St Clair’s Q&A with Shoot Manager, Alex Moreton
A day shooting is the culmination of many factors. Teams of beaters, a well planned series of drives and great company. These factors can make or break a day in the field, but of course there are other factors that can take a shoot from good to outstanding. Food and Hospitality comes in all shapes and sizes. While this is dependent on the gun, there are some shoots that make this a specialty. St Clair’s is one of those shoots. With one of the best shooting lodges in the country and food to rival some of the best restaurants in the country (the roast potatoes…!!) , a day at at St Clair’s is superb. Presenting beautifully driven partridge and pheasant through the valleys and woodlands, St Clair’s provides first class, Hampshire shooting within easy driving distance of London. As one of our favourites, we took time during lockdown to talk to shoot manager, Alex Moreton to find out a little more about St Clair’s.
How important is food to a day at St Clair’s:
Our shoot lunch is quite possibly the most important part of the day, we’re never quite sure if the guns come for the shooting or the food! Over the years we have tailored our offering and got it down to a fine art. You have to have the right balance between decadence, home cooking and speed. On a dark day in December getting a team through pre-lunch drinks, canapés and three courses at the table in an 1h30m without them feeling rushed has its challenges, but we never compromise on quality. A lot of our meat comes from the estate too, including lamb, pork, turkey and of course the game dishes which we highly encourage teams to choose, despite the old stigma of “not eating what you are shooting”. In this day and age we need to eat as much game as possible to ensure the future of our much-loved pastime.
What do you guys think of the Hampshire bird stigma?
Despite personally loving the challenge of traditional Hampshire partridge that burst like fireworks when driven over a hedge and are shot 50 yards in front, times have changed and most modern teams are in search of the “high bird”. We are fortunate enough to have varied enough topography that allows us to show birds suitable for all abilities. The standard 40-50 yard overhead pheasant is just as prevalent as 80-yard crossing partridge whizzing along the top of a distant tree line on the peak of our rolling valleys. Anyone who thinks Hampshire shows low birds hasn’t truly shot here!
How many drives do you have at St Clair’s and the names, any interesting stories to how the drives got these names?
We have a total of 14 drives, although a few are linked and not all could be shot on the same day! Regular teams will know the rapid-paced joy of O’Down in November when the sky turns awash with birds that seem to never end and the satisfyingly frustrating Middleshot with partridge, which on a windy day in October seem impossible to bring down. Other favourites are Crookhorn, which looks very mediocre on approach and has the potential for guns to ask if they are being punished for shooting too many before lunch, but once underway it becomes apparent the tall pines lining both sides, present birds of astounding quality showing some of the highest we have. Our most amusingly named drive is shot out of a wood at the top of a valley. The wood which backs on to our neighbouring farmer’s land, Richard, affectionally known as Dick, kindly allows us to beat over his land, so we thought it appropriate to name the drive after him, Dick’s Wood.
You’re renowned for your shoot lodge. How has the lodge evolved over the years?
Quite honestly it hasn’t changed a bit since my father refurbished it in 2003. Not only did he get it bang on first time around, but the regular teams we have seem to be very adverse to us changing anything in our format. A few years ago I tried to jazz up elevenses swapping our traditional pinwheels and soup for fancier canapés and there was uproar! Over the years we have found that people like to know what to expect and look forward to the specific way we do things, save for adding the odd trinket and the rare Brown Bess over the fireplace that was sourced a few years back, we like to keep everything the same.
What’s your favourite bird to shoot?
Without question partridge. The diversity in which they can be presented truly makes them the most versatile and challenging. From stonkers driven off Spitfire at Chargott to hedge hopping “Hampshire Grouse” taken fast and in front. They are also the most delicious to eat, whether Cordon Bleu or in a Thai Green Curry, you can’t beat a partridge.
How do you see shooting evolving over the next few years?
Shooting has a tough time ahead and everyone involved in the industry, no matter how small the role they play, needs to do their utmost to protect what we have. Shooting sports as a whole need to band together and oppose some of the ludicrous legislation that is being passed, which will greatly hinder our ability to continue as we do at the moment. Firearms legislation has become somewhat of a hobby in the past few years since becoming an RFD, and it continually amazes me the way people bury their heads in the sand. Make no mistake, the banning of firearms is a priority to many outside of the industry. Too many people in the field are of the opinion that banning some rifle they have never heard of, as they did in the recent Offensive Weapons Bill, will have no effect on them, but the simple reality is that if we allow the powers to keep imposing restrictions on Firearms we will eventually get to a point where there are only shotguns left. I very much doubt they will then look at us and say “of course you can keep your Purdey sir, we have no issue with game shooting, carry on”.
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