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What £120 will get you for a day's paid shooting

PUBLISHED: 13:41 27 March 2019 | UPDATED: 13:41 27 March 2019

Shepherds pie with lashings of gravy and a tipple or two for lunch - how civilised!

Shepherds pie with lashings of gravy and a tipple or two for lunch - how civilised!

Archant

Jamie Chandler experiences what money buys you in the form of a day's paid shooting for squirrels and pigeons

I can’t help thinking how nice it would be to have it all laid on for me once in a while. Instead of me spending hours on end, reconnoitring hunting areas that might be productive, I’d love it if someone did all the leg work for me and set me up in the right place, leaving me to concentrate on filling the bag and just being at one with the stunning surroundings.

Even better, wouldn’t it be amazing to have a bit of luxury, like a driven pheasant shoot where perhaps you could book in with a group of mates, be met with a warm welcome and have tea, coffee, breakfast, lunch, beer and wine all laid on? What a great day out that would be! Well, I have just found a shoot where they offer exactly this, set in the heart of the beautiful Staffordshire countryside.

I noticed an advert on Facebook, put up by Owen Beardsmore of Cervus UK, booked in with Owen to see what they were offering in Staffordshire and, for fun, decided to drag our ‘fresh out of the packet’ new editor, Dave, along with me.

After a 160-mile trip in minus-4ºC, we arrived at 7am, well before sunrise on a very cold, damp winter morning and were warmly welcomed by Owen, then taken to the shoot’s gun room and given another warm welcome by Craig the keeper, along with a cup of coffee, safety brief, quarry list and the day’s plan.

Whilst standing there defrosting by a gas fire, I noticed a beautiful Weihrauch HW80 in the corner, and it looked thoroughly tuned and loved. The HW80 was Craig’s pride and joy, heavily modified and on his FAC, running at 17 ft.lbs, and it was one of a collection that he used, from sub-12 ft.lbs. to .30 cal 50 ft.lbs, for a variety of vermin control around the 2000-acre shoot, which gave me my first insight in to his love of airguns and what he was looking to achieve.

Running alongside his syndicated driven pheasant shoot, Craig wanted to give fellow airgun enthusiasts the same sort of hospitality experience that his driven shooters enjoy, but using airguns. Craig has created an airgunning nirvana with a mixture of permanent hides, shooting over pheasant and squirrel feeders set in ‘high traffic’ areas, and net hides that he sets up on the day. This mix of hides gives airgun hunters the best chance of bagging a variety of quarry from the extensive woodland and fields, allowing Craig flexibility to swap plans on the day.

From the relative warmth, I lined up on my first chance of the dayFrom the relative warmth, I lined up on my first chance of the day

Unseen twig

After coffee and the offer of a zero check on my BSA Ultra SE, Dave and I were guided out to our first hide, a really comfy and welcome snug bale hide with a corrugated roof, offset in a stunning woodland. Craig wanted us to get a couple of hours ‘first light’ squirrel hunting in, and then he would fetch us back for breakfast in the warm.

At this hide there were three grain feeders set at varying distances, to help draw the squirrels in and give shooters a better chance at bagging something. Keeper Craig fills the feeders a day or two before clinets arrive, to help build the squirrels’ confidence.

Dave and I got comfy in our hide, I was happy to be relatively warm out of the very slight yet truly cold wind blowing through the wood. Shooting the breeze in whispered tones, and in my case fighting sleep, we waited and watched over the three pheasant feeders in front of us out to about 65 metres. After 30 minutes, a flock of pigeons landed in an oak about 30 metres out to our left. It was a long shot with the little 2-7 x 32 Hawke Vantage scope, so I steadied myself and waited for a clear opportunity. I took a shot, sending an Air Arms Field flying toward a pigeon, but sadly ricocheting of an unseen twig in front, causing the flock to crash skywards and off to safety.

A squirrel taunted us from the 65m feeder for about 20 minutes, so I left the comfort of the hide, stalking 30 metres in about 10 minutes, being ever so careful to hide my approach. I could see the squirrel still feeding hard, and after what seemed like a lifetime, I finally started to kneel for the shot, but the squirrel must have got wind of me, sprinted up into a tree and disappeared. I gave up waiting for its return just as Craig came to pick us up for breakfast.

Lofted decoys spread in the roosting wood to bring in some of the 1000s of pigeonsLofted decoys spread in the roosting wood to bring in some of the 1000s of pigeons

True decadence

Back in the warm, Dave and I relayed my failed attempts, and Craig was surprised that we’d only seen one squirrel because that was a notorious squirrel hotspot, but we concluded that the damp, overcast and freezing cold morning might have kept them in their dreys.

A breakfast of several bacon baps duly scoffed and a vat of coffee drank, we drove out to another renowned squirrel spot. This hide was nothing like I had expected, a log cabin apparently built by a prisoner of war in the 1940s, it had slit windows, a table facing a squirrel feeder, and a lit fire in the hearth, this was true decadence! This time Dave had his BSA R10 SE carbine out as well and we both sat and waited for an opportunity.

After an hour and again, with what sounded like intermittent squirrel steps across the roof, we decided to head outside, Dave behind, and me in front of the hut using natural cover to conceal us. Whilst the fire and warmth were welcome, the sleepy fug they bought on and the limited view from the window hampered efforts, especially if the scratches across the roof were squirrels.

It was clear to see that other shooters before us had also had some successIt was clear to see that other shooters before us had also had some success

Closed eyelids

If I’m honest, the next 90 minutes flew past as I gently napped against a tree. I woke a couple of times with a start on hearing Dave take a shot, but apart from that, my hunting was done through closed eyelids. What I should have been watching was flocks of 100-plus pigeons feeding on cover crops behind pens to my left, then flying up to the trees 35 metres ahead and back, but instead I napped like a baby in the still freezing air, only coming to when Dave called out to say that Craig was on his way to get us for lunch. I should have been at least three woodies up by then, but hey, who doesn’t love a totally relaxed woodland nap!

Lunch was a delicious shepherd’s pie and lashings of gravy, with wine, beer or in my case a caffeine fix of Diet Coke, followed by coffee and much laughter at my expense. Then we were back out to roost-shoot a wood that Craig had been watching, for the last three usable hours of light.

Craig the keeper loves his air guns and offers a unique day outCraig the keeper loves his air guns and offers a unique day out

Off the mark

We arrived at the roost wood, which surrounded three sides of a field, and pigeons were everywhere. A clumsy stalk into a squirrel by me on the way in sadly produced nothing, but was worth the try. We set up in a net hide with instructions from Craig to be flexible in our wood belt, whilst he and friend, Nigel, kept the pigeons moving on the two remaining field-side woods. After 25 minutes, Dave left the hide to see what was to the bottom of our wood and in doing so put up six pigeons that came and landed straight in the tree to my front, about 25 metres away. Not wishing to blow another chance, I was on them with the Ultra SE and a pellet was away in no time. A definite ‘thwack’ and a satisfying clean drop signalled the first in the bag, and I was finally off the mark.

I sat there for an hour watching more pigeons than I have ever seen fly high in the windless sky overhead and make for the surrounding woodlands. In the background, I could hear shots going up from a .22LR and an FAC airgun, but the pigeons were frustratingly not playing ball for me. Those that did land were safe, hidden behind thick twigs and branches and the thousands heading everywhere but near me were an agonising sight.

I heard Dave let go another shot in the distance, and shortly after he returned with a plump pigeon for his efforts. He then settled down in the hide next to me in anticipation. The pigeons were flying straight over the top of us, and away into another field in the distance. It was rather frustrationg to say the least, but I finally got on one last chance as a single pigeon came straight into the decoys in the tree in front of me. I dropped it cleanly at about 30 metres in the still, yet freezing dusk air – a satisfying end to an amazing day’s sport! On the way back for yet more coffee and biscuits, Craig told us that he and Nigel had accounted for 14 pigeons between them whilst trying to move them on, which showed what might have been on another day.

6 pigeons came in to the lofted decoys and I wasn’t going to let the chance go6 pigeons came in to the lofted decoys and I wasn’t going to let the chance go

An amazing place

What Craig has put together is a truly fantastic, airgun-dedicated, hunting experience, coupled with top hospitality and facilities. We started shooting at 7.45am and finished at about 4.30pm, and our bag was modest, but that was more to do with tiredness, weather and luck than there not being an abundance to have a crack at.

If I were to book another day, then certainly I would stay at the spa hotel, 300 yards from the shoot, and possibly even have a short break, shooting back-to-back days, and take my non-shooting partner, so she can take advantage of the spa in my absence.

The day isn’t cheap, but you get what you pay for with Craig out spotting for two days beforehand, and then nearby to assist you on the day. I’m so pleased I tried this instead of just listening to the Facebook bores, and I’m thrilled to have met passionate airgunners who have set up something fantastic, and even with my own permissions spanning three counties, I would revisit in a heartbeat and hope to to do soon.

A modest bag, but the day was utterly outstanding and I’ll certainly be bacA modest bag, but the day was utterly outstanding and I’ll certainly be bac

The ed says...

I have to say that I really didn’t know what to expect when Jamie first called me to talk about this day out. I’m used to paying £100+ to go wreck fishing off the south coast, and much more for a day afloat abroad, so £120 didn’t seem too much of a wallet-buster for what is effectively a day’s guided hunting.

Craig really couldn’t have done more for us on the day, and I was very impressed with the entire set up. The plate full of bacon rolls and the superb dinner washed down with a couple of glasses of claret were the icing on the cake, and really made this day special. I wouldn’t hesitate to pay for it again, I really think they’re onto a winner here. It’s perfect for a couple of mates, or a dad and lad day out. 10/10 from me.

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Read more from Jamie Chandler...

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