The Land Rover cab was full of blue smoke from Archie's pipe as he told stories of the Raj or shooting duck of the Egyptian marshes.
My passion for pigeon shooting in the 1960s could only lead me to one man, Major Archie Coats. I had first read about him in Farmers Weekly when I was a teenager, and later, in my early twenties, I conceived a way to meet the great man himself. Archie, seeing a kindred spirit, kindly took me under his wing, and he and his ever-patient wife, Prue, became friends for life. I spent many happy times at their Hampshire farmhouse, with its low-beamed ceilings, squeaky doors and dogs on chairs in rooms cluttered with family treasures and old pigeon shooting photographs.
As an ex-Scots Guards officer, Archie’s orders for the shoot day were explicit, with map references, points of the compass and ‘sitty’ trees pin-pointed as the plan of attack on the grey hoards was explained.
We’d chug along in his battered old blue Land Rover, the back full of camouflaged nets, poles, sacks with decoy dead birds and the ancient five gallon oil drums beaten by the ravages of time which acted as our seats. The front cab would be full of blue smoke from Archie’s pipe as he told his stories of the Raj or duck shooting in the reed beds of the Egyptian marshes.
We’d arrive at our destination having travelled miles through Hampshire or Berkshire down narrow country lanes. Like an Edwardian boy’s annual, every field we passed was like turning another page on an exciting story of a day shooting pigeons in a gale, fog, blizzard or thunderstorm. Archie knew every bush or tree where over the years a hide had been built to outwit the pigeons.
The irony was that he actually loved the woodpigeon and like any true sportsman had immense respect for this quarry.interestingly, he had a somewhat blinkered vision of the countryside. if any plant, insect, crop, bush or tree had ever been eaten, nested or sat in by a pigeon he would know everything about it. and yet, other birds, flowers, bees or butterflies of beauty to senses of sight and sound held little interest to him.
“Think like a pigeon” was his great saying. He did, and even on days known as “Major disasters” - when the flocks seen on reconnaissance the previous day failed to show - he would chunter on. never that he had got it wrong, of course, it was always the pigeons who were blamed for not being where they were supposed to!
Archie was a brilliant shot and was modest about his cartridge to kill ratio. He knew to a yard the range of birds he could kill and if they were within that net they were rarely missed.
Most shots were taken from a sitting position to allow for maximum movement. As a game shot he excelled for two reasons; firstly he had nimble footwork, and secondly, as when in a pigeon hide, he was always alert with intense focus.
I was once drawn next to him on a day’s partridge shooting and did not see him miss a single bird during a drive. When I congratulated him later he said, “no, i missed one,” - meaning he’d missed an opportunity of one and that moment of inattentiveness was the same to him as a missed shot to any other game shot. Archie was the founding father of the art of pigeon shooting and a legend indeed. For many years, his 1962 record day of 550 head stood unbeaten, and had he not run out of cartridges twice he may have shot a record that would still stand today. some elements of pigeon shooting have now changed with the efficiency of modern farm machinery and the pressure of so many now enjoying the sport. However, the principles in his classic book, Pigeon Shooting, are still the same.
I still feel his presence alongside me in the hide with colourful comments, some of which I don’t need like “bad shot Garfit - more lead” and others that are quite frankly unprintable!
"I used this gun on occasions when staying with Archie and Prue if I had not got my own gun. It was a lively gun to use. When Archie died he bequeathed it to me which was a very special memento of the great man. I had the firing pins removed to render it unusable as I felt its days in action should end as had my dear friend".
Courtesy of Shooting Gazette