In late November 2019, when upland fever runs high, Shotgun Life opted for a contrarian trip to the outskirts of London for stops at arguably the best clays grounds in the world. The experience was a revelation. While American sporting clays has gradually deviated from its origins as off-season wingshooting practice, English shooting grounds remain devoutly steadfast in their mission of providing simulated wingshooting and instructions. Despite the proximity to London, the shooting grounds are surprisingly pastoral, sprawling and, of course, suffused with British tradition. Our trip encompassed James Purdey & Sons’ Royal Berkshire Shooting School, West London Shooting School, E.J. Churchill Shooting Grounds, Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds and Atkin Grant & Lang. Join us now…
The Wingshooting Schools of England: Part 4, Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds
Written by Irwin Greenstein
When it comes to describing a state of bliss, the oft-used saying “I’ve died and gone to heaven” rises to the occasion when you pull into the parking lot of the Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds where, across the way, six Land Rovers with their chauffeurs mingling about, herald your arrival to England’s most luxurious shooting school.
The reception desk is akin to a luxury hotel, with the associates’ impeccable demeanor and appearance polished but not ostentatious. To the right, overstuffed leather couches and arm chairs provide a bit of respite to the guest, but you can walk directly through to a small lounge in earth tones distinguished by a square fireplace designed for privacy: you can sit at a table on any side to enjoy a light lunch and cocktail without being able to see or hear the other parties in the room. Off the small lounge is a bright, airy bar with a Scandinavian vibe to the design with views of the landscape. The bartender, Paulo, is quick to offer a selection of non-alcoholic cocktails prior to shooting.
Although Holland & Holland is the epitome of the old British guard, the company has undergone a modernization program of the factory and London flagship store since it was acquired by the French luxury group Chanel in 1989. The shooting Grounds is the culmination of the corporate makeover, with a state-of-the-art meeting-room complex, function rooms, and retail and gun rooms.
But what’s a Holland & Holland experience without premium wines and cigars? The new Bordeaux Room wine wall showcases over 1,200 of the finest wines while accommodating meetings and dinners for up to 16 guests. The renovation also included the Sautter cigar-tasting lounge that offers its own large selection.
The pervasive elegance and luxury of the Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds belies the innovation below ground level. The renovation included Holland & Holland’s underground rifle Shooting Cinema – the only one of its kind in the U.K. While we tend to think of Holland & Holland for its exquisite best-grade shotguns, in fact the company’s bolt-action and double rifles are perhaps even more highly prized.
Holland & Holland’s Shooting Cinema complements the shooting ground’s 100-yard outdoor rifle range. In the dusky lighting, at 82 feet from the shooting point, is a 32-foot by 9.8-foot cinema screen. Enveloped in bullet-proof and sound-proofing material, you actually shoot live rounds at any number of quarry projected on the screen. A hit results in a laser highlight and pause in the action, before the interactive film continues. The video library consists of 350 different clips of game and environments. The video I used was of a single boar followed by an entire sounder of boars trotting through the woodlands. Holland & Holland will let you practice with your own gun or make available any number of calibers.
Holland & Holland had unveiled their refurbished sporting estate in 2019 coinciding with The Glorious Twelfth, which is always the 12th of August – marking the start of the shooting season in Great Britain and Northern Ireland mostly for red grouse, but ptarmigan as well.
Set in 60 acres, there are about 40 stands for shooting simulated partridge, duck, grouse and pheasant as part of your pre-hunting lessons. The clays are thrown from automatic traps set in environs that range from a grouse butt to high towers. In fact, some of the stands have up to 12 different target presentations, while a tower can also have 12 trap machines. The shooting grounds also has skeet, trap and sporting clays.
Unlike most American clays shooting courses, the Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds is expansive and lush. There are vistas of the landscape between stations. Walking is preferred. The atmosphere is that, in contrast to bouncing from station to station in a golf cart, you should luxuriate in the shooting as you might on a country estate. It’s really very soothing and sociable, and the walking actually opens your mind to understanding the fullness of simulated game.
With all the shooting available, the uninitiated might expect a gun guy to run the place. However, once you set foot on the property it comes as no surprise that Holland & Holland had recruited Nicolas Ollivier in 2018 as Director of Shooting Grounds and VIP Services from his stint as General Manager of the London private club, Alfred’s – named after the visionary British luxury merchant, Alfred Dunhill.
Mr. Ollivier’s appointment spans the generational and cultural subtleties from old money to the new money that seems everywhere in London (only 15 miles away). The great traditions you expect from a top British shooting school founded in 1932 remain palpable here. Nonetheless, it’s abundantly clear that with the refurbishment and under Mr. Ollivier’s consideration to detail and personalized service, Holland & Holland succeeded at attaining a 21st century jet-set élan that adds a Brut fizz to the entire experience.
After arriving, we ordered a light lunch of three British cheeses with date nut bread that we enjoyed in front of the fireplace tables. Afterwards, our instructor Matt Pinney gave us the real visitor experience by fitting us up with 12-gauge Beretta Silver Pigeons shooting Holland & Holland cartridges.
When it came to hand-eye coordination for clays shooting, Mr. Pinney certainly had the goods. He had been a professional polo player for 22 years and a polo instructor for 15.
If there is something called the Holland & Holland method for shooting, Mr. Pinney described it as a “simple, practical approach that emphasizes a consistent mount, consistent following of the target line, and consistent follow-through.
He explained that the Holland & Holland instructors focus on the basics of stance, gun mount, target line and lead. If this sounds pedestrian, you should know that if any of these elements are wrong, you’re shooting will, at best, be inconsistent. It’s a sound, practical approach to long-term success compared with people who tell you “you’re behind the target, you’re in front of the target, etc.” because that kind of advice is only about breaking clays not about learning how to shoot.
Mr. Pinney started us on a pair of high, slow incomers that are always fun to smash. From there, we continued walking around the shooting grounds to take on higher targets, rabbits and simulated driven pheasants from a 50-foot tower.
I would describe Mr. Pinney’s bedside matter as “calm professionalism.” It’s an excellent approach to both advancing the student’s knowledge and, if there are some shots that are very difficult to hit, that demeanor also easily centers you to start anew. Mr. Pinney was always quick to laugh and overall we had a lot of fun shooting with him while learning new techniques.
As one Holland & Holland executive explained the shooting ground, “It’s a lifestyle around our brand.” He believed that the vision of the shooting ground was to “future-proof our sport. A lot of people are critical of what we do. We need to embrace the people who are curious about our sport.”