Driven Shooting has to be the ultimate day out for anybody who enjoys shooting. It evokes passion, excitement, camaraderie, frustration and elation in equal measure but should always be enjoyed whatever the weather.
It should never be forgotten how much work goes into a successful driven day. It starts months before and often carries on in the days after. The price of a driven day will depend on venue, number of birds shot and of course the number of guns which is normally, but not always, eight. With all this in mind, there are rules to be followed to ensure a safe days shooting.
For novices, the thought of a driven day comes with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Knowing what to wear, how to behave, what gun to use, how to hit the birds, how to understand the (sometimes strange) terminology of driven shooting and avoid looking like a fool are all considerations! Above all else, being a safe shot is critical for the novice game shooter. .
This short guide is designed to help take some of the mystery out of the day, it will help you understand the do’s and don’ts in an effort to enable you to be as well-prepared as possible and enjoy the day.
What to Wear
The pheasant shooting season runs from October to the end of January and is a winter sport. Grouse shooting starts in August, on the Glorious Twelfth, but the vast majority of driven shooting in the UK is for pheasant and partridge. So, with this in mind think wet and cold. While you will not be expected to walk miles on the day, you will have to get to and from your peg which often means having to walk short distances and climb over the occasional fence or gate.
Footwear is important. As the old saying goes “look after your feet and they will look after you”. Nobody wants to have cold wet feet so get yourself a decent pair of neoprene lined welly boots. There are many different brands, styles and indeed colours but the safe bet is a pair of green boots.
Some people want more ankle support than that offered by a typical welly boot and buy sturdy lace up leather boots. It is an individual choice, but for the novice a decent pair of neoprene lined wellingtons is recommended, they will last for years.
Shooting socks, or stockings, can be bought at any decent country sports stockist. Comfort is key, so it is recommended visiting the stockist to ensure you get the right size, and preferred colour. They come with ‘ties’ or garters which are simply bands to tie around the top of the sock. The sock then folds down over the top of the welly boot.
Most guns wear breeks, which are traditionally 3/4 length tweed or moleskin trousers made with either 2 or 4 inches of additional material (hence named Plus 2s or Plus 4s) which hang over your socks allowing rain to drip off without filling your boots. These are not compulsory and any dark coloured (preferably green) trousers can be worn but breeks are more comfortable as they stop at the knee. Again, these can be sourced at a good country sports outlet and last you many shooting seasons.
The choice of what to wear above the waist will vary to individual tastes but as a rule of thumb, always wear a shirt and tie. The weather will dictate what else you wear but a good waxed jacket is a traditional choice. It will keep you both dry and, to a degree, warm on the chilly winter shoot days. If you are lucky enough to have a bright dry winters day then it’s ok to dispense with the jacket and wear a good jumper or gilet over your shirt and tie instead.
Finally, hat, gloves and scarf are a personal choice. A waxed cap will always be useful in case of rain or showers. There are some very trendy flat caps now being made and worn on shoots to add a little colour to the day. As long as it is a tweed or waxed type cap you will not go far wrong.
So now you look the part what about a gun? Firstly, you must have a valid shotgun license to own a shotgun. The rules vary slightly in the UK with shotgun and firearms licences but if you want to own your own gun it is advised to visit a reputable gun dealer who will advise on the process for applying for a license. The time taken for the police to issue you a license can vary from force to force but expect 6-8 weeks as a minimum to get your license.
The Gun and Ancillaries
Experienced game shooters will get their guns ‘fitted’ for them, especially left-handed people. However, this can be expensive and not recommended for the novice. Make sure you get advice and try out a number of different guns with clays before committing to any specific one. Guns come in different sizes and bores. The size bit is easy, it means the length of the barrel. The ‘bore’ is the diameter of the barrel, and by far the most common is 12 bore. The vast majority of the shooting community use a 12-bore shotgun but 20 bore, which is smaller and lighter, is also a popular choice.
The price of guns varies enormously ranging from £2-300 to £10,000’s. For a newcomer to the sport it is recommended to consult a dealer and buy what you can afford and what you are comfortable shooting. A lesson at a clay pigeon shooting range is strongly recommended. A good gun doesn’t make a good shot!
Thinking of the ancillaries you will need, a gun ‘slip’ is a must. A slip is a leather case you put your gun in when not in use and moving between drives. Most shoots insist on guns being unloaded and in a slip, until on the peg. This sensible rule lets everybody know that your gun is safe and cannot be fired.
You will also need a cartridge bag. The number of cartridges you take on a driven day can be a contentious issue. Running out of cartridges during the day is a cardinal sin and some gamekeepers take it as an insult so the rule is ‘P’ for plenty! To better guide you, if it is a 300-bird day you will need a minimum of 200 cartridges. The reason being is if the team shoot a ratio of 5:1, then that equates to 1500 shots to hit 300 birds. Divide that by 8 guns and each of you will shoot approximately 190 shots.
The choice of what type of cartridge can also confuse newcomers. Much is made of the different sizes and weights of shot put into cartridges, and opinions vary on this subject. For a novice gun on a driven pheasant or partridge shoot a good choice would be 28g with a weight of 5 or 6. It should be noted that most shoots now do not allow plastic wads (the bit inside the cartridge that separates the lead shot from the powder that propels the shot).
Again, do not get bogged down in the variety (and marketing jargon) accompanying the sale of cartridges. The 28g relates to the total weight of the shot (balls) in the cartridge and the 5-6 relates to the size of the shot in the cartridge. The lower the number the larger the shot. As you become more experience you will understand what cartridges you like and when you might need a heavier load and larger shot (goose shooting) or lighter load and smaller shot (pigeons).
Ear protection is something you have to wear as you will be firing a lot of shots which, if not used, will damage your hearing after a period of time. There are many varieties of ear protection, some of the best ones have batteries and microphones on them so you can hear people talking to you when wearing them but still protect your ears. Get a good pair!
A few useful words and phrases you might hear on the day, again this will vary throughout the UK:
- A Brace: collective noun for a pair of game, normally pheasants, but can be any game bird
- The Bag: The total number of game birds killed that day; this will not always match what you thought you would shoot. Most shoots count the amount of shots fired to ensure they put enough birds over the guns.
- Beaters: People who work with their dogs to flush out the game, they often carry a stick to ‘beat’ trees, bushes and the ground
- Bullshot: Hot soup cooled with sherry, many shoots make their own version of this
- Covey: A small group of game birds which habitually live together. They more often than not fly off together in a group when flushed.
- A Drive: This is where the term ‘Driven’ comes from, this is a group of beaters working under the gamekeeper to move the birds towards the guns. This is critical to having a successful day.
- A Gun: The person shooting
- Loader: Some shoots ‘double gun’ which requires a person to load shotguns quickly whilst the other is being fired. Practice with your loader beforehand to ensure you both understand each other.
- Peg: Where the gun stands during each drive. It is usually a wooden post which is marked with a number. Guns draw a number before the 1st drive of the day then generally move up 2 numbers after each drive to ensure all guns get an equal chance of being in the centre of the drive. Always remember your number!
- Pickers-up: Dog handlers tasked with picking up the shot birds and dispatching those which have not been killed cleanly
- Ground Game: This refers to rabbits, hares, squirrels, foxes etc (anything that does not fly)
- Corvids: Crows, Magpies, Jays, Ravens and Rooks
On The Day
The day arrives, you have all the gear, so now let’s get the idea of how to behave and the Do’s and Don’ts, with safety in mind throughout the day.
Always arrive in plenty of time. Leave your wellies in the car for now unless told otherwise and have a welcoming cup of tea which all shoots will have ready for the guns. If you know the other guns great, if not introduce yourself. If it is your first time, tell the host, he might then ask the other guns or a loader to help you out.
The keeper or host will then introduce newcomers and welcome everybody. Following the introductions, he will outline the rules for the day. If anything is unclear this is the time to ask. Nobody will ever criticise a person for asking for clarity as the rules are in place to keep everybody safe. He will explain the system they have in place for starting and stopping a drive which is normally a horn or whistle although you might be ‘live’ when you get to your peg. This means when you get to your peg you can take your gun out of the slip, load it and shoot any game flying overhead. At the end of the drive when you hear the horn or whistle, if a bird flies over do not shoot it!
The host will offer the guns to draw a peg. This is done in a variety of ways but essentially you will draw a peg number from whatever the host is using. You will not be able to see the numbers until you turn it around so nobody has an advantage. Remember your number, as that is the number of the peg where you will start from. He will also tell you the system for moving up after each drive.
When ready, the host or keeper will tell the guns to move outside and put jackets and boots on and either board a vehicle or walk to your nominated peg. This is where safety comes in. Ensure you have your gun in a slip, enough cartridges and ear protection. The keeper or host will then tell the guns exactly where to stand (show you to your peg). Once there, take a moment to look left and right so you can see and know exactly who and where is either side of you while being aware also that as the drive progresses, the beaters will generally be moving towards you.
This is where the excitement level builds with the growing anticipation of actually shooting a bird. You have to enjoy this moment as this is what all the preparation has been about, but do not let the excitement get the better of you and become unsafe. Take your gun out of the slip, check its unloaded and your barrels are clear. Keep the gun broken for all to see. Put your ear protection on, get your cartridge bag over your shoulder and then and only then load your gun.
Always keep your gun either pointing into the sky, or broken, when facing the direction of the birds. The first flush of birds coming your way will, as a novice (and even experienced guns), fill you with adrenalin. Stay calm. If your gun was already pointing to the sky simply pick a bird, keep the gun moving and gently squeeze the trigger! A word of warning though, make sure it’s the intended quarry before shooting it. It’s often seen as bad etiquette to shoot a passing pigeon at the start of a drive and some other birds may have a fine associated with them! Hit or miss does not matter the action is the same: lower your gun, unload, reload and get ready for the next bird. Great isn’t it! If you cannot see the sky behind a bird do not shoot at it. Birds often flush out of woods and it is tempting to try and get a line on the bird quickly, however you cannot see if a beater is in the woods behind it so make sure you always have the sky behind a bird before firing.
It’s all going well and you have hit a few birds. Then a bird comes to your right, almost central between you and your neighbouring gun. You are perfectly entitled to have a go at it, however if the bird is clearly closer to him then it is ‘his’ bird. If he shoots and misses then by all means have a shot at it as some of the best birds are ones that the gun to your side has missed. Make sure you don’t get branded as a ‘poacher’. This is someone who wants to shoot all the birds near him or her to the detriment of the guns either side of him. It is easy to spot a ‘poacher’ and it will upset the guns either side and likely ruin a good day. Poachers aren’t often invited back.
The other thing that stands out a mile is a gun that continually shoots low birds. As a novice people understand that you will not be shooting the highest, fastest birds immediately. However, watching a pheasant being shot when it is barely 20ft off the ground is neither sporting nor particularly pleasant to watch. If you think “should I shoot this bird” then the answer is normally ‘no’. All guns shoot the odd bird that others might judge as low, but only the gun shooting can make that call. It will come with experience but the higher the bird the better it is when you hit it.
Let’s stay safe. Once the horn or whistle is blown to end the drive, unload immediately and either place your gun on your slip on the ground if hot or put it into your slip. Then take another deep breath! Now take your ear protection off and pick up your empty cartridge cases. Personally, I don’t think there is anything worse than guns who simply walk away from the peg leaving a load of empty cartridges on the ground. If you have a loader, they will sometimes insist on looking after the guns and picking up the cases.
After the drive the guns will get together and will hopefully be smiling. You might be offered a drink or you might go straight to the next drive. More often than not it is good to have a break in between drives so the guns can tell each other how great they were (!), the beaters can have a rest and move to the next drive and the pickers up collect all the shot birds.
Remember, for the next drive you will likely be numbered 2 pegs up from the previous drive (or whatever system the host has in place). Most days have 3 or 4 drives before lunch and maybe 1 or 2 afterwards. You will normally get access to your cartridges after each drive so you can top up your bag. There will always be a bag or bucket to put empty cases in so you will not have bulging pockets.
At the end of the day, all shoots offer the guns tea, cakes and maybe something stronger to drink. Depending on the shoot and the team this can go on for some time! Before you go for tea ensure your gun, cartridges and boots are all clean and locked in your vehicle.
The Painful Bit
Knowing who to pay and when is important. It is common practice for the shoot to be paid the agreed price before the actual day. If the bag is substantially different to the agreed number then this can be awkward. Whoever organised the day will try to understand why this is the case. It could be due to weather or maybe the guns have not been able to hit birds driven over them. This is why a shoot counts the number of shots fired. However, assuming it has gone well, and in the vast majority of cases it does, who do you tip and how much?
This is really up to the guns to decide but the gamekeeper is always tipped as he has put months of work into making sure you have a great day. As a rule of thumb, the keeper on most shoots is tipped £20 per 100 birds shot. So, if your team shot 300 birds, a £60 tip is in order. Do not get your money out in front of everybody else though and hand it across. Tipping is done quietly and discretely when you shake hands with the keeper to say thank you.
Hopefully this guide will give you a good idea of what to expect when you attend your first driven winged game shooting event. Remember that although this is a social and spirited sport you must always think safety. You will have a loaded gun in your hands so never lose sight of that. A gun must always be pointing into the sky or broken when not. Always ‘slip’ your gun between pegs and do not shoot somebody else’s bird or low birds! Respect the birds and make sure you know where a shot bird has landed. If you adhere to this you will make new friends after a few days shooting and be invited back!