This daughter of a gamekeeper and keen deer stalker hopes to educate the next generation through her role at BASC
Louise Farmer spent her childhood assisting her part-time gamekeeper father. Today as a regional officier at BASC, she hopes to educate the next generation and inspire more lady guns to go stalking.
For more sporting Dianas, seriously sporting ladies offering advice and encouragement, Clare Mills co-founded Anglian Muzzle Loaders to share her passion for powder. And Anne Woodcock founded Ladies Fishing UK to encourage more women into the sport.
My earliest memories of growing up in Northamptonshire are related to the countryside, wildlife and spending time with my father – a part-time gamekeeper on a local shoot. We were out most evenings lamping foxes or rabbits, driving around the farm watching young badgers play by their setts, or just walking the hedgerows.
At an age when I took Ladybird books everywhere I went, I used to sit in the passenger seat of my father’s 4×4 (a white Range Rover, constantly covered in mud and with empty shotgun cartridges and bullet cases rolling around in the footwell). After school, we would park up on a high point of the farm that gave us panoramic views of the fields and hedgerows below, waiting patiently as the sun faded and it turned to ‘foxy time’. I would sit and read my book until my eyes struggled and then join my father watching the evening countryside come to life.
Thinking back, I can’t honestly remember when I first went out shooting with my father nor the first pheasant I shot. However, I’m told I was about nine years old. I do know that I’d shot plenty of rabbits with an air rifle before I ever lifted a shotgun.
When you grow up amongst it, some of the ‘firsts’ seem less significant as they soon become everyday events. Aside from lamping in the evenings, I looked after the pheasant poults throughout the late summer into autumn, and undertook all the tasks associated with running a shoot, I loved it all.
When the game season started, I’d be wrapped up in layers of warm clothing, a wax Barbour jacket (scratched from brambles), cuffs rolled up, pocket full of toffee wrappers, bright gloves (one was often lost during the day), wellies and a little flat cap. Ready for a day spent with the beating team. I was often tied to a labrador and had to be carried over the deep brook or lifted over a bramble patch, but I rarely missed a day.
It’s heart-warming to see more young children included in the beating lines nowadays, even more so when the beaters’ day allows for the younger generation to have an
opportunity to shoot. They, after all, have often walked the furthest on little legs throughout the season and deserve it most.
As I grew up, a career in gamekeeping was never in my mind and certainly not promoted when I was at school by the careers staff. However, working in the countryside and with animals was. In my mid-twenties I enrolled on a university course to study Veterinary Health Studies and Applied Animal Science as a mature student. I
juggled work and studies for the three years and self-funded a BSc and subsequent teaching qualification, which led me to become a lecturer in Animal Welfare, which I did for six years.
I was often asked how I could teach Animal Welfare yet be involved in shooting and gamekeeping. In that role I was able to demonstrate how closely the two subjects are interlinked. I was able to teach the students about the need for wildlife management, respect for quarry, habitat creation found on sporting estates and the diversity of wildlife seen as a consequence.
When a role became vacant within the countryside management subject area, I jumped at the chance to move department. My area was all that was game and deer related, a role I had for a further four years. During this time I was also the first female to become a City & Guilds assessor for wildlife and game management, during which I saw a number of gamekeeping apprentices through their qualifications.
On shooting estate visits I was mistaken as the ‘admin lady’ more than once on arrival but when it was explained that I was actually the gamekeeping assessor, it prompted a raised eyebrow. A 5ft blonde possibly wasn’t what they were expecting, however, their scepticism disappeared once a tour of the estate proved I knew my sorghum from my millet and was able to show a weathered keeper of many years how to tighten the wire netting on his release pen using the handle of his pliers.
I loved teaching the students about the countryside but after 10 years I decided a change was due and joined BASC as a regional officer. It is certainly a varied role and extremely interesting as I work with people from all corners of fieldsports and the shooting world. I have also been able to keep my hand in with teaching and try to include as much of an educational input into events aimed at youngsters as possible to ensure safety, respect for quarry and etiquette.
The main focus of my shooting over recent years has been deer stalking. I was introduced to it by a friend around nine years ago and have been lucky to have stalked in most areas of the country, Scotland and been hunting in Sweden. It’s an area that is growing in popularity within the ladies’ shooting scene and I have been working on a programme to make it more accessible for women to get involved. It can be daunting for newcomers and often difficult due to the strict firearms laws and shooting permissions, so opening up opportunities has been a focus – another rewarding project I am proud to be involved in.
TOP TIP: I try and get out shooting one way or another as often as I can throughout the year. However, I get as much satisfaction and enjoyment from mentoring on a youngsters’ game day or taking a novice deerstalker out for their first deer.
Louise Farmer is a regional officer for BASC.