Going Out with a Bang

Ashcombe House, aerial photo taken on June 7, 2005 by David Goddard/Getty Images.

Nearly ten years ago, on the 18th of December 2007, I shot at Ashcombe in Wiltshire as a guest of my Godson’s father. The birds are some of the most challenging anywhere and I prepared myself by booking a lesson at the West London Shooting School.

I explained that I was not very good at shooting high pheasants and needed coaching. Of course the instructor asked me where I intended to shoot them and it transpired that his father managed the Ashcombe estate. Then he suggested paying a visit to his parents the weekend of the shoot and accompanying me, ostensibly as my loader but in reality to offer advice. The day was laid on in some style, starting with the shoot card, a sketch of the front door at Ashcombe by Rex Whistler. Half-time drinks were served in a gipsy caravan with a stove, kegs of drinks and a place to store guns.

Just thinking about it is making me reach for a glass of ten year old tawny, a bargain from Waitrose at £16.79. It has an intense, complex flavour and beautiful legs.

I’m sorry to say that I missed almost everything – always miles behind the high, fast birds. The guns typically stood at the bottom of deep chalk valleys and the birds were driven off the top. It was challenging stuff and I cheered up a bit when I gave my gun to my “loader” for a drive and he didn’t fare much better. At the end of the day eight guns accounted for 44 pheasants and 56 partridges having expended 1,171 cartridges – not a ratio to be proud of. It was the last time I shot and I went out with a lot of bangs. I gave my gun to my Godson and so it returns to Ashcombe with him.

Memories of my rather special last shoot came back to me on Friday afternoon when the film I was watching opened with footage of Ashcombe and even a few pheasants scuttling around; more tomorrow.

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