YOUNG GUNS OR OLD SMOOTH-BORES
IT HAS been a fun season for me – not least because while I’ve been incompetently blazing away at birds around Hampshire, I’ve been compiling a little comparison.
You see, my syndicate is predominately full of youngish city boys: tax lawyers, venture capitalists, corporate financiers (I’ve tried to extract from them what they actually do but, after four years, I’m still clueless). And then there are the farm shoots.
What day the shoot’s on will tell you a lot. If it’s Saturday, it’s the city shoot. They can’t get away from their desks midweek; sneaking away for any less than major cardiac surgery is a no-no.
Not so with the farmers. Shooting midweek is, after all, a valid agricultural activity, which is useful for all sorts of tax reasons. Also, all the farm staff can be turfed out of their tractors and given a stick to wave with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
The start time is also a give-away. A prompt, early start suits the city boys; the farmers have a load of other jobs to do first, so drift in over a two-hour period mid-morning.
When you arrive, if a smart printed card with all the names of the guns and drives is thrust your way (compete with sophisticated numbering system to ensure you never have the same neighbour twice), you”re on the city shoot.
The farmers have no cards – they all know each other”s names and fields so well that cards are superfluous. And while the walking gun duty rota is rigorous and fair on the city shoot, the youngest farmers walk every time.
When it comes to directions on each drive, the ex-army types on a city day are in their element: “Turn left 32 when you reach the bushy-top tree in the middle distance; your peg will be 35.7m from there.”
Your farmer host: “Go up this hedge to where the ash tree blew down in 1957. Go past the muckheap to where we used to keep the Paraplow, and then go out two tramlines into the beans. That should do you there.”
On both shoots, smartness is appreciated. But on the farm shoot, looking as if you”ve just come from milking/calving/early-morning spraying isn”t frowned upon, because that’s what you probably were doing.
The hardware varies. City boys will have some fairly nice weapons, and newish Land Rovers. The farmers may well have a gun or two held together with soft fencing wire, and you’ll probably want to keep facing away from the man putting 2.75in cartridges through the Damascus-barrelled family heirloom.
Farm Land Rovers are getting old now, and contain fencing posts, a 19mm spanner and some WD40. The city 4x4s will be newer and cleaner, and will proudly head back to town with as much mud as possible on them.
When it comes to the food, the city boys like to shoot, eat, shoot some more, and then have a tea. Two sittings mean twice as much networking. Farmers like to shoot through, collapse in a chair and then not move for at least three hours.
Marksmanship is a dead heat. Farmers have been blasting away at moving targets from the day that they could lift the Webley bolt-action .410.
But the distinguishing feature of the city boys is that, underneath the charming smiles, they take everything very seriously. Many hours have been spent at West London or Apsley Shooting School, making sure that not a penny of their contribution to the syndicate costs is wasted.
Perhaps the only difference is that farmers, after years decoying from a hide, shoot brilliantly sitting down, and drop the birds well out in front without moving off the shooting stick.
And as for good company, that’s another dead heat. There’s nothing to beat the banter between farm guns who have been pulling each others” legs for half a century.
Then again, it’s good to mix with non-farmers, to get a different perspective on life. Hearing the exhausting daily routine of the average merchant bank high-flier is enough to make any farmer – especially one with a young family – count his blessings. It”s nice to bang agriculture”s drum to a guest who may very well have never spoken to a farmer before.
I keep trying to explain to my wife, Hazel, that the fact they all seem to turn up with supermodel girlfriends is completely irrelevant – but somehow I don’t think she believes me. Oh well, roll on September.