Chris Rogers talks to Rachel Carrie about her passion for guns and game.
In the world of who’s who in shotgun shooting Rachel Carrie is never found far from the top of the list. A competitive clay shot, she is considered one of the finest high-bird shots in the country. And it’s no surprise as her father, David, is also one of the finest shotgun shots ever to have swung a set of barrels. Rachel is an outspoken supporter of bird and large game hunting, often silencing her critics with extremely well-worded responses to their comments on her various social media posts. Although she has been shooting rifles for a while, it’s something Rachel is keen to do more of to broaden her horizons within hunting in the UK and abroad. I interviewed Rachel in April this year to find out more about her shooting background and the cross-over from shotgun shooting to hunting with a rifle.
Q: So, did you start shooting with you father? What gun did you shoot first? At what – clays, I assume?
A: While my father is a prolific game and clay shot, I didn’t actually take my first shot with him. He brought home a little Webley & Scott air pistol one day and told me if I could hit all of the targets first go I could keep it. That evening I took ownership of what I perceive as my first ‘gun’, even though it was only an air pistol. And that’s definitely where my love for target shooting was born. Every night I’d sit out in my garden shooting pegs off my washing line and beer cans off the wall – I fancied myself as a bit of an Annie Oakley. Before long I became bored of pegs and beer cans and decided I’d like to have a go with ‘proper’ guns. I booked myself on a BASC ladies clay day in secret: I didn’t want my dad to know in case I didn’t like it. He’d have got his hopes up as he was so keen for me to take up shooting. Needless to say I didn’t only like it… I loved it, from that first day, I literally haven’t put a gun down since. I’ve always shot with a 12gauge – although I’m quite slim, I’ve always been strong and athletic so found personally I could handle a 12 from the off. Six months after taking my first ever shot I was lucky enough to be stood on peg at Duncombe Park in North Yorkshire, one of the country’s best pheasant and partridge shoots at the time, this is where I took my first pheasant – a high crossing cock bird on sheep pens using one of my dad’s 32 inch Mirokus and 40gm 4s! People shriek in horror when they learn of the size game cartridges I use, but my father is David Carrie, we are lucky to be surrounded by the steep banks of the Yorkshire Wolds and that’s where I learned to game shoot on more challenging birds.
Q: What was your first real hunting experience? What age were you? Did you know you wanted to continue hunting straight away or did you have a period of questioning whether it was for you or not?
A: I’ve always been a bit tomboyish and always loved animals and the outdoors. When I was eight dad and I flew a Harris hawk together, named Jaeger. I had a pack of ferrets and I’d scramble behind dad through thick undergrowth with my heavy ferret box in tow, to flush rabbits out of their burrow with my ferrets to the waiting talons of Jaeger. I remember always feeling such a sense of achievement when we managed to fill our game bag with rabbits, the same feeling I get after a successful deer stalk now. I’d take my rabbits home, skin and butcher them and we had rabbit stew for dinner, one of my favourite meals growing up. Although a successful businessman now my father was from a very poor mining background, he’s a self-made man and I think in the early days hunting those rabbits was probably one of the best sources of protein we had. This is where my deep-rooted respect for nature and hunting comes from. I’m always thankful for having the opportunity to hunt and I really do love game meat. For me hunting is completely natural, it’s respect for nature and a wonderful way to obtain truly free range meat. It felt so natural from the off, it felt like I was doing exactly what I should be doing and so I have never had reservations.
Q: Your background is obviously mainly shotguns? What disciplines do you shoot in? You go all over the world to shoot in the competitions, do you get to see much wildlife, or is it airport to venue and back again?
A: My dad has shot competitively for years and is a really good shot. I’m quite competitive and was a fairly decent shot from the off, I shot sporting and FITASC to a decent level from 2010 to around 2013 which is when I met my other half Mark Winser, who needs no introduction! After a while I realised I found it difficult to focus on my own competitive shooting so I tried my hand at COMPAK sporting. I saw it as a way to have my own discipline to focus on, but of course Mark came along and shot too! He’s way too competitive to just watch! I won a silver medal at the UK championships and subsequently made the Great British team alongside Mark. Other than the airline losing our guns, me missing all of the team photos and opening ceremony and the team captain missing her first layout(!), it was an experience and it’s nice to say I’ve shot for Great Britain. However, I still found myself unable to focus while Mark was shooting the same competition, so I don’t shoot FITASC, sporting or COMPAK competitively anymore – I care so much about his shooting. Wherever we go Mark is one of the favourites to win so I hang on his every shot and go through all of the motions with him! You can’t help wanting loved ones to do well. I’m sure it’s something a lot of shooting couples have to get through. I’ve recently taken up Olympic Trap and I absolutely love it, so we’ll see how that goes, but for now I just want to enjoy hitting clays and not worry too much about where I’m going with it. We travel a hell of a lot with clay shooting, we’re so lucky as we get to see some amazing places. We’ve been to America, Cape Town, Dubai and all over Europe – and we have friends all over the world. Because I run my own business we don’t always get the chance to spend time before the competition enjoying the destination it sometimes is literally land, shoot and leave! As I write this Mark is out in France shooting the European and I’m at work!
Q: Do you have a favourite quarry with the shotgun? What areas of the country do you enjoy shooting in the most and why?
A: This is difficult, simply because I live 45 minutes from the Yorkshire Wolds which plays host to some of the best pheasant and partridge shooting in the World! I’m lucky to have some great shoots, the likes of Warter Priory, Urra, Nawton Towers, Duncombe Park, Mulgrave, Sawley, all within an hour or so of me. But, on the flip side, I absolutely love pigeon shooting. Mark and I spend a lot of time down in Kent with our good friend – another man who needs no introduction, Andy Crow – helping him keep the birds off his crops! I don’t know what it is about pigeon shooting, whether it’s that I love to eat pigeon! Or the fact that I find they’re such difficult quarry, certainly my feathery nemesis, but there’s something so relaxing and enjoyable to spend a day in the hide. I also did some moon shooting of teal in Ireland last year which was really exciting. I love wing shooting so much I find it impossible to narrow it down to just one!
Q: So when did you start shooting a rifle seriously? What were you after, or was it just at targets?
A: The first time I shot a rifle, I was spending some time in Kent learning to pigeon shoot again with Andy Crow and he took me out with his rifle for a problem fox that had been bothering livestock. He asked if I’d like to have a go, at 125 yards I did a perfect group in a half inch with a .243, which at the time meant nothing to me, but Andy was confident I was a capable enough shot. So that evening we went out looking for the not-so-fantastic Mr Fox. We came across him but he was a field away from us. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to rid the farmer of a problem fox, so even though it was difficult I took the shot and that was the end of the farmers problem. Shooting rifles didn’t feel the same to me as shotguns, with the shotgun I’d been introduced to the competitive, fun, sporty side and loved smashing clays. With rifle in hand it was different, it was a tool to do a job, whether it was to down a pesky fox or to put venison on the table. I didn’t shoot a rifle again for a while – until I needed to, which was to be the first time I took a deer. I was keen to start deer stalking: I loved being outdoors, I love adventures and I absolutely love wild game meat, so to me hunting just felt like it was my calling! A deer was obviously going to be the largest animal I had taken and I was conscious about ensuring the first time was in a controlled environment, so Mark took me down to his friend’s deer park where he used to help with the cull. It was that day I took my first deer, a Sika spiker.
Q: Do you feel the shotgun shooting has helped or hindered your rifle shooting? They are very different styles of handling a gun, do you find it difficult switching between the two?
A: I still feel like I have a lot of work to do with rifles. I’ve spent so much more time around shotguns and I’m completely comfortable and at home with them; I know a lot about shotgun cartridges, variables such as chokes etc. Shotgun shooting is as natural as walking to me, whereas rifles I feel I’ve only just scratched the surface! I’m a safe shot and an accurate shot, so I always feel comfortable going out, but I’d like to really do more with rifles. I’m seeing Andrew Venables, rifle shooting guru of WMS Firearms Training, next month in preparation for a hunting trip I have coming up. I don’t honestly feel either affects one or the other… I have heard people on clay shoots say that they’ve been shooting with the rifle a lot recently and it’s affecting their shotgun shooting, but I just think that’s a poor excuse for bad shooting – ha ha! I switch into different modes, it’s such a different format with rifles as there’s always a living creature in my cross hair and welfare is paramount so I switch up into a different mode altogether, I call it my predator mode! And it happens naturally!
Q: You obviously own your own deer rifle. What make, model, calibre, scope is the set up?
A: Most girls get a romantic weekend away, jewellery etc for birthdays… not me, I got a rifle! It’s a Tikka T3 .243 with a Zeiss Duralyt 3-12×50 and a North Star moderator with wood stock. And it beats a trip to Paris any day of the week!
Q: What was the first deer you shot and where? Did it have any antlers that you could keep as a trophy? Did you take any of the meat?
A: The first deer I shot was my Sika spiker in the deer park. However, the first proper hunt I went on was my Chinese water deer taken on the Woburn estate. He turned out to be a gold medal and I had him full shoulder mounted. He’s a great example of how well we manage CWD in this country, although they are invasive we hold 10% of the World population. I take as much meat as I can home from everything I shoot – I enjoy the stalk and the whole experience of the hunt, but for me filling my freezer is my favourite part.
Q: Speaking of trophies, do you like to keep any antlers or Chinese water deer teeth you get? Are they on display in your house? Pride of place or are they in a back room or something?
A: I try and use as much of the animal as I can, which includes ornamental trophies – or memories as I like to call them! I don’t hunt for trophies, as in I don’t go after animals only with certain characteristics. If I take an animal as part of a management plan and it happens to be a good trophy that’s just a record of good management and a bonus! Everything I have shot whether it is a trophy in the CIC sense or just cull animals such as my red stag, I like to keep their antlers. I think they’re beautiful and people who don’t even hunt still have antler ornaments. I even had a walking stick made from a young red spiker and I have a mount of an unusual malformed roe buck I took on the Harewood estate. At the time he was in the company of two dashing six pointers which I could have easily taken, however that’s not what we’re here to do. I’d be a terrible hunter if I had left the poor condition male and took one of those young males without giving them chance to pass on their good genes, simply for a nice looking trophy. I had both of my Aoudad heads sent over from Spain. I have a rule that nothing goes on display that I haven’t hunted myself. My collection is growing and I think it’s safe to say, now I’ve started big game hunting… we’re gunna need a bigger boat Jack!
Q: What do you find engaging about deer stalking?
A: I love being outdoors, each time I hunt in a different place, a different terrain or environment I feel so at home. I feel alive, away from the hustle and bustle of modern life and back to my most natural state, the more remote and the tougher the terrain the better for me. My favourite hunt to date was definitely my highland stag, the challenging terrain and conditions on the hill make the hunt more rewarding. As humans before we were anything we were hunters and although modern life has allowed us to forget that, I think most people still have that deep rooted within them, I was just lucky enough to have it awakened from an early age.
Q: Are there any of the UK Deer species you have yet to stalk?
A: If you’d have asked me this question a fortnight ago I would have said muntjac! But I’ve just finished some filming which culminated in me shooting a munti, so I’ve shot all of the six of the UK species in double figures now.