Puppies may be adorable, but not everyone wants the commitment and work involved in training them for the shooting field. Rehoming an older gundog is a great alternativeRehoming an older gundog gives you a good shooting companion, and them a good home.
Rehoming an older gundog rather than aquiring a puppy is a great option if your shooting companion passes away or cannot manage another season in the field. There are always dogs in need of homes, and good gundogs may lose their master or have a owner who can no longer care for them. Rehoming an older gundog not only gives you an experienced and reliable new companion in the field, but also gives them a good home for the remainder of their lives.
Dogs’ lives are far too short, and their working lives shorter still. Having worked hard for us, they deserve a good retirement. Read David Tomlinson’s advice on gundog retirement: looking after an old dog.REHOMING AN OLDER GUNDOG
My golden retriever is now 14 years old yet came shooting with me more than 20 times this season. However, I doubt he will manage another. Like him, I am getting on a bit but hope to manage a few more seasons. I would like to acquire another gundog that has been around a bit, perhaps lost his master and whose owner can’t look after him. Is this a silly idea? I have had gundogs for more than 40 years – such a dog would have a good home.
Glynn Evans at BASC say this is not a silly idea as, unfortunately, dogs can need rehoming for a number of reasons. There are several organisations that assist with finding working dogs new homes and a quick search on the internet will find some of these, although there can be a waiting list, particularly for certain breeds. Evans also suggests making contact with people who are likely to be in the know, such as gundog breeders/trainers, gamekeepers and pickers-up who will be well placed to hear at an early stage that a dog may be available.
Go stateside for a deliciously refreshing dessert on a hot summer's evening. Try Philippa Davis' strawberry, cardamom, elderflower and lime sherbetThe Americans love sherbet, which is creamier than sorbet.
Strawberry, cardamom, elderflower and lime sherbet makes for an incredible explosion of flavours. While lighter than an ice cream, and easier to make, sherbets are still creamier than sorbet. A favourite from across the pond, Philippa Davis’ sherbet is a refreshing end for a summer supper.
If sorbet is more your thing, try our blackcurrent sorbet with toasted brioche and clotted cream, a perfect summer pudding rich in colour and packed with flavour. Or for an unreservedly British sweet treat, The Field’s Pimm’s No 1 jelly is a fun take on a summer staple.STRAWBERRY, CARDAMOM, ELDERFLOWER AND LIME SHERBET
Although sherbets are not as popular in the UK as in the States, I think they should be. Lighter and easier to make than an ice-cream yet creamier than a sorbet, they are a refreshing way to end a meal.
- 15 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
- 50g caster sugar
- 2 tbsp elderflower cordial
- 1 lime (zest and juice)
- 360g strawberries, gently washed and hulled
- 1 tbsp runny honey
- 125g crème fraîche
- 50g milk
To make strawberry, cardamom, elderflower and lime sherbet, first heat the cardamom with the sugar, elderflower and lime juice in a pan with a splash of water until the sugar has just dissolved. Leave to infuse for 20 minutes.
Place this, the strawberries and the rest of the ingredients in a food processor and blitz well.
Pass through a sieve to get rid of the cardamom and strawberry seeds then churn in an ice-cream maker until frozen.
If you don’t have an ice-cream maker, freeze for a couple of hours until semi hard then blitz in a food processor until smooth. Return to the freezer for another couple of hours until frozen.
As sherbets melt quicker than sorbets and ice-cream it is best to serve them in bowls or glasses that have been frozen.
Royal Ascot is just around the corner and it's time to dust off the old silk topper. If you're lucky enough to have inherited one, take our advice on how to resize top hatsAn inherited silk topper can still be the perfect fit.
How to resize top hats is handy knowledge if you’re fortunate enough to have inherited one. No need to squeeze your head into one or risk the embarrassment of it taking flight in an unexpected gust of wind, now you can make your silk topper the perfect fit.
Royal Ascot is just around the corner, so get your silk toppers ready. Indeed Ascot is one of the only events left in the calendar that requires one. These days top hats are no longer donned at even the smartest weddings, and at funerals they are only seen on the undertakers. But in Ascot’s Royal Enclosure, gentleman are still “kindly reminded” they must wear a black or grey top hat. Colour choice tends to be determined by personal preference, but the custom to wear a black topper on Ladies’ Day still holds good.
Hat-wearing is enjoying a great revival, headed by the Duchess of Cambridge. Read feathers are the milliner’s friend, put one in your hat for the essential feature every lady attending Royal Ascot needs.HOW TO: RESIZE TOP HATS
I have inherited a silk top hat. It is in beautiful condition and a wonderful addition to my wardrobe. However, it is too slightly too small. Can it be stretched to make it larger in time for Royal Ascot?
WL, by email
A silk top hat cannot be stretched but the shape can be redistributed if there are gaps at the sides as might be the case with a long but narrow head. Lock & Co offers this reshaping service, reconforming the hat to the shape of the head. If there are no gaps the company can remove the leather on the inside to create an extra half-size. The whole service takes approximately half an hour and costs £75. No appointment is required; just take the hat and the head it needs to fit to Lock & Co at 6 St James’s Street, London SW1; tel 020 7930 8874.
On 11 June, the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment marked the 90th birthday of our Sovereign. Roger Field meets the men and the mounts who take part in The Queen's birthday paradeThe Blues & Royals practising for this year's special birthday parade in Hyde Park, London.
The Queen’s Birthday Parade may happen every June but there is no doubt that this year’s Trooping the Colour will be a historical moment. Roger Field meets the men and the mounts from the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment who will mark the 90th birthday of our Sovereign.
The Queen’s natural affection for animals has been long and well known, particuarly for her “blacks”. Read The Queen’s horses: black beauties of Knightsbridge to learn more about the special relationship Her Majesty has with her Household Cavalry.THE QUEEN’S BIRTHDAY PARADE
On Saturday 11 June more than 1,400 men and 200 horses, including 170 from the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, will “Troop the Colour” at The Queen’s Birthday Parade. The practice of Trooping the Colour goes back to ancient times when, usually just before a battle, that detachment’s standard or colour – the flag the fighting men knew to follow and rally around – was paraded along their ranks so everyone could get a good look at it so they could recognise it once the action started. What began as a pre-battle drill had, by 1748, been transformed into an annual parade to celebrate the sovereign’s birthday. Fast forward to Edward VII, who started the tradition of taking the salute in person. And so, this June, Great Britain’s own Birthday Girl will be celebrating her 90th birthday parade, an event she has only missed once, in 1955, when a railway strike forced Horse Guards to cancel it.
Meanwhile, at Hyde Park Barracks in Knightsbridge, Lieutenant Colonel James Gaselee, The Life Guards, tells me he has been aware of various ideas floating around to, perhaps, “do something special” but, as far as he is concerned, it is business as usual. This is another Queen’s Birthday Parade and he would be surprised if Her Majesty would want anything different on the day. This will be his first parade as Commanding Officer, HCMR – comprising of a squadron each of The Life Guards and The Blues & Royals – my old regiment, as it so happens. No stranger to Knightsbridge, Colonel James also did tours as a troop leader (lieutenant) and then squadron leader (major). He will be riding Oracle, his six-year-old charger, on his first Queen’s Birthday Parade. “A bit young?” I wondered. Colonel James, an experienced horseman, is relaxed and certainly, looking splendid as he posed for photographs, Oracle looked equally relaxed, too.THE QUEEN’S BIRTHDAY PARADE: HOUSEHOLD CAVALRY “BLACKS”
Household Cavalry “blacks”, as they are known – or “Mark One Hayburners”, as we in the armoured regiment referred to them – are bought in Ireland aged about four to five. They are a thoroughbred/Irish draught cross and have to be between 16.2 and 17.2 hands high. I never forget riding Boomer, 17.2hh, who was thoroughly enjoying a bit of well-earned “down time” at Windsor. As I careered around the manege, hanging on for dear life – 17.2hh is a long drop – the riding master shared his thoughts with me and the rest of the ride: “That’s not a horse, Sir. It’s a bleeding camel…”
Finding a genuinely black horse is genetically difficult and most have a bit of white in them. Those that are all black – or more black than most – and usually finer boned, will be earmarked as officers’ chargers, though not all will make it. A charger has to be prepared to lead and act independently, while the troop horses are trained to follow. And they do. Only when you have tried to make a troop horse turn in a different direction to the herd will you understand just how implacable they are. Of course, this relentlessness was once invaluable in battle. The horses charged together and stayed together regardless and, as Colonel James explained, the troop horses know the drills and routines better than many of the new recruits. A confused trooper on his first parade on an experienced “black” will perform the correct manoeuvres despite himself.THE QUEEN’S BIRTHDAY PARADE: TRAINING THE TROOPERS
Which is a useful attribute because whereas in my day other ranks tended to go either “mounted” or “service” (armoured) and pretty much stay there, these days it is very different. Troopers joining the Household Cavalry will, unless they have some horse allergy, start their regimental career with the mounted regiment. After completing their basic military training (drill, weapons and endless PT – plus ça change), they will then go to Windsor for a 16-week riding course. The vast majority will not have ridden before. They spend 12 weeks in “khaki”, learning to ride, then the final four in state kit and learning to ride differently: sitting trot; riding one handed – the right hand carries the sword. Given they then “pass out” – most do – they are then sent to Knightsbridge, where they start mounted duty almost immediately, although they will not be pitched straight into a major parade, such as The Queen’s Birthday Parade. They then do a two-year tour before being sent to the service regiment to start armoured training. That means, when you watch their impeccable drill on 11 June, around 40% of them will be doing it for the first time. The other half for the second time, and only a few – riding masters, farriers, senior NCOs and the officers – will be doing it for the third or more times: an astonishing testimonial to the standards of training and the quality and intelligence of the soldiers.
And that is another thing that is different to my day, as both the Colonel and Squadron Corporal Major Edward Sampson, The Blues & Royals, explained. Back then, one secret of leadership success was to keep a soldier well away from booze or temptation before anything important was due to happen. The modern Household Cavalry soldier understands this and both men told me that it was extremely rare to have any problem with alcohol or absenteeism. This generation of soldiers just don’t do it. Trooper Shaw, who I chatted to, confirmed this. To do something stupid would let the rest of the troop down and he would not do that. He felt honoured to be where he was and would not jeopardise that. In fact, the rest of the troop would not let someone do something stupid as it would let them all down. They take far too much pride in who they are and what they are privileged to do. Of course, there’s always one or two but they quickly get found out and find themselves on their way.THE QUEEN’S BIRTHDAY PARADE: BATTLE HONOURS
A legacy, I suspect, from the long years of arduous and deadly tours the regiment did in both Iraq and Afghanistan. There was a story – perhaps apocryphal, perhaps not – that on the outbreak of war in 1939, Part One Orders (a notice on the Board saying what to do if…) at Knightsbridge stated that, in the event of German paratroopers landing in Hyde Park, Household Cavalry Regiment was to proceed to the park and hold it until “the military arrived”. How we laughed back then. No longer. In 1982, The Blues & Royals did exactly what was asked of them in The Falklands. A reputation that the Household Cavalry has more than maintained since. Even though the regiment does ceremonial duties, it is very much a proper fighting regiment and that old joke would fall flat today. In fact, and wonderfully, when SCM Sampson rides out onto Horse Guards, he will be carrying the Standard of The Blues & Royals on which are emblazoned its many battle honours, hard won over four centuries of fighting for the sovereign. One of those is “Iraq 2003”: his war, his battle honour. Not only did he fight as a Scimitar gunner but he saw a number of his friends killed and wounded, both then and in subsequent tours. He told me that, up until today, the proudest moment of his military career was as he rode down The Mall on his first Queen’s Birthday Parade in 2000. He suspects that moment will be surpassed when he carries the Regimental Standard with “his” battle honour, their battle honour, before his sovereign on her 90th Birthday Parade. He also promised to spare a thought for the 29 men of The Blues & Royals who ensured that “Falkland Islands 1982” is emblazoned above Iraq 2003 on that same standard – perhaps in itself a record for the least number of men who managed to win a regimental battle honour?THE QUEEN’S BIRTHDAY PARADE: 11 JUNE
Astonishingly, the morning of The Queen’s birthday parade itself is relatively relaxed compared to some of the days that lead up to it. Rehearsals mean getting up at about 0200. That way the regiment can ride to Horse Guards, practise its drills and ride back to barracks before the traffic builds up and it brings Central London to an unscheduled standstill. But, on the day itself, there is a much more leisurely “Stables” at 0600. The horses are then given a short ride in the park to let off any excess steam. Then back in, final grooming and “Fall In” at 0900 hours. It takes about 15 minutes to get everyone “on top” with all their kit on and looking the part. Then comes the Colonel’s Inspection. There will be two to three “waiting men” on standby to take over in case anyone looks sub-standard: whether kit-wise or health-wise. And then at 1000 it is “Move out”. And from there they go about their drills as rehearsed. Colonel James explains that – given you know what you are about, of course – it is then relatively easy because, as he jokes, unlike the Foot Guards they don’t have to worry about keeping step. Officers know exactly where to aim for when they are riding as there are specific windows on Horse Guards that are specified “aiming points”. Just head straight towards said window, turn at the designated spot, then aim for the next window. Shouting orders – although commands when actually riding are, for obvious reasons, given by highly accentuated sword movements that all riding behind can see – is surprisingly easy as the buildings on the three sides of the parade ground provide excellent acoustics. One top tip Colonel James offers to anyone planning their own birthday parade is to half turn your head before shouting your word of command. Not only does your voice then travel that bit more backwards and towards the men behind you but the fact that your head half turns then wakes up even the doziest trooper who now knows something is about to happen. Even the horses will pick up on that movement.
And then all is jingling harness, the muffled thud of myriad hooves, the banging of aiguillettes on breastplates, the rattling of scabbards on saddles, drowning out all other noise. Then, as Colonel James put it, the best moment of all for an officer: the moment he rides past his monarch, looks her in the eye and salutes her. In fact, and while they were all busy saying that it would be business as usual and they would just be doing their job, they all, from colonel to trooper, admitted that on 11 June they would be aware they were going to be part of history. And that is something of which every member of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment is immensely proud.
It’s not sensible to turn up on a shooting day and continually miss, better to practise on simulated clay days. Robert Cuthbert lists the best simulated shootsIt is the Medforth family's attention to detail that makes Raisthorpe excellent.
The best simulated shoots are the only way to stay sharp through the long summer months. Whether you need a pre-season warm-up, want to tidy up your moves or just have a jolly day out, Robert Cuthbert suggests the best simulated shoots.
If there is one shooting technique to master, it’s forward allowance. Read forward allowance. 9 techniques for shooting well.BEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: RAISTHORPE FLYERS, NORTH YORKSHIRE
One of the best simulated shoots is Raisthorpe Flyers. David Medforth heads a family team at Raisthorpe and at the centre of this giant in the simulated-game world beats the heart of a game-shooting fanatic. Based amidst gorgeous North Yorkshire scenery, the Medforths have been blowing their clients away for more than 10 years now, offering “relaxed but highly polished days” of simulated game.
“The lodge there is really something else,” says Robert Everitt from Hull Cartridge, “and it is one of the best simulated shoots for a pre-season sharpener, whether it’s grouse or tall pheasants. The Medforths at Raisthorpe have got it all.”
The family’s attention to detail shines through, from the precision in target delivery and the beautiful dry-stone grouse butts through to perhaps one of the finest shoot lodges on these shores. The well-staffed lodge offers clients and guests dizzying lunches and hospitality with more than a dash of home-produced goodies from their own estate.
Prices from £200 per gun. Raisthorpe Flyers ordinarily offer days for teams of 16 but can cater for smaller groups by request. Contact David Medforth on tel 01377 288295; www.raisthorpeflyers.com.BEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: STOKE DROVE COUNTRY SPORTS
For homespun Wiltshire charm, Matthew Pickford’s Stoke Drove enterprise, between Shaftesbury and Salisbury, can spirit you away to the fantasy of a summer day of driven birds. Stoke Drove is the antithesis of the larger, more corporate options mentioned; a blissfully quiet and beautiful location makes it one of the best simulated shoots for syndicates keen to air their guns and keep those bad habits and cobwebs from forming during the warmer months.
“We’re really catering for the hardened game-shot here,” says Pickford, “but, of course, we can look after a novice, too. We’re on manual traps here and we love to watch the game-shots coaching themselves. I love to drive clays high over a pretty grass valley to someone who knows what to do with it, however it arrives. We’ve all missed that bird over our least-favourite shoulder and thought, ‘Blow, should have had that.’ With us, you know you’ll get a similar bird along soon enough. There’s never a better lesson than one you’ve learnt yourself. A day with us is one of the best simulated shoots because it feels so much more alive.”
Prices from £225 per gun. Contact Matthew Pickford on tel 01722 781041; www.stokedrove.co.ukBEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: BRYNGWYN HALL, POWYS
There’s little to rival high-end sport when it’s twinned with exquisite parkland and the wilder, wider reaches of a home such as Bryngwyn Hall near Llanfyllin, Powys, the benchmark for the best simulated shoots in Wales. A shooting lineage runs through this place like Blackpool rock and it really shows when you’re under their clays.
Bryngwyn Hall, nestled in the enchanting Tanat Valley between the Snowdonia National Park and Oswestry in Shropshire, is orbited by more than 20 of our island’s finest shoots; names such as Llanarmon and Three Valleys, illustrating perfectly the type of local topography. It’s grown-up stuff, however, days can be tailored for mortals by your glamorous host, Auriol, Marchioness of Linlithgow.
If you’re looking to really push the boat out, do consider staying the night there – or even two. Understated grandeur doesn’t even get close. A hen’s run from Chester and Telford, it’s well worth the drive from London.
“Guns come from far and wide to Bryngwyn estate to experience one of the best simulated shoots in Wales,” says Lady Linlithgow, “coupled with the famous Bryngwyn hospitality, naturally.”
Prices from £205 (excl. VAT) per gun for teams of 10 to 20 guns. Call 01691 648647 or go to www.bryngwyn.comBEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: EJ CHURCHILL
The team at EJ Churchill, headed by the charming James Webster, run as tight a ship as anyone could wish for in this sporting sphere, chalking up dozens of corporate and private simulated game events each year.
With all of their days taking place on Sir Edward Dashwood’s decorative, 5,000-acre West Wycombe Estate, the Buckinghamshire seat of the Dashwood dynasty for some 300 years, one is assured that all the desired bells and whistles from one of the country’s top shooting schools will be delivered.
Indeed, so keen are the team at Churchills to ensure that their clays emulate our beloved respective quarry species, they go as far as maintaining a dedicated course setter to ensure the clays are as close as possible to the real thing as they’re pinged high and far – and in some number – across those wonderful, deep, wooded valleys.
Prices from £195 (excl. VAT) per gun for 16 guns. Contact James Webster on tel 01494 883808 or visit www.ejchurchill.com
With decades of slick operation behind it, the Royal Berkshire Shooting School (RBSS) is a safe pair of hands when it comes to simulated game with its famous Really Wild Clay Days. With seven bucketlist estates to choose from, it’s not so much a question of delivery, just the location of guaranteed delivery.
From Well Barn in Oxfordshire to Stanage in Powys, the Really Wild brand is rolled out for close on 60 simulated game events during the summer, so there’s no mystery as to why the path to the RBSS is a well-trodden one for corporate giants and blue-chip charities, such as Great Ormond Street Hospital and The Prince’s Trust – and, of course, any other group wanting to enjoy one of the best simulated shoots without the hint of a corner being cut.
Gordon Robinson from RBSS says: “We can deliver simulated at game at a variety of levels with our tiered-pricing structure but, whatever you choose, you’re guaranteed great sport, cracking food and a dedicated team ensuring all goes well.”
Prices from £4,450 to £7,750 for a team; single guns are catered for, too. Contact Katie Absalom
or Dylan Williams on tel 01491 672900. www.rbss.co.uk
There’s really no downside to having a champion clay shot watching your moves if you’re tidying up your act before the feathers start flying in earnest. Stewart Cumming, who is a charming host and British FITASC Team member, runs the show here at Hopetoun, which is just a 30-minute drive from Edinburgh’s city centre.
Set in more than 6,000 acres of beautiful countryside in South Queensferry, Hopetoun House, with its famous twin façades and views across the Forth Estuary, offers a dramatic panorama behind some truly blistering clays.
“My extensive experience in both clays and game-shooting, combined with the Earl’s great passion for pheasant-shooting, means that our drives here offer a realistic shooting day out of season,” explains Cumming. “Our high volume of repeat custom is down to our experience in creating bespoke shooting days that continually offer variety and challenge for the more experienced gun. Our packages are simply a suggestion – we thoroughly enjoy creating unique and memorable simulated shooting days.”
Prices from £90 per gun. Call Stewart Cumming on tel 0131 3319940; www.hopetounclays.co.ukBEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: THE PERFECT CLAY, RUTLAND
Run by perma-chirpy proprietor Patrick Boyle, The Perfect Clay offers a scrupulously well-devised but relaxed day in the rolling contours of Rutland. The team caters well for sulking game-shots, itching to get some lead off in the long, dark days of the summer, and corporate groups alike. Warm and unhurried, the day is gauged well for challenge, conversation and relaxation.
Victoria Knowles-Lacks, high priestess of the Chelsea Bun Club, says: “It’s a cracking venue and one of the best simulated shoots for a pre-season warm-up, always popular with my girls, regardless of the day you’ve got coming up. They’ve got grouse, partridge flicked over high hedges and some really good, high pheasants. You’d easily get something like 5,000 clays off in a day. It’s well done.
The pigeon-flighting drive is great, too – such a good idea. Lunch in the Great Hall at Bisbrooke is always lovely; it’s such a pretty room.”
Pricing from £150 to £200 per gun depending on the package; also caters for teams and individuals.
Contact Patrick Boyle on tel 07940 151218 or go to www.theperfectclay.com
With Six Mile Bottom’s head keeper, Richard Clarke, at the core of this business, game-shots are assured of a day of conviviality and sporting challenge; Clarke knows exactly how to quicken the blood of a game-shot. One noted gun described this shoot as the “hairy-chested end of simulated game; Clarkie loves nothing more than to humble a very good game-shot and to help a moderate shot grow and improve”.
With grouse, bunny and walked-up sequences to call upon within his rolling grounds just outside Newmarket, this shoot offers sport of stunning value just 59 miles from London W1.
Clarke and his wife, Jackie, are also the proprietors of The Green Man, a famous hostelry favoured by Newmarket’s equine elite. This is where the hospitality for the shoot is rolled out effortlessly and with genuine warmth and humour – on 120 days last spring and summer. Jackie Clarke drives the stoves and their legendary steaks could turn a vegetarian.
Prices from £160 a day for a single gun. Contact Richard Clarke on tel 01638 570373 or go to
The Prendergast family have the most achingly pretty country around the Wylye Valley in Wiltshire and they use every inch. Some of the most exhilarating drives on a day at grouse are when the birds are addressed as they fly beneath the gun’s butt position. Well, guess what? You can do that here in Wiltshire on what equates to a 5,000-bird day.
Sally Prendergast, who steers the ship at Side By Side, Haydon Farm’s simulated-game set-up, delights in catering for the truly talented game-shot. “It’s no secret,” says Prendergast. “We can stretch a really strong team and we love doing just that with tall birds or low ones.”
Instructor Adam Calvert spends a lot of time at Haydon and is clearly a fan. “It is so important to keep shooting in the off season in order to maintain your timing and improve your skills; simulated game days are a great way to do this. Haydon Farm is one of the best simulated shoots for this, especially for grouse.”
Price is £225 (excl. VAT) per gun, based on 16 guns, with eight guns alternating. Contact Sally Prendergast on tel 01985 841445 or go to www.haydonfarm.comBEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: THE WEST LONDON SHOOTING SCHOOL, MIDDLESEX
With the spirit of the legendary Percy Stanbury keeping a watchful eye over proceedings, the West London Shooting School (WLSS) is still one of the best simulated shoots for realistic birds, dubbed their Game Flyer days. For a day of high-octane, out-of-season sport, the long-serving team in Northolt has a small but perfectly formed portfolio of top-flight Home Counties estates, including Great Tew and Culden Faw in Oxfordshire. Catering for established teams or individuals, they run a well-oiled day tailored to test the best and sensitive novices alike. All the bolt-ons, such as instructors, cartridge supplies and gun hire, are covered by the team at WLSS.
Prices start from £305 (excl. VAT) per gun. Contact Jo Chauveau on tel 020 8845 1377 or go to: www.shootingschool.co.ukBEST SIMULATED SHOOTS: BERELEIGH SPORTING, HAMPSHIRE
For decades, the Tyrwhitt-Drakes have been entertaining on their top-drawer Meon Valley estate, just east of Winchester; their zest for this never seems to wane.
With the new generation, in the shape of young Edward Tyrwhitt-Drake, driving this end of the business, his strong pedigree in this world guarantees the further elevation of the bar at Bereleigh, with simulated game now providing year-round, quality shooting.
Purdey’s Jonathan Irby couldn’t have been more fulsome in his praise for the clays propelled over their most hallowed of drives. “Bereleigh really does get as close as possible to the real stuff. A beautiful house, set in the most perfect countryside, with a wonderful family ensuring you’re as welcome as a family friend joining them for the Boxing Day shoot. They show you the proper drives, too, including the famous Mascombe and Smokey Hollow. Lunch is always a bountiful affair, with drinks taken on the lawn beforehand. Great drives, location and setting and the ultimate hosts. It’s impossible to fault it.”
Prices from £310 (excl. VAT) per gun. Contact Edward Tyrwhitt-Drake on tel 01730 823758 or go to www.bereleighsporting.co.uk
Four-and-twenty black birds may not be all that tempting in a pie, but David Pilkington finds another use for them as he tries heads out rook shootingThe writer peers up into the canopy on 11 May, looking for branchers in the rookery.
Rook shooting was once a traditional part of the country calendar but rook pies are no longer a regular in the country kitchen’s oven. Armed with .22 air rifles and a semi-automatic 12-bore (just in case times became desperate), David Pilkington discovers whether rook shooting is as wonderful as nostalgia deems.
If black birds baked in a pie (be it the full four-and-twenty or not) sets your stomach rumbling, try The Arundell Arms’ rook pie recipe. It is worth braving, and you count as a real countryman once you add rook to pie and pile in.ROOK SHOOTING
Whenever conversation with older country folk turns to the rook, there is always much nostalgic talk of rook pie. I got the gist of this many years ago: young rooks, referred to as “branchers” as they hop around on the branches, were shot in the vicinity of the nest and a pie was made from the breast meat. It is also widely held that the “four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie”, of nursery rhyme fame, actually applied to “black birds”, presumably young rooks rather than our popular garden songster.
Many older Devon people I know would wax lyrical about rook pie and organised rook shooting used to be a traditional part of the country calendar. About 20 years ago, when my son, Craig, was 12, I decided to see what it was all about. One fine early May morning I parked the boy under a rookery with his air rifle and left him there while I wandered the rest of the farm with the shotgun, potting at rabbits and squirrels. When I returned an hour or so later, the lad was wearing a satisfied grin and had a pile of dead rooks beside him.
Some of these were made into a pie by our chefs here at the Arundell Arms, which, I have to say, despite their culinary skills, was not appetising. The remainder had a rather different (unintended) fate. The landlord of my local had heard of my plans and asked for some rooks for old Owen, who had expressed much interest at the prospect of getting the meat for his own pie. We dropped a whole bunch of the rooks at the pub and had to have a pint with the landlord, who just happened to be celebrating his 50th birthday. Not having to drive anywhere, he was already well lubricated, despite the earliness of the hour. It is not hard to imagine what state he was in by closing time, at which point the rooks had been forgotten and the landlord’s spaniel, finding them on his late night walk, had distributed them around the pub garden.ROOK SHOOTING: A SECOND ATTEMPT
After this rather inconclusive rook hunt, we decided on a second attempt at rook shooting. Perceived wisdom is that the shooting has to take place before the young rooks have fully left the rookery, not only for the pragmatic reasoning that they will stay around to be shot but that their diet will change and render the meat less palatable. Thus, a party of focused killers ventured into the rookery on 11 May, this being considered prime time for rook shooting. We had delayed by a day or two due to gales, which kept the treetops and their occupants swaying unshootably. This possibly led to some young rooks being up and away, and also meant that the burgeoning leaves hampered our view.
We were armed with .22 air rifles and a semi-automatic 12-bore in case of desperation. Rook shooting of old was done with a specific firearm, a rook rifle. These were developed in the late 1800s as Victorian gunsmithing rose to great heights and various types of breech-loaders appeared. Many of the famous gunmakers produced these weapons and there are still some lovely little rifles to be found, made by the greats such as Holland & Holland, Westley Richards and WW Greener. Calibres ranged from .22 up to a whopping .360, most commonly around .300. They had a heavy, hexagonal barrel and were often later converted into .410 shotguns or sleeved to make smaller calibres. The most popular action was the classic Martini Henry, as seen in the perennial Christmas television showing of Zulu.
They fired a low-velocity bullet, typically around 1,200fps to 1,500fps – all the better for not destroying the meat and, presumably, just slightly less dangerous for the neighbours. We found the .22 air rifle, in the hands of our top gun, Alex Inman, to be just the job, although I could not resist the temptation to have one shot with the 12-bore. It was more testing shooting than one might imagine, due to a wind moving the treetops and the new growth of leaves often obscuring the target. One may ask how it is that only the young, edible rooks are selected. Well, the rooks sorted this out for us pretty smartly, the adults rising in a great clamour as we appeared, flying around above the wood and making a terrible din, leaving their offspring to their fate.ROOK SHOOTING: PIES AND FLIES
With a pile of young rooks duly shot and collected, we passed them over to our chefs at the Arundell Arms. Breakfast chef Francis Denford, who is a maestro with all game, showed us a neat way of preparing the birds by removing the wishbone prior to cutting the meat from the breastbone, to avoid waste. Sous chef Chris Heaver produced a tasty-looking pie but there my enthusiasm ended. It has to be said, I did not find rook palatable. Denford, who has eaten most things, had warned me in advance and suggested a large measure of good brandy afterwards. I reckon that in the days of our forefathers, times were hard for simple country folk and any meat or protein was just too good to be passed by.
All is not lost for rooking shooting thought as there is a practical use for the wing feathers – as body material for fly dressing. The great emergence of rooks from the nest coincides with the hatch of black gnats on our rivers and I put together a neat little fly that now catches me a lot of trout when these tiny flies are swarming over the stickles in the May sunshine.
The Crooked Rook
Thread: black 8/0, waxed
Hook: size 12 fine-wire dry-fly hook
Hackles: black cock hackle
Ribbing: black tying thread, fairly thick
Body: fibres from secondary of a
Wing: white polypropylene yarn
Grip the hook in two sets of artery forceps and bend the shank downwards in the middle to an angle of around 30 degrees. Tie in the thread just behind the eye, wind to the bend and tie in a small black cock hackle. Wind this at the bend of the hook. Tie in a length of thickish black thread for the rib and wind tying thread to the kink. There, tie in the rook fibres by the tips, a slip 1⁄4in wide rolled or folded into one bunch, and wind this back to the bend. Tie it in with the thick black thread and wind as a rib to the kink, leaving the rib trailing. Wind the tying thread to just behind the eye and tie in another bunch of rook fibres, this time by the butts, and wind them backwards to the kink. Tie them in and rib with the thick thread. Tie in a small bunch of white polypropylene yarn (a quarter of the thickness as it comes off the card) as a short wing sloping back over the body, then complete the fly by tying in and winding another short black cock hackle behind the eye. Whip finish and varnish head.
This fly represents a pair of mating gnats, joined at their back ends as they float down the stream. It lies on its side, with the white wing giving a pinpoint of visibility. I think the trout specifically select the mating gnats as they get two for the price of one, a piscatorial bogof.
Chefs Francis Denford and Chris Heaver from the Arundell Arms show us how four-and-twenty black birds can be baked in a pie. Rook pie used to be a country kitchen staple. Dare you attempt this classic?The "AA" Rook Pie.
Rook pie is widely thought to be the infamous nursey rhyme’s “four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie”. Rather than the popular garden songster filling the pastry crust, it is thought to actually apply to “black birds”, presumably young rooks. Chefs Francis Denford and Chris Heaver from the Arundell Armshave the best rook pie recipe.
If you prefer fish for supper rather than rook, their wing feathers can make a very neat little fly which is perfect for catching trout. Read rook shooting: four-and-twenty black birds to learn how to make David Pilkington’s Crooked Rook.
For another pie recipe, try Drew Ackroyd’s pigeon pie. Wonderfully hearty and perfect for when you have a fridge full of leftovers, mix whatever you have to find your favourite filling.ROOK PIE
Organised rook shoots were once a traditional part of the country calendar. Young rooks, known as “branchers” as they hop around on the branches, would be shot in the vicinity of the nest and a rook pie would be made from the breast meat. Older country folk still talk nostalgically of rook pie and it is time to bring this classic recipe back into the modern country kitchen. Try this rook pie recipe from Francis Denford and Chris Heaver at the Arundell Arms.
- 4-6 fledgling rook breasts
- 100g chopped beef
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 55ml beef stock
- 1 packet puff pastry
- Egg wash
- Salt and pepper
Cut the meat into thumb-sized chunks. Seal both meats for a few minutes then add the onion and carrots.
Introduce the beef stock and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the meat and reduce the stock to a thick sauce.
When reduced to the required consistency, return the meat and place in a flameproof pie dish. Place the rolled pastry on top. Vent the pastry before egg washing and seasoning.
Cook at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 30 minutes.
Asparagus and gruyere souffle will start your springtime supper party in impressive style. Try Philippa Davis' recipeThese souffles make great use of asparagus, and will wow your guests.
Asparagus and gruyere souffle is an impressive starter and makes great use of our home-grown asparagus, which is currently in season and absolutely delicious.
If you aren’t confident enough to attempt the asparagus and gruyere souffle when you have guests for supper, there are many different ways to incorporate asparagus into at least one course. Try asparagus and almond soup for a less high maintenance starter.ASPARAGUS AND GRUYERE SOUFFLE
Early on in my career, I had to make asparagus souffles for 14 guests in an old, unreliable oven. They then had to be carried through four rooms in a draughty house littered with spaniels to the dining-room by a butler who was no Usain Bolt. Since then all my souffle-making experiences have seemed a walk in the park.
Serves 4 as a starter
- 40g butter plus extra for greasing
- 20g parmesan finely grated (plus a little extra)
- 170g asparagus (tender parts only)
- 40g plain flour
- 140ml whole milk
- 40g finely grated gruyère
- 3 eggs, separated
- Pinch of fine sea-salt
You will need four ramekins. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.
Have ready a kettle full of boiled water and a dish to make a bain-marie to fit the ramekins. Grease the ramekins with the extra butter then sprinkle with the extra parmesan.
Blanch the asparagus for four minutes in salted boiling water until barely soft, drain and blitz in a processor until smooth.
Melt the butter in a saucepan on a low heat. Add the flour. Stir well then slowly pour in the milk, whisking continuously. Cook for a couple of minutes; the mix should be thick. Take off the heat and stir in the cheeses then the egg yolks and asparagus purée.
In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites with a pinch of fine sea-salt until they form firm but not stiff peaks.
Gently fold the egg whites into the asparagus mix in three stages.
Carefully spoon into the ramekins, level off the top and run your finger around the rim.
Place the ramekins in the bain- marie and place on the bottom shelf of the oven. Turn the heat down to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 and bake for 14 minutes. Eat immediately.
Point to point fixtures for May 2016. Rain or shine, wake up to another four-day weekend and support your local hunt.
Point to point fixtures for May 2016 are listed below. For other fixture dates see our racing page.
Couple the races with sunshine and a seasonal picnic and you have a matchless triumvirate. Try baking our spring fruit and almond tart to pack into your homemade hamper. It is never too early to seal the sporting bond and bring with you a hip flask to warm the palate after a win.
Devon & Somerset Staghounds
Holnicote, Somerset. Near A39, 3m W of Minehead, 2m E of Porlock
Dingley, Northhamptonshire. 5m E of Market Harborough, nr A427
Lauderdale point to point
Mosshouses, Selkirkshire. Nr A20 and M20 4m NE of Galashiels between A7 and A68
Cold Harbour, Herefordshire. Nr Monkland, 3 miles W of Leominster, close to junction of A44/A4110Monday 2nd May 2016
Llwyn Farm. 1 mile from junction 48 of the M4
Little Windsor, Dorset. 3m S of Crewkerne nr A3066
Northaw, Hertfordshire. 2m NE of Potters Bar off A121
North Warwickshire Hunt Club
Mollington, Banbury. On the A423
Eyton-On-Severn, Shropshire, 7m SE of Shrewsbury, nr B4380 via A5 and M54 (Exit 7). SY5 6PW
Vauterhill, Devon. At High Bickington, 2m SW of Umberleigh, 10m S of Barnstaple, nr B3227. EX37 9BT
Mollington, Oxfordshire. On A423, 5 miles north of Banbury
Witton Castle, Durham. DL14 0DESaturday 7th May 2016
Aspatria, Cumbria. At Heathfield, nr A596, 1½ miles NE of Aspatria
Kingston Blount, Oxfordshire. OX39 4SG
Minehead Harriers & West Somerset
Holnicote, Somerset. Near A39, 3m W of Minehead, 2m E of Porlock
Chaddesley Corbett, Hereford. DY10 4QT.Sunday 8th May 2016
Easingwold, Yorkshire. 14m NW of York, nr A19
Trebudannon, Cornwall. Nr A39
Garthorpe, Leicestershire. LE14 2RS
Lower Machen, Caerphilly. 4m W of Newport on A468 at Lower Machen (Exit 28, M4)Wednesday 11th May 2016
Weston & Banwell Harriers
Cothelstone, Somerset. 2m NE of Bishops Lydeard off A358Saturday 14th May 2016
Dingley, Northamptonshire. 5m E of Market Harborough, nr A427
Mordon. 4 miles S of Sedgefield, 1 mile N of Great StaintonSunday 15th May 2016
Hexham, Northumberland. 1m SW of town between B6305 & B6306 on NH racecourse
Bratton Down, Devon. 11m N of South Molton, 3m S of Blackmoor Gate
Bredwardine, Hereford. 7m E of Hay-on-Wye, on B4352, 2m off A438
Whitfield, Northamptonshire. NN13 5TQSaturday 21st May 2016
Lower Machen, Caerphilly. 4m W of Newport on A468 at Lower Machen (Exit 28, M4)Sunday 22nd May 2016
Bratton Down, Devon. Alongside A399. 11m N of South Molton, 3m S of Blackmoor Gate
Hexham, Northumberland. 1m SW of town between B6305 & B6306 on NH racecourse
Tabley, Cheshire. 1½ miles W of Knutsford between A556 and M6Sunday 29th May 2016
Berks & Bucks Draghounds and Staff College & RMAS Draghounds
Kingston Blount , Oxfordshire. OX39 4SG
Hereford Racecourse. HR4 9QU
West Somerset Vale
Cothelstone, Somerset. 2m NE of Bishops Lydeard off A358Monday 30th May 2016
Chaddesley Corbett, Hereford. DY10 4QT
Upcott Cross, Devon. ½ m W of A3079, 2m S of Halwill Junction
If you are thinking about taking a Macnab make sure you glance through the Macnab Challenge rules. We look forward to welcoming you to our club.To Blood!Macnab Challenge rules: are you eligible?
Join the club and take part in The Macnab Challenge. Here are the Macnab Challenge rules.THE MACNAB CHALLENGE RULES
- All Macnabs be undertaken in a sporting and gentlemanly fashion.
- All Macnabs to be completed within one day, between 12 August and 10 November 2016.
- All entries to be accompanied by a signed letter, with contact details, from two independent witnesses
attesting to the achievement: estate owner, gillie, gamekeeper or other unimpeachably good sort.
- Exclusive silver Macnab cuff-links and an invitation to The Field and Pol Roger Portfolio event
awarded to the first 20 valid Macnab entries received (of whichever Macnab variety).
- All Real Macnabs to be ‘poached’ in a legal and sporting manner from an owner who accepts the
challenge in good sport.
- All Macnabs to be undertaken at the competitors expense.
- The Field’s decision as to the validity of any Macnab entry is final.
- ALL ENTRANTS MUST FOLLOW THE RULES
The clarion call is sounded. It is time to shrug off the ennui and head into the field again as we invite you to take part in The Field’s Macnab Challenge. We invite another batch of would-be Macnabbers to enter the ultimate sporting challenge: to shoot a stag, catch a salmon on the fly and bag a brace of grouse all within 24 hours. If that variety appears too elusive there are a myriad of other Macnab types that might catch the eye.
Whichever Macnab you set your cap at do take time to heed our advice from old hands. And of course where to take your macnab, what Macnab kit to take and our 10 Macnab top tips are all essential reading.
Finally make sure you read a copy of John Macnab by John Buchan. The inspiration for The Field’s Macnab Challenge, and what sporting endeavour should be celebrating: fieldcraft, adventure and bonhomie.
As a fellow francophile, I have much in common with Bill. I've spent a lot of time in France watching French dogs do their thing. But I've never actually met an American there or spoken to one that has dedicated so much time learning about the French system. So I was interested to hear Bill's thoughts about the French field trial scene and the dogs they produce and asked him a few questions.
Can you tell me how an American such as yourself got involved with field trials all they way across the ocean? After forty years of pointing dogs, I decided to get my first Epagneul Breton. At that time, I didn't even know that a French Brittany was an Epagneul Breton! Like a lot of people, I was attracted to the "close-working" gun dog- and the tri-color coat. I wanted an orange/white female and the breeder (Kevin Pack at Carolina Brittanies) only had a black/white male. I took him. So glad I did. When I looked at Cache's (Vulcan du Talon de Gourdon) pedigree, I noticed their were lots of red letters for champions. Having started my bird dog life in AF horseback trials with an English Setter, I knew what our field champions did, but had no clue as to what champions in France were required to do. The more I researched, the more I realized the only way to understand was to go to France and see for myself.
I have been fortunate since my time in the breed to have some very fine mentors, chief among them is Pierre Willems, former member of the CEB France committee and owner of the world-famous Hameau de Sorny kennel. Through Pierre, I made my first trip to France more than a decade ago. I was permitted to walk the trial with Judge Jean Moussour. Understand, in French trials, there is no gallery as one would see in the US. Only the judge, landowner's guide, and handler are typically in the field.
Several days in the winter wheat of Vimpelles showed me I knew very little of what an EB was made to do- BUT I was anxious to learn! I did not know it then, but I was watching some of the finest EBs ever to hit the ground in France. The hunting and pointing was intense. The rules were formidable and unforgiving. It was a real challenge- and one that I believe has helped form the EB into the breed it is today.
Tell me about your first experience(s) there, what was it like to compete in such a different scene and how steep was the learning curve? My experience in French FTs has been limited to walking with judges. I have entered one of my dogs in a TAN in France (which in my observation is significantly different than those run in the US. see below.) We did well, passing the TAN and being recognized by the judge, a top French trainer/handler, as "the best dog I've seen today." In the French system, part of a judge's training is to work side-by-side with a judge. In terms of learning, this is far better than running a dog.
A handler get to only see their dog. When one is with the judge through the day, you have the opportunity to learn the intricacies of the rues and what a judge wants to see. Through the years I have had the privilege of walking field trials with several of the top judges in France. Each time is a wonderful experience. These judges are real dog men. They understand the demands of a working breed and the needs of the hunter who walks behind the dog.
Dog people are dog people, no matter the language or culture. I am fortunate to have some fluency in French, so that has been helpful. However, the common bond of loving good dogs and good dog work transcends any possible divide. The learning curve was steep at first, has smoothed out a bit, but I am still learning. What I have found is summer up in a saying one of my mentors has used- "When the student is ready, a teacher will be found." What wisdom. It's all about our willingness to learn. EVERY person I have met in the French dog world has been exceptionally welcoming and willing to share. It has been an amazing relationship.
What are some of the most important (or interesting or both) things you've learnt about field trials in Europe? The most interesting thing I've learned is that just as in the US, there is no such thing as "a field trial." While all the French/FCI trials are on foot, the game and terrain are as varied as Europe itself. While the typical trial in France is the spring trial in winter wheat on wild partridge, there are equally popular autumn, shoot to retrieve, trials on released pheasants. There are also niche trials on wild snipe, woodcock, and mountain birds. Each has its unique requirements of both dog and handler. FT in France are serious business. Most dogs are handled by professionals whose livelihood depends in the success of their dogs. In addition, there is a circuit of trials held several days each week, not just on weekends. Dogs that come through this process successfully certainly have proven their merit for future breeding.
What do your American colleagues think about your competing over there? As for my American colleagues, I hope things are changing. As far as I know, there are only a handful of Americans who have run trials in Europe. Typically, they go to France with dogs they purchased and were trained on the Continent. In addition, the demands of "the game" make it difficult for US dogs to be successful on new game, new terrain, and new rules. The limited success US folks have found has been in autumn trials on released pheasants- something that more approaches our conditions.
Overall, I find that the American EB community's attitude can be summed-up in a quote from one of their club officer's at the CEB France National show several years ago- "I came all the way to France and I didn't learn anything." See the quote above about a "ready student." Within the past month, two officers of the US club have gone to France and run one of their dogs. Hopefully, they were "ready students." I often hear people talk about how much they love the EB. I wonder if they understand the process (the French process) that created the breed they love. I fear that like many other things, the realities of time and distance lead to changes and alterations from the original . The expectations are different here - lower, in my opinion. I have seen US EB TANs and trials. What goes here would never go in France. For example, I saw an EB run a TAN here. After two attempts to find scent, the dog was put on a check-cord and handled onto the bird. It flash-pointed for a moment and moved on. It passed. This would never go in France.
As for myself or others competing in France, I think most Americans are simply uninterested. We tend to be be quite provincial and think that our styles, systems, and ways are superior to others around the world. Unfortunately, I am afraid this attitude will lead to the diminution of the breed. I am convinced that if we want to maintain and improve the quality of the EB in the US, we MUST have a stronger relationship with our firends in France. After all, they are the creators and guardians of the breed.
What are some myths about the european field trial and hunting scene that you've had to dispell? The best way I can sum up the"myths" of the French hunting scene is to recount my landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport on my first trip to France. As we descended, all I could see were fields and woods. Little villages and towns, here and there, but mostly green. Where did Paris go? What happened to the Eiffel Tower? Like most folks, I think, my perception of France was a busy, urban, cosmopolitain place. It is that, of course, but so much more.
The landscape of France is vast and agrarian. The land is much more covered with field and woods. Spawling development in contained. Places to hunt, while typically organized for hunting clubs abound. Wild game, at least as compared to Eastern US, is abundant. Many French people hunt - and it is an important part of their culture. It is important to remember that for centuries hunting was the privilege of the ruling class. Poaching was a possible death sentence. Somehow, it appears that the French still understand these roots of our sport and strongly resist efforts to change the traditions they've developed. Mind you, neckties are not required when hunting in France as in the UK, but the French hunting traditions are strong. Frenchmen are proud to show you their Darnes and take you to the sporting goods stores. As you can tell, my appreciation for and affinity with the French culture is strong. I've learned a lot from my French friends and my life is richer for the experiences and relationships.
My best advice for any American who loves their EB and wants the breed to prosper is to get over their fears and insecurities about the langauge barrier and visit France, see their trials, and shows, and get to know the wonderful people responsible for giving us the dogs we love so much.
Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals
Watching Aramis run, I realized that the Picardy Spaniel would probably thrive in the US and Canada. Speaking to Lisa after the trial, I said that it would be perfect for many North American hunters since, among all the French pointing breeds, it is probably the best suited to NAVHDA testing and to the kind of mixed-bag hunting we do. She replied: I think you are right. It’s a shame that the Picardy is such a well-kept secret. But if you write about dogs like Aramis, the secret won’t last very long!Photo: Sarah CaldecottWell I am happy to say that the secret may finally be getting out. In addition to a club for the breed and a number of breeders in France, there is now a Picardy club in the UK and Holland and breeders in Germany, Austria, England and Finland. This summer, the Picardy Spaniel population of Canada is set to double -- from one to two -- when we welcome our new pup Leo from the UK and there will soon be several more pups coming to in North America and even a litter or two on the ground in the next couple of years.
So I thought it would be a good idea to write a post about the current state of the breed, as of February, 2016.
Photo: Claire Josse THE GOOD: The Picardy is a hidden gem among gundogs. Created by hunters, for hunters, it is still an artisanal breed. The vast majority of Picardy Spaniels look like they are supposed to look and hunt the way they are supposed to hunt. There are no large kennels breeding dozens of litters per year, no trucks full of Picardies on the major field trial circuit or show-only breeders seeking blue ribbons in the ring. Picardy Spaniels are still bred the old-fashioned way; mainly in the homes of hunters who produce a litter or two every couple of years from their personal hunting companions.
Like all breeds, there is some hip dysplasia, and eye issues like ectropion are not unknown either. But in general, the average Picardy enjoys good health. Overall, the breed's gene pool is relatively wide and inbreeding coefficients are usually not particularly high in most litters, even if it may seem that way on paper (see below).
THE NOT-SO-GOOD: The overall population of Picardy Spaniels is very low and that means the dreaded popular sire syndrome can occur more easily and have a stronger negative effect. Have a look at the graph I drew up showing the registration stats from the French kennel club. It shows that while the breed has gained ground over the last 45 years it still averages less than 100 registrations per year. Of course there are dogs that are not registered, but even if we include them, the number of Picardy Spaniels whelped in France has probably never been more than 200 pups in any given year.
Outside of France, stats are harder to come by, but my guess is that an additional 20 to 40 Picardy Spaniel pups are whelped places in like Germany, the Netherlands and Austria each year. So if the average life span of a Picardy is 9 years and there are say, 125 pups whelped per year, that means the entire world-wide population of Picardy Spaniels is only about 1000 individuals right now.
Testing rates for hip dysplasia and other health concerns are also too low, especially in France. There are still too many breeders out there that just assume that their dogs are fine, then breed them without taking advantage of diagnostic tests now available.
Photo: Claire JosseCHALLENGES: Even before the breed was fully formed, "foreign" blood (mainly English Setters) had made its way into French Spaniels all over France, and in particular, into the French Spaniel type dogs bred in Picardy, Normandy and Brittany. I wrote about one such case here. When the Picardy Spaniel was officially recognized as an independent breed in the early 1900s, it was supposed to remain pure. But like every other French breed of épagneul, crosses to setters occurred. It is believed they happened between the wars and again in the 1980s and 90s and have probably occurred as recently as just a few years ago.
Over the years, some of the crosses were sanctioned by the club, others were not. In any case, no one denies that if a Picardy could talk, it would have a slight English accent. And in some ways, that is a good thing. Limited and controlled doses of setter blood have helped widen the gene pool of the breed and given the average Picardy a bigger run, more point and better style.
But there have also been some drawbacks. It now seems that there may have been a few too many crosses in some lines and that breeders may have over-estimated their knowledge of basic genetics. In any case, there are some issues in the breed that need to be dealt with. For example, pups with so-called "lemon" colouring -- a coat like that of an orange and white setter -- have popped up in some lines. Breeders will now have to test their dogs to identify carriers of the gene to avoid "lemon" coats in the future. In addition, coats with a faded brown colour, very light or no tan points, lacking grey roan and/or having a lot of white are also occurring in some litters. Another issue is that the overall build of some dogs is becoming more setter-like and there is a real fear that the versatility and practicality of the breed's continental hunting style may also be at risk.
So in some regards, the Picardy is facing a situation similar to that of the Korthals Griffon (although on a much smaller scale and with far less vitriol). Unwanted genetic material has made its way into the breed and it is now posing a challenge to breeders seeking to produce clean litters of pups that look and hunt like Picardy Spaniels. That said, I am actually optimistic that the breed will be just fine in the long run. The French tend to have a worldly, pragmatic view about these sorts of things. They are certainly much less puritanical about it than some of the more zealous purists in the US and UK where a similar situation would end up with torch carrying mobs looking for witches. No, in France there may be a bit of mud-slinging and hurt feelings, but in the end breeders of Picardy Spaniels, with the help of a growing community of supporters outside of France, will put the breed back on a more or less straight and narrow path and continue to breed some really good dogs.
Photo: Claire Josse OPPORTUNITIES: I know I sound like a broken record, but I will say it again: the Picardy Spaniel should be better known, especially among North American hunters. It represents exactly the kind of dog many of us want: an easy-to-train, easy-to-live-with, naturally-talented upland birddog that is also an excellent water worker. And yes, Picardies can also blood track, hunt fur and fetch foxes. Just ask the increasing number of German and Austrian hunters that are getting into the breed.
And that, I believe is the biggest opportunity for the breed right now. There are exciting new horizons opening up for the Picardy Spaniel. After languishing in its native Picardy for too long, hunters from outside of France are bringing new energy and new ideas to the breed. And as they do, a renewed sense of pride and purpose is emerging among the creators and guardians of the breed, French hunters. They've had a real treasure on their hands for over a century, but needed a friendly reminder about just how precious it is. The Picardy Spaniel was a well-kept secret for too long. I'm happy to report that the world is finally finding out about it.
Here is a list of currently active breeders with links to their websites or Facebook page or email. If you are interested in getting a Picardy Spaniel pup, you may want to read my post about importing a pup from overseas first.
- Du Bois du Deffoy
- Of Seabird Sanctuary
- Du Clos de la Fromentée
- Des Falaises de l'Ailly
- La Vallée du Pont Meur
- Du Bois de la Vannerie
- De la Forge des Evoissons
- Du Domaine d'Iron
- Des Vignes du Preux
- De la Ferme de la Cendrière
- Du Bois de la Fosse Etaine
- Des Vives
- De la Plaine du Touvent
- Du Bois de Frechencourt
Photo: Claire JosseAnd here is a brief overview of some of the more influential kennel names of the past and present that you will see in the pedigrees of most Picardy pups today.
DU VAL PICARD: Mr. Loir no longer breeds, but his kennel was among the first to be established after World War II and his efforts were key in reviving the breed in the post-war years.
DU PRÉ DES AULNAIS: Mr. Demagny no longer breeds dogs, but was one of the first breeders of Picardy Spaniels, along with Mr. Lempereur, Mr. Charron and Mr. Mailly to focus on fields trials to raise the profile of the breed. Mr. Demagny's dogs Joconde, Only One, Tina, Excel and Iroo achieved great results in the field. Other kennels active on the field trial scene in that same period include du Bois Bruyant (Mr. Lecaille) and du Mont Galant (Mr. Charron).
DE LA VALLEE BROUTIN: Mr. Marc Lempereur's kennel is perhaps the most well known and prolific in France. Mr. Lempereur, along with Mr. Demagny and Mr. Charron were the first to bring the Picardy back to field trialing in the 1960s. Pacha de la Vallée Broutin, an excellent trial dog was the foundation of Mr. Lempereur's kennel and greatly improved the pointing talents and coat quality of the breed. Pacha's son Truffe dominated the field trial scene for Picardy Spaniels and was followed by other excellent descendants such as Astuce, Chipsie, Echo, Futile, Futée, Pandorre and other champions including the well-known dog Fax.
DES MARAIS DE SAINT HILAIRE: Mr. Lemonnier was one of the rare breeders of Picardy Spaniels to successfully compete in woodcock and snipe trials. His dogs Roxane des Terres de Pitance, Aramis des Marais de Saint Hilaire, Candy des Marais de Saint Hilaire, Comtesse des Marais de Saint Hilaire and Coyotte des Marais de Saint Hilaire established the excellent reputation of the kennel. Mr. Lemonier has produced a number of field trial champions but may no longer be breeding.
DES TERRES DE PITANCE: Mr. Joël Mailly started his kennel with Catch de la Vallée Broutin et Farah at the beginning of the 1980's. Since then, his small family-run kennel has produced field trial champions and field pointed dogs in every generation. Dogs such as Jaffa, Jeff, Milord, Rambo, Roxane, Vénus, and his latest dog Gena are the stars of his kennel. Vénus is in fact one of the very few female Picardy Spaniels to attain the title of spring-time field trial champion.
DES ETANGS ENSOLEILLÉS: Only produced one or two litters and is best known for Theo des Étangs Ensoleillés, an excellent dog used by Mr. Mailly.
DE LA VALLEE DE BOUCHON: Sébastien Roze continues to breed the occasional litter for the kennel founded by his late father, Dominique. Sébastien often participates in Saint Hubert events (shoot to retrieve trials) and typically gets excellent ratings for his dogs at the national breed show.
DU MARAIS DE LA MALVOISINE: William Brutelle's kennel has produced several high-profile Picardy Spaniels in recent years. Dogs such as Archimède du Marais de la Malvoisine, Axel de la Malvoisine and Astro de la Malvoisine earned the kennel a good reputation for producing excellent field trial and hunting dogs. Axel also earned a BICP (versatile dog test) championship title and other dogs from the kennel have won and placed in field trials in France and the Netherlands. Mr. Brutelle also breeds English Setters.
DU RIDEAU DE LA LOUVE: Mr. Bruno Demoulin produced a number of excellent Picardy Spaniels including autumn and spring-time champion César du Rideau de la Louve and Natt du Rideau de la Louve, the first ever spring-time field trial champion Picardy Spaniel. Mr. Demoulin no longer breeds Picardy Spaniels and now focusses on breeding English Setters.
Photo: Julia Kauer
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In a perfect world the pup of your dreams, from the breed of your dreams, would be whelped by an awesome breeder living just down the street. And when the happy day came for you to bring puppy home, all you'd need to do is walk half a block to get him.
But this world is not perfect.
The pup of your dreams, from a breed of your dreams, may actually spend the first 8+ weeks of its life far away from where you live. And that means you can't just walk down the street to get him. But if he's in your own country, getting a pup from a different city or state is fairly straight forward. There are no international borders or language barriers to deal with. And no matter how far away the breeder lives, you at least have the option of taking a road trip to go there or shipping him with a domestic airline.
But what happens when the pup is in another country, on the other side of the ocean? Obviously things are a bit more complicated, but not impossible. In fact, getting a pup from Europe is actually relatively easy, and best of all, it can lead to some incredible opportunities to make new friends and discover other cultures.
How do I know that? Because my wife and I have been there, done that, several times. And our lives are now richer for it. We've imported and help others import dogs from France, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia and helped breeders over here export dogs to France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain. So here are some tips and suggestions for getting a pup from overseas or, if you are a breeder, for shipping a pup overseas. They are based on our own experiences and those of some good friends who have also 'been there, done that'.
NOTE: If you are still trying to figure out which breed to get or haven't made contact with an overseas breeder, before you continue reading this post, you may want to read these posts about the 'rare' European breeds here and here.
Before you do anything at all, you absolutely, positively MUST establish a connection based on mutual trust with folks on the ground over there. Look for contacts on breed club websites, Facebook groups or online lists of breeders. Connect via the breeder's website, by email or forums, bulletin boards, Facebook etc. or spend a buck or two on a long-distance phone call.
But whatever you do, make sure to look for HUNTERS who breed hunting dogs. Engage them on a hunter-to-hunter basis and see if you are on the same wavelength as they are. Don't worry too much about language barriers, they are no longer such a big deal. Google Translate is your friend!
Cindy Petkwitz, a breeder of Braque du Bourbonnais in Michigan says:
It takes time to build an open and honest relationship, but it is worth it. We've all heard stories of people just throwing money at a breeder or two, hoping to get a fantastic pup but ending up with a real dud. When you spend no time at all building a relationship and establishing a good reputation with breeders, you risk getting nothing but their cast-offs, the dogs they couldn't sell locally but are more than happy to 'dump' on the other side of the ocean.
I was lucky to get my first dog Jack. The breeder in France didn't really know me but I was at the right place at the right time. 8 years later, with all the time and effort I have put in, making connections, I am creating my own luck.
Sending photos of where and how you hunt is a great way to communicate with a breeder and establish trust. While you may not be able to communicate well due to a language barrier, as they say "a picture is worth a 1000 words". Sending photos of your hunting adventures shows them that you are a serious hunter and you have the same passion as they do. And it is usually super interesting for them to see how we hunt over here, so sending photos is a great way to get them interested in working with you.Cortney Schaefer, a breeder of Deutsch Langhaars says:
It helps a lot to have a mutual friend to refer the breeders to if they have any questions. For example, I am friends with the chairman of the Deutsch Langhaar Verband in Germany. And of course all of the German breeders know him (or at least know of him). So when I contact breeders, I always encourage them to call the chairman if they have any questions about shipping puppies to America. Probably about half end up calling him. But I think they all like the piece of mind of a reference that they themselves know.
I might also mention that most Germans do not seem to check email nearly as often as Americans. And we all know how many scammers try to email people today. So if you can call the breeder rather than emailing them, that is always preferable. It is easier to trust someone calling you over someone emailing you. If you can't speak the language, have someone who can speak on your behalf. We have gotten some pups with Germany by just communicating through email, but most of our imports come after Hermann (our German-speaking president) calls the breeders to answer any final questions.
And finally, I would add that "tire-kicking" is very disrespectful to German breeders. If you contact the breeder, they assume that you are 100% committed to getting a puppy from them. I know it can be very exciting to start contacting breeders about puppies, but please don't contact a breeder unless you really plan to take one of their puppies. I'm not sure why the culture is definitely there, but it most certainly is.
When you do contact breeders, make sure to be completely open and honest in all your dealings and insist that they be too. Get references, check with people who may know your contact, even vaguely about their reputation and their dogs. Like American breeders, German breeders are most interested in placing their pups into hunting homes. So I have found it very helpful to immediately talk about the types of game that I hunt with my dogs and even include several good hunting photos. I have also found that German breeders are very interested in seeing their pups reach their full potential by being trained and run through tests. So it helps us a lot to talk about our testing experience and our desire to get the dogs certified for breeding. If you tell a breeder that you plan to run his pup through a VJP and HZP and get him certified for breeding, that goes a long way. If you can tell the breeder that you have already tested a dog and report his scores, that goes even further. So like us, they prefer sending their pups to experienced owners.I should also add that "tire-kicking" is very disrespectful to German breeders. If you contact the breeder, they assume that you are 100% committed to getting a puppy from them. I know it can be very exciting to start contacting a bunch of breeders about puppies, but please don't contact a breeder unless you are fairly sure that you want to take one of their puppies. I'm not sure why that attitude is there, but it most certainly is.
GETTING THE PUP
In my opinion, the best way, by far, to get a pup from overseas is to fly there yourself and pick it up from the breeder. Not only is is the most secure way for the pup, but the experience of a trip to Europe will stay with you forever and a trip to Europe and if you can arrange to go during hunting season and go for a hunt there, it will blow your mind.Yes, it will cost more, but you will get huge returns on the investment of time and money make for years to come. So sell a gun or two, eat nothing but Kraft Diner for six months, get a second job...do whatever you need to do to pay for a return flight and a week or two visit to Europe. Trust me, you will LOVE IT!
If you absolutely cannot or do not want to go, arrange for someone to bring the pup over for you. Ask around to see if a friend or relative, neighbour, work associate, basically anyone you know and trust is already planning to go there. If they are, offer them a few bucks to bring the pup back with them (and cover the cost for the pup's flight of course). A few years ago, a friend of mine reserved a pup in France. She was unable to go so pick it up herself so we looked into shipping it here. The cost turned out to be about the same as a return flight to Paris for a person. So I asked my sister if she'd like a free trip to Paris. She jumped at the opportunity and was more than happy to bring the pup back with her.
Another option is to invite the breeder to bring it over to you. Again, this is a very secure way of getting the pup, and depending on where you live and where the breeder lives the cost of a round trip flight for the breeder (or for you if you go there) is not much more than shipping the pup one way via cargo.
What about having the pup shipped? This can be the least expensive way (still not cheap, and sometimes as much or even more than a round trip flight for a person), but it can also be the most stressful way for everyone involved. The breeder may have to travel a long way to get the pup to a major airport, the flight may not be direct, you may have to travel a ways to get to the nearest major airport etc. But if you are near a major hub and the breeder is too, and you can get a decent flight (hopefully direct) at a decent price, shipping via cargo can be a good option.
Some breeders will flat-out refuse to ship pups over here no matter what. They are anxious about putting a puppy on a plane overseas. I don't push them on this. Everyone has their limits with what they are comfortable with. But when I contact breeders now, I am quick to point out that we have successfully shipped many puppies with PetAir (www.petair.de) and that they have been easy to work with. They arrange the flights and can pick up the puppy at the breeder's door to deliver him to the airport. I have had a couple of breeders tell me that they were nervous about shipping overseas but felt more comfortable with it after visiting the PetAir website and speaking with their representatives. -- Cortney Schaefer
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PRICE?
Surprisingly, prices for pups in Europe are not much different than in North America, and sometimes less. Of course, as they say "caveat emptor" (buyer beware), so watch out for really low prices or really high prices. Generally speaking you are looking at about a thousand US dollars for a young puppy of just about any breed. Yes, some will be higher, some lower, but none will be half price or double the price.
For years, we had some trouble getting people in our club to import puppies. People just assume that the process is difficult and expensive. It is a little more pricey, but it is a really easy process and well worth the effort. Most pups in Europe are cheaper than here. The average DL price in Germany right now is 700-800 euros (about $825-$900 US dollars). But then the shipping often doubles the price. However, consider that buying a domestic DL pup right now is $1,100 plus about $450 for shipping. So really, importing a pup is only a few hundred more than buying a domestic pup. And there is a lot more selection because there are so many more litters over there. So you can be more selective about gender, colour, or whelp date if you import a puppy. And then you just have to show up at the airport with your photo ID and the pup is yours! -- Cortney SchaeferFinally, if you need help, just ask. I am happy to help out in any way I can and there are people in every club, in every breed that are willing to take the time to answer questions and help you get a good dog. After all, they are looking for good hunting homes for their hunting dogs. And the rarer breeds really could use a helping hand, especially from North American hunters.
Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals