In with the old, in with the new

Eoghan Cameron

BASC chairman Eoghan Cameron welcomes the new year and the opportunities it brings for trying something new, while educating the next generation on the ways of old.

If, like me, you watch MasterChef on television, perhaps you also find yourself nodding sagely whenever a contestant introduces themselves as ‘classically trained’. Here is a purist, we say to ourselves, someone who understands the essence of good food and for whom style does not come at the expense of substance. 

As I advance in years, I find myself increasingly drawn to new shooting experiences and those that reflect what I would self-flatteringly describe as my classical training in the field as a youngster. High-bird gunnery with advanced magnet stick deployment this was not. It was pigeons, lamping, ferreting, walking up thickets, jumping ditches and beating, with the possibility of a stand on the last drive. It was understanding the ingredients, recipes, techniques and standards required before admission to the kitchen. 

Of course, I coveted a peg alongside my father and the grown-ups and gradually driven shooting became a bit of an obsession. While I obviously enjoy driven shooting now, I have noticed there are fewer butterflies aflutter on peg than there once were. 

The butterflies, however, go on the rampage at the prospect of walked-up grouse and mixed days, farm shoots and deer stalking. They go positively into orbit at the thought of unique shooting and stalking experiences at home and abroad; whether it’s plains game hunting under the Namibian sun, stalking sika in the rolling majesty of County Tyrone or walking up clouds of snipe against the Olympian backdrop of the Rùm Cuillin. The days that truly stand out with every detail crystal clear in memory. 

The driven game specialists and highly skilled ‘keepers who feed their passion might feel a little shot at here. But they need not, because done safely, sustainably and to our own high standards, it is something that I love and will defend to the hilt. And despite challenges aplenty, its appeal appears only to grow. However, I do wonder whether some of us old hands have been remiss in passing on to newcomers the values, virtues, knowledge and skills of our classical training. 

There is a line in the revised version of A Father’s Advice which says “Always to yourself be true and then you’ll be a sportsman new”. Shooting of course needs new blood to survive, but equally it relies on the experienced imbuing the novice not only with a sense of great enthusiasm, but one of responsibility and consideration. The new Gun cannot automatically be expected to know what the experienced Guns to their left and right, or shooting as a whole, expect of them – it is our duty to inform and theirs to listen. 

And to the driven game old hands, I’d say: don’t be afraid to try something new (or old for that matter!). I have persuaded dyed-in-the-wool driven game shots to come hind stalking in the Highlands in January and February. Physically hard, wild days that have left them exhausted, but grinning and utterly fulfilled. Or walked-up grouse, possibly with a smattering of ptarmigan, and lowland mixed days where the only talk of numbers is in relation to species. Days such as these must surely be to shooting what ‘the classics’ are to cooking. 

My best wishes for health, happiness and good shooting for 2024.