As the season draws to a close, our attention turns to celebrating the successes, applauding the gamekeepers, packing away the technical tweeds and booking in for that all-important gun service – because, “No one needs the nightmare salutary lesson of standing in your butt on the Glorious 12th and hearing the dreaded ‘click’!”
Here, Annika Purdey shares her end of season highlights, servicing tips, and paints a picture of what goes on between seasons at shooting estates, from landscape maintenance to rearing young birds and dedicated conservation work.
Talk us through what your end of shooting season usually looks like?
Well, there is always a great sense of celebration at the end of a good season, everyone works so hard to make shoot days a success, and this year has been especially tough. So extra thanks to all the gamekeepers who did so brilliantly keeping everything on track this season, and for the huge amount of effort they put in all year round to enhance the countryside. End of season for me personally is usually one final blast at Tulchan Estate in glorious Scotland in late January, and then my very last day out will be at a local shoot in Sussex with family and friends.
In terms of kit, is this a time of year you tend to get a full clean and service of your guns?
Very much so. Although we should all be checking and cleaning our guns after every use, it’s at the end of the season that they should have a proper service even if they are working perfectly. Mine go to Alastair Phillips at Purdey at the Royal Berkshire, and they come back in pristine condition ready to be stored away until next season.
By the end of a solid shooting season, what kind of gun wear and tear would you expect to see?
Throughout the season you should be checking your barrels for dents or bulges, and your stock, particularly for hairline cracks in the small of the grip and close to the action. The main reason it’s so important to have your gun properly serviced at the end of the season is all the things you can’t see – issues relating to strikers, ejectors and the general mechanical efficiency of your gun cannot be seen, so need proper checking. No one needs the nightmare salutary lesson of standing in your butt on the Glorious 12th and hearing the dreaded “click”!
Do you have a favourite gun in your collection?
I like a classic Purdey Side-by-Side 20-bore, as it’s light, agile and manoeuvrable, but mainly because it’s what I’m most comfortable using. I think that’s the key – try a few and find what suits you.
Which pieces of shooting attire do you pack away, and which do you continue to wear beyond the close of season?
I get all of my tweed shooting suits and field coats dry cleaned at the end of every season. I definitely still wear the shirts and cashmere all year round, mixed in with my regular wardrobe staples. It’s really only the technical kit such as breeks, field coats, gilets, shooting vests, that I put away.
How do you keep your hand/eye in between shooting seasons?
I play other sports, and have practised Pilates for over 20 years for core stability and strength. I particularly enjoy tennis and try to play all year round if possible. Once the shooting season ends, I usually head to the mountains with my family as we all love to ski. And, I always shoot a few clays before the new season starts.
What does the time between seasons usually look like for shooting estates?
February is a time for gamekeepers to take stock, to see what and where improvements can be made for the following season. While they might no longer be preparing and running numerous shoot days every week, there is always so much to be done. There will be significant work needed on pens, either building new ones, or repairing existing ones. Game and cover crops need planting; depending on the crop this will be between March and May. Another important job is the ongoing woodland maintenance, including general forestry work, as well as ensuring that rides, gates, fencing and stiles are all in good order. Vermin control is always an ongoing challenge, too.
Early summer is when most shoots take delivery of the young poults, usually when they are six to eight weeks old. Things are extremely busy for keepers then as the young birds are at their most vulnerable when first introduced to their pens. Depending on the scale of the shoot, most keepers will be flat out from dawn til dusk feeding and watering the poults and obsessively checking for any signs of disease, as well as ensuring they are all safely in their pens at night.
At about 10 to 12 weeks they will begin to fly and leave the release pens. Although technically capable of flying up to roost at night, they are still young and vulnerable to foxes, so the keeper will be doing the rounds every evening and making sure as many as possible are back in the pens or roosting in trees. Even after the birds have matured and left the pens, the keeper still needs to ensure they don’t wander off; this requires constant feeding to try to hold as many of the birds as possible.
Many shoots are extremely committed to conservation work and habitat management, which is carried out by the keeper and their team. Effective conservation work ensures the habitats for all the species on the estate are improved for greater continuation. The more work put into protecting the woodlands, species and plant life on an estate, the greater the rewards once the new season resumes.
What would you suggest everyone incorporates into their end of shooting season routines? A checklist of sorts...
- Get your gun properly serviced. Take it somewhere reputable that will break the gun down, properly clean it, and thoroughly check it for any internal wear and tear.
- Make sure your guns are stored correctly and legally.
- Check you are up to date with any paperwork, gun licences etc.
- Dry clean and organise any repairs to your tweed and technical shooting kit, so it’s all organised and ready for the start of next season.
Find out more about Purdey servicing offers, and book in, here.