Suffolk, Norfolk and the surrounding counties have always been some of England’s best farming areas and are also renowned for shooting sport. Indeed there’s hardly a farm in these counties that doesn’t have some form of shooting going on. It might be pigeon shooting to keep them off valuable crops, perhaps an informal shoot for the farmer and friends or it may be a commercial enterprise as part of the diverse interests of a farming estate. The east coast of Suffolk has a long tradition of wild fowling and has some of the finest deer herds in England. Shooting folk and stalkers come from around the world to enjoy the experiences on offer.

Every year is different from a farming and shooting perspective and 2014 was, in the main, a good one for wildlife in general. The weather, certainly in East Anglia, was kind at just the right times and most wildlife flourished alongside the crops. Unfortunately for farmers a good harvest usually means poor prices but for game shooting operations with birds to feed that’s no bad thing as feed prices fall.

Game shooting follows set formats, either formal days with birds driven over a team of guns or rough/walked up shooting with just a couple or a few friends over dogs, most usually Spaniels or Labradors but increasingly over HPR breeds as is the tradition in Europe. HPR (Hunter, Pointer, Retriever) breeds are increasing being seen in the field and make for a different style of hunting

The shooting year for those working at it is a full time, year round job that starts in February clearing up after the game season ends. There’s the need to complete any deer cull before the end of March/April and as the crops being to re-grow after the winter chill there’s plenty of pigeon shooting to be done. There’s a quiet period from a shooting point of view in midsummer but still plenty of work to be done before harvest time comes around again in July.

A well-planned deer cull is an essential piece of management to ensure a good healthy population, strong and disease free. It should weed out the week, inferior and old, that’s nature’s way only now, especially here in the UK, and man is the only predator capable of doing so.

On one memorable stalking expedition with a client helping us make our quota we were skirting along a hedgerow towards a large block of woodland when over the brow of the hill across an open field of winter wheat heading for the forest a stag or more properly a spiker, a most dangerous beast, came trotting with a small group of hinds. A harem he had no business having to his name.

When fighting for their share of the hinds, stags with a traditional spread of antlers, which hunters call a rack, lock antlers and their battles become a trial of strength; a battle of noise, grunting, pushing and shoving to show their power to their opponent. Usually the weaker beast knows it and will turn tail and run leaving the master to his nuptials with his harem. This is nature’s way of ensuring a healthy, strong herd. Such battles rarely result in bad injuries to either party. A spiker, a beast with literally two spear like antlers, as long as a man’s forearm and often as thick, that’s a dangerous foe. When the master comes up against such a beast it’s often the master who loses as his magnificent spread of antlers designed to lock with his opponent’s is useless. Two brutal spears can run through the biggest set of regular antlers and badly wound, even kill, the better animal. Not what nature intended. This was a good animal to cull.

Unfortunately as they trotted into range they must have sensed us, not scented as we were down wind but wild creatures often have a sense when danger threatens. In any event our spiker turned and herded his small harem into the forest. Having a pretty good idea of the track he might take we ran across some open ground, jumped over a ditch and ran into the forest. Quietly we stalked through the bracken until we had intercepted his likely route. Sure enough, the hinds trotted through an opening in the trees ahead of Mr. Spike and as he appeared I gave a low whistle stopping him in his tracks. He looked straight at us such is his sense of hearing. The shot rang through the trees and down went our quarry. A good clean hunt. The hinds would find a more fitting suitor.

The east and north coast areas of Suffolk & Norfolk have long been famed for their wildfowling potential. Peter Scott the famous naturalist started his shooting career here in North Norfolk alongside many other famous names and that tradition still carries on today. Indeed one of the most difficult and dangerous ways of hunting duck, punt gunning, is still practiced around our coastline to this day by traditionalist wildfowlers. Traditional boat builders still make hunting punts for local wildfowlers in small villages along the Suffolk coast.

For most shooting people the main draw is the driven partridge and pheasant shooting East Anglia has to offer. Days when groups of like-minded friends can get together and enjoy not just the hunt but the camaraderie, the craic of a day spent in the field. This season the best days are yet to come, cold, clear days with a heavy frost and a good wind that make for the best shooting weather. But weather aside and whether or not it’s a big driven game day or a smaller rough shoot day, a lone wildfowler on the marsh or a stalker silently passing through the wood all will be enjoying the season.

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