Being a Field top shot is about more than just driven game. This definitive list reveals who is at the pinnacle of the shooting world
Having been an Army major, guns are a continuous thread for Adams, now director at a sporting agency. Deadly with rifle and shotgun, this passionate grouse-shot went to Argentina to practise and reportedly took 1,000 doves for 1,100 shots before trying to challenge himself by shooting off the other shoulder to similar effect. Show off.
Bacon, Sir Nicholas
Our informant has seen this Norfolk landowner “fell grouse in the Highlands, drop partridges in Norfolk and, in the south of England, shoot some of the finest pheasants one could wish for anywhere. If it flies over him and he’s on form, it quite simply doesn’t stand a chance.”
Clearly blessed with lock-on radar. You need to be on your mettle if drawn next to him. Described as “so keen he can be seen literally clambering over the front of his butt to get at the grouse early, with murder in his eyes”. Companions are warned: “Don’t lose focus when next to him or you won’t get a shot.”
Our informant writes: “The most enjoyable thing about his shooting is that when you are known as a good shot, some people tend to ignore that maximum bird for fear of missing – but Jon has no such fear and, indeed, rarely misses if they are going to me.”
By night glamorous in LBDs, by day one of the lads in breeks, Baltesz is totally devoted to grouse-shooting. Be it on Reeth, her home moor, or anywhere else lagopus lurks, she shoots better than most men and is certainly fitter: outside the season Baltesz is often found climbing mountains. Ptarmigan, you have been warned.
Pigeon guru Beasley shoots tall pheasants in front “right under the beak”, possibly with one of the heavy cartridges he carries in his pocket “for the ‘unbelievable’ ones”, though how he manages to have them loaded at the right moment is beyond us. On partridges, “the faster they go the better he shoots”.
Mostly found sorting out the birds in Yorkshire, especially at Arncliffe, we hear he is now making moves on the fast and low Lincolnshire partridges. This year Bell has been reported making 2:1 on grouse in a gale and his consistency belies his youth. A lover of shooting chat at dinner parties he is cited as “the best young shot around and unlikely to go unnoticed for much longer”. Duly noted.
Blakeway, a former rugby international,”at the ripe old age of 62 is still ripped like Popeye”. We’ll take our informant’s word for that. A gentlemanly and consistent gun oft seen on Castle Hill, Buttery and Ozleworth, he is described as “quite simply a great shot”.
Ensconced at Belvoir, where he’s shoot captain and rapidly creating new drives. Burtt remains in top form. “Annoyingly good and charming to boot”, is Burtt’s most concise nomination but another vignette caught our eye: “The high snipe that comes through the grouse drive might ordinarily get a barrel…I was next to Phil when one did just that. He fired twice, missed, changed guns and fired twice more, killing it with the fourth shot.”
This Durham student, raised to be expert on English partridges at Ken Hill, is also “exceptional on wildfowl and one of the most lethal rifle shots”, besides proving himself on “some notable grouse moors” and he is “pretty humbling on high curling pheasants or decoyed pigeon, too”, says our informant.
Cambridge, Duke of
Prince William continues to shine as a top-class performer on English partridges shown the English way, but also cuts the moutard on driven grouse. Having babies is always tricky for shooting men, so hats off to the royal couple for their sensible planning: a mid-July sprog should leave both of them free for the Twelfth and a quick nappy change in the butts.
You don’t have to see Mrs Cannon to know she’s grouse-shooting: “No one else gets their second barrel off so quickly,” says our informant. Wife of Michael Cannon (crack shot and owner of Wemmergill), Mrs C is out in all weathers and, when pheasant-shooting, is always happy to leave a few birds if there’s a back gun behind her. An example to us all.
Castle somehow managed to have an access-all-areas pass at the 2012 Olympics as the shooting coach for Team Belize. So Belize did not actually have a shooting team but let’s not get picky. According to one fan, “His workout schedule was fine-tuned by George Digweed and he’s never affected by wind, even in the highest of valleys. One of the country’s top game-shots whatever the quarry.”
Efficient at despatching grouse, Clanfield has been known to suffer from distraction when his wife, three daughters and two pugs share the butt. Shooting anything in that situation would be beyond Robin Hood, so we recommend whatever earmuffs he’s using. Also adept at the long, crossing pheasant.
“Ian is a true gentleman,” says Olympic gold medallist Peter Wilson. “I’ve always admired his restraint in the field, never being one to show off or embarrass others. He only ever challenges birds that he can kill cleanly.” As head coach for the GB shooting team in 2012, he was made an MBE. His passion is grouse, and his skill on them is gold-medal standard. “They appear over the skyline and before you’ve realised they’re there, Ian’s dropped a pair,” reports an awed admirer.
At only 19, Sir Edward’s youngest son is becoming “as deadly as his dad”. Another formidable “family sandwich” takes to the pegs and you probably don’t want to be drawn between the slices next season.
Dashwood, Sir Edward
Dashwood gives a “masterclass” on woodcock. Our experienced spy hasn’t seen a better shot on wild birds. He has that uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time and “make something out of nothing”, managing to shoot the bird “before most have even seen it”. And throughout, displays a rare passion and enthusiasm, “especially on the grouse”.
Last season Digwood said to his loader “when a grouse comes over that hill [120yd away], I’ll shoot one cartridge, pass the gun to you and you can reload quickly while I shoot the other gun.” After five dead grouse in a row several times the loader knew our hero was serious. He can also kill 60yd pigeon cleanly.
The Irish produce cracking and craicing shots, and none finer than Dillon, according to our source. He was captain of the Irish Sporting clays team last year and is as lethal on the feathered as on the clay variety, once shooting just under 400 in four hours. He’s capable of consistently despatching birds so long “most would not raise a gun to them”.
A demon on the crows, Doyle has “a profound understanding of the quarry that is matched only by his ability to get steady kills at long range”. Which proves that as well as representing Ireland clay-shooting he is a master of fieldcraft. As the son of a fisherman, he has a good eye for the wildfowl, too.
A regular at Sandringham and Holkham, Duckworth-Chad is a wizard on English-style partridges and never hurried. “Just when you think he hasn’t seen the covey he effortlessly raises his gun, left arm fully extended, killing two out in front, and always in the beak,” says our man in the Norfolk Bump. His elegant style wins the wonderfully understated plaudit, “nice to watch”.
Fane’s renown as an all-round shot (he was part of the record-breaking team on a Northumberland moor this season) is enhanced by his determination to pick birds and look after his dogs. “In January he swam across an Islay loch to bring his flatcoat back, who wouldn’t leave a dead woodcock stuck up a tree on an island,” reports one admirer.
According to our watcher, “He is certainly methodical and makes every shot seem so easy. Time seems to slow down when he shoots.” The gold-medal winner in the 2000 Olympics runs the Owls Lodge Shooting School and continues to be lethal on all gamebirds.
Not left behind by her husband when it comes to ability, Tanya “has the charm, wit and attitude to brighten any team of guns, but beware, she will wipe the eye of the best, too”, says our source. As a roving back gun at Elveden this year, she pulled off a succession of eye-wipes that had the boys spluttering.
Is the MD of EJ Churchill’s Shooting Ground overly “after-you-Cyril”? Our source says on grouse he’s “a bit too polite and concerned about ensuring his neighbours get first shot before he goes in for the kill”. But going for the shot is one thing, connecting another. Watch him closely and see how, “he quietly goes about his business of mopping behind most people, no matter how good they are”. On one of Linhope’s highest drives last season he stood out among pretty senior company.
This master of the smallbore “fires two barrels before I’ve finished picking my nose”, admits our man in the field, no faint praise coming from another top shot. Apparently, you can tell he is responsible for the grouse bouncing in the heather 50yd out when an assassin’s “double tap” precedes their fall.
If he were not so charming the pickers-up might feel harried by the amount of work Fordy makes for them. He draws unalloyed praise from the people who matter on a shoot. Ford receives universal acclaim for his ability to send the best birds to pheasant heaven. And his hip-flask brews are legendary.
Renowned as a grouse- and pigeon-shot, he is rumoured to have hit 24 grouse on the trot last season. A loader reports that he nearly always kills his grouse in the same place – where one shoots decoyed pigeon. And he “had 36 pheasants and partridges with 37 shots on one (killing) drive in Cambridgeshire”.
All William Gascoigne’s sons can shoot but Fred stands out for our spies in the hedgerow. Having been a full-time in-field instructor and inherited his father’s passion for hunting in Africa, there’s more evidence that Fred is a chip off the old block in his gun slip, where you’ll find a Damascus-barrelled 16-bore hammergun. Sharp eyes and lightning reactions combine to deadly effect here.
Noted as an outstanding rifle shot on deer and big game (buffalo appear regularly in his gamebook), “Gaz” is also a professor with the shotgun, often using a muzzle-loading flintlock on walked-up days. Our correspondent says, “Gaz kills his game cleanly using normal loads and old guns, which is very much how I like to see it done.”
This gun would be welcomed with laurels on any working farm. His success with crow, jackdaw, rook and pigeon is “barely believable” says our source. Gilchrist’s skill with decoy patterns and in hide-building is surpassed only by his marksmanship. Bags of 400 are not remarkable. And the Game for Everything catering company uses his bag.
Enthusiastic, generous and modest, Goodhart exemplifies the good shot. Our source rates him as “probably the best shot among a team of highly proficient guns shooting on numerous occasions at one of the most prestigious moors in the country”. Outside the UK, he can be found in Spain and Germany, shooting large game.
Grosvenor, Hugh Earl of
The Duke of Westminster’s son, Hugh, is now considered to be among the cream of the crop of younger shots. His plaudits include the notes that he’s “very relaxed”, “consistent, graceful” and, overall, “Hughie’s a great shot on grouse – when he can see over the top of the butt.”
An affable, keen countryman hailing from North Devon, he’s used to nailing cloudscrapers. “He’s as consistent and reliable as a regular and popular shot could be,” says one admirer. “He modestly shot seven species in one drive on a back-end January Norfolk day and only a few weeks earlier, in Argentina, was late for a wedding because he’d insisted on driving five hours to shoot doves (where his performance was 25% better than anyone else present).”
The former world fly-fishing champion continues his march forwards as a top shot, getting plenty of practice on his grouse moors, East Allenheads and Muggleswick. The Herrminator’s determination to be the best at everything extends to ping-pong, at which, we’re informed, he is professionally coached. A light-hearted challenge to ping-pong bats at dawn at a grouse party last year saw his opponent pitching up in tweeds only to be confronted by Herrmann sporting full whites, including a fetching bandana.
Hervey-Bathurst is back on form after a season off with back problems. He has the advantage of being closer to the bird because of his height and his 34in barrels. On form, he is unstoppable, says our source. When not running his Eastnor Castle shoot he is out searching for high birds and, boy, does he kill them consistently. Has been known to shoot the odd sporting black grouse.
A partner in international law firm withersworldwide, Bertie Hoskyns-Abrahall looks after landowners and “has extensive experience in advising clients looking to purchase estates, farms, country houses and grouse moors”. An ideal job, then, for someone with a great tweed collection. His nickname at Millden is “TTB”, which stands for “Tall Thin Bertie”. “He’s graceful and athletic and superb company in the bar… when he can keep his shirt on,” gushes one admirer. As keen on woodpigeon as on the grouse and devastating on both.
Irby left his post at West London Shooting School to join Woburn
Abbey, where the deer and the antelope (not to mention the elephants)
play. He’s therefore very wildlife friendly – except when it comes to
partridges and pheasants, when it’s more a case of “Me Tarzan, you
Kempley, says our experienced source, “is one of the new league
of boys using a hefty Krieghoff over-and-under with 34g cartridges – and
hell, can he use them. Shoots regularly for England and can make the
very best look average. He is extremely accurate and was renowned for
saying Simon Ward is ‘OK’. He meant it and probably proves it on the
field. I think he is as good as I have seen all last season – on
If you had to bet your life on a bird being shot, you’d back
Kennedy. Modest, keen and one of our most consistent shots, he’s
described by an admirer as “the consummate performer”. His experience on
grouse moors is probably unsurpassed, having shot on pretty much every
one. Likes a can of pop after the second drive to keep blood sugar
A proper all-rounder, Lee, who has taken over the shooting lease
at Ashcombe, is one of the most enthusiastic and best shots of his
generation. Was witnessed shooting some monstrous cloudscrapers on the
third drive at Alton. On pigeon, gamebirds and big African stuff he
remains in the top echelons of the sport.
Winning the British side-by-side championship is a great feather
in Lee’s cap but it turns out that he’d picked up a side-by-side for
the first time that day – which might look like showing off. A source
saw him shoot at Ripley Castle this year where he missed four birds – in
the day. “He never turns down a long shot and he always nails it,” we
hear. Keepers his own shoot in Lincolnshire.
Runs the Glanusk estate in South Wales and shows his guests how
its done on pheasants. According to one witness, in “the deep gorges
full of bubbling streams where high and fast birds require speed and
proper snap-shooting, Harry can get them to land on the bank in front of
him running into the stream at his feet rather than behind him. The
stand of choice is the Kaiser Seat, but Harry does like to stand behind
these two exciting stands and tidy up.”
The captain of the Castle Hill shoot “eats, sleeps and breathes
shooting,” according to our source, “analysing everything and watching
what others are doing while quietly going about his business at nothing
but sporting birds 50yd to 60yd up and killing stone dead. This guy is
an out-and-out hunter and in the top league of his sport.”
Mackelden retired to Dulverton in the Westcountry and now goes
picking-up at least four days a week. But when he picks up the gun
himself, he gives his fellow dogmen a busy time – and not on runners.
According to one serious shot, “He would be the best shot that I had the
pleasure of shooting with last season.”
A former Team GB member, world and British Champion, Marshall is
the new chief instructor and ground manager at EJ Churchill. Luckily
for the birds he doesn’t have time to shoot game as much as he’d like,
but you wouldn’t know it to see him in action.
He shot some “exceptional birds this year at Brigands and also
down in the Westcountry. He is deadly on pheasants and partridges,
exhibiting fantastic style, too,” notes a seasoned shot. He puts in the
practice,”shooting just about as much as anyone I know”, according to
Milbank, Sir Anthony
Having confessed that he adores walked-up rabbits, Sir Anthony
worried that his moor-owning mates might think his passion for grouse
was waning. Not a chance: few get past him at Barningham Park or on his
neighbours’ moors. Milbank is also a deft partridge-shot, dropping 27 on
one drive on a shoot that still shows them traditionally.
You know someone is good when his contemporaries call him an
“annoying” all-rounder. Especially when he is good enough company to be a
frequent guest. It could have something to do with his killing grouse
“bloody miles out in front”. “Have gun will travel” seems to be his
motto as he dashes across the country indulging his passion. Usually
sporting a “ridiculous beret”.
To be a consistent shot is the Holy Grail for us mortals and
Mustill seems to have achieved it. Keepers report him killing birds at
50yd time after time. He is “good fun and a very modest man, considering
Mustoe seems to keep raising his game. “I saw him shoot 24 for
24 in Devon and there wasn’t a bird under 50yd. Every one was stone dead
and he never looked like missing,” reports our Westcountry spy.
Northbrook, Amelia, Lady
A polished, elegant performer on lowland game, she has now
proved her mettle on the grouse; last season she “performed extremely
well on some very windy and difficult days in some pretty illustrious
and experienced company. She has a steely determination not to be
outdone or outshot by the boys.”
Northumberland, Duke of
“There are very, very few who can hold a candle to Ralph
Northumberland,” our sources agree. “He is living proof of the maxim,
practice makes perfect: he gets lots of practice and he is practically
perfect, be it on grouse, partridges or pheasants.” He is also something
of a genes genie. With four offspring, Team Percy can provide a full
line of grade A shots without calling on reserves.
Percy, Lord James
One fellow gun says he’s never seen Lord James shoot better and
that he’s now “out of this world”, especially when on his home shoot at
Linhope. On one particular drive Lord J shot “three massive birds in
three minutes, the type of bird that for most of us would make the
This American in London is “an innovator, always strategising
about how to bring grouse driving into this century with raptor kites
and so on”. He’s not all about the theory though: seeing him practise
his craft on pigeon or grouse is a brave new world. An accurate but
unselfish grouse-shot, Portz is also red-hot on pigeon and vermin.
We tried to concentrate our informant on her shooting ability
rather than her looks and eventually he told us, “Sally has been taught
well and she works hard outside the season, practising her technique
with her 20-bore, and this hard work reaps its reward when she knocks
down Wiltshire’s demanding high pheasants and partridges. She’s also a
charming hostess, putting on great shooting parties with her husband,
Chris, who farms just outside Warminster.”
This top shot is “a real crack performer”. Competitive in the
field and a consistent artist around Castle Hill and Haddeo, to name but
two star shoots, he has a reported ratio of 2:1. But don’t expect him
to be taking it too seriously: “He is a trickster, always playing pranks
and shooting to the extreme.” The Westcountry has been warned.
Smithie “kills what he goes for but doesn’t ‘pinch’ birds or
kill what he knows is easy”, says our source. Handy with a 28-bore, he’s
one of those “gentlemanly, skilful guns that can really add to a day,
especially when back-gunning to polish off any pricked birds,” reports
A perennial on our list, Francis Stafford maintains his
blistering form. Alastair Margadale’s Fonthill estate shows some of the
loveliest birds in the land, proper thin-air pheasants that test the
best, especially on the Cowdown drive. Yet Stafford’s performance there
last season won the palm for being “the most impressive in recent
Once the pin-up of the NGO, Stimson is now in demand as a loader
with some of the most grown-up shooting dynasties in Norfolk. Her
gun-changes are lightning (thanks to her small hands). Clients, aware of
her shooting ability, need to be up to the mark. She was witnessed on
Walsingham dropping right-and-lefts in a howling wind that had left most
of the male guns’ bams completely boozled.
Pass the smelling salts; one nominator suggests that Straker
accounts for as many grouse as Lord Ripon did. In Tyneside he is
certainly well placed. From a neighbouring butt, “All I could see were
small black dots heading his way and collapsing in every direction
around him.” Enjoys a formidable reputation as a shot and grouse manager
and is extremely considerate to fellow guns.
Sweerts De Landas Wyborgh, Sophie
Sweerts De Landas Wyborgh is no slouch. Now involved in polo
events, she won a medal as part of the Senior England Lacrosse Team at
the 2007 World Championships and earned a Blue at Edinburgh.
Determination is also exhibited on the shooting field. With
right-and-lefts raining down around her, her brothers are left gnashing
“Simply unbelievable”, breathes one experienced witness, and “a
league above” the rest of us. All made more impressive by his being “a
seriously nice chap”. He may not be an old hand on the grouse but he is
certainly a dab hand, having shown a startling natural ability from his
In 1985 Thorrold won the British Open Sporting Championship –
and won it again, 25 years later. A formidable performer on feather as
well as clays, he has a shooting academy and a “system” that he claims
is the most effective for gamebirds. A local shoot organiser says
Thorrold can “sort out guests’ inaccuracies with extraordinary ease”.
van Cutsem, William
Our source reveals, “What makes Billy stand out is his ability
to make any form of game-shooting look effortless. He is never rushed,
very stylish and deadly accurate (despite ‘red eye’ issues due to
contact lens irritation). He is also one of the most unselfish shots I
have seen in action, eloquently demonstrated on the grouse last year
when he wiped his eldest brother’s eye five times on the trot, which
caused a little bit of consternation. When any of the brothers is asked
who is the best shot, Billy is the default answer.”
Wales, Prince Harry of
Now considered a true artist at partridges shown the traditional
way at Sandringham. He’s extremely quick, using a pair of ancient
side-by-sides from the estate’s gunroom and, like many practised hands
at this form of shooting, believes the race is to the swift. He’s
cautious, though, of taking his grandfather’s birds, a crime that
usually results in exile to Siberia at the end of the line for the
remainder of the day.
Dangerous company in the bar, John Ward has long combined great
knowledge of the shooting world with an Olympian ability to party. A
multi-world champion shot says, “Most of my John Ward stories are just
too difficult to print. However, he is a very considerate shot, is very
respectful of the quarry and, unlike many, doesn’t shoot other people’s
birds unless challenged. He would still rate up in my all-time top three
A professional shooting instructor, Ward might be expected to
shoot a bit but one admirer says, “I’ve shot grouse with him on several
occasions and picked-up for him at Allenheads last year on the big day
there. He was awesome. Simon is on a different plane; he’s a 90%-plus.
He rarely misses; appears to have all the time in the world; kills
grouse as well behind the butt as in front; and is modest to go with it –
a real change from some of the high-testosterone guns around. He is
very knowledgeable, unassuming and low profile but consistently deadly.
Apart from Digweed, there can be few to touch him. He would make Olly de
Grey look like a duffer.”
Another high-bird professor who uses big guns and heavy loads to
kill archangels cleanly at Castle Hill and Buttery. “He’s highly
selective, only going for birds that both challenge and are within his
range – which is rather beyond that of most mortals,” says one fan.
Runs the Minal and Forthampton shoots. Using light loads in a
28-bore, he consistently pulls down superb birds, pigeon included, that
elude those using heavier artillery.
It’s not easy keeping the smalls on a tight leash while
grouse-shooting but Whitaker does this in style, aided by husband Piers.
Checking that they have not tipped into the burn, that the provisions
have arrived at the bothy, and that her guests are happy would be enough
to put most people off their shooting. However, when the grouse arrive,
up goes the 20-bore and down fall two.
Owner of Avalon Guns and a feature of many top shoots on his
home patch in the Westcountry, he’s “a very consistent game-shot who has
a huge appetite for high pheasants, which he is more than capable of
devouring”, according to our source. Another top shot who’s also a top
Our gold-medal hero shoots in Dorset, where syndicates are made
up of friends. One writes, “Peter is a true ambassador for the sport and
there is no end to his confidence in his gun and cartridges and their
ability to kill cleanly at long range. When the mood takes him and he is
on the end of the line, he is like a stealth fighter pilot, despatching
birds breaking out the sides that most wouldn’t attempt.”
The Field’s own gun guru continues to turn heads. Nominations
came in from as far afield as Serbia, where his shooting is deemed
“outstanding”. His ability to connect with long-range birds left one of
his guides gasping, “I could not trust that it would be possible.”
Unless his skills extend to magic, it must be.
Boys will be boys. Asked to expand on her shooting skills, one
regular shooting neighbour comes back with “hot, funny, and delicious”;
not exactly the sort of bouquet one would present to, say, Walsingham or
Ripon. But Zambuni remains an impressive figure in the sporting world,
holding her own with her 12-bore Perazzi in the unforgiving world of
highly competitive shots.
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