The Scottish Farmer: Rule Valley Simulated Game - no pheasants were harmed in the making of this articleRule Valley Simulated Game - no pheasants were harmed in the making of this article

MY GRANDFATHER lived and worked as a gamekeeper on the Castlemilk Estate near Lockerbie, and it was into that life of tied cottages, rearing pens and dog-training that my father was born, and where he was raised until the Second World War conspired to take the family out of the countryside and up to Glasgow’s shipyards, setting young Alastair Davidson on a different career path.
But throughout his life, Dad’s roots in gunpowder and game were plain to see, and he always enjoyed a day’s walked-up shooting, filling the freezer with pigeon, duck, and the occasional cock pheasant. In my time, this happened courtesy of a Carse of Stirling farmer, who let him and his springer prowl the margins between his fertile fields and the meandering Forth, where a huddle-doon near a helpfully placed pile of barley screenings would almost always produce results for those willing to wait.
Whilst still at primary school, I took my first shots during one of these Saturday strolls, with a .410 rabbit gun. Later, once I was big enough to stay standing from the recoil, I progressed to one of the Old English side-by-side 12 bores we had inherited from grandfather Davidson – guns of worn-smooth wood and finely-engraved metal that, to my young eyes, were as ancient and powerful as any battle axe hung on the walls of a Scottish castle.
I didn’t actually hit much – at least, not in comparison to my dad, whose gamekeeper cronies later dubbed him ‘The Terminator’ – but the birds and beasts unlucky or slow enough to get in the way of my pellets all ended up on the dinner table, qualifying me as a family provider of sorts.
In time, those gamekeeper cronies of my Dad’s facilitated a different shooting experience for me, giving me paid work as a teenage beater on those grand occasions when the local laird would have friends, family and business associates gather in his courtyard, in their finest tweed and Hunter wellies, to head up the hill and blast away at driven pheasants, with regular breaks for elevenses, lunch, and afternoon tea, culminating in a twilight retreat to the big house for dinner.
I well remember those long days spent trudging between rough ground and stands of forestry, whacking a stout stick off fence-posts, as well-fed pheasants scuttled ahead of me, too fat to fly willingly, but too stupid not to eventually take off in the direction of the guns. 
I also vividly recall the shocking taste sensation of hot bovril laced with vodka, passed round on a frosty morning. And of course, when the shooters retired for their lunch, so did the beaters, and there would be a nice spread, eaten in the bothy, in a muddy but cosy mess of wellies, wet jackets and spaniels.
All that childhood stuff was very much on my mind as I rolled up to the well-tended gate of the Reddihough family’s Rule Valley ‘simulated game’ shooting venture near Denholm, in the Scottish Borders. Because of those memories, I’d jumped at the chance of sampling Rule Valley’s wares, but the fact was, although I have a current shotgun licence, I’d not let off a shot for quite some time, and approached the assignment rather concerned that I’d quickly be spotted as a rank amateur. It went through my mind that the last time I attended the Irn Bru Carnival in Glasgow, my three shots with an air rifle had failed to hit a stack of tin cans three metres away...

The Scottish Farmer: ALL THE fun without the feathersALL THE fun without the feathers

Rule Valley’s big idea is to offer visitors something very akin to a traditional full day’s game shooting as the guest of a well-stocked and hospitable estate, but to do so with clays, rather than live birds. As its social media puts it #allthefunwithoutthefeathers
Unlike traditional static clay pigeon set-ups, which tend to have all the countryside atmosphere of a pub Space Invaders game, Rule Valley takes its guests out and about into its fields and along its riverbanks, visiting a range of drives where state-of-the-art mobile clay traps are set up to emulate the flighting behaviour of a variety of birds, emerging from cover towards the gun pegs in a thoroughly unpredictable fashion.
But make no mistake, what is on offer here is not just a sporting challenge – it is very much a hospitality event too, and visitors’ days are all topped, tailed and punctuated by a tasty variety of top class snacks, meals and drinks, all sourced locally or from the farm itself.
The steading at the Reddihough’s Spittal of Rule home is picture postcard perfect, a mixture of old stone and new wood. As I and my shooting cohorts arrived, we were greeted by a piper in full dress regalia, bearskin, the lot, blasting out the hits. This, I was assured, was not part of the normal package, but had been added as part of the notion that our day – April 1st – was to be the official opening of the simulated game season!
We were also greeted by the family – David Reddihough and his wife Katie, who live in the house where the shoot is based and run the farm, producing arable crops and pigs, and Jamie, David’s brother and co-owner of the farm and shoot venture, who acts as front-of-house host while the others do the behind-the-scenes work.
The brothers actually set up Rule Valley Simulated Game back in 2013, and have since been constantly working to improve both the individual drives and the overall format of the day – development and finesse that has now paid off, as the day I experienced ran like a Swiss watch from beginning to end, with the undoubtedly considerable work involved in delivering the goods, both shootable and edible, damn near invisible to the guest party.

The Scottish Farmer: SECRET WEAPON the mobile clay decks, which you won't see unless you make a point of nosing about behind the scenesSECRET WEAPON the mobile clay decks, which you won't see unless you make a point of nosing about behind the scenes

Under Jamie’s supervision, our day’s eating began with a splendid round of bacon rolls and coffee in the big bothy, a fine room with space for both comfortable sit-down dining and the kind of milling about and chatting that can be the making of such activity days. 
The walls there are adorned with prints of photographs taken by Jamie at previous shooting events, artistically doctored into black-and-white, with effectively isolated splashes of colour, like the three bright red spare cartridges tucked between the fingers of a left-hand raising a gun barrel to shoot. 
The big bar around which we gathered was fashioned from a huge hunk of rustic wood that simply begged to have chunky crystal glasses full of good whisky perched on it – and to that end, there was a full range of spirits on offer, had I been inclined, and less concerned about the steadiness of my aim.
My fears about being the poorest shot in the room sharpened as I was introduced to the rest of the party – the other journalists in attendance were all dedicated fieldsports correspondents, there were some local land agents who were clearly no strangers to a shoot day, but even worse, the numbers had been made up by a trio of competitive clay-shoot regulars, marked out by their rather swish eye and ear protection, and the intense interest with which they appraised the finer details of each other’s lovingly brandished shotguns.
I myself had opted to use a gun supplied by Rule Valley, and was handed a smart modern Beretta over-and-under, which felt much lighter than the Old English side-by-sides. 
I was also allocated a tidy little cartridge bag, and some ear plugs. Thus equipped, we headed up the farm road en masse to the day’s second treat – the big olive green Reynolds Boughton RB 44 ex-army troop carrier that was to be our transport out to the drives. 

The Scottish Farmer: OUR TRANSPORT an ex-army RB44, that feared no terrain AND had a mini-barOUR TRANSPORT an ex-army RB44, that feared no terrain AND had a mini-bar
You could almost smell the esprit de corps propagating as we bounced off up the road like paratroopers, armed and ready for action.
On disembarking at the first drive, Jamie gathered us around the side of the RB, where the metal side storage units carried the day’s cartridges, and encouraged us to fill our bags. 
A key point about the deal at Rule Valley is that it is all-inclusive, and for the fixed day fee, there are no brakes applied to the amount of cartridges used, nor indeed, as I was to find later, on the quantity of cheese and cakes consumed.
We had already drawn our peg allocation back at the bothy, so at the first drive I proceeded to the sixth peg, and followed Jamie’s advice to hang my cartridge bag open on the post. 
Everyone lined up – with former RSABI chief Paul Tinson and the Bank of Scotland’s Sandy Hay to my right on seven and eight, where I sincerely hoped their marksmanship wouldn’t be too impressive – and with a quick word into a walkie-talkie from Jamie, an airhorn sounded, and all hell broke loose, as a blizzard of high clays soared out from the top of a thicket of trees lining the top of the steep bank in front of us, and shot blazed up to meet them.
Hell was somewhat muted at my peg, however, as I briefly struggled to discern that my Beretta’s safety catch also acted as a selecter for which barrel fired first. No amount of left to right movement produced the desired loud noise when I pulled the trigger, and I was almost ready to give up and resort to miming recoil whilst shouting ‘bang’, when it was pointed out to me that the wee switch could also slide forward. Thanks Jamie. It had indeed been a while since I’d lifted a shotgun to my shoulder.
Safety off, I was soon blasting away, with increasing glee as I actually managed to hit a few of the soaring clays, and quickly realised the wisdom of the ammo bag hung open, because half the fun was in perfecting my reload technique – every second spent fumbling cartridges out, up and into the barrels was a second when perfectly good targets were escaping my destructive attentions.

The Scottish Farmer: FAST RELOADING is essentialFAST RELOADING is essential
After what had seemed like a happy eternity of shooting, but which was probably just ten minutes or so, another blast of the klaxon signalled an end to the barrage of clays, we gathered our gear and marched back to the RB to fill up our ammo and head onwards to the next drive, leaving heaps of spent cartridges behind us, on Jamie’s strict instruction that the clean-up team should be left to do that job.
The second drive was even more fun than the first, particularly as I now knew how the gun worked, and seemed to be getting better at pointing it in the right direction. Watching down the line of your barrel as a squarely hit clay evaporates in a puff of dust is very satisfying, so long as your peg neighbour’s gun does not sound at the exact same instant as your own, creating doubt in your mind.
Elevenses were served shortly after, in the form of a luxurious picnic, with sausages and cured meat canapes next to a blazing barrel barbecue, with gin fizz or fruit juice on offer, and all very convivial that was too, perhaps as the two lengthy rounds of shooting we had already enjoyed had blasted any early morning social inhibition to smithereens.
After another drive, I soon wished I had taken slightly less advantage of those al fresco sausages, as we were RB-ed back to the bothy where a hefty lunch awaited – a stew of local beef, mash and veg, followed by a splendid cheeseboard and some top class cakes, all with whatever drinks took our fancy, and a generous side-order of chat about the morning’s successes and failures.

The Scottish Farmer: AL FRESCO elevenses, shortly after followed by lunchAL FRESCO elevenses, shortly after followed by lunch
Over lunch, Jamie stressed that, although our day’s party were mostly experienced shots, Rule Valley could adapt its offering to suit everyone, from beginners to seasoned pros and from teenagers to grandparents. They can cater for private groups, stag and hen parties and corporate events from eight to 16 people over a full or half day. For those with no shooting experience, there’s a resident instructor to show guests how to handle the gun and take them through the safety procedures, all again included in the price. Guests do not need to hold a shotgun license to shoot, but sturdy footwear and a good appetite are de rigeur if the day is to be properly enjoyed.
“We pride ourselves on offering value for money and the very nature of simulated game shooting comes in at the fraction of the cost of a live bird day,” he noted. “To put it in perspective for grouse shooting, the going rate is £150 per brace. So two brace of grouse are equivalent to a whole day’s shooting here with all your cartridges, food and drink.”

The Scottish Farmer: BALANCED DIET cheese and cakesBALANCED DIET cheese and cakes
So, aye, there’s your pricetag, and it is maybe a bit daunting on paper, but on the day, it certainly felt worth it.
In the afternoon, by the time we reached the simulated grouse drive, and its array of sturdy stone-built shooting butts facing up a gentle slope to receive the fusillade of clays skimming in at head height, I was in my groove, and hit at least as many of my targets as I missed. 
And, of course, the one aspect of a live game shooting day that Rule Valley makes no effort to emulate is the uncertain number of targets. There really aren’t any lulls in the flow of ‘birds’ longer than a few seconds, and there certainly isn’t anything resembling an impatient wait. 
My reloading technique never approached the speed of the pros at the other pegs, but I’d estimate that by the end of the day, I was getting off 30 to 40 shots per drive, and must have burned through the best part of 200 cartridges over the course of all the drives. That is, as the Americans say, a lot of bang for your buck.
After the last simulated drive, Jamie took us down to the Rule Valley duck pond for a wee competition to round off our experience. 
We were paired up, and took turns to stand at two pegs with six cartridges each, as the clay deck dispensed three sets of four divergent targets at a time, and we did our best to turn them to dust with teamwork. 
Myself and Sandy didn’t completely embarrass ourselves, and dodged the wooden spoon at least, but it was inevitably one of the competitive chaps who emerged as the overall champion, after the top pair shot it out between themselves. 
All very good fun to watch, and somewhat inspirational, as I resolved to get back into practice and at least start aspiring to being as good a shot as that. And perhaps get myself a pair of those funky shooting shades too...
The fun ended as it had begun, back in the Bothy, mopping up the cakes and cheeseboard, amid that cheery atmosphere you get around folk who have just spent a very enjoyable day out, doing something that they love. 
In this modern era of people re-examining how we treat animals, there can be no doubt that Rule Valley’s bloodless sport offering is an ace card to play to attract the non-shooting fraternity, who might baulk at taking an amateur shot at something living, but who will revel in this guilt-free version of a traditional country sports expedition. 
As such, I am sure it will be a huge hit as an entertainment for corporate events and special occasions for family and friends.

The Scottish Farmer: BACK TO the Bothy for farewell drinksBACK TO the Bothy for farewell drinks

But at the same time, the convivial atmosphere, the naturalistic – but plentiful – targets, and the relatively affordable cost, also make it a likely destination for veteran shooters during the live game off-season, where they can meet friends in a familiar setting, give their guns a work-out and keep their eye and trigger fingers well coordinated and on target.

For more info on Rule Valley’s simulated game experience, and the Reddihough’s hospitality, go to