R&B talks to… Ken Harding

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Welcome to the next edition in a new series of ‘R&B talks to…’

This month, we are excited to introduce you to Ken Harding, a passionate sportsman with many a fascinating story to tell.

Ken’s love for the outdoors and shooting sports has taken him across continents. He provides a unique perspective on the differences between game shooting in the UK and America, sharing his experiences and insights from years of hunting and shooting in very different environments.

Ken talks to us about some of his favourite shoots in the UK and what draws him back each year, highlighting some of the beautiful estates local to us at R&B. Maybe you have shot there too!

Tell us a bit about yourself…
My name is Ken Harding and I live with my wife, Rosemary, in Portland Oregon on the West coast of America. After graduating from university in the field of Education I started teaching Special Education. I finished as a headmaster and retired in 2003.

What is your earliest memory of shooting?
I grew up in a small town that was near a large farming area. My mother had grown up on a large farm that grew wheat and corn and much of the land around that area was owned by my relatives. This land was perfect for wild pheasants and quail and my father and I had permission to hunt on much of it. It was all walked shooting but very exciting as the birds were wild!

My first gun was a model 12 Winchester 16 bore. We had many great weekends beginning when I was around 12 years old.

What are the main differences between game shooting in the UK compared to America?
Let me start by saying that the main reason people from America come to the UK to shoot is because for the most part there is nothing like it in America. There are one or two proper places that attempt to look like a proper British shoot, but most others are taking a pickup load of birds to the top of a hill and throwing them in the air.

When our shooters arrive in the UK, the very first thing I say to them is this week you are not hunting, you are shooting. Hunting is for foxes shooting is for pheasants and partridge.

Every part of America is different in what they hunt, how they hunt, what birds they hunt. How they dress varies because of the vastly different weather in different parts of the country. There are even different dogs for different parts of the country because of the topography. For example, it can be desert like in the southwest, with aspen forests in the north, midwest, and in New England.

There are pheasant preserves in most states where you will have 10 pheasants put down when you arrive, and the day involves taking your dog to look for them. If you are in a state that has wild birds like pheasants, quail, or woodcock, with a licence you can take a set number of birds each day. In most states that would be 2 or 3 pheasants per day max, 2 or 3 woodcock per day and so on.

I have been very lucky to hunt in many different parts of America and each one is different and enjoyable. You must remember it is between 3,000 and 3,500 miles across America depending on where you are going. There is every climate known from very cold to hot desert.

How does the dress code and equipment differ in America?
Because almost all the hunting is walked up you wear orange clothing for safety. Orange hat, vest, or both. Very few people have ever heard of breeks, tweed, wellies, flat caps, etc! Different guns both in calibre and style change across the country. In the west you have a large number of autos and pumps. In the south there are many more small-bore guns as most of the hunting is for small birds like quail, whereas in the northeast there are more side-by-sides than most of the country.

When did you first start shooting in the UK? How did that come about?
I am married to a wonderful lady from South Wales and we started visiting Wales in the Summer of 1980, after the birth of our first daughter. We returned for the Christmas holiday in 1986 and just by chance, I met the gamekeeper of a large estate in South Wales. This was the beginning of many wonderful days of shooting, beating on the estate, and walked up shooting for woodcock and grouse. We now also live part time in South Wales near Abergavenny.

What draws you back to the UK each year? Apart from visiting your favourite gun shop R&B Sporting?!!
As I mentioned, there is virtually no proper driven shooting in America. Almost all upland bird shooting is walked up with dogs. In the late 1990’s, as I was considering retirement, we started talking about trying a shooting trip to the UK with Americans. I retired in 2003 and that became our first trip. 21 years later I am still going! Sadly, my friend whom I ran the trips with passed away a number of years ago, but we have carried on.

Where are some of your favourite shoots in the UK, and what makes you go back to them each year?
Unfortunately, in recent years many of our favourite shoots to return to in the UK have closed. Having said that, a standout private estate set in the beautiful Wye Valley and run on traditional lines is How Caple Court. It is always a privilege to return, and it has become a firm favourite with the group trips we organise.

Hadley Game & Sporting is another on the list, and we have spent some excellent days on partridge on the family run Worcestershire estate.

Herefordshire and neighbouring counties provide the most incredible backdrop for some memorable days out with friends.

What do you shoot at the moment?
I like to try many different guns and usually use a different one each year!

Aside from shooting, what is your favourite sport?
My wife Rosemary and I enjoy fly fishing together and particularly look forward to fishing the Usk this summer.

What’s next? Anything exciting in the calendar for 2024/5?
I believe shooting will continue to change in the next 10 years. We must live with the famous phrase, “The only thing constant in life is change”. I don’t know what it will look like, but it will be different to today. I wouldn’t say that I don’t have a bucket list for the future, but I will say that I have been the luckiest human ever to have what I have had in the past! I look forward to more trips to Wales this fall.

We hope you have enjoyed this news piece! Thanks for reading this far… Maybe you’re thinking that you have something to share that our readers might enjoy too? We’re always on the lookout for new guests to feature! Simply get in touch by emailing us at info@rbsporting.co.uk

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