Mary Skipwith is a fieldsports enthusiast and freelance writer for The Field, you may have seen her recent article in Septembers ladies’ special ‘learning from the best’ and ‘female shooting syndicates: how to get involved’. We turned the tables and sat down with Mary for an in-depth conversation about her love for the sport, share words of wisdom and debunking common myths.
Thanks for joining us, Mary, we’d like to start with how you got into fieldsports.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in fieldsports. My father used to shoot and when I was a little girl one of my favourite ways to earn pocket money was plucking the pheasants he would bring home. It may sound peculiar, but I found the whole thing mesmerizing: the skill required to draw out the feathers without tearing the skin; the satisfaction of pulling the crop away in tact; the fascination of learning what innards were what. I had the occasional day beating but it was usually my older brother who was asked to go instead of me. When he graduated from Harper Adams University he, and a few university, friends decided to put some birds down on our family farm. I showed an interest, helping with building pens and generally accepting any dogsbody work! The next few seasons were hugely fun having days with friends around the farm but the first shoot I was invited on as a gun didn’t happen until I was in my twenties.
It’s fantastic to hear stories of people getting involved in dressing the birds when they were younger. Good to hear that you weren’t put off the sport, even though you were overlooked. What experience have you had with the ladies’ shooting groups?
I write for The Field magazine and I have produced a few articles that involve ladies’ shooting groups, so it was through my own research with the purpose of writing about them. However, listening to their enthusiasm, camaraderie and determination to level out perceptions regarding women in shooting has galvanised me to keep challenging the same misconceptions knowing that others experience it too.
That’s fantastic Mary, we also agree the ladies have such determination! What advice would you give to someone that is looking to get into the sport?
Do what works for you and go at the pace you are comfortable with - whether it’s when finding an instructor, learning technique in a lesson or embarking on your first day in the field. There shouldn’t be any judgment if you want to check something before committing - and if there is then you are with the wrong people.
Wise words. Do you have a favourite shooting discipline?
I can’t profess to have lots of experience in any particular discipline, but I have a poignant memory of a charity simulated clay day which will always be a favourite. It was a year ago on the farm of a couple very dear to me. Before the shoot I went to see the wife, who was housebound due to cancer. We had an emotional heart to heart before she sent me on my way to enjoy the day “and show the men how it’s done”, promising that she would feel included enough by listening to the shooting from her bed. The clays flew thick and fast in every drive and I remember the buzz when recognising that I’d never shot so well. Apparently, my friend had managed to watch a bit of the action from her bedroom window and I would have been easy to spot as I was the only female in the line. Sadly, that morning was to be the last time I saw her as she passed away a few days later, but I take comfort in that she would have been smiling at every clay I dusted.
What a heartwarming story, thank you for sharing. What’s the best advice you have been given?
If you’ve been invited, remember you belong there as much as anyone else.
Couldn’t agree more, have you heard many misconceptions when shooting?
That any female mentioning a day’s shooting is assumed to be attending as a hanger-on. I get a lot of satisfaction out of correcting people when they ask what I’ll be doing as many of them tend to dig themselves further into a hole with their disbelieving answer when I tell them I’ll be one of the ones shooting!
We were debating wellies vs lace-up boots on our last shoot day, do you have a preference?
Wellies, without doubt, but that’s because I practically live in them. I wear them nearly every day of the year, even in the summer and even out and about to places like the supermarket. I have terrible circulation so I must admit I wear three or four pairs of socks inside them for mid-winter shoots. They are like a second skin to me and I suppose they represent me in my truest form - outside and active.
What's your non-negotiable when shooting?
Safety. There is never a time when that shouldn’t be foremost of every participant’s mind.
And finally, you’ve had a long day in the elements, what’s your go to winter warmer?
My father makes an unbeatable loganberry brandy. He only makes a bottle or two every year as my parents don’t like to sacrifice too many of the loganberries when fresh in the summer. It is universally wowed over by the chosen few who are allowed some.
We hope you enjoyed this interview with Mary as much as we did. Read Mary's articles here.