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(Finished sticks further down).

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Why use a Stick?

Article from "The Shooting Times & Country" 15 August 2002

This article first appeared in Shooting Times magazine. Subscription hotline: 01622 778778
Kings and beaters brandish the sticks made by Keith Pickering, who turned his hobby into a thriving business

"Carving a future"

Step 1 A selection of different templates.

Step 2 No wood goes to waste - a second bird is also drawn.

Step 3 A mechanical saw cuts out the basic shape.

Step 4 Two cut-out heads showing the hole drilled for the stick.

Step 5 Carving the end of the stick that will go in the pheasant's head.

Step 6 Finer carving begins.

Step 7 The pheasant's head is almost finished.

Step 8 The effect of feathers is added before painting begins.

Keith Pickering, age 43, from Helmsley in North Yorkshire, is a round peg in a round hole, one of those happy folk who have discovered a way of life which provides contentment, satisfaction and more than enough to keep the wolf from the door. He is a professional stick maker and, from his workshop at The Walled Garden, in Helmsley, supplies superbly crafted sticks to customers worldwide.

It all began when, in 1980, Keith moved from Middlesbrough to Helmsley to work on a rainbow trout farm. Always keen on fishing, he thought it might prove an interesting occupation until he found a "proper job". Three years later, he married a local girl and, at the same time, was promoted to the post of trout farm manager. However, as is so often the case, Keith discovered that working with trout every day reduced his enthusiasm for catching them and, as his interest in fishing waned, he took up shooting, particularly enjoying days spent as a beater on a local pheasant shoot.

He noticed that each beater carried a stick to tap trees and bushes and, similarly armed, the germ of an idea was sown. In 1985, Jacky, Keith's wife, bought him a stick crowned with the head of a Labrador, cast in resin. It was, thought Keith, far too good to take beating, but acted as a source of inspiration. He would carve his own stick with a pheasant's head. After several failures, he produced a stick he was content with and regularly took it with him on shooting days.

On one such day, one of the Guns noticed Keith's stick and asked him to carve a similar stick. A £20 note changed hands, and suddenly a whole new horizon opened up. Friends asked him to make sticks of their choice and then, in 1990, came the ultimate accolade when he was asked to make a cock pheasant stick to be presented to King Constantine of Greece, who was shooting at Helmsley.

In the years that followed, Keith continued to acquire further knowledge and skills in the art of stickmaking. New materials, such as horn and antler, were tried and tested, while each winter a few sticks would be sold to shooting folk at Helmsley

Now thoroughly bitten by the bug, he asked the key question - could he make a living as a professional stick maker? Early in 1998, he joined Brigantia, an organisation in North Yorkshire that incorporates the work of people devoted to crafts. He began to advertise and started to sell his sticks at local country shows.

The stick man
"I'll never make a fortune as a stick maker, but I'm far happier than I was in the days when I worked for someone else, " says Keith Pickering. It's very hard work and I rarely get a day off, as weekends and bank holidays are busy times in my shop. "

Convinced he could turn a hobby into a living, he was, as yet, uncertain whether or not to take the risky step of giving up his job as manager on the trout farm. Then fate stepped in. That June, Keith had a car accident and, though he was unharmed, he realised just how tenuous is our hold on life. It provided the impetus he needed to take the plunge, so that when, the following year, a workshop became available in Helmsley, he handed in his notice and set off on a totally new course.

Publicity in "The Field", gained through the friendship of Martin Hyslop, of the Hillend Horn Company, brought substantial financial gains just as Keith was getting his company underway. A shop in New York contacted him to ask if he would be willing to make sticks for it and then, through a shooting contact, he was asked to produce sticks for a leading London gunmaker

Today, Keith spends all his time in his workshop, carving a wide variety of sticks, and he also runs one-day classes in stickmaking. His subjects range from birds to animals, with a price range of £60 to £100, and he is only too pleased to consider commissions.

For further information, contact Keith Pickering, The Stick Man, The Walled Garden, Cleveland Way, Helmsley Y062 5AH. The shop is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to noon and from l pm to 5pm.

© 15 August 2002 Shooting Times& Country Magazine

This article first appeared in Shooting Times magazine. Subscription hotline: 01622 778778

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