70 Remarkable Years

This June we celebrate Her Majesty The Queen becoming the first British Monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee after 70 years of service to our country and the Commonwealth. As with many others, we at R&B Sporting have found ourselves looking back at how life has changed during her reign and wanted to take the opportunity to share a look back at game shooting over the decades.

Game shooting has always been a part of Royal Family tradition, whether it’s the famous Boxing Day pheasant shoot at Sandringham, or a popular day’s grouse shooting at the working estate of Balmoral. So, how has it changed, diversified, and how, as an industry, can we help to protect its future?

Protect and manage

Whilst many differences could be noted in the practice of our ancestors and their game shoots, the responsibility to educate and ensure correct management remains.

“Proper management is not only important for game shooting but also for conservation, and the flora and fauna” explains Dan Edwards, Manager, R&B Sporting.

Dan’s previous experience as a Head Gamekeeper helps us to understand the changes within game rearing and management over the last 70 years. “Releasing birds has been undertaken since 1900, albeit originally at relatively few sites and in relatively small numbers, but the practice took off in the 1960s and has been increasing ever since.”

Modern Day Pheasant Release
Pheasants Reared Under Broody Hens

As you would expect, hatching methods have changed dramatically. Although incubating techniques were first used by the Egyptians in 400 B.C, it wasn’t until 1922 that the first electric incubator was invented. The commercial poultry industry as it is known today was on its way. From 1960 onwards, incubators have advanced to include electronic controls, automatic humidifiers, and alarm systems to alert for any problem in the machines. The broody hen could finally put in her application for retirement!

Feeding Time on the Rearing Field
Estate Hatching Yard

“These advances in technology, have ensured that the health and welfare of birds has progressed significantly,” explains Dan. “Greater scientific understanding has led to changes and development of feed, medicine, and thus overall gut health in birds over the past 25 years. A healthy gut allows for better growth rate and chance of survival once released, which contributes greatly to the success of the game shooting season.”

This success rate is of course paramount when it comes to considering the future of shoots.

Field to Fork

However, despite an overall increase in popularity over the last 70 years, and the apparent desire for ‘big bird’ days, there seems to be less and less game entering the supply chain and ending up on the dinner plates of the general public.

Many years of misinformation could be to blame, lack of understanding of the industry, and much, much more. But encouraging people to eat game is one of the most important ways in which we can support our sport and ensure its future.

“Game was always a staple in our household when we were growing up” points out Kev Smith, Assistant Manager, R&B Sporting. “It was readily available, cheap, and nobody grumbled!”

“I am proud that my family have all enjoyed it from a young age.  They all understand where it has come from and appreciate its value.”

“My ultimate game meal? I would start with a tender pigeon breast, served with wild mushrooms and a creamy garlic sauce.  Followed by beautifully cooked partridge, local asparagus, and home-grown new potatoes. Finished with a generous helping of gooseberry sorbet… perfection!” continues budding chef Kev.

You don’t need special skills or equipment to enjoy cooking game at home (or be a professional chef like Kev!); it can be used in all your favourite dishes. Naturally lean and full of flavour, British Game is a joy to cook and the possibilities for experimentation are endless.

Award-winning food

The recent development of the national Eat Game Awards has shone a light on the brilliant businesses and individuals championing game meat. Our very own Ross-on-Wye based Hanks Meat & Game were rightfully crowned Best Game Butcher of 2021.

In addition, this year, high street favourite Marks & Spencer will become the first major UK supermarket to stock game that is both lead-free and British Game Assurance certified. This will surely fuel the drive for more game shoots to make the move towards lead free ammunition, something that had possibly never been considered at the start of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

Changing fashions

Perhaps one of the greatest differences over the past 70 years, is the fashion that influences us all.

Rob Farquhar, Director and Owner, R&B Sporting explains: “It was maybe only in the mid-1990s that over and under shotguns became fashionable on the field and took their place in the limelight.”

“Old English shotguns, not only made well, have so far withstood the test of time. Pick up one of these treasures and you can only contemplate what such a piece has been through, the places in the world it has travelled, and the game it has accounted for,” continues Rob. “Reliability, balance, and handling are usually top of the list of criteria when purchasing a new game shotgun.  Followed closely by aesthetics, taking into consideration the quality of wood and engraving; nothing changes there.”

“But as steel appears on the horizon, the proofing of shotguns has had a significant impact on purchasing requirements in recent years. As cartridge technology has developed, the lightweight handmade English guns from the late 19th and early 20th century have been forced to take a backseat. Fashions change, and it is no different with shotguns,” continues Rob.

“My favourite game shotgun? Not an easy question to answer!  If I had to pick up a gun to shoot with today it would probably be a Beretta 687 EELL 20g 32” Multichoke.”

A royal pursuit

Trends may change, but one thing certainly holds stable; the Royal Family’s keen interest in a variety of country pursuits, game shooting of course being top of the list. Wonderfully setting the scene, we found an interesting extract in ‘Tales of the Old Gamekeepers’, by Brian P. Martin, an interview with retired Keeper at Sandringham, Jack Clark.

“Most shooting at Sandringham takes place in January now. The Queen never shoots, but what a keen gundog lady she is. All the dogs love her and make a great fuss of her. She had handled my old bitch Pendle and now whenever the dog sees Her Majesty, she will make straight for her – even if she is a hundred yards away. All she wants is a bit of fuss made of her and then she comes straight back to me.”

At Sandringham, some of the best seasons’ bags were commemorated in special colour paintings by Lady Fellows, wife of ex Sandringham Agent Sir William Fellowes – Tales of the Old Gamekeeper

Her Majesty has always been keen to show her support for the field sports community, both publicly and privately. In particular, she clearly values and supports the work of gamekeepers, stalkers, ghillies and their families even walking one of her gamekeeper’s dogs weekly for two years, when he was bereaved. A Royal insider said at the time: “It was her way of saying thank you for being such loyal friends over the years and for looking after her dogs all that time.”

Her Majesty has also gifted a generous donation to the Gamekeepers’ Welfare Trust (GWT) recently, only revealed following the Trust’s annual general meeting. Founded in 1992, the GWT was set up to support gamekeepers, stalkers and ghillies and their families or widows, who require help during ill health or infirmity, by providing financial grants.

Though the donated sum remains undisclosed it will certainly help continue the valuable work of this important charity.

Raise a glass

So, as we look ahead to the next 70 years of the shooting industry, and whatever it may hold, we ask you to join with us in raising a glass this weekend – to Her Majesty. For her sense of duty and her devotion to a life of service. Her continuity provides a great source of pride and reassurance to us all.

We must all strive to mirror the same values of commitment and devotion, whilst keeping an open mind towards change, to ensure the survival of shooting, gamekeeping and the conservation of the countryside for generations to come. Consider it our duty.