The West London Shooting School
Brought up in a small village on the northern edge of Dartmoor, Mark Heath spent much of his youth working on a mixed farm. Shooting interest as a youngster consisted of dispatching jackdaws with an air rifle and rough shooting with a few informal days in a field. He then spent 31 years chasing criminals around London as an officer in the Met with spells on the public order unit (riot squad) and surveillance team, plus a few years running major crime enquiries as a Chief Superintendent responsible for 3 different commands. He retired in 2011 with two ambitions; firstly not to sit on his backside, and secondly not to get on the train into London if at all possible. Having shot game for many years alongside competitive clays he started working in the shooting industry, and after a short period working for different shooting schools was offered a role managing The West London Shooting School, continuing to provide instruction. He enjoys all forms of shooting, including stalking.
What’s the best – and worst – game dish you’ve ever eaten?
I am not sure I’ve had a bad game dish, other than the occasional pheasant or partridge that’s been a bit dry. I like my partridge or pheasant to be well seasoned and moist, and when at home prefer it as a gentle casserole rather than roast. If done by a professional chef I am happy to try any variety shape or form. I also love slow cooked venison of any variety done in red wine or Guinness; my fillet would always be served rare.
Is there any game you don’t – or wouldn’t – eat?
When eating older grouse the cooking is critical to get it right, I would prefer young grouse lightly cooked or barbecued on an ‘interesting’ salad, perhaps marinated lightly in teriyaki sauce.
Name the best shooting property you’ve stayed in.
I prefer informality, and it’s the company that makes the real difference. The Beckford Arms in Wiltshire is a favourite with great food and service and a relaxed atmosphere. I am really fortunate to have shot in Scotland in recent years, staying in a castle in beautiful surroundings. Shooting up on the hill is spectacular, we shoot over pointers so there are usually four of us; the outstanding humour and hospitality have created memories etched into our shooting folklore.
Your favourite chef that cooks game.
Claude Bosi is a favourite, I taught him to shoot when he first started, and judging by his food he concentrates more in the kitchen than when he is shooting, although in fairness when he is concentrating he does pull down some of the high ones effectively. The flavours he produces with his food are simply stunning.
Who, in your opinion, goes out of their way to promote the eating of game.
The shooting world and the organisations that support it have at last woken up to the fact that we need to be significantly better at getting shot game from the field to the table. This is critical to our sport having a future in the form that we have always known and loved it. Part of this is making sure that we use ammunition that is acceptable to those who can retail it for us, and secondly making the processing more efficient to enable us to present game in a form that is widely acceptable in larger quantities.
The work undertaken by organisations such as the BGA and the Country Food Trust are critical in both raising these issues within shooting and providing
practical solutions. There is also a range of businesses such as local butchers and food shops that are being imaginative in their presentation and marketing of game as a valuable food source. Talking Game magazine is obviously another with a wide range of thought-provoking ideas and recipes.
Tell us about your most memorable – not necessarily the best – day’s shooting.
Shooting grouse over pointers is always a favourite. Whether the day is successful or not, being up on the hill looking down into the glens is enough in itself. I would be happy walking up on the hill for days without pulling the trigger just for the sheer pleasure of being there.
I had a great day shooting driven grouse on the Whitefield Estate in October last year in a traditional 40mph wind; it proved to be a bucket list day and is still sharp in the memory. I was with a very good friend of mine Bart Carnahan who was shooting grouse for the first time, it was an amazing day with great sport, perhaps not an ideal day to start your grouse shooting but after the first drive Bart started dropping them in the heather. We bumped into David Bontoft and Robert Everitt from Hull Cartridge the night before who turned out to be joining the same shooting party. Robert can be relied on for a rich sense of humour.
You are given a day’s shooting absolutely anywhere in the world, all expenses paid for you and seven guests. Where would you choose, with whom, and what would you eat and drink for lunch and dinner?
For something a little unconventional I would go back to Limpopo Province in South Africa and stay in the same safari lodge that we used last year with a cave restaurant and a loo with a view over some incredible scenery. We would be shooting the rockies over the sunflower crop, plus walked up spur fowl and quail with some duck flights in the evening on the irrigation lakes, plus maybe some plains game added in.
The party would have a number of interesting characters with an international dimension; Max Le Gouvello from France, Bart Carnahan from the USA, David Roberts from north of Hadrian’s wall, Patrick Morey-Burrows who would also be in charge of the bar due to his generous measures, Roddy Richmond-Watson who introduced me to the shooting in Africa, Diane Wade from the shooting school who is a former GB shot, and Tarek Khlat all qualify on the basis of their sense of humour and being great company.
To what lengths should shoots (and guns) go to ensure as much shot game as possible enters the food chain?
There is no point shooting game unless it is going into the food chain; the whole purpose of shooting ceases unless this happens. I also believe that there would be a wider market for game if we processed it and turned a larger proportion into game pies and sausages. I know one estate produces pheasant and partridge sausages which are nicely seasoned and don’t shrink when cooked, the taste is excellent whether on a shoot day or served at home with onion gravy and creamy mashed potato.
I also think that guns have a responsibility to ensure that they are both safe and reasonably competent if they intend to shoot game. We do have the occasional client turn up in the season who has a single hour’s lesson, having never shot before and their first shoot day is as a guest on a high bird day on Exmoor or similar. In this situation I spend the time driving home the safety message.
If we intend to shoot an animal, regardless of whether vermin or game, my view is that we should be practised and competent to give the best chance of delivering a clean kill, rather than hoping it will be alright on the day and we might bump into something. As shooters, although it is a social sport that we are engaging in we have a duty to the quarry to be as efficient and capable as possible.
And in direct answer to the question a practised and skilled shooter is more likely to deliver the game that has been cleanly shot rather than a damaged carcass that has to be discarded. //