Farm of the week: Game show that now runs all year round

KEEPING IT REALl: Keeper Tony Rankin, left, and David Medforth, in the clay-shoot butts. Picture: Mike Cowling
KEEPING IT REALl: Keeper Tony Rankin, left, and David Medforth, in the clay-shoot butts. Picture: Mike Cowling
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FARMING and shooting do not always make a good combination, says David Medforth. He tells Chris Benfield how he made it work for him.

WHEN David Medforth’s father moved to Raisthorpe Manor in 1969, it was not entirely a business decision.

The late Peter Medforth came from arable farming in Holderness and the new farm, with a thin skin of soil over fast-draining chalk, was a poor contrast with those fertile flatlands. But it lit up his shooting man’s eye.

And as things have turned out, he was right to think it a good investment.

Raisthorpe Manor sits between the Malton and the Driffield roads, in one of 16 little valleys which converge on the village of Thixendale.

Sixtendale, or something like that, is where the name came from, according to the potted histories the tourists get.

Raisthorpe’s steep-sided little vale is one of the gems of the Wolds and on a fine day, hikers and cyclists are out in numbers, celebrating its charms. Thanks to its unusual combination of crops and crags, dips and slopes, it is also a superb arena for game shooting – particularly partridge, but some pheasant too. And that has led to a diversification which was recently recognised, for its novelty, with an award from land business consultants George F White, presented at Driffield Show.

Raisthorpe Flyers is clay shooting designed to be as close to the real thing as possible and is getting a lot of bookings from experienced guns wanting to blow away a few cobwebs before stumping up for the real thing.

David Medforth took over the farm when his father died, in 1985, and began to develop the shooting into a business. He and his wife, Julia, enjoy the social side of it and have made some useful connections. They don’t want to talk much about it but their unassuming corner of the Wolds has become a favoured playground for some of the old nobility as well as the simply rather well-off from UK, America, South Africa, Germany and Spain.

Their game shoots, which they now run on 44 days a year, already book up nicely and they are reluctant to talk prices. However, it is a top-end experience, involving a support staff of nearly 50 for eight guns.

To make room for reception and catering, they built a nice timber shooting lodge. And to help pay for that, they needed some out-of-season custom. The result was Raisthorpe Flyers – offering simulated grouse shooting, in a natural setting, with all the trimmings of a country house weekend.

David built eight classic grouse butts, from Yorkshire stone, lined with timber, facing a ridge with a hedge on it. Clays are fired from behind the hedge at speeds and trajectories designed to mimic the flights of real grouse. Loaders attend the guns. There is a magnum of champagne to compete for. Drinks and sustenance are served.

Guns are not normally provided because the expectation is that most of the customers will have their own. But the odd novice can be provided for, although absolute beginners are discouraged. And Simon Ward of Harrogate, a well-known sporting gun and coach, can be booked for tuition.

Prices start at £200 per gun, plus VAT, for evening shoots and £330-plus for a day – all prices including unlimited cartridges. Now in its fourth year, the idea has proved surprisingly popular with dedicated game shooters.

“A lot of people put their guns away in January and don’t pull them out again until November. When they do, they realise they could have done with a warm-up,” says David. “So we now have Flyers days all year round. We can weave them into the winter programme because we are not doing any game shooting in that particular valley.”

The programme also now offers Flyers ‘mini-days’, for just eight guns, at £350 a head plus VAT. Groups of four can be teamed up and four places is the minimum booking. See www.raisthorpeflyers.com or call 01377 288295.

The farm itself has changed shape over the years but now amounts to about a thousand acres owned and cultivated, another 2,500 farmed under various contractual arrangements – mainly for wheat, barley, rapeseed and potatoes, but with some cover crops for the game – and a thousand more left rough for the shooting. About 400 Mule ewes roam the dale edges, lambing from Suffolk rams, but somebody else runs those. David has also contracted out his potato cultivation, to buy some time. Even so, he says, farming is still his main business “although the shooting is catching up”.

He says: “The shoot only works because the farm lets it work. If you take a baler into the crops in the evening, for example, you will decimate or drive away all your birds. I have seen it happen a lot – a farm chasing every penny and a shooting business chasing every penny just does not work.

“You won’t get better shooting anywhere, live or with clays. But it is about more than just pulling the trigger. It is how things are run, the whole environment. Word of mouth is your best advertisement.”

The shooting has become a significant local employer. Eight guns for a day of game will employ 25 beaters, eight loaders, six pickers-up, with dogs, and four kitchen staff, as well as the Medforths and three full-time keepers.

They breed almost all their own birds and that requires a casual when the keepers are busy with shooting parties. Even the simulation requires a loader for every gun and four trap operators firing the clays, plus catering staff. And most of the guests will stay in local hotels. The farm, by contrast, employs two men.

The shooting has paid off in another way. Julia made a raspberry gin to her grandmother’s recipe and served it up as a mid-morning shot. People asked for the recipe. Raisthorpe Manor Fine Foods remains a kitchen table business, in the sense that that is where the Medforths do their mixing and tasting, but it nowadays meets several thousand orders a year for 13 products. See raisthorpemanor.com/