Regular Shooting Times readers may recall that exactly a year ago, I told the tale of a lady who visited me at The CLA Game Fair and who was very unhappy about the shoot that surrounds her.
To recap briefly and summarise, what was once a small farm shoot had grown into a big commercial enterprise. In the process she has been shaded out by fast-growing trees planted right up to the boundary. Also, since pheasants are shown over her garden, she inevitably suffers from both birds and spent shot falling on her property.
So, here we go again. The lady concerned came to see me this year too, and the tale really has not changed. It is fair to say that she has not made a formal complaint to the committee of the Code of Good Shooting Practice, so it has not been possible for them to do anything on her behalf.
But, as she pointed out the first time, making a complaint is hardly likely to improve what is already a difficult relationship. In common with many others, she complains that the code is toothless. For me, as a representative on the code committee for The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), the code fails to take account of its many successes. There are, of course, one or two people in the shooting world who will never be bothered about offending anybody else, but the majority of us who shoot are only too conscious of our duty to do so responsibly.
So, from the code committee?s perspective, most shoots are not a cause for concern and there are but a few complaints each year. The good news is that in the vast majority of these cases, the people concerned are blissfully unaware of what has gone wrong and are horrified to discover that they have caused offence. As a consequence, a gentle explanation of their mistake is all that it takes for them to put the situation right.
Revisiting the guidelines
As I have said before, most of what is in the code is common sense and we all believe that we understand it well ? so well, in fact, that we do not read it! So, what better time than now, in the run-up to the shooting season, to settle down with a copy and read it from cover to cover?
I am sure that you will fi nd yourself agreeing with all that the code contains, but it is still good to understand the rules that you should abide by.
One of the things that surprises many people is the extent to which the code puts the onus on you, the Gun, to ensure that the shoot you are taking part in complies. For example, the code states that Guns must satisfy themselves that adequate provision is made for retrieval of the game they shoot. So, while it is clearly the host?s responsibility to find enough pickers-up on a driven shoot, it is also down to the individual Gun to see that he or she is catered for.
If you have a dog anyway, you will probably be reasonably happy but you will still want to see that there are suitably deployed dog handlers to back you up. On the other hand, if you have no dog and are asked to take a back Gun position with no one to pick-up for you, what should you do? I?d be far from happy to be left back on my own for the ones that break back over the beaters? heads.
Please think on this too: Guns must be competent at estimating range and shoot within the limitations of their equipment to kill cleanly and consistently. Being a wildfowler and roughshooter in origin, I have always been aware of the fact that long shots rarely result in dead birds. On the odd occasion that I have refused to shoot at what I regard as an overly high bird on a driven day, I have been teased for not having a go, rather than congratulated on my restraint. Maybe we need a change of attitude here?
Consideration for others is as much a matter for the individual Gun as the shoot host too. Spot the words avoid birds and spent shot falling on to public places, roads and neighbouring property in this section of the code. Clearly, the shoot manager should have this in mind when laying out drives. However, if, for example, you happen to be drawn next to a house or garden, as the Gun you should surely satisfy yourself that you are not going to upset the householder by shooting there. If more people did so, it would be much harder for shoot hosts to place us where we are going to cause offence.
This brings me neatly back to the lady at the start. She said it was wrong that the code is retrospective, in that you can only get compliance by complaining. It would be better all round if shoots had to show compliance before they get started. Personally, I hope that self-regulation will prevail, but perhaps we need to do better?