To avoid being repetitive, other articles in this section highlight the basic do’s and don’ts for the beginner when starting out in these great pursuits, whether you’re attending a driven day for the first time or as part of a shooting syndicate. But what if you do not want to do either, or cannot afford to enter at that level? Well, all is not lost.
Indeed, some of the best days out can be ‘rough’ days. You need no special equipment just some land to shoot over, a dog to help you find the game and a friend with whom to share the experience. Shooting is not a solitary sport (stalking aside) and should be enjoyed with other like-minded folk.
As always, safety has always to be paramount when doing anything that involves guns. The chances of an accident happening during rough shooting is generally higher as there is not a keeper, or syndicate leader, to remind and enforce the safety rules. You will often be on your own with a dog for company in an effort to cover as much ground as possible.
So, what is ‘Rough Shooting’? The name suggests something less valuable, or below driven or syndicate shooting but nothing could be farther from the truth. Rough shooting will mean you have to work for your supper, but what a feeling to sit down to feed yourself and family with wild game that has had the sun and rain on its back everyday of its life.
Rough shooting is 'hunting' in its most basic form, and usually involves a small number of guns and dogs walking around a predefined area on a farm or rough land in pursuit of birds and ground game (rabbits, hares etc.). Depending on the location and time of year, most quarry species will be available, although the areas covered are unlikely to be managed for game and so bags tend to be small. Rough shooters are not interested in big bags, they are happy with a couple of birds or rabbits for the pot just as it should be.
Rough shooting will see you ‘working’ hedgerows, small woods and plantations. The phrase ‘working’ hedgerows means you will set your dog to follow its nose to any scent it comes across which will hopefully make the game bird or animal take flight or run so you have the opportunity to take a safe shot to despatch it.
When can you shoot?
Different quarry has slightly different seasons. Similarly, throughout the UK different countries also vary dates for when you can and cannot shoot certain types of game. Be sure you know what you can shoot in your area before planning a day out. Game shooting is generally a winter activity, there are exceptions (grouse, pigeon & rabbit) but think October – February
Where can you shoot?
It is absolutely critical that you have permission from the land owner to shoot over his or her land. Failing to do so could land you court which would almost certainly mean you losing your shotgun/firearms licence. Once this happens you will find it very difficult to get it back. It is always best to talk to the land owner/farmer face to face. People deal with people. This will ensure you recognise each other and you can build some kind of rapport with him or her. They might tell you that they do not want a certain species of bird or animal shot. For example, some may shy away from shooting woodcock or hares. You must respect these instructions. If you do not, your rough shooting career will, quite rightly, be very short.
What do you need?
As stated above, you require very little equipment for a successful day out. The main thing being a fit dog and a fit person! You will probably walk miles over the course of a day often in wet clingy clay or swamp land covered in what the military call ‘babies heads’ which are large round clumps of swamp grass that means you have to lift your legs up high to get over them. You should not underestimate the physical rigours of walking all day carrying what you have shot. Keep this in mind when planning a day out.
Footwear is important, you can wear wellies but a lot of people do want that extra ankle support when covering long distances over uneven ground so a good pair of waterproof leather lace up boots might be preferable. It is a personal choice, but you want to have warm dry feet all day so wear the boots beforehand to ensure they are comfortable and waterproof.
Leggings are important. These are waxed over trousers that you tie to your belt at the top, with the bottom of them going over your boots. They protect your trousers from brambles and thorns which is where the game will be hiding away. Your dog will do most of the work but it is inevitable that you will have to walk through rough ground yourself.
Without labouring the point, you will be walking a lot so dress accordingly. Most people start with a couple of layers and once warm stop and take a layer off. When stopping for a break or lunch put the layer back on to keep warm. The advancement in ‘breathable’ fabrics now means that hunters can source good robust jackets and shirts that will keep them warm throughout the day without drowning in sweat!
Look at the weather before the day, this will help you decide if you need a hat, gloves etc. Just remember, you can always take them off if it gets too warm, but if you don’t bring them with you and it gets cold…..
What gun do you need?
Take whatever gun you own! Rough shooting involves a lot of climbing over fences, walking through gorse and brambles so you will need a robust gun. Nothing too fancy as it will almost certainly get scratched at some stage. The most popular gun is generally a 12 bore. Some rough shooters however prefer to use a 20 bore. The reason is twofold. Firstly, you will often get a bird sitting tight that will flush out in front of you 5-10m away, and secondly you will be carrying the gun all day!
Before we leave the subject of guns, as mentioned earlier we must be safe. Follow these 5 rules and you lessen the chances of anything serious occurring. The shooting community cannot afford negative media reports of ‘accidents’ involving hunters that could have been avoided by simply following these common sense rules. Most accidents are caused by a lapse in concentration through rushing, being excited or trying to control a dog.
1. Always have you gun broken until you are about to take a shot.
2. Always unload your gun whenever crossing an obstacle; if with a friend hand the gun (unloaded and broken) over while you cross and vice versa.
3. Never take a shot unless you can see the sky behind a bird or clear field (backdrop) behind ground game.
4. Know where your fellow hunters and dogs are at all times. Never shoot into cover. That is how dogs, and sometimes people, get shot.
5. If you have any doubts about taking a shot then do not shoot. If in doubt there is no doubt!
What dog should you take?
A good dog is essential to an enjoyable and successful rough day shooting. If there is one subject that brings emotions to the fore its dogs! Most working dog owners are extremely proud of their dogs and often fail to see their own dog misbehaving. Be warned!
People gravitate to certain breeds of dog rather like car owners tend to favour a particular make and model. In the past the choice was ‘Springer, Cocker or Labrador’. Now the variety of breeds being used as field working dogs is much bigger. However, before getting carried away and choosing some exotic breed of dog remember this is a big decision as you will hopefully have this dog for 10-12years. You have to devote a lot of time to looking after and training your new best friend for it to be able to pay you back by working well and under control. The easiest dogs to train, in my limited experience, are spaniels, whether that is a Cocker, Springer or a Sprocker. Always consult a reputable breeder when buying a dog.
I am reminded of an old game keeper telling me “there are no bad dogs, only bad owners” whenever I see and hear a dog being yelled at on a shoot day.
The Shoot Day
Your day will be determined by a number of factors including the ground, the weather and your aspirations. You and your companions should have an idea of what game you might see, what not to shoot and a quick reminder of the safety rules before making a plan to cover different pieces of ground. This is the beauty of a rough day. You could start by working a few hedges to try and find a pheasant or two, then switch to some low-lying wet ground to have a look for some snipe. Always be on the lookout for pigeons flying over while watching and directing the dog. You have to stay alert all the time as if a bird gets flushed out you will only get a couple of seconds to get on to the bird and take the shot. It’s a fantastic feeling of anticipation all the time.
You might be fortunate to finish the day off by standing next to a small pond in an effort to shoot a flighting duck or two. At the right time of year, it may be possible to shoot up to 8-9 different species depending on the skills of the team! There will usually be breaks for refreshments and rest and maybe a packed lunch. The number of birds shot will always be small in comparison with a driven day but this is amply compensated by the feeling of satisfaction of having to actually hunt your quarry.
So, a rough day out requires more gun handling and focus alongside a healthy dose of fieldcraft skill. With experience a day rough shooting provides unrivalled sustainable sport. The final thing to do is to ensure that all quarry shot is cleaned, skinned and turned into something delicious! See the recipe section for ideas.