With beaters' day approaching, now might be a good time to reacquaint yourself with the fundamentals of good gameshooting. Tom Payne has some entry-level tips to boost your confidence.
We shooters are reliant on the hard work put in all year round by keepers and other members of the behind-the-scenes team. The end of the season is all about these people, the ones who make each shoot day possible. It is now their turn to be thanked for all their hard work and commitment.
Much-deserved beaters’ day
The final couple of weeks of the season are therefore usually given over to keepers’ days, helpers’ days and the much-deserved beaters’ day. These are always great fun. On family and syndicate shoots there is a turning of the tables as the Guns become beaters and they take their turn to work hard — in any weather conditions — to give the others a great day out.
For some, beaters’ day may be the only driven pheasant day of the season. In fact, it might be the only driven shooting they do all year. If you are one of the team that shoots infrequently, here are a few pointers to help you make the most of your day. The general basics of shooting game are easily forgotten after a year, but these basics are fundamental to good shooting. The skills to shoot consistently at varied quarry on different topography in different conditions cannot be mastered in a short space of time. The tips that follow, though, should allow you to approach the day feeling more relaxed. This will help you to enjoy the day, and you will find that you shoot better too.
Your stance is vital to any good shot and it takes a long time to develop good footwork. With practice, you will instinctively start to move your feet correctly with minimal thought, but time is not on your side. So what should be your priority? A good basic stance is all you need — so long as you have this in place, you will start the process of shooting straight. Don’t get hung up on moving your feet; if you do, you will find yourself in a muddle.
The basic stance for a right-hander is to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take half a step forward with your left foot and point between 1 and 2 o’clock, then turn your back foot so
it is pointing between 2 and 3 o’clock. Gently take your weight forward on to your leading leg. Keep that leg straight or you will mount the gun too low. This will give you a correct stance, which will enable you to shoot comfortably and mount the gun correctly.
Mounting the gun
You must address the bird properly. I see so many Guns holding their gun facing the wrong way relative to where the bird is coming from. This will cause you to rush and mount the gun incorrectly on to the bird you are attempting to shoot. When you have selected the bird you wish to shoot, raise the butt of the stock so that the heel of the gun is level with your armpit and held slightly away from the body. This will help you to mount the gun smoothly to your eyeline. Hold the muzzles just below the line of the bird you are hoping to shoot.
Following step two, if you address the bird correctly, this will help you pick the bird up smoothly. There are lots of theories on where you should start on the bird, but I prefer to bring my muzzles smoothly into the back of the bird or just behind it. This solid connection helps to read the line, speed and distance of the bird and reduces the risk of running off line and misreading the bird. In one smooth movement, accelerate gently past the bird and trust what you see when pulling the trigger. Don’t go in thinking about lead; think about the bird — that’s what you’re trying to shoot. Watch the bird fall; it will help you finish the shot and prevent you from stopping the gun.
If you follow these three steps your shooting should improve. There is a lot more to it, of course, but unless you have the time to practise on a weekly basis, working on your technique, a consistent gun mount, perfect footwork etc, these three steps will be a good start. Try to get some practice in at a clay ground before the day itself to get you into the swing of things. It will pay dividends.
For the syndicates and farm shoots that have relied on their beaters all season, it is now time for the Guns to get the flags out and give their behind-the-scenes team the best sport they can. I think it is disrespectful for a regular Gun not to join the beating line on beaters’ day.
I like to show my gratitude to everyone involved: the keepers who work all year round for our sport, and the beating teams and pickers-up who turn out in any conditions for the Guns. Without you, there would be no driven shooting.
Rules to remember
- Safety is paramount. On many beaters’ days or clear-up days, it is not always possible to have everyone standing. Most shoots have such a large number of beaters that there may be two beaters’ days or they may operate in teams. There will be one team standing and one team of walking Guns. If you are one of those walking Guns, make sure that you don’t shoot birds going forwards — it could be unsafe but also it is unfair on the standing Guns. Everyone gets their chance. If there are safe birds going back, make the most of them if the keeper has instructed you to do so.
- Try to encourage the less experienced. Beaters’ days are fantastic chances to encourage any Guns who don’t shoot as much as others. It could be the first time that younger members shoot driven game. This is where their journey starts, so encourage them, help them and make sure that all involved enjoy their day.
- If you are one of those who have been less committed than the rest of your team and have decided only to turn up at the end of the season, hoping that a couple of days’ beating will get you on beaters’ day, it’s unfair on the loyal participants of the shoot. Beating for your team shows loyalty and commitment.