Shooting game with smaller bores
Dismiss something before giving it a fair chance, and you might just miss out, says Will Pocklington after a day's shooting with a difference at the Worlaby Estate in Lincolnshire.
On October 3, 1952, Sir Joseph Nickerson, his brother Sam and a team of four friends shot a world record-breaking 2,119 wild partridges at the Rothwell Estate in north Lincolnshire.
That famous day would put the Lincolnshire Wolds on the map in game shooting circles. But 60 years later, is the county’s designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – the highest area of land in eastern England between Yorkshire and Kent – still given the credit it is due by the game shooting fraternity?
I don’t think it is. And I blame misconception.
Ask 100 people from across the UK for their thoughts on Lincolnshire, and I’d bet 90 of them would associate it with flat, featureless, highly productive arable land. That and being a royal pain in the arse to get to from pretty much anywhere. Look past the south of the county and the coastal districts, however, and tucked away are rolling hills, hidden valleys, gentle streams and nestling villages. Prime shooting territory.
This begs the question, then: what else does misconception obscure from us sportsmen and women? What else do we tend to dismiss before giving a fair chance?
Well, small bores are a fine example. A point driven home recently when I joined a team for an early season partridge day at the Worlaby Estate in, you guessed it, the Lincolnshire Wolds.
Each of the nine Guns on this day, all part of a well-established local syndicate, swapped their normal 12 and 20 bores for .410s. Most had shot with a .410 before, and they all seemed quietly confident. It takes a certain type of host to match that level of confidence, though; owner Tim Lamyman didn’t seem to be the slightest bit worried about the team’s ability to put birds in the bag in an effective and ethical manner.
You might put this down to experience – Tim oversees every one of the 60 or so days’ shooting at Worlaby each season, and has been doing so for the last 28 years, but even he admits to being a little skeptical at first. “I actually shot with this team on their first ever small bore day here last September,” he explained. “And it was the first time I’d used a .410 since the age of 8 or 9. I was shocked at what can be killed consistently and cleanly with them. After that day, I actually stuck with a .410 for the rest of the season until January, as I had a bad back. They are so easy to carry and handle.”
The shoot itself was established back in 1947 by Tim’s grandfather Leonard, who, incidentally, was an old shooting pal of the Nickerson brothers and part of the famous six to have shot that mammoth bag of partridges at Rothwell in the early ’50s. They now have an even split of family and let days, and 30-plus drives to play with across 2,200 acres. “We’re a partridge shoot with pheasants and ducks,” explained Tim as we drank coffee in the estate’s charming chapel – the morning rendezvous point where Guns also convene for elevenses and their meal at the end of the day.
The rest of the team soon joined us, Tim gave the morning briefing and everyone piled into trucks and drove in convoy to the first drive.
“With terrain like this, it’s hard not to have a good day,” remarked Matt Boulton who would be sharing a peg with his father Rolly for the day, as we crunched across the golden stubble. He was right, but there’s been a lot of experimenting on Tim’s part to get the shoot to where it is today. It’s a labour of love which – with the help and dedication of current keeper Samantha Klug – appears to be going from strength to strength.
“I’m a big advocate of trying new things and learning from mistakes,” Tim told me whilst walking to his own peg after lining the rest of the team out. “I’ve kept a diary of all the shoot days since I started hosting them, noting down weather conditions and how the drive went, with particular focus on wind, time of day and the position and brightness of the sun. I’m always experimenting. I guess that’s why I am so receptive to the idea of this sort of a day,” he added.
Of course, many shoot owners, managers and keepers might not greet a syndicate armed exclusively with .410s with such open arms. And the team acknowledged that in some instances – their annual pilgrimage to shoot pheasants in the Borders, for example – they wouldn’t even consider using the smaller gauged guns. But to say the .410 is only suitable for children, ladies, poachers and taxidermists is a bit like saying Lincolnshire is flat and boring. Generalisation sits right up there on the ‘to avoid’ list with misconception. Dismiss the .410 outright for driven game shooting at your peril.
The partridges on Middle Burrow came in large coveys of 30 or more, splitting across the line well, among them a few screamers you’d think twice about tackling with a 12 bore. But I saw only two pricked birds, both picked quickly by the large team of dogs just visible further downhill on the wood-side.
“It was a shaky start but we soon got onto them,” said Rolly, back in the vehicles after all had been accounted for. Sure enough, the team’s good form was to stick with them for the remainder of the day. And not a hint of uncertainty surrounded the use of their chosen calibre.
The forecasted rain arrived towards the end of the second drive. Not before more sterling redleg action, though. Here the line stood with a small flight pond at their backs, a thick belt of woodland to the far left, and the partridges were driven from maize over the horizon in front. The Guns were selective, picking sporting but realistic birds from the coveys filtering through the line.
“You are quite aware that the margin for error is much finer with a .410,” admitted Tony Bell, the syndicate’s captain, as we gathered around the back of one of the trucks for a quick tipple afterwards. “And I think this makes you that bit more focussed, and hence tends to improve your shooting.”
It was the third drive, School House Walk, however, that left the greatest impression. Here the team could all watch one another as a stream of birds punched through the dog-legged line, their heads snapping back almost rhythmically to the quieter, popping chorus of gunshot. Jan Faulkner-Smith and Ian Robbins were in the thick of it; their faces upon returning to the vehicles at the end of the drive said it all. “You know what, this is bloody good fun!” said Jan. “I might shoot with one of these more often. You know you have to be more accurate, and it’s a really good challenge.” It was a pleasure to watch.
Elevenses back at the chapel offered the chance to reflect further on the morning’s sport. Again, there was not a mention of the .410s coming up short or lacking in any way. But it would be naïve to ignore the factors which do so often cause concern or trepidation. So, what are they?
For starters, the humble .410 is a very different gun to handle than the 20 or 12 bore. And many argue that the weight it gives away to the bigger bores also makes it much easier to either swing through a bird too hard, or stop the swing and then attempt to ambush the quarry.
Then there is the worry that the gauge is just not man enough for the job, when, interestingly, the general muzzle velocity of a .410 is almost identical to that of a 12 bore.
It is the pattern of the load, deformed to a greater degree by the large proportion of pellets in contact with the barrel walls, that limits the calibre’s down-range capabilities. Hence the effective range of a .410 is often quoted as being 25–30 yards, beyond which it is thought patterns begin to fail.
“You are very conscious that you have a .410 in your hands,” commented Matt Barber – another key figure in the syndicate and keeper on their own farm shoot – who had provided the thick wedges of game pie keeping many of the others quiet. “And you obviously adjust your expectations of what can be shot.” I’d seen for myself, though, just how consistently perfectly sporting birds can be brought to terra firma. After all, 25 yards is further than many anticipate.
In terms of cartridges, it was 3" Winchester, Eley and Fiocchi shells that filled coat pockets, ranging from 16–21g loads and in No. 4s, 6s and 7s. The team all agreed that rather than worry too much about loads and shot size, however, you’ve “just got to be on them” – although big loads and very tight chokes are generally avoided as it is believed that they cause patterns to falter further.
“The best bit is being able to fit a couple of boxes of cartridges in your pockets, without them weighing you down,” joked Matt Barber. “But they do seem to a be a little more difficult to load into the chamber in the heat of the moment. You’re forced to slow down a little,” added Jan from across the table.
The penultimate drive offered that little bit more time between the flurries of action. The horizon here was shorter, the valley deeper and the birds of a standard which instantly nullified the returning rain and somewhat softened our extraction from the comfort of the chapel.
Alas, after a final wet but excellent drive, we were soon back there, tucking into a delicious late buffet lunch which, Tim assured me, is as much a feature of the Worlaby shoot as the beautiful landscape.
It had been a day of experimentation, of enlightenment and of bloody good fun. Bloody good shooting, too... “Final bag is 265 for 749 shots,” announced Tim as he passed the sweep winnings along the table at the end of the day.
Stunning scenery, sporting birds, and a shot to kill ratio of 2.8:1 with .410s. I shall let you draw your own conclusions...
Bag: 245 redlegs, 20 ducks
Drives: Middle Burrow, Brockdale over the Hedge Reversed, School House Walk, Gorse Haggas, 14 Acre
Guns: Tony Bell, Matt Barber, John Aitken, Phil Hurd, Ian Robbins, Jan Smith, Rolly Boulton, Matt Boulton & Tim Lamyman