One of the hardest things a shoot captain will ever be called upon to do is to send a fellow shooter home in disgrace for being a danger to others. It makes an enemy for life and causes wounds that might never heal. While many will support tough action, friends of the accused might take a different view. There is no easy way ? the shoot captain must grit his teeth and, as painlessly as he can, do the fell deed. There is no place in the field for a dangerous Shot and the captain has a duty of care to all present. It is no good his going at the end of the day to inform some lady that she is a widow and her children are fatherless because he was too fastidious to do the proper thing. ?I?m sorry Widow Jenkins but I didn?t like to make a fuss as it was Henry,? is not compelling. Captaincy comes with privilege and responsibility.
With a stranger it is easier, the deed is done quickly and firmly and forgotten, but more often it is someone you know. The miscreant might be an old friend, might be the oldest or youngest member of the shoot, a founder member, there in the presence of his wife or children, or even, heaven help you, a member of your own family. It is a judgement of Solomon as to what constitutes a sending-home offence; football referees get red cards wrong all the time. No-one reading this has not fired a dodgy shot or held a gun dangerously, deny it and you compound your fault for you did not recognise it, but the offence is a matter of degree.
It is not ideal to make the decision on second-hand evidence that might be conflicting or confused. What usually happens is someone takes you aside and asks you to have a word with old Fred who shot two birds low over his head in the last drive. The complainant, you notice, will not handle it and take the flak but would far rather you do it so he comes out clean. Never rebuke old Fred in public but take him aside and explain what has happened, no-one is perfect but times have changed and would he be more careful, for this is his last chance. Old Fred might deny the charge angrily, remind you he has been shooting since before you were born and has never had a complaint in his life. A better man will be aghast, ask to whom he can apologise and thank you for bringing it to his attention. Fred?s actions were dangerous but not fatally, so you spare him the ultimate ignominy, but watch him like a hawk.
Tales abound of awful gun handling, of low birds or birds over neighbours, rash shots at ground game or through hedges. Just mingle with any shooting party for a while and out come the horror stories of the hedge fund manager spending his millions on shooting and winging half the beaters on his first day out. What commercial shoot manager has what it takes to send home the golden goose, the man who pays the bill and puts the bread on his table? I have seen too many chicken out.
The most clear-cut case is where someone is actually injured by a fellow Gun. Such events fortunately are rare but we all know someone who has the odd pellet in them. Time was when a light peppering was a bit of a joke, but those days are long gone. We live in strange times when ?Injury Lawyers for You? lurk at your hospital bedside as medics pick out the pellets. Such a case is clear cut, and sending the person in question home is the right thing to do. Everyone recognises it, and the perpetrator would probably wish to withdraw anyway. Then you must brace yourself for possible compensation so make sure your insurance is up to date.
The hard one is the grey area, the persistent small failings, the bad habits that make others nervous and need nipping in the bud. Issue a firm and final warning. ?The next time this happens I shall reluctantly?? Explain to a deputy what you have said so if you have to do the deed you cannot be accused of being precipitate. Another toughie is the single appalling lapse that mercifully does not end with a wounding.
The fox shot dead at a neighbour?s feet, the pellet in a dog, the shot rattling along the tops of the maize as beaters approach prompting shouts of, ?Watch out?. Those are the real stinkers and I can offer no advice, for no two cases are identical. Consult other senior shoot members, take each case on its merits, take the history and record of the accused into account and if the nettle needs to be grasped then grasp it, otherwise give the shoot captaincy to someone who can. It is my opinion that we need to see more sendings home, a punishment that remains a last resort but better safe than sorry?