Claire Zambuni reflects on her fieldsports pursuits in Spain and shares the exclusive story of her trip with Butler del Prado with CazaWorld.
Spain remains one of my favourite countries to hunt in. I adore the varied landscapes due to the sheer vastness of the country, the guns, the people, the climate, the food and the wine. I always think there is a great empathy between the Spanish and the British.
I have hunted partridges, wild boar, Roebuck and will be fishing in the Spanish Pyrenees next month. I have visited several of the gun factories in Eibar where craftsmen make bespoke guns to rival many an English shotgun, especially on price.
My first ever pair of guns were Arrieta Crown 12 bores. I loved them and was taken to the factory in Elgoibar to have them made into a matched pair from being simply consecutive numbers. It was with great sadness I sold them last year after deciding to use a 20 bore all the time. Arrieta have all but disappeared now and for this trip, I was to use a Grulla Armas Supreme 20 bore.
My dear friend, Martin Gabor and I meet somewhere in the world to hunt each year. We have covered Sweden, Lapland, Spain and the US to name but a few. Last year I introduced him to driven partridge in Spain, at Butler Del Prado in Matarrubia. Ashley Butler and Pepe who run the outfit have become great friends, both passionate hunters and enthusiastic about doing things the right way. Ashley also runs an estate in Devon in the U.K. where he holds several driven shoots for his friends a year. Pepe has travelled the world following his love of hunting which has taken him to Mongolia to Romania following the traditions of hunting in his family.
We were fortunate enough to be the first people to stay in the shooting lodge at Matarrubia when it opened in October last year. The partridge shooting was spectacular, and the mix of British and Spanish traditions worked beautifully. We returned in February. We knew that quail hunting would be very different and that it was a particularly tough year for quail in Spain during the short season of August 15th to September 15th, which we soon discovered for ourselves. As it was only the two of us that would be taking part in this walked up hunt over dogs, we were just as interested in discovering a new part of Spain and its culture as well as the hunting itself. We flew to Bilbao and drove through the Basque country followed by Rioja to the small town of Casalarriena, in the heart of the Rioja region. Our hotel, a restored monastery, Hospedería Señorío de Casalarreina dated back to 1711 when it formed part of the neighbouring Dominicans’ Our Lady of Piety Retreat. The hotel now has 15 well-restored double rooms with wooded floors and solid stonework, many of the walls decorated by scenic murals. We weren’t to spend much time in it though and met the first morning at 6.30am to drive to the hunting fields. We were to be accompanied by guides with pointing dogs. Our man, Josun, worked two English Setters.
It was not a good year for quail and the hunt was hard. I had never shot a European quail so was not sure where to look. That morning proved difficult. Martin walked another direction from me and saw two birds, but was unsure of their flight pattern and not ready for how close they followed the contours of the land. It was also imperative that he judge the safety with the dogs pointing and flushing. As my guide and I had almost given up and were walking back to the trucks, the dog went on point in some longer grass. The guides had seemed to think that the reason for the lack of quail was the freshly cut wheat and they certainly seemed to prefer longer cover. The bird was flushed but I was unable to take the shot as the bird was low and the dog chasing behind. I had, however, seen my first quail. They were oddly like a mix between snipe and partridge resembling the former more strongly. As we wandered back to the car, the dog went on point once more. I came alongside, and the bird was flushed. This time, it was a cleaner shot and the bird fell. As I returned from picking the quarry in the neighbouring field, the setter was on point once more. I was a fair way back on the brow of a ridge. The bird broke cover and I shot it. A brace in the bag.
It was then time for Spanish tacos. We drove to a heavenly valley, nestled between two graduated hills shining golden in the sun. Two roebucks danced across the far hill and Carlos’ wife arrived with home cooked local delicacies. Language seemed the least important form of communication as we sat in the sunshine, discussing the day and sharing food and Rioja wine. After an early start, we headed back to the hotel for a siesta to let the sun calm down before we hunted again. That evening we drove to a different area. The topography was slightly more dramatic. Martin and I headed off once again in different directions, me with Josun and his setters and Martin with Carlos, Javier and the Spanish pointers. My first two points were hugely satisfying. The bird was flushed initially and flew some distance. The shot was not safe so we watched where the quail went to ground and headed in that direction. The dog pointed on each occasion, I ran alongside. Each of the second flushes provided a safe shot and the bird was picked.
For me, one of the most appealing aspects of hunting abroad is the opportunity to experience the landscape and culture of another country. The hunting was not prolific; however, the food, wine and camaraderie were. We were taken to local, authentic restaurants each evening. We visited La Vieja Bodega and La Cueva De Dona Isabela in Caslerrina and my personal favourite, El Trujal del Abuelo in Cihuri. We were always the only English and German people in the restaurant each evening, being full only of Spanish, always a good sign. In Cihuri, our trip was beautifully concluded by an unexpected invitation to the chef’s cellar where language was no barrier and we swapped local ham delicacies, local wine and liqueurs and laughs.