I’m delighted to have the opportunity to write about my day afield at the Chargot Shoot as a guest of David Powell, the shoot manager . This shoot takes place near Luxborough, Exmoor, in Somerset, England - in season, generally speaking four to five days a week.
"The dogs sat patiently at his side, with pheasants dropping nearby on the hillside, until released to retrieve the fallen birds, which they did in a very polished manner."
With my wife Joanna, I arrived in the UK in mid-January and traveled to Minehead, where we stayed with friends. This was my first visit to Somerset. Though I had lived in England some 45 years ago, I had never attended a driven shoot. I mentioned that I would appreciate having such an opportunity when chatting with the local butcher, Simon David of Gerald David & Sons - Purveyors of Fine Meats throughout Somerset and Devon. Simon said, "Leave that with me – I know just the man," which I did… and he did as promised.
I received a call the very next day from David Powell, manager of the Chargot Shoot. He invited me to come along and observe the next day’s activities. Following his careful directions, I traveled over narrow, hedgerow lined, one-lane roads out from Minehead to, and through, the village of Luxborough. I arrived at about 0830 at Langham Farm. David raises some 2500 sheep and 200 or more cattle together with thousands of pheasants and partridge. The shoot takes place on Mr. John Marshall’s estate as well as on other adjacent farms and on some nearby lands leased from the Forestry Commission.
I was greeted by his under keeper, Jason Massey, then was offered and accepted a cup of tea. Noting my lack of proper footgear, he went off shortly to return with a pair of Chameau boots in my size. My host arrived and introduced himself, and in turn, introduced the guns and their loaders, keepers, some of the beaters and pickers up. With all eight of the guns assembled, each one drew "straws" to determine their "pegs" - or allocated positions at each drive - for the day.
By about 10:00 AM we were off – in Range Rovers, Pathfinders and similar 4x4 vehicles. First, to "Spitfire"… the first drive of the day and one of the finest driven shoots in England. David was in radio communication with his head keeper, Nick Boniface, who was responsible for the beaters and to ensure that they were all in proper positions to effect a drive of highflying birds directed towards the guns.
For those of you who, like me, are not familiar with the practices of a driven shoot, let me explain, using the "Spitfire" as an example. It took place in a steeply sloping gorge-like valley, with the guns and loaders at their "pegs" - perhaps spaced some 30-yards apart in the valley bottom. Each peg position was at a lower elevation than the one in front.
David signaled the start of the drive with a loud whistle. The beaters and their dogs began their beat in the woods, gorse and game crops at the top, driving the pheasants down the axis of the valley. The guns take only incoming high birds, in full flight, often in a strong downwind. A gun has shot well if he drops perhaps two out of ten birds.
David’s whistle announced the end of the drive. We returned to the vehicles where I photographed some of the guns and their loaders.
On we went to the next drive at "Magic Coombe" a short distance away. During this drive, I climbed up into the high hills on one side of the valley with Cedric Boddington who, in the absence of Judy Milton, head picker up at Chargot, was directing the work of the pickers up that day. A wonderful and very knowledgeable man – with two dogs, a springer and a young female black Labrador. The dogs sat patiently at his side, with pheasants dropping nearby on the hillside, until released to retrieve the fallen birds, which they did in a very polished manner. Cedric and I chatted about what was required of the dogs of pickers up, and the obvious pleasure they showed in carrying out their work.
Following this drive, we had a short break to enjoy hot curried parsnip soup and sausages with appropriate libations, all very timely and tasty. The morning ended with yet another drive, at "Chimney", this time on the grounds of the Forestry Commission, followed by lunch.
David kindly invited me to join the guns for lunch at the Lodge at Langham Farm. We had lamb shanks, mashed potatoes, broccoli, carrots and green beans, lemon tart for dessert, followed by an assortment of wonderful cheeses, all courses served with appropriate wines and topped off with a glass of port. The loaders, beaters and the pickers up lunched at the near by pub in Luxborough, the "Royal Oak", one of the best in the region.
There were two more drives after lunch: "Bloddy Awful" and "Parsonage Nouveau". Once again, I saw some marvelous gunning, including the downing of the odd French or red leg partridge quickly identified in flight by David who called out to the nearest gun.
The Chargot Shoot is one of the best in England. On that day, the guns had come from London and other parts of England, the United States and from the Isle of Jersey. David Powell would welcome anyone from either Canada or the USA to the shoot.
If You Go...
I hope to return in 2007 to shoot. The season runs from September 1st to January 31st. I’d be happy to chat with anyone who might be interested in attending and can be reached at:
David H. W. Dibblee
12 Rosemount Avenue
Halifax Nova Scotia B3N 1X8
tel: (902) 477-3875
David Powell, Manager, Chargot Shoot
Langham Farm Nr. Luxborough
Watchet, Somerset TA23 OSL
David Dibblee acquired his first field bred springer spaniel, Glenrock Rickmansworth "Ricky" in 1969 from none other than Dr. David "Doc" McCurdy. (See the article on "The Doc" by Shirley Woods published in Spaniel Journal's May-June 2005 issue.) Ricky was out of CFC Saightin's Sort and Saighton's Samantha - both dogs having been bred by Talbot Radcliffe in Wales and sold to the Doc. Samantha was the first female that Talbot sold with breeding privileges.
Back in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, David was actively involved in the formation of the Scotia Springer Club including helping to draft it’s trial standards - well before the recognition of the club by the CKC. He served as it’s third President from 1971 through 1972. Thereafter, while enjoying my Springers, Ricky, then later, Candy and Ruff, the pressures of business precluded any serious trialing on Dibblee's part during the period from 1973 until 1993, though he trained his dogs and hunted them each fall whenever he was able.
In 1993, Ruff was eleven and the Doc agreed to sell Ripple to David - with breeding rights. He acknowledged that his breeding days were coming to an end so, if Dibblee wished to establish his own line, he could choose a female and be free to breed her if he so wished. David Dibblee says that he owes a great deal to Dr McCurdy. He also credits John Mitchell who has been his trainer, as well as my dogs’ trainer, too, from time to time.
Ripple was Dibblee's first female. He bred her to Flushing Wing Jake the Snake in 1998, when she was five. She had six puppies of which he kept two: Rampant and Rawdon, and his son-in-law bought a third, Ace. Rampant and Ace showed real promise. Rawdon was given to his grand daughter, Myriam, in Quebec.
Based on Ripple's performances afield, and upon the promise being shown by Ace and Rampant, David bred her again in 2000 to Flushing Wing Jazz Man. Dibblee had had Jazz for six months, hunted him throughout the Fall of 1999 and was very impressed. Ripple was his first bitch. He made a good choice for Ripple's second mate as Jazz was championed early in his career and named the high point dog in Canada in 2003 and again in 2004. He has been bred many times since Ripple and has sired a number of other champions.
Rosemount’s Star and Rocky are two of the three dogs from his first breeding. As with Ripple’s first breeding, Dibblee kept two and gave the third (Risser) to his daughter Diana. He has four daughters - and they have eight springers in their families... seven of which are from Ripple’s breedings - four of which are champions. The other three are just great family dogs.
Ripple achieved her championship with her win in PEI in 1998. Ace received his in 2000, Rampant in 2001, Star in 2003 and Rocky in 2005. Star and Rocky are also registered with the AKC. All five dogs have also placed in championship - both open and amateur - stakes in the USA.
Dibblee comments, "I have enjoyed training and trialing my dogs in both countries. I’ve made many friends because of our common interests in springer spaniels. I hope to be able to continue to run my dogs in both countries for many years to come and to continue to enjoy the camaraderie that comes with sharing days afield with great dogs and good friends."