Top 10 Hens

Every shooting man's worst nightmare – having to shoot in a team with this lot! We give you the Fieldsports selection of the finest female game Shots in the country.

Louise Baltesz

When did you start shooting and why?

My father (Sir Joe Nickerson) was passionate about shooting and shot six days a week, often seven. My stepmother realised that she would never see her husband unless she learned to shoot! My two sisters and I joined in once we were strong enough to hold a gun. I was nine. I have many happy memories of my father and stepmother and us girls almost filling the line!

What was your first ever gun – and what do you use now?

My first gun was a .410 AYA. I still have it. I use a pair of traditional Browning over-unders now, with 28" barrels and ¼ chokes.

What cartridge do you use?

RC Sipe 26g No. 6s for most game.

Your favourite shooting accessory?

Rob Fenwick from E. J. Churchill? He is a dear friend and does wonders for my confidence and accuracy when he stands behind me whispering what I did right or wrong

Best advice you were ever given – and worst?

Best: Pull the trigger as the gun hits your shoulder.

Worst: Use a 12 bore so you get more range.

Most difficult shot in the book?

An upwind grouse. They look easy but they really aren't! I find slow targets very hard to read.

Your favourite shoot?

I'm at home in the Yorkshire Dales. Swaledale is my favourite. Shooting grouse here is a pure joy.

Sally Prendergast

When did you start shooting and why?

I started shooting in 2004. I wanted a new sporting challenge that I could enjoy with my husband and have subsequently become passionate about the sport.

What was your first ever gun – and what do you use now?

My first gun was a Beretta Silver Pigeon 20 bore with 26½" barrels. I now use a Beretta Silver Pigeon 20 bore with 30" barrels.

What cartridge do you use?

For clays, I use Hull Pro20, No. 7½s and for game, I use RC T3 28g No. 5s or Sipe 20  Fibre 26g No. 6s.

Your favourite shooting accessory?

My leather breeks and Mr. David Olive!

What was the best advice you were ever given – and worst?

Best: Having my gun fitted to me.

Worst: Having a loader select my birds for me.

What would you rate as the most difficult shot in the book?

A high, fast partridge or pheasant on a strong cross-wind.

Your favourite shoot?

Loyton/Haddeo for the challenging high birds and supreme hospitality and our home shoot, Haydon Farm, Sutton Parva.

Tanya Faulds

When did you start shooting and why?

I started shooting game when I was about 14 – my father was a keeper so it ran in the family. Having said that, dad was a little bit of the attitude that girls should cook the shoot lunch rather than be out in the field shooting!

What was your first ever gun – and what do you use now?

I started with a Beretta 20 bore with 28" barrels. Now that I am sponsored by Caesar Guerini for my competitive shooting, I use one gun for everything. The model is a Summit Accent with 32" barrels and I use ½ and ½ chokes for all my shooting.

What cartridge do you use?

Lyalvale Express Supreme Game, 32g No. 5s, or if we are shooting high birds I've got no problem with shooting the Express Super Game in 36g No. 4s or even 42g No. 4s, if needs must!

Your favourite shooting accessory?

My favourite shooting accessory would be my lab Ruby. I bred her myself and I've taken her everywhere with me since she was six weeks old. She's nine now and still going strong.

What was the best advice you were ever given – and worst?

Best: Learn to shoot properly. Proper tuition is invaluable and I'm always extremely safety conscious as a result.

Worst: Shut one eye!

What would you rate as the most difficult shot in the book?

Anything slow saying ‘shoot me'. I love high, fast game and vermin.

Your favourite shoot?

Number one would have to be Allenheads. It is an amazing moor. The grouse are fantastic and so is the company. Shooting there is always a dream come true.

Number two would have to be Prescombe for its outstanding partridges. I've shoot there for many years now with Steve Thomas and I can't get enough of his hospitality or the incredible quality of sport that he provides without fail.

Jo Ropner

When did you start shooting and why?

I always wanted to shoot. I fished as soon as I could hold a rod and stalked my first stag at 11, but my father said there was “not enough shooting for the men, let alone if girls shot too…” So I started when I got married. Needless to say my Pa was thrilled once I actually did, and now I call him after every day I've been out to fill him in with how it all went.

What was your first ever gun – and what do you use now?

It was my father's old side-by-side 20 bore single trigger William Powell. I also used a 20 bore William Evans by Purdey. I now shoot with a pair of AYA No. 2s, 20 bores with 28" barrels, Monte Carlo stocks and Teague chokes.

What cartridge do you use?

RC Sipe 28g No. 5s and 6s.

Your favourite shooting accessory?

My kilt which belonged to my Pa. I wear it shooting on early days in August and September. It's getting a bit threadbare these days!

What was the best advice you were ever given – and worst?

Best: If someone says “well shot!” just say thank you, not… “well I should have had two or three more.”

Worst: Not worth recalling.

What would you rate as the most difficult shot in the book?

A fast grouse behind, on an angle but sliding sideways and downhill, making it difficult to pick the right line.

Your favourite shoot?

Shooting grouse over pointers at my home in Inverness-shire on steep ground, high enough for the odd ptarmigan to surprise you. It is so wild and exposed and grouse are extraordinary flyers.

 

Claire Zambuni

When did you start shooting and why?

I started 13 years ago after I said to Roger Mitchell, the then vice chairman of Holland & Holland, that I would never go shooting. He then invited me to do the Ladies Green Feathers Course at Holland & Holland. I turned up in steel toe cap boots – thinking Lara Croft – and there were all these blonde things in tweed with flicky hair and I thought: ‘Oh bollocks'. But I loved it from the start, have been adopted by the shooting community and have been immersed in it ever since.

What was your first ever gun – and what do you use now?

I started with a pair of side-by-side Arrieta Crowns with 30" barrels which I still have and love, but I now shoot with a 12 bore E. J. Churchill Crown with 30" barrels. I absolutely adore it and I have become a massive fan of Adam Calvert who did the gun fitting sessions with me. He was so thorough and professional. I then went out to Perazzi to have the final fitting done. I think the Italians have got it just right when it comes to making bespoke guns at affordable prices.

What cartridge do you use?

Hull, Imperial Game, 28g No. 6s. On high bird days, I'll use 30g No. 5s.

Your favourite shooting accessory?

Lola, my cocker spaniel. I also love my Barbour Cotterdale jacket, and not just because I helped to design it!

I'd also be lost without my Cordings nubuck breeks. Having said that, I have recently become obsessed with tweed trousers – they keep you warm, look fabulous and you don't feel self-conscious when you stop at a services on your way home from a shoot!

What was the best advice you were ever given – and worst?

Best: A hand-written note from Ken Davis from Holland & Holland. He heard I was going game shooting for the first time and sent me a letter with everything I needed to know. It included all the etiquette and protocol that would otherwise have been alien to me. I still have it.

In terms of good shooting instruction? Remember to move your feet.

Worst: How much lead to give a bird. Lead is so subjective, so when someone tells me how much to give something, I invariably miss.

What would you rate as the most difficult shot in the book?

Probably late season grouse because I so rarely get the chance to shoot them! On the few occasions when I have been so fortunate, I have found them to be completely awe inspiring! I also find woodcock incredibly challenging as every shot counts.

Your favourite shoot?

This is really hard as there are so many shoots that I love for completely different reasons. I love the hospitality, the company, the characters and all the amazing people you meet. And beautiful bird presentation really is such an art.

If I had to name one shoot that ticks many of these boxes, it would have to be Newton Mulgrave in Yorkshire. There are others in Dorset and Wiltshire I love too.

Rachel Carrie

When did you start shooting and why?

I started shooting in 2009. I had followed my father and the Great Britain FITASC squad around the international clay circuit for years but had never been inclined to have a go. Then I heard a few of dad's game shooting stories about the challenge of stratospheric pheasants and curiosity got the better of me.

What was your first ever gun – and what do you use now?

My first ever game gun was actually my dad's 32" Miroku 12 bore, choked full and super full! He was reluctant to buy a gun for me until he knew I was going to stick at it. I'm using a Krieghoff K80 Parcours this season with 32" barrels, choked full and ¾ which is a beautiful game gun, I find it very easy to handle.

What cartridge do you use?

Gamebore Black Gold 36g No. 5s.

Your favourite shooting accessory?

My Holland Cooper Balmoral shooting coat. It's fitted so looks great but has fluted sleeves which give me freedom of movement when I shoot. Also my Oxford Vaughn sunglasses are a stylish alternative to my sporty Hi-defs for game shooting – they have Zeiss lenses which really make a difference to my vision.

What was the best advice you were ever given – and worst?

Best: A gamekeeper told me to always shoot like I'm never going to be invited back! On a more serious note, my good friend and loader Des Mills told me to always try and miss the birds in front and that's proved invaluable over the years.

Bad: I don't think I've ever had any bad advice but I have learned as a woman that you'll never be short of men wanting to give you advice.

What would you rate as the most difficult shot in the book?

A fast crossing partridge or pheasant. There's a lot to put together to master this shot. As well as speed and line, you also have the drop of the bird to gauge while ensuring your footwork is right and being careful not to drop your shoulder.

Your favourite shoot?

Warter Priory. They have a splendid shoot lodge, a really welcoming team and can cater for all levels of ability. I learned to shoot at Warter and have progressed to shooting some of the more spectacular birds there with some coaching from the other half.

Rosie Whitaker

When did you start shooting and why?

I started shooting just days before my 10th birthday. My first bird was a grouse which I shot with my .410 at Wemmergill, which was then our family moor, leased by my father (Sir Joe Nickerson) for over 45 years.

What was your first ever gun – and what do you use now?

My first gun was an AYA .410 side-by-side, non-ejector with one firing pin removed for the first year. I now use a pair of AYA No. 1s, side-by-side, 20 bores with 27" barrels, choked ¼ and ½. They were a present from my father for my 18th birthday.

What cartridge do you use?

Express, 25g No. 6s, but I like RC Sipe 28g for late grouse days.

Your favourite shooting accessory?

A much loved and rather battered Hermes silk scarf with a wild duck design in moss greens, yellows and oranges which I've had since my late teens. It keeps my neck warm without being too bulky to shoot in.

What was the best advice you were ever given – and worst?

Best: Don't pull the trigger until the gun comes into the shoulder. And don't over-think your shooting, rather shoot instinctively. Always remember to move your feet.

Bad: I don't remember any bad advice!

What would you rate as the most difficult shot in the book?

A very high gliding pheasant, such as the ones in Devon. The first time I shot there I began to wonder if there was any lead in my cartridges as they seemed utterly untouchable!

Your favourite shoot?

Tricky one. For me, its not just about the quality of the birds – what matters hugely is the company, so any shoot offering both would rank as a favourite. Add to that a delicious lunch and fun party the night before and it's hard to choose! I love shooting partridges at Stockton in Wiltshire, but my favourite is grouse. I have also had great ‘chase the pheasant' type days where the bag is just 50 or 60.

Ali Valentine

When did you start shooting and why?

I was born into shooting as my father owns a shooting school and from an early age I was desperate to have a go. I was told that as soon as I could handle the lightest gun, I could start. That gun is still here. Made in Belgium, it's a ‘poachers' fold-up, single-barreled .410 and I first fired it aged eight.

And what do you use now?

Once strong enough, I began to use a Beretta over-under 20 bore and have stuck with this gauge ever since. I have had short bursts with a 12 bore and I own a lovely Charles Lancaster 16 bore side-by-side which I take out when the pang of traditionalism strikes me! Currently, however, I use a Miroku over-under, MK60 Grade 3 with 30" barrels. It is fixed choke (¼ and ½).

What cartridge do you use?

I have found that too much recoil affects my ability to handle the gun smoothly, but I was also taught to judge range and never to be under-armed. For small birds I use 28g No. 7s, for medium birds 28g No. 6s, for high driven pheasants 30g No. 6s and occasionally 32g No. 5s. Fibre wad only, so Eley VIPs really fit the bill.

Your favourite shooting accessory?

A close-fitting shooting waistcoat with ample pocket space, no breast pockets, buttoned or with double acting zip.

What was the best advice you were ever given – and worst?

Best: If you're going to miss, miss safely, miss with style, miss at the right time and with a gun that fits!

Worst: To bring down the really high ones you need heavy loads with huge shot sizes. Little did I realise the punishment I was in for.

Most difficult shot in the book?

A very high one, on set wings drifting on a strong crosswind.

Your favourite shoot?

Llewesog, here in North Wales above the Vale of Clwyd, just ticks all the boxes. Wonderful countryside, fantastic topography and the very polished team always show top drawer birds.

Pru Ward

When did you start shooting and why?

I started shooting when I was 25. I had been working in a city and had recently moved to a farm in Yorkshire and thought I'd better find something to do in the winter. I gave clays a go, loved it and was then invited by Mick Warcup to join a syndicate nearby. I was very lucky because Mick ran the shoot and explained how it all worked. It was a great introduction to game shooting.

What was your first ever gun – and what do you use now?

I used to shoot with a Beretta 20 bore which my daughter, Samantha Baxendale, has stolen from me! I now have a pair of Holland & Holland side-by-side 20 bores and a pair of Beretta over-under 20 bores. For high pheasants I use the over-unders and for grouse and traditional partridges, the side-by-sides. Both have 28" barrels, choked ¼ and ½.

What cartridge do you use?

Gamebore Traditional Game 28g. No. 6s for partridge and grouse and No. 5s for pheasant.

Your favourite shooting accessory?

A couple of made-to-measure shooting waistcoats; a tweed one from Holland & Holland and a cotton one from Cordings of Piccadilly. As a lady, it is vital that your clothing fits. I also use a shoulder pad which really helps.

Best advice you were ever given – and worst?

Best: When I started, Mick Warcup said that it doesn't matter if you miss, just as long as you're safe. That applies today as much as it did then.

Worst: I was advised to get a 16 bore at one point and the recoil was too severe. It nearly put me off.

Most difficult shot in the book?

Grouse on a dark day! In low light it is incredibly difficult to see them against dark heather. You see them and then before you know it they're on you.

Your favourite shoot?

I recently had an amazing day at Bransdale, after a lovely stay at Stoneley Woods Manor. Others include Warter Priory, Sawley, Prescombe Down and doves at Pica Zora, Argentina.

Cheryl Hall

Winner of 24 world titles in FITASC, Sporting and Compak disciplines.

When did you start shooting and why?

I started about 12 years ago when I used to go beating in Lincolnshire. On my first beaters' day, I got through 250 cartridges and didn't hit a single thing. I then started having clay shooting lessons at Kibworth Shooting Ground. The following year's beaters' day – which was wet and blustery with only a few birds shot – was a cocks only day and the only bird I shot was a hen! It was a good shot though!

What was your first ever gun – and what do you use now?

My first gun was a 20 bore Miroku which, when I came to part exchange it for a Beretta Silver Pigeon, I was informed was left-handed. Not a great start for a right-handed Shot! I now use a Beretta DT11 12 bore, 32" barrels, ½ and ½ fixed chokes for everything. It's right-handed.

What cartridge do you use?

Hull 28g No. 8s for clays and Hull Extreme Pheasant or similar for game.

Your favourite shooting accessory?

My red jacket. I also like to shoot in a pouch rather than a Skeet vest.

What was the best advice you were ever given – and worst?

Best: Forget what's behind you and concentrate on what's in front of you.

Worst: No matter how experienced you are, there are always people who will tell you where you have just missed. Normally it's: “You were in front of that.” Really?!

Most difficult shot in the book?

Woodcock or snipe. Small and tremendously fast.

Your favourite shoot?

There are so many. The main ones would be Winchbottom Estate in Buckinghamshire, The Calne in Wiltshire and Ripley Castle in Yorkshire.

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