It won't be long before the season is over but do Guns respect all the organisation that goes into making their shoot days so enjoyable? Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association has his say.
I wonder if people appreciate the amount of work and organisation that goes into planning a shoot day? The day starts way back in the summer when your poults first arrive in the release pens and the feeding regime, which is a seven-days-a-week job, goes on through the autumn in all weathers leading the pheasants up to the woods from which you will present your birds.
Total commitment from the keeper
This period, which runs from July through to October, demands total commitment from the keeper. For young keepers it quickly dispels the myth that they should be walking about with gun under arm and Labrador at heel.
Over the season, the keepers will handle, with a bucket, thousands of tons of wheat that will go on the feed rides and is of great benefit to songbirds as well as nourishing our game birds. We use a spinner on the back of the quad along with bins from which we fill the quad at each feed.
The spinner is probably one of the best inventions in the recent past; it allows us to feed the birds over a much greater distance than we could achieve by hand, allowing the pheasants that are less aggressive a chance to fill their crops without being harassed by the more pushy cock pheasants. The hoppers also attract deer and badgers, which wreck them.
The pheasants are now where we want them in the coverts, which are warm and safe. But to manage these drives we must try to cut windows to allow the birds to take off and fly. We have been brashing trees to allow the beaters to keep in touch with each other and keep some sort of line, working their way through the drives.
Planning a shoot day – the shoot bothy
So, leading up to the big day, the keeper must be responsible for the shoot bothy. Do all the appliances work? Urn, pie warmer, heaters, cooker and hot water supply? He must order paper cups and plates, napkins, cutlery, tea bags, coffee, sugar, salt and pepper. And, on the day, milk, soup, pies, beans, beer, port and soft drinks.
He has to have a full complement of beaters, loaders, drivers and pickers-up who are contacted in the lead up to the shoot by email, text, phone call or good old word of mouth. This can be a nightmare when we are working with a large team of people. Some have the flu, some on holiday, dogs in heat, relative just died — all sorts of reasons for being unavailable.
Weather out of control
Having worked your socks off, the day finally arrives. Then you have the vagaries of the weather to contend with. Fog, deep snow, blizzards and high winds can all put an end to the proceedings. The weather is out of your control and you can only wish for good conditions when the time comes.
We are now heading to the house to meet the Guns and the boss calls to say one of the party has called off ill. Another has forgotten his wellies — “find someone with same size feet” — or his gun and cartridges — “find the same size gun”; no warm jacket, the list goes on. As anybody who has been invited to shoot knows only too well as they leave the house in the morning loaded up like some intrepid explorer heading off for the Arctic.
So we give the Guns the all-important safety talk, ask them to pick up their empty shells and set off for the first drive.
The Guns all disembark from the vehicles, then decide to all fall into deep conversation with each other as if they had never met in their lives. After 20 minutes of gentle cajoling you might actually be getting them near to their pegs where, less than half an hour ago, they all drew peg numbers but have promptly forgotten them.
Beware of being on your mobile
As you are lining the Guns out, one will have been on his mobile phone since he arrived on the shoot. I now have my own way of dealing with this one — as we get to the last number they nearly always look up and ask what number they are. That is when I send them back to the end of the line.
Alex Hogg is chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and is an experienced keeper on a 7,000-acre estate that puts up pheasants and grouse.