Much is made of what you must do and what you must not do on a shooting day, this is as a gun, picker up or beater.
Personally, the two most important things are to be safe and to enjoy yourself. As a gun, it can be quite unnerving not just for novices, but also experienced guns, who have been invited to a shoot day and who might know only one other gun as well as the host. A good host and keeper will be aware of this and will go to great lengths to ensure the guest is put at ease socially and whilst on the peg.
To be invited to a driven day is a privilege, that should never be forgotten. A lot of people have worked hard to put a good bird over your head, whether you hit or miss you are privileged to be in that position. If you keep that in mind, you are halfway there.
Safety is critical. I have not seen many guns who have been unsafe in the past. When you do, everybody sees it and it un-nerves everybody. Again, a good host will discretely tell the gun what he did wrong; if he is a novice people understand. If the gun repeatedly displays unsafe gun handling skills, they have to go. I have only ever seen this happen once, but it was the right thing to do. You could hear an audible sigh of relief from the other guns, beaters and the keeper.
It is easy to avoid this situation. Firstly, listen to the brief from the host, shoot captain or keeper in the morning. There is no such thing as a stupid question when safety is involved, so if you do not understand anything, ask. If they say no ground game or woodcock then adhere to it even if the best woodcock you have ever seen ‘chinks’ over your head on a drive. Make sure you understand what the whistle or horn blasts mean; are you ‘live’ on your peg? etc.
As an example, I recently attended a shoot where the keeper told us clearly that one blast of the horn would happen around halfway through each drive to let us know that the beaters were getting within shooting range so please stay alert. Two blasts on the horn would signify the end of the drive. So, on the first drive he duly gave us one blast of the horn at which point at least 2 guns unloaded and started to put their guns in their slips. This meant they missed several good birds over their heads while getting their guns back out which annoyed the beaters.
Dress and Behaviour
Nobody wants the embarrassment of turning up dressed differently to everybody else, the Driven Shoot tab on the web site covers this in more detail. If unsure phone your host beforehand.
Behaviour is a different kettle of fish. My (and a lot of others) pet hate is guns getting grumpy because they are not in the ‘hot spot’ on a drive. I get real pleasure out of watching others shoot well, as well as the dogs working and retrieving, remember the privilege bit earlier?
The birds will often defy the keepers best guess as to where they will fly, that’s what makes this sport so appealing. You will get your chance to be in the middle of the line, but if it happens that others around you get better shooting, watch, enjoy and slap them on the back after the drive.
The rule about shooting other people’s birds is just common sense. If you have a good high bird within a 45-degree arc either side of you I would class that as your bird. If you have a moderate bird in the same arc then it’s probably not a good bird for you but might be for the peg beside you. I seldom get irritated by guns on the next peg shooting birds going over me.
If you do come up against a gun who is shooting everything within his range including your birds tell him and the keeper. The keeper will then keep an eye on him and if he has call to have a quiet chat with the offender then rest assured not many guns are brave enough to argue with the keeper!
Guns using a mobile phone at all whilst on the gun line is both rude and disrespectful to those around them. If something is so critically important that you MUST answer your phone during a drive you simply should not be there. Miss a drive and join again after the crisis.
At the end of each drive I like to see guns picking up the empty cartridges and putting them in a bag that is normally provided. I have never shot with royalty but suspect they pick up their empties…..
Most good shoots provide excellent snacks and drinks between certain drives and this is the time to exchange experiences. If you saw a particularly good bird being shot down the line ask who it was, nothing better than you having to modestly tell everybody it was a ‘lucky’ shot when somebody else asks the question!
Some guns like to have their dogs sitting on the peg with them so they can pick up a bird or two after the drive. I have seen this work well and I have seen (and experienced) some not so good incidents.The secret is simple, will your dog sit obediently throughout the drive without getting itself into a state of excitement to allow you and the other guns to enjoy the drive, or will it wail, bark and try and pull you or the earth anchor attached to its lead across the gun line? If it’s the latter, I would advise leaving Fido at home.
Depending on the venue, lunch might be a pasty (lovely Cornwall) or might be a three-course meal. If it’s the latter be guided by your host but be mindful of the beaters and pickers up outside waiting for you. You will have plenty of time afterwards to tell everybody about the really high bird you shot!
Tipping is another emotive issue for some, not me. If you have had the worst days shooting ever because you fired 200 cartridges and only hit 10 birds, we can probably trace the fault back to behind the butt. If you have been on the edges of the hot spots and again only hit about 10 birds for 100 shots, same rule applies. If you only fired 25 shots because you only had a few chances it matters not, the keeper has done his best. You should tip them in the time-honoured way of passing over while saying thanks and shaking his hand. The average rate is £20 per hundred birds shot.
If the latter is the case for all the guns and nobody got much shooting then it depends on the arrangement. If you were invited as a guest ‘gratis’ I would not mind a bit if I only shot 5 birds. If I had paid several hundred pounds and only shot 5 birds for 25 cartridges as did the rest of the guns then that’s a different matter. It does not alter the fact that you tip the keeper. You then speak to the owner, agent etc. Please remember you will have good and bad days, only you can make the call about how bad, and if you got value for money.
Beating & Picking Up
It is every bit as nerve racking to be a new beater or picker-up on an established shoot. Not only are you on trial but so is your dog! In this case you have to do as you are told; keep your dog on a lead if you are in anyway unsure. It takes time to become a trusted member of either the beater or picker-up team. You will soon understand who does what piece of ground. It will seem that you do the roughest, thorniest highest ground to start with. Keep smiling! At the end of the day you get a brace of birds and walk away happy. You will win them over, eventually! The key is having a well-behaved dog. Be it a spaniel or Labrador it must as a minimum be able to sit when told!