It’s not sensible to turn up on a shooting day and continually miss, better to practise on simulated clay days. Robert Cuthbert lists the best simulated shoots

The best simulated shoots are the only way to stay sharp through the long summer months. Whether you need a pre-season warm-up, want to tidy up your moves or just have a jolly day out, Robert Cuthbert suggests the best simulated shoots.

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BEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: RAISTHORPE FLYERS, NORTH YORKSHIRE

One of the best simulated shoots is Raisthorpe Flyers. David Medforth heads a family team at Raisthorpe and at the centre of this giant in the simulated-game world beats the heart of a game-shooting fanatic. Based amidst gorgeous North Yorkshire scenery, the Medforths have been blowing their clients away for more than 10 years now, offering “relaxed but highly polished days” of simulated game.

“The lodge there is really something else,” says Robert Everitt from Hull Cartridge, “and it is one of the best simulated shoots for a pre-season sharpener, whether it’s grouse or tall pheasants. The Medforths at Raisthorpe have got it all.”

The family’s attention to detail shines through, from the precision in target delivery and the beautiful dry-stone grouse butts through to perhaps one of the finest shoot lodges on these shores. The well-staffed lodge offers clients and guests dizzying lunches and hospitality with more than a dash of home-produced goodies from their own estate.

Prices from £200 per gun. Raisthorpe Flyers ordinarily offer days for teams of 16 but can cater for smaller groups by request. Contact David Medforth on tel 01377 288295; www.raisthorpeflyers.com.

BEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: STOKE DROVE COUNTRY SPORTS

Best simulated shoots. Stoke Drove

Stoke Drove is the antithesis of the larger, more corporate options.

For homespun Wiltshire charm, Matthew Pickford’s Stoke Drove enterprise, between Shaftesbury and Salisbury, can spirit you away to the fantasy of a summer day of driven birds. Stoke Drove is the antithesis of the larger, more corporate options mentioned; a blissfully quiet and beautiful location makes it one of the best simulated shoots for syndicates keen to air their guns and keep those bad habits and cobwebs from forming during the warmer months.

“We’re really catering for the hardened game-shot here,” says Pickford, “but, of course, we can look after a novice, too. We’re on manual traps here and we love to watch the game-shots coaching themselves. I love to drive clays high over a pretty grass valley to someone who knows what to do with it, however it arrives. We’ve all missed that bird over our least-favourite shoulder and thought, ‘Blow, should have had that.’ With us, you know you’ll get a similar bird along soon enough. There’s never a better lesson than one you’ve learnt yourself. A day with us is one of the best simulated shoots because it feels so much more  alive.”

Prices from £225 per gun. Contact Matthew Pickford on tel 01722 781041; www.stokedrove.co.uk

BEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: BRYNGWYN HALL, POWYS

There’s little to rival high-end sport when it’s twinned with exquisite parkland and the wilder, wider reaches of a home such as Bryngwyn Hall near Llanfyllin, Powys, the benchmark for the best simulated shoots in Wales. A shooting lineage runs through this place like Blackpool rock and it really shows when you’re under their clays.

Bryngwyn Hall, nestled in the enchanting Tanat Valley between the Snowdonia National Park and Oswestry in Shropshire, is orbited by more than 20 of our island’s finest shoots; names such as Llanarmon and Three Valleys, illustrating perfectly the type of local topography. It’s grown-up stuff, however, days can be tailored for mortals by your glamorous host, Auriol, Marchioness of Linlithgow.

If you’re looking to really push the boat out, do consider staying the night there – or even two. Understated grandeur doesn’t even get close. A hen’s run from Chester and Telford, it’s well worth the drive from London.
“Guns come from far and wide to Bryngwyn estate to experience one of the best simulated shoots in Wales,” says Lady Linlithgow,  “coupled with the famous Bryngwyn hospitality, naturally.”

Prices from £205 (excl. VAT) per gun for teams of 10 to 20 guns. Call 01691 648647 or go to www.bryngwyn.com

BEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: EJ CHURCHILL

Best simulated shoots. EJ Churchill

Steep, wooded valleys are a feature of EJ Churchill’s days at West Wycombe.

The team at EJ Churchill, headed by the charming James Webster, run as tight a ship as anyone could wish for in this sporting sphere, chalking up dozens of corporate and private simulated game events each year.

With all of their days taking place on Sir Edward Dashwood’s decorative, 5,000-acre West Wycombe Estate, the Buckinghamshire seat of the Dashwood dynasty for some 300 years, one is assured that all the desired bells and whistles from one of the country’s top shooting schools will be delivered.

Indeed, so keen are the team at Churchills to ensure that their clays emulate our beloved respective quarry species, they go as far as maintaining a dedicated course setter to ensure the clays are as close as possible to the real thing as they’re pinged high and far – and in some number – across those wonderful, deep, wooded valleys.
Prices from £195 (excl. VAT) per gun for 16 guns. Contact James Webster on tel 01494 883808 or visit www.ejchurchill.com

BEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: ROYAL BERKSHIRE SHOOTING SCHOOL, OXFORDSHIRE TO POWYS

With decades of slick operation behind it, the Royal Berkshire Shooting School (RBSS) is a safe pair of hands when it comes to simulated game with its famous Really Wild Clay Days. With seven bucketlist estates to choose from, it’s not so much a question of delivery, just the location of guaranteed delivery.

From Well Barn in Oxfordshire to Stanage in Powys, the Really Wild brand is rolled out for close on 60 simulated game events during the summer, so there’s no mystery as to why the path to the RBSS is a well-trodden one for corporate giants and blue-chip charities, such as Great Ormond Street Hospital and The Prince’s Trust – and, of course, any other group wanting to enjoy one of the best simulated shoots without the hint of a corner being cut.

Gordon Robinson from RBSS says: “We can deliver simulated at game at a variety of levels with our tiered-pricing structure but, whatever you choose, you’re guaranteed great sport, cracking food and a dedicated team ensuring all goes well.”

Prices from £4,450 to £7,750 for a team; single guns are catered for, too. Contact Katie Absalom
or Dylan Williams on tel 01491 672900. www.rbss.co.uk  

BEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: HOPETOUN, EDINBURGH

Best simulated shoots. Hopetoun

Hopetoun offers a variety of simulated game-shooting packages.

There’s really no downside to having a champion clay shot watching your moves if you’re tidying up your act before the feathers start flying in earnest. Stewart Cumming, who is a charming host and British FITASC Team member, runs the show here at Hopetoun, which is just a 30-minute drive from Edinburgh’s city centre.

Set in more than 6,000 acres of beautiful countryside in South Queensferry, Hopetoun House, with its famous twin façades and views across the Forth Estuary, offers a dramatic panorama behind some truly blistering clays.

“My extensive experience in both clays and game-shooting, combined with the Earl’s great passion for pheasant-shooting, means that our drives here offer a realistic shooting day out of season,” explains Cumming. “Our high volume of repeat custom is down to our experience in creating bespoke shooting days that continually offer variety and challenge for the more experienced gun. Our packages are simply a suggestion – we thoroughly enjoy creating unique and memorable simulated shooting days.”

Prices from £90 per gun. Call Stewart Cumming on tel 0131 3319940; www.hopetounclays.co.uk

BEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: THE PERFECT CLAY, RUTLAND

Run by perma-chirpy proprietor Patrick Boyle, The Perfect Clay offers a scrupulously well-devised but relaxed day in the rolling contours of Rutland. The team caters well for sulking game-shots, itching to get some lead off in the long, dark days of the summer, and corporate groups alike. Warm and unhurried, the day is gauged well for challenge, conversation and relaxation.

Victoria Knowles-Lacks, high priestess of the Chelsea Bun Club, says: “It’s a cracking venue and one of the best simulated shoots for a pre-season warm-up, always popular with my girls, regardless of the day you’ve got coming up. They’ve got grouse, partridge flicked over high hedges and some really good, high pheasants. You’d easily get something like 5,000 clays off in a day. It’s well done.

The pigeon-flighting drive is great, too – such a good idea. Lunch in the Great Hall at Bisbrooke is always lovely; it’s such a pretty room.”

Pricing from £150 to £200 per gun depending on the package; also caters for teams and individuals.
Contact Patrick Boyle on tel 07940 151218 or go to www.theperfectclay.com

BEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: SIX MILE BOTTOM, CAMBRIDGESHIRE

Best simulated shoots. Six Mile Bottom

It is difficult to believe that Six Mile Bottom is just 59 miles from London W1.

With Six Mile Bottom’s head keeper, Richard Clarke, at the core of this business, game-shots are assured of a day of conviviality and sporting challenge; Clarke knows exactly how to quicken the blood of a game-shot. One noted gun described this shoot as the “hairy-chested end of simulated game; Clarkie loves nothing more than to humble a very good game-shot and to help a moderate shot grow and improve”.

With grouse, bunny and walked-up sequences to call upon within his rolling grounds just outside Newmarket, this shoot offers sport of stunning value just 59 miles from London W1.

Clarke and his wife, Jackie, are also the proprietors of The Green Man, a famous hostelry favoured by Newmarket’s equine elite. This is where the hospitality for the shoot is rolled out effortlessly and with genuine warmth and humour – on 120 days last spring and summer. Jackie Clarke drives the stoves and their legendary steaks could turn a vegetarian.

Prices from £160 a day for a single gun. Contact Richard Clarke on tel 01638 570373 or go to
www.sixmilebottomshoot.co.uk

BEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: HAYDON FARM, WILTSHIRE

The Prendergast family have the most achingly pretty country around the Wylye Valley in Wiltshire and they use every inch. Some of the most exhilarating drives on a day at grouse are when the birds are addressed as they fly beneath the gun’s butt position. Well, guess what? You can do that here in Wiltshire on what equates to a 5,000-bird day.

Sally Prendergast, who steers the ship at Side By Side, Haydon Farm’s simulated-game set-up, delights in catering for the truly talented game-shot. “It’s no secret,” says Prendergast. “We can stretch a really strong team and we love doing just that with tall birds or low ones.”

Instructor Adam Calvert spends a lot of time at Haydon and is clearly a fan. “It is so important to keep shooting in the off season in order to maintain your timing and improve your skills; simulated game days are a great way to do this. Haydon Farm is one of the best simulated shoots for this, especially for grouse.”

Price is £225 (excl. VAT) per gun, based on 16 guns, with eight guns alternating. Contact Sally Prendergast on tel 01985 841445 or go to  www.haydonfarm.com

BEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: THE WEST LONDON SHOOTING SCHOOL, MIDDLESEX

Best simulated shoots. West London Shooting School

Shooting the “grouse” in Oxfordshire with the West London Shooting School.

With the spirit of the legendary Percy Stanbury keeping a watchful eye over proceedings, the West London Shooting School (WLSS) is still  one of the best simulated shoots for realistic birds, dubbed their Game Flyer days. For a day of high-octane, out-of-season sport, the long-serving team in Northolt has a small but perfectly formed portfolio of top-flight Home Counties estates, including Great Tew and Culden Faw in Oxfordshire. Catering for established teams or individuals, they run a well-oiled day tailored to test the best and sensitive novices alike. All the bolt-ons, such as instructors, cartridge supplies and gun hire, are covered by the team at WLSS.

Prices start from £305 (excl. VAT) per gun. Contact Jo Chauveau on tel 020 8845 1377  or go to: www.shootingschool.co.uk

BEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: BERELEIGH SPORTING, HAMPSHIRE

For decades, the Tyrwhitt-Drakes have been entertaining on their top-drawer Meon Valley estate, just east of Winchester; their zest for this never seems to wane.

With the new generation, in the shape of young Edward Tyrwhitt-Drake, driving this end of the business, his strong pedigree in this world guarantees the further elevation of the bar at Bereleigh, with simulated game now providing year-round, quality shooting.

Purdey’s Jonathan Irby couldn’t have been more fulsome in his praise for the clays propelled over their most hallowed of drives. “Bereleigh really does get as close as possible to the real stuff. A beautiful house, set in the most perfect countryside, with a wonderful family ensuring you’re as welcome as a family friend joining them for the Boxing Day shoot. They show you the proper drives, too, including the famous Mascombe and Smokey Hollow. Lunch is always a bountiful affair, with drinks taken on the lawn beforehand. Great drives, location and setting and the ultimate hosts. It’s impossible to fault it.”

Prices from £310 (excl. VAT) per gun. Contact Edward Tyrwhitt-Drake on tel 01730 823758  or go to www.bereleighsporting.co.uk