morning break. Constructed from a Victorian round cast iron tank called a Mash Tun, it was originally used for steeping grain for the brewing process. With an opening exiting out to a balcony and a view over the main shooting valley, it has provided an interesting and comfortable stopping off point on a cold, wet and windy day.
A couple of years back we gained planning permission to convert some traditional greensand farm buildings just off the A30 on the outskirts of Fovant into accommodation for shooting clients. We have commenced work on the project, which will include eight double bedrooms, a reception area and a large spacious barn – which will function as the dining hall. The facility will be ready for shooting clients at the start of the 2018-19 shooting season.
It is with sadness that I report the death of Eric Penny, our original Gamekeeper at Gurston Down Shoot, who for thirty years worked alongside David Hitchings. Eric started before and during the time that Gurston was announcing itself to the shooting world in the mid 1970’s and was pivotal in our shoot gaining its reputation. During these formative years, with much experience gleaned ‘on the hoof’, he proved not only successful in rearing game, but also driving the birds over the wide valleys for the guns below. After his retirement he continued to help out on the shoot up to last season, and he is greatly missed by everyone.
We have continued to support the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust with money collected on shooting days and are pleased to report a sum of £4,280 being donated towards their cause this year. Our congratulations to Jeremy Bradley for winning the prize draw for a free gun on a day at Gurston Down during the coming season, and a big thank you to all who contributed.
Having completed our seventeenth season running Gurston Down Shoot, since taking on from my uncle David Hitchings, it was with great pride that in January we commenced our celebration of 50 years of shooting at Gurston. On such notable occasions, comparisons are inevitable which focuses one’s mind on how shooting has altered throughout half a century. From what now appear humble beginnings when starting out with intentions of presenting high birds over the guns, we have seen many changes. The cold wax jackets, unlined wellington boots and Eley Impax or Grand Prix cartridges have practically been consigned to history. In the early days, side by sides were the fashionable weapons of choice, shortly to be superseded by over and under guns becoming favoured by the majority of shooters. Throughout the advancing decades we have remained resolute in our ambition of Gurston Down Shoot striving for quality shooting days, rather than quantity of shooting days.
With our previous season being exceptional, it was always going to be a challenge to match this year. The incredibly mild weather throughout the season seemed to affect how some birds flew. Possibly due to the warm conditions and abundance of food causing excess body fat or the lack of cold rain delaying the hardening of feathers, whatever the reason it was noticeable how a proportion seemed to struggle when attempting to combat strong winds. The situation was not helped by the unjust number of wet shooting days encountered and high proportion of Common Ring Neck strain of pheasant among the stock. Nonetheless, we still had a very good season with plenty of challenging birds testing the gun line. The early partridge shooting went very well, with a cartridge ratio of 4.5 to one indicating their difficulty, similar to the overall ratio of 4.6 cartridges to one, though lower in comparison to the previous season’s ratio of 5.0 to one. All things considered, a return of 38.7% on our partridge and 37.1% on pheasant, 37.6% in combination was not disappointing, but more a reflection on how the mild weather conditions impacted on the shooting. For further details please see our Shoot Record for the 2015-16 season.
As mentioned in my previous newsletter, we are still progressing the hill shelter at the top of the farm for the mid morning break. It is being constructed using a couple of Victorian round cast iron Mash Tuns, originally used for steeping grain for the brewing process. Although a bit quirky, if it works as intended, the large glazed doorway will enable the guns to look across the shooting valley in sheltered comfort and should prove both an interesting and comfortable stopping off point on a cold, wet and windy day.
We have continued to support the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust with money collected on shooting days and are pleased to report a sum of £3920 being donated towards their cause this year. Our congratulations to Liborio Avvoltoio for winning the prize draw for a free gun on a day at Gurston Down during the coming season, and a big thank you to all who contributed.