Yorkshire shooting expert's new book introduces the keepers, butchers and gunsmiths who make up game industry's 'characters'

Game and deer shooting play a significant and vital role in the rural economy through employment in a massive number of sectors that include biodiversity and sustainability of farmland and the countryside and North York Moors couple John and Annie Robinson near Dalby Forest have spent years on producing their book Behind & Beyond The Trigger which has just been released.

“I sat down some years ago and thought about the number of people that are involved with shooting, especially now, that have very little understanding of what goes into it and what comes out of it at the other end,” says John, who started shooting when growing up on his family’s farm in Devon, competed for 20 years and was then head coach of England’s Commonwealth Games team for eight years and has been involved in game shooting and deer management professionally for over 50 years.

“There are many great characters that are involved in the shooting industry and I’m not talking about those who shoot. I worked out that behind every gun there are about 50 people employed in some way and felt there was a lack of appreciation or understanding of what these people’s talents were and that they were largely the sort of people that were forgotten or simply unnoticed.

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John is made of stern farming stuff and knows only too well that there are those who take issue with shooting, that’s where his tough stance comes in, from his experience of farming and the countryside being managed appropriately.

John and Annie RobinsonJohn and Annie Robinson
John and Annie Robinson

“When people look at game and shooting and perhaps think it is the wrong thing to do they have to take a look at what we do in farming. We have sheep, we lamb them down, fatten them up and they go into the food chain. We have cattle, we calve them down, we look after them, they go in the food chain.

“We do the same with pigs, pheasants and partridge. We do the same with grouse and deer when we take the surplus off, because they’re wild. We’re simply taking the surplus.

John says the book, that includes amazing photography from his wife Annie who specialises in wildlife photography, is about showing the people and skills involved, many behind the scenes in workshops or the training of such as hill ponies.

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“The whole idea of the book is to show the management undertaken by the keepers, stalkers, farmers and all the people that flow into that from every area. That’s what the book’s about, not the shooter. The shooter can come and go.

From the book Book, Behind and Beyond the Trigger, by John and Annie Robinson: Chris Caine, gunsmithFrom the book Book, Behind and Beyond the Trigger, by John and Annie Robinson: Chris Caine, gunsmith
From the book Book, Behind and Beyond the Trigger, by John and Annie Robinson: Chris Caine, gunsmith

“I wanted those who see the book to then, when they drive through such as the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales in future to understand the reason why it all looks like that. There are hundreds and hundreds of people who put in an enormous amount of work that you don’t see, don’t notice but who play their part.

“What it also shows is just how much is involved within the shooting industry. I’ve included 25 professions in the book, but there are probably as many as 150. There are so many industries, many of which those who go shooting don’t know exist.

John and Annie say that they were humbled by meeting so many talented and generous people in the course of making the book.

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“The two things that absolutely stood out for me were the skills and passion that they all had,” says John.

“As a measure of their commitment to what they do I’d say that it appears many of them are incredibly clever at hitting the delete button when it comes to common sense and instead pushing the passion button. It’s because they might not make any money out of it but they absolutely love what they do.

John points to the work of artist, ecologist and conservationist Justin Prigmore who is one of those who appear in the book.

“Justin is fundamentally a professional ecologist and professional artist who worked for Cairngorms National Park and spent a lot of time studying and observing conservation through game in the Cairngorms.

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“What Justin found was that everything had to be managed and he got into deerstalking and deer management. I think this is the bit that we all need to understand, everything has to be managed. Justin has realised that there is a middle ground and that shooting and management is an absolute key to the whole process of conservation and that what we look out of the window looks like that because of management.

John and Annie feature several Yorkshire-based experts who play their part in the skills and professions that make up those in Behind & Beyond The Trigger.

“We’ve got David Wilson, a butcher based in Huntington, York, who does an enormous amount of venison and game and is probably the best at those in the county; Chris Caine, a gunsmith from Pocklington, who is utterly skillful and in my opinion one of the best in the world; William Lambert from Bainbridge whose stickmaking skills are of the chart. What he can carve into a piece of horn, and how he gets that horn off the sheep to start with because there’s a negotiation to be done, is quite extraordinary.

“We’ve also looked at the whole lifestyle and skillsets of a head deerstalker, head grouse keeper, head partridge keeper as well as the tweed maker, gun maker, gun engraver, the artist, stickmaker, gundog trainer and hill pony trainer, everything they put into making shooting real.

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“I coach people who are passionate that everything exists and has to go in the food chain which is why we have looked at chillers, butchers and restaurants. I think a lot of people don’t realise where what they are eating comes from.

The slip case of Behind & Beyond The Trigger features a hill pony carrying a deer. John says that’s not just a matter of keeping tradition alive.

“It’s carrying a 16 stone stag off a hill,” says John. “The only reason the hill pony is still doing that job today and actually more so than ever is that it is physically impossible to get anything else up that hillside.

“The deer population has to have a degree of management. They’re not really synonymous with the current increase in tree planting either. One looks at it as a restaurant, the other looks at it as a green carbon lockup.

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“With farming on the change at the moment and conservation coming into place deer management has got to be stepped up and done properly. What we don’t want to see is genocide, that is not the answer but you do need management.

“What I hope this book does is to show that the countryside is a very real place and that it looks like it does because of shooting, stalking and farming, not in spite of these things.