Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Field Test: Jack Pyke Dog Bag Duotex

The Jack Pyke Duotex Dog Bag may have been designed with dog training in mind, but it’s a great little game bag for airgun shooters.
I must confess that I initially bought one to use as a bag for work. My laptop fits inside perfectly, along with other essentials including a notepad, pens and snack bars, and it’s styled very similarly to the satchels and courier bags that are currently in vogue.
But I was so impressed with this bag that I decided to get another for field use – and with an RRP of £23.95 it wasn’t going to break the bank. The adjustable strap means you can get just the right fit, and the long buckle straps mean it can easily accommodate half a dozen woodies and a couple of decoys. The Duotex material looks very much like natural leather, and is easily wiped clean with a damp cloth if soiled with mud or blood.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Barry Hutchins memorial weekend

I spent a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours with friends and relatives of the late Barry Hutchins on Saturday afternoon.

More than fifty hardy souls gathered at one of Barry's favourite shooting haunts at Melbury Abbas, near Shaftesbury, for a sunny weekend of camping, shooting and light-hearted banter.
Barry lived in Gillingham, Dorset, but his death, which followed a brief illness last August, was felt across the shooting community. Barry was a regular at HFT meets and game fairs, and people travelled from far and wide to join in with his weekend gatherings.

Thanks to the Barry Hutchins memorial cup, the gatherings look set to live on, as shooters make the annual pilgrimage to compete for the impressive trophy.
In a fitting tribute to the great man, all contenders used a gun from Barry's treasured collection to shoot the 17-target layout.

And, very appropriately, the first winner of the coveted trophy - presented by Barry's brother Steve - was his good friend Nic Wenham. The competition raised more than £100 for Help For Heroes - Barry's favourite charity.

During the gathering, Barry's sons, Barry and Mark, laid his ashes to rest on the farm where he spent many happy hours, and planted a tree in his memory.

Well done to all for making it such a great event, in the true spirit of Barry's original gatherings.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Air rifle hunting video for BASC

This week I was joined for three very enjoyable days by BASC video ace Tom O'Carroll.
It was my video debut, and the transition from print to moving pictures was certainly an exciting one.

The sudden cold weather put the mockers on what we were hoping would be a hectic squirrel shoot - we spent three days on two estates that are usually heaving with tree-rats, and didn't see a single one!
But we still got lots of great footage and ended up with what I hope will be a really useful instructional piece that's very different from what we initially set out to achieve.
I was amazed by just how long the filming process takes - our three days will probably amount to a film of about ten minutes when Tom has finished editing it. I'll post the link here when it's ready.

Tom is an absolute pro and a real pleasure to work with. Hopefully we'll be teaming up to produce more airgun content for the BASC website in the future.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Recommended reading: Rob Collins trilogy

I was lucky enough to bump into the great countryman Rob Collins (aka the Ole Hedge Creeper) at the Westcountry Game Fair on Saturday. Rob (pictured) was manning the stand for Pass It On - an organisation which is doing wonderful things to introduce young people to field sports. After chatting with Rob, I wandered off with three of his excellent books.
I couldn't put down From the Start to the Heart after thumbing through it yesterday evening, and got almost halfway through it in a single sitting. This gripping, and very honest autobiographical book is a collection of amusing, and often moving, tales of Rob's formative years. Rob was tagging along on ferreting and shooting trips with his dad and uncles as a tiny boy, and there's a great yarn about him being dangled down a a cavernous rabbit hole by his Rupert the Bear wellies - not to mention the time he got a black eye from a low-flying trout. Rob also had a marvelous grandfather, a real old countryman who reminds me of my own late granddad, and accounts of their misadventures bring back more than a few of the colourful outings I was treated to as a young'un.
Although he's very modest about his writing ability, Rob has a very warm style that really draws in the reader. The book is written almost as if it's in the spoken word, and conjures up images and emotions that really do make you feel you're among the action as his accounts unfold.
I'm looking forward to getting back to it tonight and reading Rob's trilogy in order. I've had a very quick skim through Recipes from the Hedgerow, which is packed with lots of mouthwatering recipes that I can't wait to try out in the kitchen, and will finish with Rob's latest tome: Back to the Heart.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Jack Pyke Countryman Jumper tried and tested

I added the Jack Pyke Countryman Jumper to my hunting attire at the start of the winter and have to say that this new piece of clothing has performed brilliantly in bitterly cold conditions.

It is stated as being windproof and waterproof and, although I’ve not properly tested its waterproofing (because I’ve usually had a jacket over the top) I can certainly vouch for the fact that it keeps draughts out. As well as wearing it under my lightweight camouflage jacket during shooting trips in the woods, I've also worn it under an old waxed jacket during fishing sessions on the Somerset Levels. The Levels are exposed and windswept, and this zip-up jumper provided excellent insulation that kept me toasty during the coldest of days.

The Countryman Jumper is fleece-lined and reversible but the olive-green knitted outer with suede elbow and shoulder padding looks great so I wasn’t tempted to pull mine inside out. It features a nice high collar, stretchy knitted cuffs to really seal in the heat, plus spacious zipped pockets inside and out to keep things like your car keys and mobile phone secure.
With an SRP of £66.95, this isn’t a cheap item of clothing but it’s very well made and should give several seasons of good service. It performs brilliantly and I reckon it represents fantastic value for money.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Squirrel shooting in the snow

If there's been snow in your part of the world over the last few days, it's a prime time to crack down on grey squirrels.
A lot of people mistakenly believe that squirrels hibernate through the winter but that couldn't be further from the truth. Grey squirrels can be incredibly active throughout the colder months, and spend a lot of time foraging food during daylight hours.

With snow on the ground, or even a hard frost, a lot of the caches of food they stashed away during the winter will be inaccessible. Find a place where squirrels can easily access food during a cold snap and you should be able to ambush the greedy little blighters as they try to exploit whatever feeding opportunity they've happened across. Raids on garden bird feeders are very common when there's a covering of snow.

I was delighted to wake up to a proper covering of snow on Friday morning and, although the roads in my West Country locality have been a bit dicey over the last couple of days, I couldn't resist the urge to get out in the woods where I planned to catch the squirrels stealing grain from one of their favourite winter food sources.

Most of my woodland shooting permissions are on sporting estates that are managed for pheasant shooting. The gamekeepers feed vast amounts of corn to the pheasants to keep them in good condition and stop them from straying during the winter. The squirrels seem even more partial to the grain than the pheasants and pay regular visits to the hoppers from which it is dispensed.

I managed to squeeze in a session yesterday, and got to the woods at about 3pm. It looked promising as I spooked a jay and several woodpigeons from beneath one feeder when I arrived. Well wrapped up to keep out the cold, I settled down in a spot from which I could comfortably cover a pheasant feeder in a block of woodland that contains more than a handful of squirrels.

It was a lovely, peaceful evening, and, in all honesty, I would have been happy to spend the last couple hours of the day there with or without the gun. The woodland wildlife was very active, and I saw fieldfares, goldcrests, sparrowhawks, treecreepers, flighting lapwings, several different kinds of finches and, of course, grey squirrels.
Although squirrels feed throughout the day, they usually become very busy at dusk as they try to get plenty of food on board before nightfall. I'm pleased to say that I was ideally placed to ambush a trio as they made their way to the feed hopper.

These squirrels were in excellent condition - no doubt a result of munching their way through the gamekeeper's expensive grain. They won't be doing that again...
It was a really enjoyable session and, wrapped up in several thick layers plus my hat, mittens and neck snood, I really didn't notice the cold.
If you know a place where the grey squirrels are finding easy pickings on your shoot, get out there before the thaw and you'll probably catch them in the act.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Shooters and anglers urged to look out for ash dieback

Ash dieback disease, caused by infection by the Chalara fraxinea fungus, could be detrimental to the British countryside, and shooters and anglers are being urged to do their bit to help reduce its spread.
Anyone who spends time in the outdoors should look out for and report any signs of infected trees.
At the time of writing, there are more than 110 confirmed infected sites. The disease is mainly spread on the wind. Once infected, a tree cannot be cured and must be destroyed and removed from the woodland. With ash being the dominant species in vast swathes of British woodland (as is the case in my locality) the potential impact is unthinkable.

Tim Russell, BASC director of conservation, said: “Everyone involved in shooting should look out for the signs of infected trees such as lesions and cankers on the bark and, in the spring, die back of foliage. The risk of woodland users spreading the disease is said to be small.
"BASC is asking people involved in shooting on sites where infection has been confirmed or is suspected to take precautions against the possibility of spreading spores between different areas of woodland. This could include washing boots and vehicle wheels. Any signs of the disease should be reported to the Forestry Commission or the Food and Environment Research Agency.”
Suspected cases should be reported to the Forestry Commission at plant.health@forestry.gsi.gov.uk