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Tim Bonner: There are still adventures to be had for those who are willing to go looking

In this article for the Shooting Times, Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, writes that there are still adventures to be had and passed on to the next generation.

My oldest boy is at what he calls a university, although people of my vintage still consider an agricultural college. The curriculum does not seem to have changed with its name and the compulsory elements remain racing at Cheltenham, beer, rugby and, of course, shooting.

Given his father’s failure to either have inherited a large estate or earned even a small fortune, he does not have ready access to driven shooting to repay the various invitations he has received. Instead, for the last couple of years, he has taken a group of friends to the farm on the North coast of Scotland his grandfather (a London lawyer) bought in the 1970s.

Next to my desk at home is a photo of three students from a far superior, but now defunct, agricultural college 30 years ago with about 25 greylags and a smattering of ducks on our return from a trip to the same farm. It was our first wildfowling trip and, fired by the spirit of BB and other Shooting Times wildfowling writers, we approached it very much on a wing and a prayer.

We navigated the 600 mile plus journey, searched for geese, knocked on farmers doors for permission and on one particularly memorable afternoon experienced an epic flight as thousands of geese battled back through a gale from a large field of unharvested barley to the loch where they were roosting.

My wonderful springer, Oscar, who was allegedly a more attendant student than me, picked ducks and geese, and hunted snipe from the bogs. We drank beer in the pub by the harbour and, miraculously, avoided fights with trawlermen.

Three decades later the memories remain strong and the next group of students are knocking on the same doors, flighting the same lochs and drinking in the same pubs. They have not done as well on the geese, although plenty of ducks have been put in the bag, and the boy has a wild cocker, rather than a perfectly trained springer. Otherwise very little has changed although the new generation has gone further than we dared back in the day and braved the local nightclub.

I have subsequently spent many happy weeks in the far North chasing wildfowl and latterly with more focus on fishing and in particular wild trout. There is a sweet spot at the end of September and the beginning of October when we have had great fishing, shot snipe and flighted ducks on the stubbles. Any of those would be worth the journey North, but putting all three together in the same few days really is exceptional.

In the second lockdown summer I went North in June with one of the boys from that student picture 30 years ago. We had some simply spectacular fishing with regular 2lb wild browns topped by a 4lb monster from a flow country loch in the middle of a quaking bog.

The point of all this, if there is one, is that despite dwindling salmon stocks, the increasingly expensive ritual of driven game shooting and the gloom around biodiversity decline there are still adventures to be had for those who are willing to go looking.

Great sport is neither easy to reach or guaranteed and can often end without much in the bag. I purposefully did not write ‘end in failure’ because the only failure would be not looking in the first place. I have had plenty of memorable flights which have ended without a shot being fired, and walked miles to lochs which I would swear did not even hold a fish except that I had evidence to the contrary. None of those would I ever consider a failure and none attracted the gloom of a driven day that missed its bag by 25 birds.

I hope the boy will look back on his trips North in 30 years’ time both with happy memories, but also an understand of what great sport is and where to find it. In the meantime, he has stirred up urges in the older generation and there is talk of getting the band back together for a reunion in the North. Apart from anything else we need to show those young whippersnappers how the job is done properly, and there is that nightclub…

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