From a family of top shots, Rosie Whitaker, a freelance writer, is passionate about encouraging the next generation of guns – and good manners in the field
Learning from a family of top shots as a child, Rosie Whitaker is passionate about getting the next generation of guns into the field and encouraging good manners in all aspects of the sport.
For more sporting Dianas, seriously sporting ladies offering advice and encouragement, a hard hunting fall led Nicole Escue to a new-found passion for shooting. And Charlotte McNulty is a game rearer and determined the next generation should enjoy the best the countryside has to offer.
I was lucky enough to grow up in the country, in a family obsessed with shooting. My father, Sir Joseph Nickerson or Partridge Joe (because of his love for wild grey partridges), was one of the top shots of his generation and his passion for shooting is legendary. He adored passing on his knowledge and enthusiasm to his children. As a result, we spent a lot of time with him at home in Rothwell, Lincolnshire, learning not just about shooting but also shoot management, conservation and dog handling. You could say we had a long and in-depth country apprenticeship.
A few days short of my 10th birthday, I shot my first bird, a grouse, at Wemmergill, a moor my father loved as his own and leased for 36 years. At that time my gun was a simple non-ejector AYA .410, with one firing pin removed, to teach me to make the most of one shot and also for safety. It was a very unlucky grouse. It was stuffed and placed in a smart glass box and still observes me daily from its high shelf in our kitchen.
Shooting is a sport the whole family can be involved in – our three children all joined us on the field from the age of about five or six and they liked to help load, hold the dog or join the beaters, or go on the flank. All five of us shoot together in the line regularly. Over the years we’ve had lots of children come to our farm who’ve never even handled a shotgun before and I’ve helped them to fire their first shots safely. When they smash their first clays, it gives me far more pleasure than if I’d hit them myself. It’s so important the next generation gets involved to understand and defend our sport, which has so many conservation benefits and really knits rural communities together.
I shoot with a pair of 20-bore AYAs given to me for my 18th birthday. I enjoy all aspects of shooting, from the adrenaline-fuelled ‘hedging and ditching’, playing chase-the -pheasant on small family days, to the more formal driven days, which can work like an elaborately choreographed piece of theatre with everyone working seamlessly together to get the birds to flush at the exact right point. Shooting often takes you to such wild, unspoiled parts of the country, it’s a real privilege to be invited and I have been lucky enough to shoot in many different places in the UK, as well as abroad. Top of my list is shooting grouse, especially in Swaledale, which I find one of the most exciting and challenging places you can shoot grouse, and its people are such great characters.
When I was at Cambridge in the 1980s I joined the clay-shooting team, competing against Oxford. In those days it was still relatively uncommon to be a female shot but now it’s no longer so unusual and that’s such a positive step forwards as, in my opinion, chauvinism has no place on the field, just as elsewhere.
I love dog handling and our latest dog is a gorgeous fox-red labrador, Maple, two years old, who I’ve been training myself and she’s been coming on brilliantly. Working a dog after the drive really adds another dimension to a shoot day.
When I worked in London, I became an active member of the then newly founded Game Conservancy Trust [now the GWCT], and I chaired its annual ball at the Hurlingham in 1997. I was on the committee of the Purdey Awards and enjoyed visiting different shoots and estates and learning about conservation techniques.
Friends who shoot with me might have noticed that I am very keen on good manners on the field; I deplore ‘poaching’ of any kind. As well as good sportsmanship and respect for the birds, we all have a duty to ensure no game gets wasted and I hugely admire the growing number of organisations that are promoting game for the table.
Knowledge of your quarry, respect for the sport, as well as good manners towards fellow guns and shoot staff are all essential. I feel so passionate about this, that I wrote a book in collaboration with cartoonist Oliver Preston called How to be Asked Again: How to be the Perfect Shooting Guest, which has sold more than 13,000 copies.
TOP TIPS: Introduce a youngster to shooting, involve them in all aspects of the sport and share your peg if you can. Pack the car the night before, leaving the empty sleeve at the end of your bed as a reminder to take your gun out of the safe. Eat more game: visit YouTube to find out how to skin and breast a pheasant – it is unbelievably easy.