In the first of our monthly columns on women who excel in the field, Serena Williams describes her journey from Pony Club pistol-shooting to gold-medal boar days
In our brand new column, seriously sporting ladies write about their lives and offer advice and encouragement. Serena Williams, the April Field cover star, goes first, sharing her sporting story from Pony Club pistol shooting to gold-medal boar days.
Serena Williams was lucky enough to learn the rhythms of the seasons during her childhood in the Cornish countryside. Now she shoots with a matched pair of 20-bore Arrietas that once belonged to her father. If you are thinking of introducing the smalls to shooting, read what age should youngsters start shooting? for our advice.
Pony Club tetrathlon was my introduction to shooting. Air-pistol shooting was one of the four disciplines and from this I progressed to a shotgun.
We were extremely lucky as children to grow up surrounded by the beautiful Cornish countryside around Caerhays Estate. My brother and I loved the hands-on approach we were afforded and learning the rhythms of the seasons that are so important. I remember collecting the pheasant eggs in the pens, laden down with a basket brimming with eggs ready for incubation.
My father, Charles Williams, bought my guns, which are 20-bores, to shoot doves in Argentina. (You well and truly broke them in, Dad!) They came to me about 17 years ago now. They are a matched pair of Arrietas with 30in barrels choked half and full. I have always loved these guns. They feel as if they are a part of me, old friends who know my every move.
I have a fantastic group of friends who are as shooting mad as me. We shoot together across the globe during the season. Among them are some Belgians who have introduced me to the international shooting stage and I am a member of the CIC (International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation). The CIC promotes sustainable hunting as a tool for conservation, while building on valued traditions. There are some excellent parties, too. As well as sitting on the Warwickshire Committee for the GWCT in the UK, I am a Purdey Brand Ambassador. I am passionate about raising the profile of sporting ladies and I am fortunate to know and shoot with some incredibly talented women. It’s never too late to start, so why not give it a go if you have never tried?
My sporting life so far has seen some memorable days, including a day’s hunting in the shimmering forests of Slovakia, overlooking the imposing hills north of Budapest, on the hunt for wild boar, red and fallow deer. My peg was towards the outside of the line and well positioned for boar, which are incredibly intelligent and difficult to shoot.
I could hear crashing in front of me and my heart was thumping. Then everything went quiet. Suddenly, out to my right, an enormous boar broke cover at full tilt downhill making his escape. I fired twice in quick succession, two RWS Evolution bullets out of my Sauer 202 Elegance 30.06 Springfield. I use these when driven-boar shooting as they go in deep and don’t fragment. I turned to my brother and asked, “Did I hit him?”
“Course you did,” he replied. “Both times!”
We found the boar after the drive. He was a whopper, about seven years old with huge tusks; there were murmurings about it being a gold-medal trophy and so much hand-shaking. I went on to shoot three more boar that day. The tusks were sent to Paris to be graded and, yes, it was a gold-medal boar. I was thrilled and felt privileged to have had the opportunity to shoot one and not mess it up.
Back in this country, our double-gun days at Blanchland Moor in Northumberland were out-of-this-world fantastic. The second day saw winds in excess of 90mph making the grouse look like little shiny bullets flying at your head. On one drive below a track the birds stormed over us in packs of about 15 but blink and you’d miss them. This was high-pressure stuff. My loader tried to hide his worry, offering up his hip flask for some Dutch courage. My advice is to take them as early as you can and pirouette like a ballerina to get those shots off behind (easier said than done, especially when you are standing in a bog).
Exmoor gave me a valuable lesson in cartridge loads. The day at Withycombe was bright and clear and after a jolly party the night before I was excited about the day ahead. I had done my research and not only did it scare me silly but made me rethink the cartridges I had been using: 28g No.6. I decided to replace them with 28g No.5s as I felt that they would carry that bit farther. I was delighted with their performance and shot my season’s best. It is important to keep learning and not get stuck in a rut.
Top tip: I always fall into a bog, usually when a woodcock is flying over my head, so I pack a spare set of clothes – that is, if my puppy hasn’t found my undergarments and run off with them.