The National Gamekeepers’ organisation’s Tim Weston offers tips to help amateur keepers improve efficiency and make savings on the shoot

Whether you have recently set up your own DIY shoot or if your syndicate could do with some fresh new tips, Tim Weston will help save you money and improve the efficiency of your shoot.

Stop the rats

Keep rats from lurking under feed bins and hoppers by building a multi-catch rat-trap system.

Make up a box that covers the same floor space as your feeder legs, so that the feeder can sit on the box. Create four compartments and holes in the side of the box so that rats can enter easily but non- targets, such as birds, are not able to enter the trap. Bait the box with some wheat and allow the rats to enter for a day or two before you put your traps in to get them used to going in and out of the box. Then set four Mark Four traps inside the box to catch the rats as they enter.

The same system can be used as for a rat poison bait box, but check the label of the rodenticide you are using to make sure that it is suitable for outdoor use if you are using it outside.

DIY keepers

A multi-catch rat-trap system that sits beneath the feed hopper will save you time and money

Patch up failed crops

Before you can patch up a failed crop, you need to know what chemical herbicide it has had sprayed on it; some will mean that you need to plough before you can scatter any seed on to the soil.

Most catchcrops can be sown into the bare patches of your cover. lightning mustard is a good choice, as is utopia, a cross between black mustard and a wild Ethiopian kale, though this will need to be covered by soil. Take advice from your regular game seed supplier as to what is best to use on your soil type.

DIY keepers

Lightning mustard is a good choice to use as a catchcrop to patch up any failed crops

Squeak the foxes

To get a fox to move in closer you can try calling it. The idea is to mimic the sound made by a wounded rabbit or a mouse so it comes over for what it thinks is an easy meal. Ensure that the wind is in the right direction, blowing in your face, to stop the fox scenting you.

The fox’s reaction will tell you how your sound is being taken. If it bolts towards you, you are on the right lines. If it ignores what you are doing or starts to move off, try something different or stop altogether. Only ever shoot at a properly identified fox in a known safe place with a proper backstop.

DIY keepers

Get your pen ready

Check around the wire of the pen to ensure that there are no holes or broken posts that need replacing. Spray the wire with a herbicide to keep it clear for the birds to walk to the re-entry tunnels and to ensure that the electric fence will not short out.

Try to keep a 1m strip clear around the edge of the pen and, once any foliage has died back, remember to check the pen again for any new holes.

DIY keepers

Check the wires around your pens to ensure that it is secure and there are no broken posts

Make a feed hopper

Feed hoppers are easy to make and an excellent way of providing supplementary food for your birds and other wildlife. You will need a 2×2 batten, a suitable barrel and a feed pan of some kind, which are available commercially.

Cut the timber for three legs; the top of each leg needs to be cut at an angle to give the barrel some support. Set the height of the bottom of the feed pan to around 12in to 13in from the ground — do this by cutting the legs to length. Then secure the feed pan or spiral to the bottom of your barrel. You will need to cut an opening in the barrel to accommodate the feed system that you have chosen.

DIY keepers

Cut the three legs at an angle so that they will support the barrel of your feeder

Protect kale from pests and vermin

Kale is a great covercrop, offering protection and warmth for gamebirds and can offer year-round cover for nesting and brood-rearing for wild game. Rats are not as fond of kale as they are of maize because it offers them little as a food source.

A two-year crop, kale isn’t the easiest to grow, though, and once it is established you will need to watch out for flea beetle, which can be black or metallic green or blue and needs to be sprayed with an insecticide as soon as you spot it. They are very distinctive and spring away from you if they are disturbed. Keep pigeon away by using scarecrows, rope bird bangers, flags, decoys and even tape.

DIY keepers

Protect gamecrops such as kale from pigeon using lines of tape across the plot

Site a tunnel trap

Hedges and walls are roadways for predators. A gap or break in either is a good spot in which to site a tunnel, as is anywhere where a predator might find a food source such as a release pen or hopper. When building your tunnel, try to keep it as natural as possible and the run in and out clear so that it looks like a well-used run. The tunnel must fit the trap you are intending to use and you must use only approved traps for the species that you are trying to catch.

DIY keepers

When you build your tunnel, try to make it look as natural as possible and well-used.

Build a pheasant pen

A temporary pen can last a season or two to help you decide if you need a permanent pen in its place. Metal security fencing panels are an excellent material for a temporary pheasant pen. You can buy these second-hand from most hire centres. Each panel has short feet that can be pushed into the ground and a standard 5ft fence post driven in and two panels Metal panels can be used as a temporary pen secured to it with wire or cable ties. Use as many as you need.

You can get panels with doors built in but they are not that hard to make yourself. You will still need to put 1in chicken wire around the bottom to stop predators digging their way in.

DIY keepers

Metal panels can be used as a temporary pen

Zero your rifle

Set your rifle up on a proper bench rest, making sure it is very secure and cannot move. Place the cross-hairs in the centre of the target and squeeze the trigger. Once you have your bullet strike, move the rifle so the cross-hairs are covering the centre of the strike.

Make sure the rifle is steady and secure again. Now using the scope turrets, move the cross-hairs back to the centre of the target. The next shot should go where the cross-hairs are now. This is a quick way to zero a rifle and works best for rimfire models. You will always need to fine-tune them to make sure that they are zeroed exactly.

DIY keepers

Use a bench rest to zero your rifle quickly

Use a broody bantam

This is a traditional method of rearing game in a more natural way. Leave your bantam in the coop for a day or two; you will know she is broody if, when you enter, she sits tighter on the nest and gives you a peck if you try and put your hand underneath her.

Make sure your eggs are settled — they should not have been transported Sit a broody bantam on your game eggs for 48 hours — before setting them under your broody hen. Disturb her as little as possible. After the birds hatch, extend the run to give them plenty of space to grow. After a week or so you can let the hen and the chicks out of the coop to be free range. The hen should mother them. When the birds are old enough they can be released on to the shoot.

DIY keepers

Sit a broody bantam on your game eggs