There’s nothing more quintessentially British than a day of shooting in the moorland. Hop in a Defender, drive out into the dramatic landscape, dress in the finest tweet and enjoy some fresh country air as the rural sport does the talking.
There was, of course, a lot of uncertainty surrounding this year’s shooting season. To shoot or not to shoot was the question on the lips of those in the game industry during the lockdown.
Luckily, as we approached the Glorious 12th in August, the country sport was back up and running, with sharp shooters heading out into the rugged landscape to get their fix. As we move from peak grouse season into shooting partridge and pheasant, we’re checking in at one of the country’s finest sporting locations, the mighty Whitfield Estate near Hexham, Northumberland.
Once home to the Saxon Earls of Northumbria, the estate was then bought by William Ord in the 1700s. His grandson, also called William, was the first member of the family to live permanently at Whitfield Hall, which became a substantial Georgian home.
Four generations later, the Blackett-Ord family still look after the estate and live in Whitfield Hall.
The estate itself is a truly unique and traditional sporting estate and has, over the years, become the stuff of a shooting legend due to its dramatic 15,000 acre spot at the foothills of the Pennines.
It is now recognised as the top destination for the high bird brigade in the northern shooting stable.
“This grouse moor at Whitfield is something really special,” says Adam Morton, field sport enthusiast and founder of Morton Sporting Ltd.
“It’s world famous for grouse, pheasant and partridge and it has the River Allen running through the heart of the estate, which makes for a spectacular backdrop,” he adds.
Morton Sporting is a family run field sports business operating mainly in the North of England, with links all over the UK
“Through years of hard work, patience and building on our reputation in the industry, we have managed to gain access to more and more exclusive estates across the country,” Adam explains.
“We pride ourselves on offering the best driven wing shooting in the North of England and Scotland and have some of the country’s most sought after sporting estates in our portfolio, meaning we are able to offer an experience that others can’t.”
Traditionally, it has been considered almost impossible to gain access to a number of the estates on Morton Sporting’s list. Once upon a time only the ‘landed gentry’ would get the chance to shoot on these estates and it would, of course, be very exclusive, invite only access.
“As the need for more commercial ventures has set in, from the estate’s point of view, more opportunities have opened up for shoot days. That’s where we step in,” says Adam.
“There’s no compromise on tradition. Shooting is very much still a country sport with a deep and rich history due to its essence and etiquette, but we are now able to open up that experience to more field sports enthusiasts, with no compromise on quality, tradition and exclusivity.”
The North East region, namely the Yorkshire Dales, the North York Moors, Northumberland and the North Pennines, is the heartland of driven shooting, offering some of the finest field sport opportunities in the country.
“The majority of the English grouse moors are within the Dales, the North York Moors and in the North Pennines,” explains Adam.
“The North East is also home to a large number of very exclusive pheasant and partridge shoots at some of the most famous sporting estates in the UK. The shooting industry is a huge part of the economy in some of these rural communities, and there’s a real sense of pride amongst the locals, it’s wonderful to see.”
Like many industries, the coronavirus outbreak brought very troubling times to the world of shooting.
“We’ve had to adapt in the months following the outbreak,” says Adam.
“But we’re just delighted to be back out enjoying the great British countryside and all it has to offer, especially as we head into peak shooting season,” he adds.
“We have followed all Government guidelines very closely and have worked with the estates to ensure we are all operating responsibly with protocol to keep everyone safe on a shoot day.”
But as the world wakes up again and the shooting season comes back into its own, Morton Sporting’s shoot days are back up and running and there are lots of exciting things in the pipeline for the autumn/winter season.
As we get kitted out for a day out in the Defender, Adam talks us through a day in the life of a Morton Sporting shoot day on the Whitfield Estate.
“The guns meet at the estate for an early breakfast, where the gamekeepers will give a safety briefing and a general introduction on the day’s events.
“There will usually be two drives in the morning, followed by a break, where it is customary to have a glass of champagne or sloe gin with some light snacks.
“Lunch is usually served in an estate building steeped in history and tradition – usually a gun room, or something similar. It’s always great to find a space to relax and unwind, but that can also work as a focal point for conversation. It’s a fantastic opportunity for guests to get to know the estate and have a bit of a history lesson.
“The afternoon brings one or two drives, followed by a quarry presentation by the gamekeepers at the end of the day.
“Of course, each estate is different and has its own unique charm and character, but we like to follow a similar format for our shoot days. It works for everyone.”
There are a lot of cliches surrounding shooting and the fleet of people who might attend a shoot day, but there is no stereotypical client, Adam tells us.
“Of course, the history and heritage is going nowhere and there is a sense of exclusivity with shooting, but it’s important to note that the industry is opening up to the wider community, and it’s something that we encourage to people who are new to the sport. There’s no intimation here,” says Adam.
“Now the estates are starting to open their doors to more people from a shooting perspective, it is a case of ‘If you have the money and you are a safe shot, you can shoot’.
“You can meet people from all walks of life on a shoot day – from royals and rockstars, to local businessmen.”
The guys at Morton Sporting certainly have things covered on home turf, with contacts up and down the country when it comes to some of the finest shooting estates. But there’s no signs of slowing down as the business spreads its wings overseas, with contacts in Spain, South Africa and Argentina.
“Driven partridge shooting in Spain in a bucket-list must,” says Adam.
“Standing amongst the olive groves with the sun on your back is a truly unique experience,” he adds.
“As are those of shoot days in South Africa, a country that is fast developing into the destination of choice for pigeon and dove shooting with some of the finest hospitality found in fantastic shoot lodges across the country.
“Personally, I have taken one party to Argentina, a world famous destination for dove shooting. Here, we work with the very best outfitters to ensure we can offer a truly unique and memorable experience in breathtaking locations. The shooting, paired with the culture, landscape, food and wine, offers something incredibly special. We’d definitely love to host some more overseas shooting, but in the current climate, we’re obviously focusing on what we know and love in the UK.”
As the landscape dramatically changes and we delve deep into autumn, the shooting season really comes into its own.
“This year brings a lot of uncertainty due to COVID, but as we head into the new season, there’s plenty to look forward to in the world of shooting,” says Adam.
“The countryside is in great shape and we have pheasant and partridges in abundance.
“The return of shoot days is also great for the local community, bringing plenty of opportunity and jobs for people in rural areas. Many local businesses such as pubs and hotels can also work in partnership with estates and shoot organisers, relying on shoot parties to keep things ticking over as we head into the colder, darker months.”
After a day exploring the foothills of the Pennines with Adam and his shoot party on the Whitfield Estate in Northumberland, it’s safe to say that no stone is unturned in Morton Sportin’s pursuit of perfection when it comes to field sports.
From history and heritage, to etiquette and the essence of shooting, we’ve learnt a lot. That, alongside the ability to create glorious, good-for-the-soul game dishes and enjoy a sip of sloe gin to warm the cockles mid-drive, and we’re totally sold.