A game rearer and keen beater and gun, Charlotte McNulty is determined that the next generation should enjoy the best the countryside has to offer
Growing up in a family with a long sporting heritage, Charlotte McNulty always knew she would work with game. Now a game rearer and keen beater and gun, she is starting to consider how to continue the sporting tradition for the next generation.
For more sporting Dianas, seriously sporting ladies offering advice and encouragement, Princess Hélène of Orléans was a Victorian Diana passionately devoted to Africa. And Yvonne Goss has won eight National Championships titles and the Golden Button Challenge three times.
I was brought up surrounded by a family with a long sporting heritage, from my grandfather – an avid shooter and fisherman who also spent most of his time in the hunting season as a follower – to my father, who is also a keen and good shot and the owner of a game farm. He was studying at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester but dropped out to set up a small game-rearing business in 1974. As time has gone on the business has grown and now produces more than 130,000 pheasant poults a year plus a few partridges.
Growing up, I spent most of my free time helping my father. I even learnt my basic maths by counting eggs from the laying hens into the baskets, though I admit sometimes a guesstimate was used when I lost count.
One of our employees taught me how to fire a rifle. Shaun set up targets and gave me a limited time in which to hit them, no pressure for a 15-year-old. I then bought my own .22 when I was 18. My first experience of shooting game was with my father, Ian. He stood behind me on a pheasant day, using a Miroku Skeet gun, commonly known amongst his friends as ‘The Bank Robber’s Gun’ as it had very short barrels: 26in. I rode from an early age, taking lessons and then later worked in hunt yards, which meant the occasional foray onto the hunting field, too.
While growing up I never envisaged doing anything but working in some way with game. When I was 18, I enrolled on the gamekeepers course at Hartpury College, the only girl among a dozen men. I passed all the exams with flying colours, even attaining a Gold Award that had not been awarded for the previous 10 years.
After a few years gamekeeping, I decided to come home and work for the family business. Production was creeping up every year, overseen by my father and brother, however, there was too much work for the two of them and finding reliable staff had proved to be a nightmare. My brother and I now manage all the rearing and make an excellent team together.
During the shooting season I spend much of my time beating on various estates and I am also lucky enough to be invited to several prestigious shoots. I used to shoot with a 12-bore Silver Pigeon but have now gone on to use a 20-bore Silver Pigeon, which I find is a lot lighter to handle but needs a greater degree of accuracy.
One of my favourite places to shoot is Tidgrove estate, owned by Raleigh Place, to whom I am better known as Bob (and that’s a whole other story…) It’s a fantastic family shoot with a relaxed atmosphere and offering great company.
For the past 14 years I have been accompanied by my old faithful cocker spaniel, Tikkah. She’s an expert on the rearing field, catching up escaped chicks and bringing them back to us safely cradled in her mouth. Now Tikkah’s too old for beating I have another cocker, Cara, to carry on the work.
I’ve always been proud to be a participant in country sports and was dismayed when foxhunting was banned. To show my disgust at the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, I proudly wore, along with many others, my ‘Bollocks to Blair’ sweatshirt. I was subsequently arrested at The Midland Game Fair for the wearing of this garment, it being an offence under the Public Order Act. I was frogmarched to the police vehicle but then released as I agreed to cover the offensive words with a coat. Leading on from this, I was asked to appear in a BBC3 documentary featuring people who had been arrested for the use of supposedly ‘free speech’.
The most difficult thing I found about being a true country girl was forging relationships with men who could understand the commitment to my job and the hours I worked. Finally, I tried dating sites where, after a few false starts (one chap didn’t even own a pair of wellies), I eventually met my husband, Darren. He’s also a keen shooter and deerstalker, so has fitted in perfectly with our family. We are expecting our first child in July, so I’m foreseeing some fun working on the rearing field.
I intend to make one of my first purchases a baby carrier, so the young one can be transported easily on the field, shooting and beating from a very early age. Both Darren and I intend to bring up our child to participate in and enjoy country pursuits. There is a growing chasm between urban and rural life, and we feel it’s important to carry on the sporting tradition in our young.
TOP TIP: Don’t scrimp on clothing for outdoor pursuits, invest in the best you can as there’s nothing worse than being cold and wet.
I was put off following work in gamekeeping by a headkeeper, who was disparaging of women in the role. But if that’s your goal, pursue it. There is many a job out there, you just have to be persistent.