Castle Gunmakers, Norham, Northumberland


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Castle Gunmakers, Norham, Northumberland

Shooting with a helicopter

In the 1980’s whilst still living in Dorset (my home county), I was involved in running a pheasant shoot at Wake Farm near Ebbesbourne.  The regular guns were a great bunch of guys. always up for a little extra excitement, fun, and new ways to spend money. Times were good and there seemed to be more to go round in those days!

On one occasion, five of us got together and set about planning a shooting expedition to the wilds of North Wales. A local gamekeeping family had recently moved to the Bodorgan Estate in Anglesey and we thought it would be great to pay them a visit. And so we hatched a cunning plan! One of our regular shoot days was chosen and all arrangements were made. Without telling our fellow guns, keeper or beaters, we arranged to be collected by helicopter as soon as the horn ending the last drive had sounded. It did help that one of our good friends Pat was a pilot!

Having enjoyed a great day’s shooting, we manipulated the last drive to be in a remote part of the farm and the resulting “apres-shoot” conversation and jollity was soon interrupted by the throbbing rotors of a Bell Long Ranger helicopter as Pat deftly landed the chopper to the amused amazement of all the team. The amazement grew as Rod, Malc, Bob, myself (still in our shooting gear) and my muddy springer Spud climbed aboard our new shoot vehicle, telling the rest of the team – “We’re off to the next drive in Wales!”

We all enjoyed the flight, refuelling at RAF Valley, then flying over spectacular Snowdonia before crossing the Menai Straits and landing near Lake Maelog. We were greeted by Vernon and Margerie who ran the lovely small hotel that overlooked the lake. We obviously caused quite a stir when we arrived as we were told that evening that some of the locals thought there was a police raid!

After some simple ‘pub grub’ we were introduced to the delights of late night drinking with the regulars, who used the fact that we were residents to keep the bar open. Out of the blue one very drunken reveller staggered into the dining room and produced a very pungent polecat ferret from his pocket and thrusting it under Robert’s nose he said “Do ya wanna play poolcat?” Realising we needed to pacify this very drunken local (surely the inspiration for Plug from the Bash Street Kids!), we agreed.

The assembled company, ‘Plug’ and the ferret retired to the pool room where the pool table was opened up, the gate was lifted and the balls removed. We were instructed to pick a pocket and place our 50 pence stake by it, ‘Plug’ generously taking the empty pocket and placing his stake. The ferret was put in the ball rack to duly appear at a random pocket and give the fortunate winner a £3.00 return. Nine times out of ten that winner was ‘Plug’ and after losing about a tenner each we rather unkindly came to the conclusion that ‘Plug’s’ alcoholic breath and overbearing odour was obviously drawing the ferret to him just like a moth to a candle flame!

We rose early the next  morning,  walking out on chestnut fencing laid over the floating morass of reeds and moss that would take us to our hides. We enjoyed an amazing flight shooting geese, teal, mallard, pintail snipe and Pat’s first woodcock before going back for breakfast. We then went out again for an unforgettable day of rough shooting in gale force winds which saw pheasants fly out to sea in a Nor’wester and come hurtling back after turning downwind. Partridge, woodcock and snipe added to the bag.

That evening was spent in the generous company of our hosts so as to avoid the attentions of ‘Plug’. Luckily he didn’t appear and we surmised that he was probably spending the windfall from his indoor ferreting!

We returned home the next day,  flying through some very bad weather and we were much comforted by the fact that Pat was a time served Air Sea Rescue pilot.

Shooting has opened the door to many memorable experiences and I am so very grateful to those who have joined me, helped me and put up with me!

And also to ‘Plug’!

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