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Living treasures of Dorset: Margaret Ralph, game dealer

Portrait by Millie Pilkington, pen-portrait by Liz Pope

It isn’t uncommon for her to find a deer just left on her doorstep when she gets up in the morning

Margaret Ralph is sprightly and agile, her passion for wildlife and country pursuits comes across very clearly and, with her gentle voice and interesting stories, she is a pleasure to chat to.
She was first inspired to take up shooting by going out with her father, Arthur Masters, as a young child. ‘I’d like you to put his name there ‘cos when I read other people’s books and I see my brother, my father and they don’t ever say who they were.’
Arthur was brought up on the Mendips, but moved to Poxwell, Dorset with his family in 1936. Money was short, so people were more careful to economise. They learned to butcher their own meat from the farm, to catch rabbits and other wild game.
Margaret used to go out ferreting as a child too, then took up shooting in her teens. Decades on, Margaret’s way of life has barely changed and people bring in rabbits, deer, pheasants and all manner of wild game for her to deal with and store, and she still goes out with a gun herself regularly. It isn’t uncommon for her to find a deer just left on her doorstep when she gets up in the morning, such is her reputation as the local game dealer.
‘Some people argue nothing should be killed,’ Margaret says, ‘but I think sometimes on humane grounds you need to kill things, because if it gets too many then disease comes and the whole lot gets wiped out.’
‘I shoot an’ all that. People say “I got this and it wants dealing with”. You need to know what you are doing so that it is instant. You don’t like to see things suffer.’
A true countrywoman, Margaret has a great love of the rural life and nature. She appreciates the variety of landscape in Dorset and the characters it contains. ‘As you get older,’ she says, ‘you realise you’re one of them!’
The refrigerated game larder, which hums away in her yard, contains at least eight deer hanging – headless and footless, along with countless game birds.
She picks up a Tupperware container in which a bloody collection of innards is sloshing around: ‘Did you like kidneys,’ she asks, not laughing at our squeamishness – she’s not that kind of person.
• Abridged from Great Faces by Millie Pilkington and Liz Pope. www.greatfaces.co.uk

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