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Experience

Mark Piper's experience has been gained over the past 35 years... and yes he doesn't look old enough!

Mark started his shooting career standing by his Fathers side on the Willinghurst Shoot in Cranleigh, Surrey.

He started shooting at the age of 9 years and went onto become a full member of the Cranleigh based shoot by his mid teens.

His family ran the Shalford goose shoot which benefited from 1000 yards of river frontage on the Wey navigation, just outside Guildford, Surrey.

It was on this shoot mark gained his first experience with wild birds. The ground was just perfect for wildfowl, geese and snipe, with the odd wild pheasant, Mark recalls.

In the beginning of the1980's Mark and his Father, Trevor, began their annual trips to the Dalmunzie Estate, just outside Blairgowrie, Perthshire, the home to the Winton family.

Their trips were in august each year for the famous Red Grouse, Black Game (Blackcock) and the elusive Ptarmigan.

It was at the Dalmunzie Estate Mark founded The Clais Mhor Ptarmigan Society, an exclusive society open to sporting guns who have experienced the Ptarmigan at the top of Clais Mhor.

"Having the privilege to see healthy numbers of red grouse on the hill is one thing. To see similar numbers of Black Grouse and Ptarmigan is another", says Mark as he recalls the early days of his fascination for hunting wild birds.

Mark also recalls his first deer stalking experience, which was at the Dalmunzie Estate, with the Head Keeper Steve Halliday, who is still at Dalmunzie to this day.

"It was 4am one day when my Father and I were up grouse shooting at Dalmunzie.

I was tying up my boots waiting for Steve Halliday to pick me up, when I thought, what the hell am I doing getting up this early for.

I was exhausted from the previous days walked up grouse shooting and needed to get up at 4am like a hole in the head!"

It took Mark 3 consecutive morning outings before success, but Mark was hooked.

He recalls, he burst into the Dalmunzie dining room, soaked from the dew on the hill, but ecstatic with his first Roe Buck and a good trophy at that.

It was Steve Halliday that told Mark, with deer stalking you either love it or hate it.

Mark went onto manage deer on a number of farms and estates in the South of England.

This included invaluable experience in some of the major deer parks in the country eg. Woburn Abbey and joined forces with his long time friend, Herbert White.

The ground they stalked on for deer regularly produced some of the best Roe Deer medal heads in the country, which found their way into the Shooting Times Magazine Roe Review via Dominic Griffiths, the Game Conservancy official measurer.

It wasn't until Mark visited the Island of Islay though, in the mid 1980's and met Mr Ken Aldridge from A & C Sporting Services, did Marks passion for his hobby become his burning desire for a new way of life based on the island.

Mark visited the island for many seasons, both bird shooting and deer stalking and from his experience and connections on the island gained a good deal of knowledge about the flora and fauna on Islay.

Mark began by renting his ground on Islay and eventually, when The Gearach Forest came up for sale, he couldn't resist it!

Today, Mark owns and manages The Gearach Forest Estate and with the loving support of his wife, Eleanor, Mark has established one of the country's best known Woodcock shoots in the UK.

Eleanor and Mark hunt, shoot, fish and deer stalk all over the world together and have a wealth of experience between them.

However, one thing Eleanor and Mark always stress, hunting worldwide a fabulous, but we are always glad to come home to Islay.