The director of operations at British Game Assurance recalls her early education in the hunting field and the joy of shooting her first partridge
My earliest memory of the shooting field is bumping along on my mother’s back as a toddler out beating. It didn’t go swimmingly. She stopped for a pee and we got completely lost in the depths of the Scottish countryside. I remember being absolutely freezing, and there was a lot of crying, but it did nothing to dispel my love for fieldsports.
On a crisp Christmas morning, I was led outside to meet my first trusty steed: Pansy. She was a beautiful and wilful Shetland that my aunt had managed to squirrel away in one of the barns without me noticing in the run-up to Christmas. With the acquisition of Pansy, my hunting career began in earnest. My poor, unsuspecting parents did not realise the miles they were going to cover while running as I flapped merrily along. My first lesson was learnt pretty quickly: always lean back. A quick trip down Pansy’s neck and into a cow pat taught me this solid life lesson.
The tumblers club
As I got older, I became a long-standing member of the tumblers club with the Clifton-Upon-Teme. Jokes would be made that I should pay my sub before we even left the Meet. This was not entirely my fault but Jester, my sister’s incredibly naughty cob, would buck and buck until he got me off. Most days were spent galloping in the opposite direction to the rest of the field while trying to get him under control. Sadly, following a terrible bout of ME, I was kept out of the saddle. However, when energy was up I would follow on foot and happily sit on the Master’s horse when hounds went to cover.
Shooting and I collided much later on after years spent in the beating line, either in Oxfordshire with my grandpa or up in Scotland on my uncle’s family shoot. Sometimes when standing with my father, I was allowed to have the odd pop at a pheasant but it was made very clear that I would not be doing any shooting until I could pay for it myself.
Working life of a Sporting Diana
When I started working at British Game Assurance (BGA), I realised it was time to leave the beaters and join the guns. I was lucky enough to shoot my first ever partridge while my overexcited colleague blasted instructions at me. Leon Challis- Davies is now chef ambassador for BGA and a close friend. We were hosting a chef shoot day to try to encourage more high-end chefs to use game at their restaurants. In the gun line were Thomasina Miers, Calum Franklin and Tom Booton, to name a few.
On arrival, Tom Adams our then managing director, announced that I was absolutely having a go, and Leon and I could share a drive. As the partridges started to fly over, I was wobbling around with Leon moving my arms and ‘bang! ’ – I shot one. Such were my shouts of glee that I think on any normal day I would have been asked to leave.
A helping hand
My husband Jack was then the real instigator in helping me shoot. As a patient boyfriend, he would stand next to me on the peg on his uncle’s estate while I missed every bird in sight. He would then gently suggest it might be a good idea to have a few lessons before I next go out. My instructor Dylan Williams is ever imperturbable, but every lesson a new issue seems to have appeared (though, thankfully, problems we have worked on previously have disappeared).
Last season, I was finally allowed to be unmanned on a peg alone. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Shooting is so much more than just firing a gun into the air. It is contributing to net biodiversity, remembering every kill, analysing what went wrong, cooking up elevenses, off-roading in the car, bringing the birds home to cook and swapping stories over supper. It creates a community similar to hunting that those who have never experienced it cannot possibly understand. I feel so lucky to be right in the heart of it.
TOP TIP: Always try to have more than one woman in the line as it takes the pressure off and stops you feeling like such an odd one out.
Thank you to Dubarry for supporting Sporting Dianas in fieldsports. See Dubarry’s range of sporting clothing and footwear here.