High-octane simulated days in Berkshire
PUBLISHED: 12:11 25 August 2017
The sights of Englefield and The Really Wild Clay Company draw Selena Barr to an A-list style day out
Save for a few days controlling woodpigeon over peas this summer, my beloved shotgun has sat idle in the safe. That was until an invitation to shoot simulated game at Englefield Estate landed in my inbox.
As the setting for the award-winning Netflix series The Crown and Pippa Middleton’s recent wedding, the spectacular Berkshire estate is one of eight venues The Really Wild Clay Company (RWCC) use for their high-octane simulated days, which run from March until end of September.
“Shooting simulated game is a fantastic way to pull the trigger throughout the summer months,” explained RWCC’s Robert Cross, who masterminds the drives and runs the days as well as working as a full-time shooting instructor for The Royal Berkshire Shooting Group, the parent company of RWCC. He added: “Plus simulated game shooting is extremely cost effective. For just £285, Guns are presented with around 1,000 birds over five drives as well as breakfast upon arrival and lunch at the end of the day. An equivalent day’s shooting pheasants would cost around £2,000 per Gun.”
The day started with a buffet-style shoot breakfast, hosted by Zoe Benyon, wife of Newbury MP Richard Benyon, whose family have owned and managed the Englefield Estate since the 18th century. Prepared and cooked by a pop-up version of nearby The Yew Tree Inn, the 12 Guns were treated to bacon butties and pastries. London gunmaker James Purdey & Sons was also on hand to showcase the range of new and heritage shotguns that the team would be using.
Once the Guns had finished breakfast, Zoe welcomed guests in the opulent drawing room; providing a fascinating insight into the history of the house and relaying stories of family life today with five sons aged between 10 and 27. She said: “A house of this size needs to be lived in and it can often be pretty chaotic. It’s not unusual to find a lost trainer under the sofa! But if you let a house like this become unlived in it will feel different and smell different.” Englefield is not open to the public with the usual gift shops and museums, but the state rooms are available for large charity fund raising events as well as corporate and private functions.
After a safety briefing, the Guns were kitted out with Really Wild baseball hats, safety glasses and foam ear plugs before being loaded up into Land Rover Discovery 5 SUVs, courtesy of Stratstone of Mayfair. The first drive on the 15,000-acre estate, known as Culham Shaw, was reached by driving past the pin-neat polo lawn in front of the imposing Elizabethan house where riders were playing chukkas on immaculately turned-out ponies.
The temperature was in the mid-twenties, making it warm enough to shoot in short-sleeves. To keep it authentic, the Guns and their instructors/loaders lined out on numbered pegs. “Some simulated game shooting companies have been criticised in the past for spacing Guns too closely together,” revealed Robert, adding: “We always leave at least 25 yards between each peg.”
The RWCC’s attention to detail is second to none, with ‘head gamekeeper’ Paul Bassett and his team providing all of the elements of realism that one would enjoy from a beating line, including unruly dogs being admonished to flag men out on the flank. The team operates a minimum of five manual traps to ensure targets are presented in as realistic way as possible. “Most Guns are surprised when they find out we use manual traps,” said Paul. “Unlike automatic traps, we can vary speed, direction, distance and curve very easily, which all helps to create targets that fly like real gamebirds.”
Gun Eleanor Doughty wielded her Purdey Game Gun with expertise and powdered almost every clay that tried to pass her: “My family and I have watched The Crown since the first series, we are huge fans of the programme. It feels quite surreal to be shooting at the estate where it was filmed.”
On the neighbouring peg, Teresa Fitzherbert was not letting any clays pass as she continually mounted her Purdey 12-bore. Clays poured over the line, giving Guns plenty of challenging sport. “One of the great advantages of shooting simulated game is that it cannot be spoilt by the weather. Even if it is pouring with rain, the birds will still fly high and fast,” commented Anna Tyzack before slipping a pair of new felt-wad cartridges into her broken Purdey Sporter.
RWCC put on a lighthearted competition to incite a bit of playful rivalry with a drive designed to simulate a duck flight with the Guns stood around a large lake The elevated view from the lake looked back towards the south side of the house, giving views of the elegant deer park and its resident fallow herd.
Gun David Godwin used to compete at clay shooting for his university and now occasionally shoots driven game with his father. “Simulated game shooting during the close season gives me the opportunity to practice and keep me shooting straight,” he said. “I do not understand Guns who lock away their shotguns all summer, do not practice and then ruin their expensive day’s grouse shooting in August because they cannot hit anything! To stay on top of your game, you need to keep shooting year-round.”
Elevenses was provided by The Yew Tree Inn chef Sam May with a wonderful spread of barbecued rabbit kebabs, pigeon pie and wild boar sausage rolls. The Inn is part of the Epicurean Collection, a group of boutique country pubs with rooms, all passionate about our countryside and serving the highest quality local, seasonal produce including game. Located next door to Highclere Castle, The Yew Tree caters for shoot parties, even delivering elevenses to the shooting field.
For Gun Liam Jeffries it was his first ever time shooting. “I have tried most sports but never shooting. I have been bitten by the bug, however! Simulated game shooting is fast-paced and action-packed, which is how I like my sport,” he shouted between shots with his Purdey on the final drive, known as Battlefield.
The day was rounded off with a champagne reception and three-course lunch provided by The Yew Tree Inn back in the Long Gallery at Englefield House. Between courses Purdey’s head of sales Jonathan Irby gave an introduction to the 200-year old British brand and its stunning range. So, if you fancy a day’s shooting with all the trimmings of a full-blown driven pheasant day on a top drawer estate, simulated game shooting is an affordable alternative and is great fun!
• Really Wild Clay Company - Simulated game shooting costs £285+VAT per Gun, which includes everything other than felt-wad cartridges and gun hire.
• Englefield House - Gardens are open to the public all year round on particular weekdays and the house by appointment only for large groups.
• James Purdey & Sons - Fine shotguns, rifles, clothing and accessories
• Stratstone of Mayfair - Land Rover Discovery 5, from £43,995