The Master of Wine and Private Cellar buyer Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler is a keen Shot but finds just as much pleasure standing back from the line, working her beloved spaniels
The Master of Wine and Private Cellar buyer and our Sporting Diana Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler learnt to shoot in her twenties, but some of her fondest shooting memories since have been being behind the gun appreciating the beauty of the moment.
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MEET OUR SPORTING DIANA NICOLA ARCEDECKNE-BUTLER
Growing up, I always wanted to learn to shoot – I am no horsewoman, having been put off at an early age by an incident with a classic Thelwell pony and a cavaletti – but for one reason or another, it never happened until my twenties, when a then boyfriend agreed to teach me. Female Shots were relatively rare and mostly much more senior than me, and to say that I was viewed by beaters and keepers alike with trepidation or even distrust would be an understatement. Back-gun or walking were the preferred places to put an armed female, the closest to out of sight they could manage. If the intention was to put me off, it didn’t work, and it was the beginning of a long love affair with shooting and all that goes with it. I was quietly encouraged by the shoot manager and thankfully didn’t disgrace myself. When I was first approached about writing this column, I felt a fraud in comparison with previous Sporting Dianas and their awesome achievements. But I am passionate about the countryside and its way of life, which is all too often glamorised or ridiculed without a thought for the people who live and breathe the rural life day in, day out.
My work life couldn’t be more different from my sporting life; my career as a Master of Wine takes me all over the world, tasting some of the most amazing wines alongside making new discoveries for the sales team at Private Cellar, our independent wine merchant in Ely, Cambridgeshire. Despite being a male-dominated industry when I joined – it is more balanced now – being female never held me back, even if I was often the only one at a tasting or dinner. I certainly wasn’t going to let other people’s preconceptions stop me achieving my goal, which was to become a Master of Wine. When I passed my exams in 1996, there were just over 200 Masters of Wine worldwide, which has now doubled to 420, and the proportion of female Masters of Wine has increased rapidly. As with any masters’ studies, it is a huge commitment in terms of time and application and almost everything goes by the board until it is done, shooting included.
At the end of the 1990s, my husband and I decided to take back in hand the shooting rights on some family land and set up a small syndicate whose express intention was to have fun – shoot some birds, shoot the breeze and watch the occasional dog run amok. Beaters and Guns were to eat together, with the young welcomed more for their beating enthusiasm than their efficacy. Obviously this was the right time to get a dog, a working cocker, and it was a total disaster – but a major lesson in what not to do next time round. The syndicate flourished and I got an infinitely more suitable dog – another working cocker, but this time able to switch between lean, mean hunting machine and soppy family pooch, and we have her daughter and granddaughter still with us. Having successfully bred several litters, I decided training was next on the agenda – I had no idea just how diligent and constant you have to be, and thankfully it has mostly gone OK, with only the occasional excursion after tempting quarry.
Some of my best shooting experiences haven’t involved me being behind the gun; you can be so focused on the action that you miss the beauty of the moment, and I find a particular calm in picking-up, standing back from the line and seeing the bigger picture. Obviously it is even better when the dogs are on song and behave perfectly, sweeping up runners as well as clearing the field efficiently. Watching their enthusiasm while they work is probably one of my best moments of a shooting day, whether I am picking-up or shooting in the line.
I am a perennial optimist, preferring to see the good and overlook the bad – you could say it is the cocker in me.
NICOLA ARCEDECKNE-BUTLER’S TOP TIP: Avoid being lured in by a squishy puppy and read the pedigree carefully. You want a dog that’s cool-headed and rational.