With the Glorious Twelfth just around the corner – not to mention partridge shooting in September and pheasant in October – pressure is mounting to get back into shooting practice. Habit usually sends me to a rather grim school on the edge of a nearby suburb, but recently I’ve discovered a sybaritic alternative in the Four Seasons Hampshire’s shooting tuition.
Part of the reason to sign up was to get my two young sons up to scratch, in case an invitation to a youth shoot comes their way. On the morning of our lesson (£85-£150 per person depending on numbers, maximum 15, and available to non-guests), the three of us headed a quarter mile from the hotel to the shooting facility, where covered wooden platforms set in an arc were facing uphill, each equipped with its own concealed clay pigeon launcher.
Waiting for us was tutor John Gamblin, who has 40 years of experience as head keeper at two well-known estates in the south of England. There is little he doesn’t know about shooting. Gamblin soon had us handling a 20-bore shotgun with confidence, and instructed in shooting etiquette (ie to carry a gun “broken”, or open, to show it’s unloaded, especially when climbing stiles or handing to another person).
New to me was a “bunny butt”. From it one fires at a clay pigeon sent spinning across the hill, much like the rabbits that wreak havoc on our Oxfordshire garden. The trick is to swing the sight through the target, firing just ahead so that the clay flies – or leaps – into the shot. For both boys the weight of the shotgun came as a surprise, while I was reminded by Gamblin to seat its stock well into my shoulder, to absorb the recoil.
At the end of our hour’s tuition, it was surprising how quickly it had all come back to me, and the practice element was beneficial too. The hotel and its idyllic surrounds also made this particularly enjoyable; rather than a country-house hotel in the traditional sense, here is a luxe property with all the fabulous amenities and services for which the Four Seasons is known (my wife whiled away the hour at its excellent, she assured me, spa). There’s also riding, fishing, falconry and even canal barging aboard a narrowboat. We are already mulling plans for next summer, and an overnight stay with lessons on bothdays.