Having grown up with a love of the great outdoors, this shooting instructor and Sporting Diana is now relishing the opportunity to help others have a fantastic day in the field

My shooting career started not with a gun, but with a beating stick. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of a family shoot in Hampshire. the day was run by my great uncle Bill and you could always tell where he was, especially behind a hedge, with the train-like puffs of smoke emerging from his pipe. I still love the smell of Clan tobacco.

During my early shooting years, my champions were two great countrymen; my father and Uncle Bill. This shoot was not known for its large bags. It was more of an armed walk, and it was huge fun. There was always much cheering from the squadron of family beaters if anything appeared – I think the largest bag was four pheasants, one pigeon and a squirrel.

Early memories of days in the field

I had my first day on a peg on that shoot. Aged 12, I was the only girl and was feeling nervous among my male cousins. Dear Uncle Bill came over, pipe in hand, shoved a handful of sherbet lemons in my pocket and told me: “You’re fine. You’ll show them.” And that was the day I didn’t fire a single shot. On the last drive, we saw the beaters emerging from a spinney and my father told me to unload. I did so and a pheasant then flew straight over my head. I burst into tears, with much apologising from my father. He’s now been forgiven!

Georgie Stanford picking up

Sporting Diana Georgie Stanford has happy memories of her family shoot

A turning point for me as a game shot was lessons with instructor Jo Langford at Cowdray Park. I didn’t know there were roles like this for women and her encouragement and reassurance in my teenage years was a big part of why I kept going. It wasn’t always easy being the only female in the line.

Shooting is a great leveller

There have been big changes in shooting, and in country sports generally, and it’s very exciting being part of this. Participation is broadening and women are represented in all disciplines. There are now more female shots, more competitions and clubs for women, and I see youngsters coming through the shooting grounds where I work. Shooting is a great leveller and there’s no reason why women cannot be on the same level as men.

During my gap year, I discovered farming, which fed into my pleasure at being outside. I went to the Royal Agricultural University and competed on the ladies’ clay team. This helped drive my love of the sport and meeting other girls who were just as keen was inspiring.

A change in direction

I was looking for shepherding jobs when my life changed direction. Local families were keen for me to coach their children. I was never much of a scholar but I seemed to be able to teach, and the four-day Association of Professional Shooting Instructors (APSI) course was a gamechanger. I was then invited to train at the Holland & Holland shooting ground by shadowing their instructors. There I learned how to shape a lesson, how careful observation and tiny adjustments can make a significant difference, and how communication with clients is key.

Today, I am now a freelance instructor, working mainly at Purdey at the Royal Berkshire and Bisley shooting grounds and, during the season, the Goodwood Estate. I love the variety; from loading and instructing on peg during the winter, where my office is the countryside, to coaching at shooting grounds throughout the year, and shepherding in the spring.

Fantastic days in the field helping others

There was a time when I thought standing on peg waiting for the birds was the best thing. Now it’s matched by standing on peg, coaching, helping someone else have a great day. I feel lucky to have champions encouraging me; Tim Sykes at Park Farm shoot and Rob White at Leydene, and others I have never met.

JK Stanford, who wrote so many wonderful books about the countryside (Fox Me is my favourite), is my great-great-uncle and we were brought up on those stories. In our gunroom, there are gamebooks spanning four generations and two world wars. My great-grandfather recorded how he spent his leave from the trenches, wildfowling and absorbing the countryside. My grandfather, Peter, detailed his sporting life with line drawings and sketches.

Mine was a childhood of wet and windy walks, dogs, shooting, beating, learning to fish and sitting in hides. My life is still all of those things and there is nothing better for the soul than being outside all day.

TOP TIP: Practice. To quote Gary Player, the great golfer: “The more I practise, the luckier I get.”

Thank you to Dubarry for supporting Sporting Dianas in fieldsports. See Dubarry’s range of sporting clothing and footwear here.