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Syndicates

Syndicates

More and more people are joining shooting syndicates. Possibly due to the variety it gives them as they can beat, pick up and shoot all in one day. Most game shooters like to work their dogs probably as much as shooting and doing more than just shooting on a shoot day gives far more opportunity for dog work. Getting into a syndicate can however be hard in itself and once in the hard work continues as all members involved with game bird and land management along with vermin control in an effort to ensure a good season.

Syndicate shoots are successful when groups of pro-active, can do, like-minded friends get together and commit whole heartedly to their task. However, they still need permission to shoot on land where they can rear game birds such as pheasants and partridges. It’s not uncommon therefore for the landowner to be a member of the syndicate!

What makes this type of shooting more attractive over driven days is not only the cost, but also the sense of achievement felt when involved in the full operation. Working your dog is also high on the list of reasons as there is nothing like watching the dog you have trained behave and work hard in front of your friends. Most people say nothing, but shooters see everything and miss nothing (apart from the birds!)

Birds

Most syndicates number around 15-20 people with newcomers quickly make friends soon after they join as that is the nature of the pursuit. What makes these days less expensive is that the syndicate is responsible and is expected to do all the work throughout the summer and autumn that would normally be done by the keeper and his team. Do not underestimate the amount of work that goes in to what looks like a relaxed ‘syndicate day’. If you are not prepared to give up some of your time every week before the season begins then this is not the type of shooting for you.

How does it Work?

The matriarch (called Shoot Captain) of the syndicate is often a game shooting farmer who actually owns part or all of the land you will shoot over. That said, a lot of syndicates quite rightly pay farmers a ‘fee’ for a season to shoot over their land and more often than not invite the farmer for a day out over the season if he is a shooting man or woman. To get started you need to know somebody that belongs to a syndicate and make it known that you are interested in joining them but be warned, a lot of syndicates have a waiting list to join them.

The financially painful bit, unlike a driven day, comes in the spring when the syndicate needs to know who is committed to the next season. Most syndicates have a ‘social night’ where before too much drink is taken a few decisions have to be made, the Shoot Captain will chair and makes notes on the following, which has to be agreed by the majority;

  • Number of birds to buy. Most syndicates shoot 30-40% of the birds they buy in the summer. Some syndicates buy eggs and have incubators to hatch chicks, however this is difficult and not a common activity within syndicate shoots.
  • Cost of feed. When bought, at 10-12 weeks old, they are small and do not seem to eat much. Once released from the rearing pens you must have grain feeders strategically placed over the land. The grain has to be carried to these feeders everyday!
  • New members. Be under no illusion, much will be spoken about you before you are invited to join a syndicate!
  • Cost of membership. It will only ever increase as the price of feed and poults (young birds) rises. This will affect how much each member has to pay to ensure they have enough birds for the season.

The Golden Rules?

‘Rules’ may be a bit strong as a term so see this as friendly advice! It’s a guide based on experience. Different syndicates have different ways of doing things however if you follow these 5 basic guidelines you will not go far wrong:

    • Always ensure you turn up for the majority of work days in the summer.

    • Make yourself available to do a regular ‘shift’ for topping up the feeders.

    • Ensure you volunteer to ‘beat’ more than you shoot during your first season.

    • Do not have an uncontrollable dog!

    • Bring a nice bottle of red to shoot days!

    The Syndicate Year

    February

    The year actually starts at the conclusion of the previous season when everybody gets together for the end of year social event. Partners are normally welcome as they deserve a night out after you have been ‘missing’ for the past 3 months. Once the annual meeting points have been addressed it’s important that all syndicate members are made aware of the decisions that have been made.

    June/July

    Pens need to be repaired, fences inspected, rides cut and feeders cleaned amongst many other things. This will be the first work party of the year.

    July/August

    The poults arrive. This number is decided at the annual meeting and is typically dependent on the Shoot Captain’s experience and the performance of the ground you shoot over. Syndicates try new positions for pens over the years but normally end up going back to where they were at the beginning! This is where the work really begins, rearing and protecting several hundred game birds is a challenge. Young birds will do everything they can to kill themselves before a shot is ever fired at them! They will try and drown themselves, strangle themselves or invite the local fox to eat them! The syndicate needs to protect them at nearly all cost.

    August/November

    August through to November sees constant feeding, fence and pen mending, and dogging in the boundaries. Whilst this might sound a bit suspect, dogging in is simply ensuring the birds are kept within the shoot boundaries as at this time of year the birds are growing and exploring. They will go from a rearing pen in July which is fenced, into an open pen at the end of August. This could be a couple of acres big and have a fence around it, but as they grow, they fly over fences or crawl under them. You have to entice them back into the pen to roost at night, having a ready supply of food for them works as they are lazy.

    Whilst the syndicate (and you) are doing all of this you need to be thinking ‘Dog’. If you are new, having a working dog will not only help you get into a syndicate they will be relying on the dog to pull its weight during the season. The type of dog you have is not written in stone. However, spaniels (springers and cockers) are probably the most popular, followed by Labradors. There are of course other breeds but these are the most common.

    Why are Spaniels so popular? They are simply breed to work. They love it! To watch a well- trained spaniel working to the whistle is a thing of pleasure but the emphasis is on ‘well-trained’. This is often a source of frustration on any shooting day as a rogue dog constantly being shouted at, can and does, spoil the whole day so be warned!

    Experienced shooters are normally dog lovers who devote a lot of time and patience to training their dogs. This is a continuous process with a heavier build up pre-season.

    At County Shows and Game Fairs we are treated to displays of totally obedient dogs doing exactly what the owner wants to order. Whilst this is fantastic to see let’s not forget that these people are often professional dog trainers. In the real world it is often difficult to make time for your dog, but you must! You cannot expect your dog to work to order when you only see, or train, it occasionally. Dogs need consistency. The good news however, is that there is plenty of advice and guidance readily available to those who look.

    Come the Day

    After paying your syndicate fee in February, followed by a summer and autumn of hard the day finally arrives for you and your dog, who you hope will behave! You look around, everybody has a cup of tea\coffee. Some of the syndicate are smartly dressed, Others less so! It does not matter what you wear as long as it keeps you dry and warm and not multi coloured.

    The Shoot Captain will gather the team together and decide who goes where. Trust him as he has done this before. He will outline the safety rules to which you should listen carefully. This type of shooting, like rough and walked up, is far more dangerous than driven. There will be beaters, pickers up, and dogs everywhere. The rules relating to ground game, the start and end of the drive need to be understood by all.

    Any guests attending the shoot will also be announced at this point. Be polite, and make sure you have a chat with the guests at some stage throughout the day as you would like to be made welcome if it were you.

    Briefing complete, you will be split in to 2 teams. One team will beat and the other shoot. The shoot captain will ensure both teams are overseen by an experienced member of the syndicate who knows the ground. Both teams will communicate either by mobile phones or radios. If you are shooting get your gun (in a slip) and cartridge bag and make sure you take enough cartridges. Ask if you are shooting all morning or if the teams are swapping after each drive. More often than not teams will swap at lunch as it removes the need for people do not have to carry guns when beating.

    Whether beating or shooting take your dog for a ‘brisk’ walk before arriving to get the ‘steam’ out of its legs! If it’s a cocker then this won’t work! As the dog gets more experienced it will calm down and understand what is happening, unless it’s a cocker! On your first day keep the dog on a lead during the drives and let it off in between so it is burning energy and doing what it really wants to do. As the season progresses let the dog do more, but do not rush it. Patience is a virtue.

    Following lunch it’s time for the swap. If you have been beating all morning your dog might be better off in the car for the afternoon. When shooting remember all the basic rules about gun in slip until at the peg and stop shooting on the signal to end the drive.

    At the end of the day help count and brace the birds so the shoot captain knows what has been shot. Guests will be invited to help themselves to a brace. Unlike a lot of driven days, you will seldom see a bird left after everybody has been invited to help themselves. This is how all shoots should be in our opinion.

    Having given the birds a wonderful free life through your commitment and hard work, the final respect you can pay is to ensure all shot birds are taken away and prepared for the table. Field to fork is essential.

    Finally, when saying goodbye thank the shoot captain. Take the final walk back to your car, dog by your side and birds in hand, ready to tell your friends how high those birds were!

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