When a hard fall ended her hunting career, this daughter of a big-game hunter from Georgia, USA, grabbed a shotgun – and hasn’t looked back
A hard fall ended the UK hunting career of Nicole Escue far too quickly. But a stint on the Holland & Holland Green Feathers course ignited a love for shooting and she has since discovered the joys of simulated clay days, charity shoots and working her young labradors.
For more sporting Dianas, seriously sporting ladies offering advice and encouragement, Charlotte McNulty is a game rearer and determined the next generation should enjoy the best the countryside has to offer. And Princess Hélène of Orléans was a Victorian Diana passionately devoted to Africa.
I’m a Southern Belle born and bred. My father was a big-game hunter and primarily found his quarry in the Rockies, Canada, and Alaska. I grew up around constant talk of his next hunt, whether it was elk, big-horned sheep, caribou or bear. He was also a keen wing shot spending time hunting quail in my native Georgia, duck in the Louisiana Bayou or walked-up pheasants in North Dakota.
As an only child, our father-daughter time included weekend trips to our local outfitter, Abercrombie & Fitch, where I developed an eye for best English guns. Most American teenagers ask for a car for their 16th birthday but my request was for a beautiful Holland & Holland over-and-under 16-bore. Sadly, I didn’t get the gun but the seed was sown for my future passion for shooting.
When I moved to the UK 20 years ago, one introduction to British fieldsports was through The Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) Saddle Club, and hunting with the Royal Artillery on Salisbury Plain. I was also a founding follower of the tongue-in-cheek Connaught Square Squirrel Hunt, even chairing our London Hunt Ball. I adored my twice-weekly rides with the King’s Troop in St John’s Wood and the Light Calvary in Windsor Great Park, and was devastated when a hard fall cut my all-too-brief UK hunting career short.
At about the same time, I attended the Holland & Holland Green Feathers Course for lady guns and haven’t looked back. I absolutely fell in love with the sport. I started on clays to gain confidence and then moved on to game. At that time, it was sometimes not easy to be accepted as a woman in the line but, fortunately, this has changed much for the better in recent years.
I have been privileged to be a part of various teams up and down the country on some of the finest and most challenging shoots, from Exmoor to Scotland. One of my favourites is a family-run shoot in Cornwall that we return to on the same weekend each year. It is a mixed driven and walked-up day and the most special part is the walk back to lunch through a woodland perfect for woodcock, which we only shoot when the migrant population is known to be high.
When I received my first invitation to shoot grouse, I was thrilled and made sure that I was ready to do my quarry justice. I shot the simulated grouse sequence at almost every shooting school in the south of England. When the day came, the practice had definitely paid off and was unquestionably worth the time and effort.
I try to get out on clays at least a couple of times per month, if not more, and I love simulated clay days. Fonthill, Haydon Farm and Hilldrop are particular favourites. I am learning to shoot English Sporting to help with my game shooting and find this a fun challenge. I’m even pushing myself to enter charity competitions here and there, which I never thought I would do.
One of the great joys on a day’s shooting is working our labradors. It gives me immense pleasure when they sit steadily on the peg and retrieve a bird to hand. One particular memory is of one of the first woodcock I shot in Devon, which landed in deep cover and my young lab worked for a good 20 minutes to retrieve it after more experienced dogs had given up. I’m certain the dogs enjoy the days out as much as we do.
I have come to realise that we need to do more to protect the hard work our farmers and keepers put into sustaining our wildlife. This is at the heart of our countryside. I am a keen supporter of the conservation work and research undertaken by the GWCT. To widen my own knowledge, I took (and passed!) the DSC1 course for deer stalking and have recently acquired my first rifle.
I am fortunate to have game chef and restaurateur Mike Robinson as my stalking mentor and I am so looking forward to learning more about fieldcraft and preparing meat for the table. I’m a big fan of The British Game Alliance, The Country Food Trust and Wild & Game. It is crucial that harvested game reaches a wider audience and that those of us who shoot and stalk help to promote it.
TOP TIPS: Have respect for your quarry. Practise on clays in the close season. Thank the people who have made your day possible – beaters, pickers-up, keepers, loaders and catering staff. Be sure to take a brace (or more) home – eat what you harvest. Introduce non-shooting friends to healthy and delicious game meat.