Sunday, 23 September 2012

Time for sloe gin

Sloe gin is a wonderful festive drink that is very warming and literally tastes of the hedgerow. A tot of this crimson liqueur will warm your cockles when you slump into the sofa after a cold evening in the woods, and it’s a great snifter to offer to dinner guests.
You’ll find sloes in any overgrown stretch of hedgerow that contains blackthorn. The fruit is round, waxy-skinned, and dark purple/black in colour. You’re unlikely to confuse sloes with anything else, apart from damsons, which are bigger but make an equally nice brew.
Sloes are hard and very bitter before they reach full ripeness so leave them until they become plump and juicy for the best results - they're usually juicier after they've had a touch of frost.
This year's sloe crop is dour in my part of the world - luckily, I had three pounds of damsons left in the freezer from last autumn.

You will need
(adjust amounts to suit taste and depending on total volume required)
1lb sloes or damsons
1 litre of gin
6oz of sugar
Freezer bags
Screw-top bottle/s

Begin by rinsing the sloes in a colander under a running tap. The berries then need to be split to let the juice run out. This was traditionally done with a long thorn from a blackthorn bush but pricking them in this way, or even with a knife, is a total waste of time. The best way to split sloes is to put them in a plastic bag and leave them in the freezer overnight. Expansion caused by the freezing process bursts the skin of the sloes and leaves them oozing juice when defrosted.
Transfer frozen sloes from the freezer bag into a screw-top bottle and tip the sugar on top – this is easiest with a funnel. Pour in the gin (using the funnel again) and seal the cap. Some people like to add a drop or two of vanilla essence at this stage but I think it overpowers the natural flavour of the sloes.
Next, give the brew a good shake to mix all the ingredients and store it away in a cool, dark place. Give the mixture a quick shake every day for the first week to help the sugar dissolve and then give it a weekly slosh thereafter to help it blend. The sugary solution will draw the juice, colour and flavour from the sloes, producing a delicious, warming, syrupy liqueur.
I usually decant mine on Christmas Eve, running it through muslin cloth or a clean tea towel to filer off any sediment. I'll explain in more detail nearer the time.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Jack Pyke Fieldman Boots

I’ve never really been one for wearing lace-up boots for hunting but, after a couple of weeks' abuse, I’m really impressed with the new Jack Pyke Fieldman Boots. These rugged boots bridge the gap between my lightweight summer stalking trainers and wet weather wellies, and I'm looking forward to really putting them through their paces during the winter months. They have a 200g Thinsulate lining so I'm expecting them to keep my feet warm when the temperature starts to drop.
Although very robust, these chunky leather boots are surprisingly lightweight. They offer substantial ankle support while still providing sufficient movement to accommodate the sort of contortions shooters often find themselves getting into in the field, and the Vibram trek rubber soles provide great traction on slippery ground. According to Jack Pyke, they’re fully waterproof and the in-built antimicrobial treatment will keep them odour-free – only time will tell on those two scores.
It's only early days but my size 11 Fieldman Boots are very comfy. I've not experienced any of the rubbing that often has to be endured when breaking in new boots, and they're getting even more  comfortable with every outing as the gradual wear and tear makes them even more supple. I expect them to become a regular item in my hunting clobber, and also reckon they'll give decent service on fishing trips that don't entail sloshing through too much water.
These boots are packed with features and retail for £110, which is I think is great value considering they come with a 12-month guarantee. For more info, visit

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

New book on its way

I'm pleased to say that my new book, Air Rifle Hunting Through the Seasons - A Guide to Fieldcraft, is due for release before the end of October.
Whereas my first book, Hunting with Air Rifles - The Complete Guide, gave a broad overview of the sport, from choosing hardware and clothing to zeroing your scope and targeting live quarry, the emphasis of the new book is very much on fieldcraft and hunting techniques.
I've split it into seasonal sections covering hunting scenarios (more than 30 in total) to be encountered through spring, summer, autumn and winter. Each section covers changing hunting opportunities through the shifting seasons, how I pre-empt quarry behaviour and the techniques and equipment I use to make the most of my time in the field. There are also tips on preparing quarry for the table, and a selection of my favourite recipes for each season.


Published by MacNidder & Grace, the hardback book includes more than 100 colour photographs and, although still in the final stages of design, should come out at around 150-pages. Dorset artist Matt Donovan has produced some great illustrations to introduce each of the seasonal chapters (see below).