AN INVITATION TO SHOOT GAME
By John Roll Pickering (a GunsOnPegs Member)
Congratulations! Someone has invited you to shoot game with them – something that you have not done before, although you have shot wildfowl, pests and/or clay pigeons. This leaflet gives you all the information that you need to know about what equipment you need and what may happen at the shoot. When you have read it you will be ready to participate successfully in a most enjoyable experience.
Note: In this text any reference to a male homo sapiens may equally apply to the female of the species; single and plural may also be interchanged. The word “gun” refers to a shotgun and “Gun” to a person. Any reference to the law is to that applicable in England and Wales.
The invitation may be either written or oral. However it is received, by post, telephone, email, as a part of a formal or an informal conversation, it must be treated with a high priority. You should check your private and work diaries and respond to your host as soon as possible. If you are not able to give a definite reply at once you should say so and give a deadline by when this will be possible. Many arrangements hang on spaces at shoots being filled so it is important (as well as polite) not to leave things in the air any longer than is absolutely necessary.
Once you have accepted, the date is set in stone and should not be cancelled for any but the most urgent of situations. If you later receive a second invitation for the same date or one that might render the first impossible you must decline the second, however much better it may be. If you mess a host around in such a way you will soon acquire an unwelcome reputation and be removed from many a list of potential guests.
Questions to ask about your game shooting day
Before you set out for any activity you need to know certain things about it. The questions relevant to a day’s game shooting are probably:
Finding the rendezvous point can be a problem since the actual spot, often a house or farm, may not be on a numbered road that is shown in a road atlas. The organiser may provide a sketch map or give directions from a main road. Today most of us have access to maps and routing programmes and applications on our computers or i-Phones. Sat Navs can also assist in route planning.
You should be certain about all of these matters some time before the day. The person who invited you ought to be able to obtain the answers for you.
Not long before the actual day you begin the physical preparations. There may be a requirement for a jacket, collar and tie (or equivalent). It is a good idea to make a list of what will be required. I give below a sample list which you may adapt.
Shotgun, Sleeve, Cartridges, Cartridge Bag, Hearing Protection, Coat, Hat, Gloves, Footwear, Seat
Shotgun, Cartridges, Cartridge Belt, Game Bag or Loops for Belt, Hearing Protection, Footwear, Waterproof
If you are taking your dog
Water, Bowl, Feed, Towel, Lead and Spare, Peg, Whistle
Game Shooting Lessons
If you have not shot for some time it will do no harm to practise, either at a clay club or shooting school. If you will be meeting a new sort of target, perhaps driven grouse or high pheasants, the shooting school can arrange to simulate them for you. This would be a very wise investment of time.
A Licence to Kill Game is no longer needed in any part of the United Kingdom. However, in Northern Ireland a separate approval from the local police is necessary; this may take some weeks to arrange. It is sensible to have plenty of public liability insurance cover; most shooting people have this as a membership benefit from GunsOnPegs or the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association or the Countryside Alliance. As you will be taking your gun outside its normal zone it would be wise to have your Shotgun Certificate with you or at least a photocopy of it.
Although it is not banned, it is considered extremely bad form to shoot with anything other than a side by side or an over and under double barrled shotgun on a Pheasant or Partridge day.
Be sure that you arrive on time. Being early may disrupt some moves involving the shoot host and the keeper; being late will cause everyone delay and annoyance. When you arrive greet the host, fellow Guns and anyone else you meet; don’t be shy. Use any spare time on arrival to get ready; put on your coat and boots, put your shotgun in its sleeve and arrange your cartridges. It is handy to have at least as many cartridges as you will need for a drive about you either in your coat pocket or on a belt, in case your cartridge bag is left in a vehicle.
Every shoot should begin with a briefing. It may begin with a jocular remark such as, “Anyone not here, speak out”, but it is a serious matter. Here you will learn what is going to happen on the day. Any local rules such as signals to load and unload will be explained. You will be reminded about safety.
There will be a draw for peg numbers. The number of permutations and combinations with these is infinite. You may number from the left or from the right. You may go up one, two or three places after each drive or odds may go up and evens go down or vice versa. You may be given a card with an apparently random sequence of numbers. It is hardly surprising that some people whose day jobs involve enormous responsibility such as captains of industry and senior officers in the armed forces are amongst those who manage to find this aspect confusing.
An important feature of every briefing is a reminder of what quarry may be shot and what may not – even though they are lawful targets. Local conservation issues, a wish not to trigger a drive prematurely or safety concerns may each rule out tempting targets that come your way. If you have any questions now is the time to ask them. It is better to be certain than to commit an error.
People at the Shoot
Now is the time to meet the people involved in a shoot other than your fellow Guns. Here is a brief summary of some you may meet:
The Gamekeeper has been working for months in preparation for the season and this day. He or she will have reared the birds, controlled vermin, cut woodlands, laid out the drives and made many other preparations for your entertainment. On the day itself the keeper usually marshals the beaters while the Shoot Captain directs the Gun team.
The Beaters are responsible for driving birds towards the Guns, under the keeper’s instructions. Most are armed with sticks to beat the bushes and trees but some, acting as Flankers may carry flags in order to direct birds. Others may act as Stops, perhaps at the end of a hedgerow, preventing quarry from going in a particular direction. In many cases beaters are paid for their work although at some shoots this role is fulfilled by the spouses and children of the Guns or even by some of the Guns themselves in a ‘shoot and beat’ arrangement.
Standing with or behind the line of Guns will be found the Pickers Up. These dog handlers may be paid or amateurs. Their responsibility is to find and collect any wounded game or game that has fallen some distance from the Guns. It is a fine thing to watch a master dog handler with one or more dogs in action.
Some Guns may have brought a Follower with them. This may be their child, friend, husband, parent, partner or wife. Some will stand or sit and watch or hold a dog. Others may actively assist the Gun by marking any birds that he shoots and holding cartridges ready for a rapid reload, although Guns must be careful that this does not result in them shooting more than their fair share of the bag when others are without an assistant. If a large bag is expected a Gun may also have a Loader, holding a second shotgun.
In the Field – Walking
In this arrangement the Guns form a line, often with beaters between the Guns, which then walks forward, perhaps across moorland for grouse or over stubbles for partridges. As you will be walking with your shotgun loaded make sure that it points ahead at all times.
When quarry is flushed the line halts and shots may be fired, usually forwards. Great care must be taken if the targets go towards the line for although a shot to the rear or high into the air would be safe, a shot near the line would definitely not be so. If the target looks as if it may approach the line, shotguns should be removed from the shoulder and pointed towards the sky until the Gun has turned right around. A shot should not be fired within 45° of the line. The walk does not resume until anything shot has been gathered and stowed. A slightly different procedure is followed when pointers are used.
In the Field – Driven
When taking part in a driven shoot the Guns are placed at a stand or peg usually marked by number. On a grouse moor this is usually in a “butt”, as the small enclosures are called. The line of stands may be straight or may curve with the ground or around the edge of a covert. Here too there is a safety prohibition on shooting within 45° of the line between your own stand and that of your neighbour. In a grouse butt there may be posts to mark the limits of your swing. Also, you should not shoot at a flying target unless you can see the sky behind it. You should go directly to your own peg and not stop to gossip on the way. There may be pickers up or stops behind you and you should note their positions. At some shoots you are instructed to load and be ready as soon as you have reached your stand; at others a signal tells you when you may load your gun. This is made clear during the initial briefing. On a driven day it is usual for shotguns to be unloaded and carried in a sleeve except when standing on a peg or acting as a walking Gun.
In some circles it is de rigueur that everyone is silent during a drive. At others the beaters may shout a warning that birds are on their way. A neighbouring Gun may call “Yours!” if he does not intend to shoot at a bird that is coming between your respective airspaces. Beware of “poaching”, that is shooting a bird that is really intended for another Gun. You will not be popular if you devote more attention to a mobile telephone than you do to the drive.
Do not attempt to shoot any bird that is impossibly high since at best you may wound it, condemning it to a cruel, lingering death. Nor should you shoot low driven birds since you may blast them to pieces, rendering them unfit for the table. Remember, you are not there to massacre wildlife; you are there to enjoy sport and provide food.
At any drive one or more Gun may be directed to walk with the beaters. Here his task is to shoot any birds that are flying away from the direction of the drive. Any birds going forwards should be left since they present a better target to the standing Guns. A walking Gun on strange ground will usually be given an escort.
In woodlands, some of the beaters may put out a flushing line. This marks the point where the birds will cease running along the ground and should take off to fly over the line of waiting Guns.
The End of the Drive
At the end of the drive the keeper will make a signal, either on a whistle or a horn, telling Guns to unload and re-sleeve their weapons. Guns should then pick up any spent cartridges. If there is a receptacle they should be taken there; if there is not, a neat pile close to the peg will help whoever is later sent to gather them. You should also pick up any game that is near you and carry it to the game cart since the efforts of pickers up need be concentrated on the more difficult to find birds. If you can do so, indicate to a picker up where your unpicked birds have fallen. There may be an opportunity to assist the shoot by carrying game to the cart and helping to match the birds into braces.
There may a pause between drives in which case this is the chance for conversation. It is also the time to replenish your ready stock of cartridges. Although there may be a longish stop, the Gun who is to walk at the next drive may be called away early to accompany the beaters in which case they may have to forego any offered refreshments. If you are putting your shotgun into a vehicle always re-check that it is unloaded and be seen by your fellow travellers to do so.
The meal may be taken during a break in the day or at its end. You may have brought your own (and on a walked up shoot carried it) or it may be provided on site. You may go into a barn or a house or to a local inn. The last two will cause a change of footwear; you will certainly wish to shed any wet outer clothes. In any case, gun security while you are eating is a concern; you may wish to take your sleeved shotgun into the house or barn with you. If you are going out again after lunch or will be driving home, do not be tempted to overindulge. Be ready to move off again in good time.
The End of the Day
At the end of the day the shooting party returns to its start point and kit is disassembled for the homewards journey. The keeper will count the bag and notify the shoot captain, perhaps adding the number of shots fired to achieve the score. You may be given a card with the details written on it. The total bag may also be laid out in a display as is the European custom. This is another opportunity to assist.
Next, the keeper gives a brace of birds to each Gun and this is the chance for the Gun to express his thanks both verbally and with a tip. The size of the tip is usually related to both the quality and the quantity of the sport, often expressed “£X per hundred head or part thereof”. If asked, the Shoot Captain will be pleased to give guidance on the amount. Guns should also thank the host, the shoot captain, whoever drove them around, the caterer and anyone else who has contributed to the success of the day. Before you drive away further refreshments may be offered and it is now that the result of any sweepstake, perhaps on the size of the bag, is announced. If taking part be sure to know what it is that you have been invited to estimate!
You may be tired but there are several important tasks to be done before you can relax. After unloading the car your grace birds should be hung in a cool place that is both cat-proof and fox-proof; a shed or garage may suffice. If your dog has accompanied you it must be checked for injuries and any burrs removed. It must be fed and watered. Next your shotgun needs a thorough cleaning before it is returned to safe storage. With these jobs done you may begin to look after your own comforts, a bath, a change of clothes and a meal. You may also wish to enter the details of the day in your Game Register.
Within the next couple of days you should send a written thank you to your host, whatever the nature of the day. He may well wish to show a portfolio of such letters to the gamekeeper who worked so hard to ensure that the day went well.
By John Roll Pickering
A Book to Help!
If you are looking for a comprehensive book for both new and experienced shots, offering tips, diagrams and advice from experienced instructor, John King and his 50 years of experience, then why not click here to find 'Game Shooting from Scratch' in the GunsOnPegs shop or I would also recommend How To Be Asked Again