Most people?s idea of training doesn?t extend much beyond a practice session at the local shooting school, but there can be a lot more to it than that. Loaders are often the direct interface between a shoot and its guests, so making sure they are able to enhance a visitor?s pleasure is well worthwhile. There would be no shooting without the beaters and pickers-up, but again your shoot is more likely to be successful if they know what they?re up to.
A training course can be less intimidating for a newcomer than getting thrown in at the deep end. Of course, there?s no point in shooting something unless you?re going to eat it, which is where meat hygiene and cookery training come in. Maybe some Guns would be more enthusiastic about taking game home if they knew how to handle it. Finally, what can be better than getting some youngsters interested at the grass roots end of shooting? There?s plenty of food for thought this week.
? Brian Dickson headkeeper, Perthshire
Here we do a lot of corporate entertainment days and we have numerous guests who are complete beginners, so everybody who comes to shoot has a loader. I like the loaders to be able to have a good conversation with the guests and tell them about the local area and how we do things, as well as help with the shooting. I wanted to be seen to be doing the right thing, so I organised a loaders? day at Gleneagles just before the start of the season. We started with a talk about legislation.
We then shot a few clays and learned how to correct things like bad gun mounts and people stopping their swing. You need to be positive towards beginners. It?s no good saying ?behind? all the time, but instead say ?just increase your lead?, which comes across better.
? Angela Mitchell headkeeper?s wife, Devon
We started dog training about eight years ago when one of our head pickers-up suggested holding some classes because several pickers-up had young dogs and were interested in learning more. The course starts in April and runs over 10 weeks, and the money raised is donated to a different charity each year. There?s an advanced class as well as a puppy class, and the dogs are aged from eight to 18 months old. We start with the basics, such as sitting and walking to heel, and by the end of the 10 weeks the dog should be able to find dummies in cover and retrieve them from land and the river.
Obviously, you need to do some practice at home but the aim is to develop dogs that will eventually do well on the shoot. We?ve been able to bring on a lot of pickers-up this way. We?ve an excellent picking-up team (some of whom started in the beating line), and the only way they can find out if they?re suited to picking-up is to give it a go.
? Stella West-Harling, Principal, Ashburton Cookery School, Devon
We started the cookery school in 1992, and the game courses began two years ago. I think game is a truly seasonal, organic food and the best you can get. We?re delighted to be able to run courses because the produce from Dartmoor and the surrounding areas is fantastic ? we regard it as one of our show pieces.
The students come from as far afield as Japan, Australia and Thailand. We have people who are thinking of working in the lodges in Scotland and want some training, as well as chefs and people who just want to learn how to prepare and cook game. They have to have a reasonable knowledge of cooking as it?s not a beginners? course. We started off running four a year and are now doing eight or nine. The students learn to cook hare, venison and all the gamebirds, and how to dress, pluck and draw birds. We aim to introduce people to what is available from the land and show that there is no need for a lot of this imported produce.
? Eddy Graves, headkeeper AND ngo vICE-CHAIRMAN, Gloucestershire
The National Gamekeepers? Organisation (NGO) meat hygiene course took five years to organise, with the past three being the nuts-and-bolts of putting it together. We bought the best equipment with a duplicate of everything as there?s nothing worse than having to cancel a course because the equipment doesn?t work. We used PowerPoint, starting with old slides, but by the time we finished all the material was digital. It was important to get outstanding and unusual photographs that catch people?s attention straightaway. Everyone knows what?s good in game hygiene, but few know what?s bad. Each course took 24 hours of preparation and winding down. You need to know about the venues, refreshments, signposting and so on.
We started at 8am and it?s important to make people feel welcome and relaxed. Always remember that you will be talking to people who are sometimes more knowledgeable than you and you mustn?t let that bother you. I took questions immediately but had to keep a close watch on time. There are more questions with a big audience. I updated the course regularly because there was always something new coming up.
? William Heal, Regional Director BASC Eastern Region
We?ve run a number of wildfowling courses. They?re essentially aimed at youngsters, though the same basic course could be used for adults. The main objective is to build up an interest in wildfowling among the youngsters and to start them off on the right lines. We cover how to shoot when wildfowling, safety, punt-gunning and use of gundogs, decoys and all the other facets of wildfowling that are different to gameshooting. One example of that is the clayshooting, which is done sitting or lying rather than standing. There is also a part where they go out on the marsh to gain marsh experience, including learning how to walk in mud and survive under those conditions.
They have to own a shotgun certificate. The youngest we?ll take is 13 years old and the oldest is 17 years old. They get a pack beforehand, which includes rough notes on coastal wildfowling, covering topics such as kit, quarry identification and cartridges. They also get the BASC code of practice and a quarry identification book. The pièce de résistance is a shoot on the marsh accompanied by an experienced wildfowler. That?s normally on the morning of the second day and we hope they all get a shot.
?Mark Elliott founder of the National Organisation of Beaters and Pickers-up
The idea of having an ?introduction to beating? course came about from people saying they would love to go beating but didn?t know how to start. I knew there were no courses around and felt we should be able to put a day together where we could explain a bit about shooting and who?s who from the shoot captain to the gamecart driver. We take them out in the afternoon to do a dry-drive, walking through covercrops explaining as we go. It?s simply an ?introduction?, not a ?go forth you are now a beater? day. It gives them the confidence
to talk to a keeper and know a bit about covercrops, quarry, and what a flag is used for.
I was laughed out of Wiltshire at the idea of running the course but all of them were fully booked. We ran four last season and hope to run five or six next season. The course is run on a Saturday to make it easy for people to attend, but it does limit the number of courses we can do. We have about 25 people per course.
Nearly half are women and we had one family who came down from Stafford.