Don’t worry.. the key word here is ‘simulated’ so to the uunitiated amongst us. Don’t start raising your eye brow…until you reach the end. So, it was a quiet day at our London offices when we received a call to shoot simulated game at Englefield Estate.
As the setting for the award-winning Netflix series The Crown and Pippa Middleton’s recent wedding, the spectacular Berkshire estate is one of eight venues The Really Wild Clay Company (RWCC) use for their high-octane simulated days, which run from March until end of September. Perfect! What is it all about?
“Shooting simulated game is a fantastic way to pull the trigger throughout the summer months,” explained RWCC’s Robert Cross, who masterminds the drives and runs the days as well as working as a full-time shooting instructor for The Royal Berkshire Shooting Group, the parent company of RWCC. He added: “Plus simulated game shooting is extremely cost effective. For just £285, Guns are presented with around 1,000 birds over five drives as well as breakfast upon arrival and lunch at the end of the day. An equivalent day’s shooting pheasants would cost around £2,000 per Gun.”
The day commenced with a buffet-style shoot breakfast, hosted by Zoe Benyon, wife of Richard Benyon MP, the Conservative politician whose family have owned Englefield since the 18th century. Prepared and cooked by a pop-up version of nearby The Yew Tree Inn, the 12 Guns were treated to bacon butties and pastries. Once the guns had finished breakfast, Zoe held court in the opulent drawing room relaying stories of how the family’s five sons (three are from Richard’s first marriage) all live in the house together. The boys’ ages range from 10 to 27 so it can be “pretty chaotic.” She said: “A house of this size needs to be lived in. There will be crisp packets and lost trainers under the sofas. If you let a house like this become unlived in it will feel different, smell different.” Englefield is not open to the public with the usual gift shops and museums but the state rooms are available for corporate and private events, and Richard will always try to make an appearance.
After a full safety briefing, each of the Guns were kitted out with a Really Wild baseball hat, safety glasses and foam ear plugs before being loaded up into brand new Land Rover Discovery 5 SUVs, courtesy of Stratstone of Mayfair. The first drive on the 15,000-acre estate, known as Culham Shaw, was reached by driving past the pin-neat polo lawn in front of the imposing Elizabethan house where riders were playing chukkas on immaculately turned-out ponies.
Unlike on a real day’s game shooting, the temperature today was in the mid-twenties making it warm enough to shoot in short-sleeves. To keep it authentic, the Guns and their instructors/loaders lined out on numbered pegs. “Some simulated game shooting companies have been criticized in the past for spacing Guns too closely together,” revealed Robert, adding: “We always leave at least 25 yards between each peg.”
The RWCC’s attention to detail is second to none, with the ‘head gamekeeper’ Paul Bassett and his team providing all of the elements of realism that one would enjoy from a beating line including unruly dogs being admonished to flag men out on the flank. The team operates a minimum of five manual traps to ensure the targets are presented in as realistic way as possible. “Most Guns are surprised when they find out we use manual traps,” said Paul. “Unlike automatic traps, we can vary speed, direction, distance and curve very easily which all helps to create targets that fly like real gamebirds.”
Drive one saw the Guns presented with curving, crossing birds. Gun Eleanor Doughty wielded her Purdey Game Gun with expertise and powdered almost every clay that tried to pass her. “My family and I have watched The Crown since the first series, we are huge fans of the programme. It feels quite surreal to be shooting at the estate where it was filmed.”
On the neighbouring peg, Teresa Fitzherbert was not letting any clays pass her as she continually mounted her Purdey 12-bore. Clays poured over the line, giving Guns plenty of challenging sport. “One of the great advantages of shooting simulated game is that it cannot be spoilt by the weather. Even if it is pouring with rain, the birds will still fly high and fast,” commented Gun Anna Tyzack before slipping a pair of new felt-wad cartridges into her broken Purdey Sporter.
For the next drive, RWCC put on a lighthearted competition to incite a bit of playful rivalry between the Guns. This drive was designed to simulate a duck flight with the Guns stood around a large lake in amongst the reeds. They were divided into four teams before clays not only skimmed across the water, but also dropped in from a great height. Robert even blew on a duck call for added authenticity. The beaming Guns each shot around 75 cartridges before switching places. The elevated view from the lake looked back towards the south side of the house, giving views of the elegant deer park and its resident fallow herd.
Gun David Godwin used to compete at clay shooting for his university and now occasionally shoots driven game with his father. “Simulated game shooting during the close season gives me the opportunity to practice and keep me shooting straight,” he commented before dusting a left-and-right. “I do not understand Guns who lock away their shotguns all summer, do not practice and then ruin their expensive day’s grouse shooting in August because they cannot hit anything! To stay on top of your game, you need to keep shooting year-round.”
Elevenses were again provided by The Yew Tree Inn team. Chef Sam May treated Guns to barbequed rabbit and chorizo kebabs, pigeon pie and wild boar sausage rolls. “We do not serve any alcohol during this pit-stop as Guns still have one further drive to shoot,” explained Sam. “We take health and safety extremely seriously and save drinking alcohol for the late lunch when all shooting has finished.”
For Gun Liam Jeffries it was his first ever time shooting. “I have tried most sports but never shooting. I have been bitten by the bug, however! Simulated game shooting is fast-paced and action-packed, which is how I like my sport,” he shouted between shots with his Purdey on the final drive, known as Battlefield.
The day was rounded off with a Champagne reception and three-course lunch provided by The Yew Tree Inn in back in the Long Gallery at Englefield House. After the main course of roast venison (fallow harvested from the estate), Robert announced the winners of the competition. Team Four, which consisted of Alberto Arnaud, Benedicte Bukasa and Justine Philippon were crowned the overall champions, taking home limited edition Really Wild baseball caps as a prize.
So, if you fancy a day’s shooting with all the trimmings of a full-blown driven pheasant day on a top drawer estate, simulated game shooting is an affordable alternative and is just great fun!
Join the adventure. Find more information below;
Really Wild Clay Company
Simulated game shooting costs £285+VAT per Gun, which includes everything other than felt-wad cartridges and gun hire.
Gardens are open to the public all year round on particular weekdays and the house by appointment only for large groups.
James Purdey & Sons
The Yew Tree Inn
The Epicurean Collective
Stratstone of Mayfair
Land Rover Discovery 5