Sorting out the order for the end of season beaters' days can be tricky. So keep it simple, says Liam Bell
As January approaches, thoughts of keepers, beaters and pickers-up are turning to the end-of- season cock’s or beaters’ days. Originally called keeper’s days — because they were gifted to the keeper to invite whom he wished — the Guns are now usually a mix of the keeper’s guests, the beaters and pickers-up and a few helpers.
Earning a place
Regardless of what you call the days, it is worth remembering that everyone there has either earned their place by being part of the beating team, because they have helped the shoot or the keeper in some way, or because the keeper has invited them. More than once I have been a guest of a friend, whose beaters have viewed my presence and those of other guests with suspicion.
Our format for beaters’ day
- As soon as everyone is there, we split into two teams.
- I pick a team captain for each, then divide the more regular beaters, guests and helpers between the two.
- We toss a coin to decide who beats first and who stands.
- After listing a few rules, and reminding all of the importance of not getting so carried away with the shooting that they forget to be safe, we move off.
- We try to organise the drives so that the teams see an equal number of birds, but it rarely works out that way. There is always a team who gets more shooting than the other.
- The Guns know we try to even things out and accept that they’ll be in the thick of it on some drives and less so on others.
- We place the Guns, because I know how most of them shoot, and try to put the stronger Guns under the higher birds, and the weaker and less experienced ones under the lower ones.
- The better Shots appreciate the challenge, the weaker ones have the chance to bag a bird or two.
- Another added advantage of placing the Guns — as opposed to them drawing numbers — is that if someone has been out of the shooting I can put them in a better spot the next time they are standing.
- Not only that, but as we are pegged for eight Guns it is easier for me to place the extra Guns under the birds than it is to try to explain things to someone who might not know the flightline quite so well.
- In places we double-bank, but the second row is always far enough back from the main line that they don’t affect the shooting of those in front.
- There is nothing more off-putting for a novice Gun than having a more experienced Shot standing directly behind them and having a go at everything they miss.
- Novice Guns need space, time and encouragement as opposed to a hot Shot behind them mopping up.
- On days such as these the wiping of a friend’s eye is very much part of the fun and to be encouraged but for a beginner who is struggling, it is a bit tough.
- Our more experienced walking/beating Guns are allowed to shoot birds going back, but only if they are both safe and sporting. It goes without saying that they know the day is not a pheasant cull and that no bird is worth a risky shot.
- Ground game is off the menu. There are too many people and too many dogs about for it to be safe.
In an increasingly litigious society, it amazes me how many people aren’t members of one of the shooting organisations and therefore covered by their members’ insurance. Accidents can and do happen and shooting uninsured is a risky business. Not only that, but the shooting organisations need your support to promote shooting and gamekeeping. If you shoot you should be signed up to at least one of them.
Mentoring young Guns
Our young Guns, and anyone who hasn’t shot live game before, are mentored by a few of our older beaters. They are happy to stand and help them when the alternative is wading through brambles, hacking their way through a laurel jungle or climbing up a steep bank.
Many of the older lads shot their first birds here and all of them remember the thrill of their first “proper drive”, their first birds and the excitement the night before the big day. They understand what the novices are going through and are great at lifting their spirits if they are struggling, or calming things down if anyone gets too excited.
Non-shooters greatly appreciated
The non-shooters who turn up to beat and pick-up for us are a godsend. Having more people in the line makes such a difference; an extra stop to keep birds in a drive, the extra beater to fill the gap left by someone who’s shooting, or the extra picker-up who is straight on to any runners. They all play their part and it is greatly appreciated.
Instead of the shoot paying them, one of the lads will pass round the hat and ask those who are shooting for a donation. The collection is divided between them. We also pay for their meal in the pub, buy their drinks and make sure they have a lift home.
The key to having a good beaters’ day is keeping it simple, keeping it fun and not getting too stressed or bothered when something goes wrong — because it probably will.