Saturday, August 6, 2011

Grand Poopah Shootist: Lord Ripon...

  ...one of the finest game shots in history, wrote: "When I am at a shoot taking part in a lengthy luncheon of many courses served by a host of retainers, my memory carries me back to a time many years ago when we worked harder for our sport."

Perhaps referring to the day he shot 28 pheasants in a minute; had seven dead birds in the air at the same time. During a lull in the action witnesses swear he then swatted down a butterfly and a bumblebee adding a sort of exclamation point to the day’s bag.

Acutally shooting insects in lieu of other game, using cartridges loaded with dust shot was nothing new for Frederick Oliver Robinson, Second Marquess of Ripon, the deadliest—most bloodthirsty—game shot the world has ever known.

In the end his meticulously kept hunting journal revealed an astounding dead body count in excess of half a million—dead at 71 he killed 556,813 to be exact, including over a quarter million pheasant in case you are interested. Do the math this means starting at age 15 if he'd shot for 6 days a week during every season 67 critters—snipe to cape buffalo--would have fallen every day to his blazing guns!

Widely touted a greedy, jealous, despot he apparently took bad manners to whole new levels. Such as the day another shooter claimed more bumblebees the furious Ripon jumped into a buggy and sped off leaving the aged victor to walk several miles home.

Bad manners aside Ripon was by any measure a superb marksman with a lifetime average of around 70% compared to other hotshots of the day who hovered around 40%. Of course he let everyone know this and every year updated his scorecard letting the world know how many thousand head of grouse, pheasant, partridge and other game he had slaughtered in the previous year.

Most experts at the time employed two double-barrel guns and a loader to load the spare. Ripon used three doubles—matched, hammer, Damuscus-barreled Purdeys by the way—requiring two loaders to keep pace. Leaving nothing to chance pre-season practice began weeks before the start of the grouse season—several strenuous practice sessions per day being held in of all places, his bedroom—how weird is that? The complicated drill of loading, passing the gun, firing and reloading was gone through time and again, until it was said the men’s muscles ached. Following that, there was outdoor practice with the guns loaded—firing hundreds of shots into the empty air, or at any luckless sparrows or starlings that happened to be passing nearby.

Obviously the rigorous practice paid off as Ripon as a stopwatch caught the master dropping 28 pheasant in 60 seconds. Other highlights were 575 grouse in one day; 52 partridge with 50 shots and 115 pheasant in 10 minutes. All these were driven toward or over him at high speeds. During one drive involving Ripon and several other hunters the total bag was 47 birds, Ripon nailed 46!

In 1893 he was invited to Hungary to shoot the estates of Baron Hirsch. In five weeks he killed 7,000 partridge; 240 in one drive! By season’s end the tally was 2,611 grouse, 8,732 partridge, 5,760 pheasant, 66 woodcocks, seven snipes, 42 ducks, 837 hares, 914 rabbits and 166 "various"—19,135 head in all, or about 130 for each available day.

The calculated way he stalked and gunned down his prey is best illustrated by the famous instance when he saw a covey of five grouse streaking toward his blind. He killed the leading bird at a range of about 70 yards with his first shot, then changed guns in time to kill two more before the covey reached him. He changed again, and after a quick little jump (half a second quicker than shuffling round) he faced backward and killed the two surviving grouse before they were out of range. The whole affair was over in five or six seconds.
His consumption of ammunition was as you might imagine prodigious. Hodgson's ledgers, in the small town of  Ripon in Yorkshire, the contain his old bills for bullets, powder and shot—some 30,000 or 40,000 cases bullets, 200 pounds of powder and a ton of shot per season.

Stories abound such as how during the long lean months between the season's end in early February and the beginning in August he whiled away the days dusting insects; trout fishing he took along a gun and a few cartridges—say 300 rounds or so—just in case the fish stopped rising rising he could whack a few swallows or perhaps send the keepers to shoo pigeons—say 400 or 500 or so the three Purdeys getting so hot the loaders had to wrap their hands to keep the slaughter going. One spring he was caught lying on his back shooting house martins as they left the nests beneath the eaves of his house.

Of his few peers India’s Prince Freddie Duleep Singh, was perhaps the sharpest thorn his side. The two men did not speak to each other, but squared off often.  One drive the Prince shot a high bird crossing his front, which fell dead and nearly struck Ripon. Pissed he stormed the hill, yelling various imprecations, including "bloody nigger." Singh then proceeded to down only such birds as were flying toward his fellow guest and shot them so that Ripon was bombarded by several pheasant corpses a minute.

Sept. 22, 1923, Ripon invited his old crony, the Reverend Morris, and his estate agent Oswald Wade to shoot. There were to be seven drives. As usual the keepers were told to concentrate all the-birds on their employer's blind. Ripon shot over three-quarters of the bag. In the first five drives he shot 40, 17, 25, 17 and 25 grouse. In the sixth he did best of all, but when the retrievers returned with the quarry Ripon reckoned that two of his grouse were still to be found, not to mention a snipe. Fuming at the incompetence he sent two spaniels into the heather and each brought back one of the missing birds. "You'll have to get some better dogs," he snarled. Then he fell to the ground dead. The 53 grouse he shot that drive were never added to his life total.

Had he known…Well there are many who believe he would postponed his death…nah, he weren’t that good…right?

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