Wild boar with Italian cousins or grouse with her father, family is a common feature for Siena Clarke, a 28-bore-wielding gun
Offered shooting lessons at school and settling on a 28-bore, everything clicked into place for Siena Clarke and she became hooked. Ever since, shooting days have centred on family, from grouse shooting with her father to wild boar with her Italian cousins.
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I am very lucky to have grown up in a family who, on both sides, share a passion for enjoying the countryside. My maternal grandfather, Major Tommy Pitman, grew up in Scotland, absolutely dedicated to his dogs and was a keen grouse shot. One of my favourite stories about him concerns an incident that happened when he was training a young gundog that was shy. The dog had run far and fast from the sound of shots, so Grandad left his prized possession, his Aston Martin, in the wood with all the doors open until the dog returned. The story goes that the car was left out there for a week and was utterly ransacked by wildlife, but the dog did thankfully come back to the scent of home.
In the spirit of continuity, my father took my brothers for clay-pigeon lessons as children. I wondered what the fuss was about until offered lessons at school (Marlborough College) in my early teens. I learned quickly why those outings were so eagerly anticipated.
As I picked up the 12-bore that the shooting school (Barbury, near Wroughton, Swindon) had set out for the boys, I felt the pit of my stomach drop. I could barely lift it, let alone raise or point it. So I settled for a 28-bore, which looked not dissimilar to a spud gun in comparison, and resolved to try and hit something. As if by magic, things went reasonably well and at least one of the clays turned to dust. I was hooked.
Since then, seasons have been dominated by happy memories of walking up, staring at the skyline on moors, in woods and from the bottom of gullies, mostly with my father, Henry, who has been incredibly supportive and has loved having a shared passion with me. My first days shooting were with family, and I have been lucky many times to be part of a line made up entirely of Clarkes. You can only imagine the nerves when the covey approaches, or the cries and cheers when someone manages a spectacular bird.
While I was studying at university, Dad invited me, on a few occasions, to visit Barningham and Holgate with him; beautiful moors on the border of County Durham near where my mother grew up. These transpired to be secret grouse shooting invitations, as he sometimes had last-minute cancellations (my favourite), and realised my siblings would be jealous. ‘This is the most incredible treat,” I would think from the butt as the birds whooshed past me in all directions. It didn’t take me long to pull myself together, concentrate, and realise that I needed to be two steps ahead of every bird.
Shooting wild boar with my extended Italian family in Maremma, on the west coast of Italy, is another highlight of my sporting education. Staring from our hide over the Tuscan hills and into the forests is an amazing scene to behold. I often have to remind myself that these enormous creatures are in fact menaces in Italy, tearing up farmland and giving locals hell on the rare occasions when they roam from more rural areas into towns.
In all the conversations I’ve had with fellow shots, gamekeepers or friends, conservation and sustainability has always been a talking point, so when I was offered the chance to shoot for the third year running with a group of friends at a simulated clay shoot in Dorset (Three Valleys Shoot, with DBW Clay Company) recently, I jumped at the chance. Being able to have not one but two vegetarians in the line is, after all, a bit of a novelty. The way this shoot is constructed is as close to a real game day as you can get, with high birds, five drives – including a cleverly constructed grouse drive in butts where we all shot in front and behind – a glorious picnic lunch and a local pub at the end to toast your escaped targets.
The excitement and adrenaline on first seeing my mark, be it game or clay, come over the trees on a shoot day is still there. And I’m still going strong with my little 28-bore, with tight chokes for maximum power behind those little cartridges. I hope to be able to scare some clays and game again next year, from a distance or otherwise. Fingers crossed.
TOP TIPS: Invite at least one or two daughters, girls, mothers or women to have their own peg. When I started to shoot, lots of my friends’ fathers would organise ‘boys days’ for their sons to all shoot together. Now more and more families are encouraging the younger generation of girls to join in the line. The rest of the line will become more accustomed to having women there, they’ll be happy to have your support and may even invite you back!