All game shooting enthusiasts can recall their first shooting season. For most, the proud memory of shooting your first bird – be it a pheasant, partridge or duck – is one that stays with you forever. But for 12-year-old BASC young shot, Archie Skinner, the experience of shooting his first ever game bird was an extra special affair inspired by his love for a certain type of quarry – the iconic woodcock.
Archie grew up in rural Perthshire near the village of Madderty. He has been surrounded by shooting his entire life, courtesy of his dad, Paul and mum, Julie – both of whom run an outstanding walked-up shoot in the woodland and farmland surrounding their picturesque Perthshire home. The ground on which the shoot takes place is incredibly special and brimming with biodiversity but perhaps the most peculiar thing is the sheer abundance of woodcock.
Woodcock have long-since been shrouded in controversy due to their dwindling numbers in some parts of the country. However, thanks to the carefully considered habitat and predator management undertaken by Paul over the course of the year, the shoot bears a plentiful supply of the bird.
The boggy deciduous wood with numerous clumps of thick gorse provide the woodcock with an ideal habitat, and it is unsurprising that the birds migrate back to the ground in vast numbers year on year. Indeed, such is their abundance, there have been numerous occasions where more woodcock has been flushed than pheasant – you genuinely must see it to believe it!
So, at the start of the 2019 shooting season – Archie’s first season shooting live quarry – it was somewhat unsurprising that he had woodcock in his sights. Inspired by his dad’s long-standing fascination with the bird, Archie was determined to shoot one – just one – to make his dad proud.
It was a wet December morning when the spectacle occurred. Archie had had a quiet season so far, placing gun safety above all and learning all he could from his dad. The first drive straddles an L-shaped strip of dense woodland with a steep gulley running through the middle.
Archie was dispatched to act as a standing gun with his dad, while the rest of the syndicate pushed through the difficult terrain. Numerous pheasant, woodcock and snipe were flushed that day but, as is often the case, the woodcock were simply too fast for the Guns.
Meanwhile, things were about to get very exciting at the standing peg. Archie and Paul were waiting patiently for the Guns to push towards them when, suddenly, out of nowhere, a solitary woodcock broke cover; it jinked left and flew into the sky. Instinctively, Archie raised the barrels of his Beretta 687 EL gold edition 28-bore shotgun, aimed just in front of the bird and took the shot. The bird went down and died instantly – a textbook kill from about 30 yards.
The rest of the syndicate knew nothing of what had just occurred some 300 yards in front of the line. The first word of the excitement came over the radio, when Paul exclaimed jubilantly, “He’s only gone and shot a woodcock lads!”
When the line eventually arrived at Archie’s position, the mood was ecstatic. It was handshakes and back-thumps galore for this young shot, who had just shot his first ever gamebird – a woodcock none the less – at the tender age of 12. The jubilation was palpable, and you could not wipe the smile of Archie’s face – he was over the moon.
A couple of days later, Archie’s first woodcock made its way from field to fork. With an unwavering respect for the quarry he had shot himself, Archie proceeded to pluck and gut the woodcock and prepare it for eating – with a little guidance from his parents of course. The bird was wrapped in bacon and served on a bed of salad with a selection of berries and a portobello mushroom to finish. Pure culinary perfection.
The story, however, does not stop there. Archie has since shot a second woodcock, and with one more shoot day still to go, who knows – there could be a third.
Unsurprisingly, Paul and Julie are very proud parents. When I asked Julie how she felt about Archie’s success she said, “I couldn’t be prouder of Archie. For a 12-year-old young shot to shoot two woodcock before shooting a single pheasant is simply amazing. It just doesn’t happen.”
Paul continued, “Archie has been brought up to admire and respect the woodcock. They are mystical, beautiful birds and I am so proud that he has managed to shoot, prepare and eat two birds in his first ever game season. What a triumph.”
Archie is already looking ahead to next season where he will embark on a few BASC Young Shot days alongside the shooting he does at home. As well as being a proficient shot, Archie has also been a proponent of getting more young people into shooting by encouraging his two friends, Lewis and Cairn, to come to the shoot as beaters. He hopes that they too will join the shoot one day, and maybe even bag their first woodcock.
BASC Legacy Funded Scholarship Programme 2020
BASC’s Legacy Funded Scholarship Programme aims to support and encourage those wishing to develop their knowledge in conservation, land management or gamekeeping. It provides financial assistance to applicants where lack of funding obstructs education and future careers.