Recently there seems to have been an increase in the level of correspondence in the sporting press about the relationship between pickers-up and guns.
Sadly, I think the increase in commercial shooting over the years has increased the pressure in this area.
Picking-up teams are more fixed to the estate whilst the guns come and go, which means it’s difficult to establish a working relationship, unlike with a more traditional, regular syndicate.
I suspect commercial shoots attract slightly less guns with dogs than the traditional syndicate, which means on commercial shoots the picking-up team have more of a free rein.
I also suspect on commercial shoots the picking-up can be a bit more industrial, given the time pressures between drives if bag targets need to be met.
However, it is important that, whatever the type of shoot, each different part of the team, including the guns, understands the etiquette and respects each other.
As a gun who always enjoys taking my dog with me on any type of shoot day I can confirm that picking-up at the end of a drive gives me huge pleasure, and nothing upsets me more than being unable to do this.
Any gun who owns a gundog will agree with this. I think many shoots underestimate the pleasure this gives to some of their guns.
Some guns enjoy picking their game as much as the shooting itself and shoots should acknowledge this, as they are enhancing the overall enjoyment of the gun’s day.
After all, what’s the point in having your dog with you if it can’t pick a few of your birds?
The gun’s responsibilities
One of the problems which picking-up teams have is that different teams of guns care differently about the various issues.
It is sad when you hear a picker-up talking of the guns not caring or showing an interest in whether the birds they have shot have been picked.
If a gun does not have a dog they still have an obligation to make sure any birds around the peg are neatly gathered, to check in with the picker-up behind them that everything is in order and help to point out any injured birds.
If no picker-up is around because they are working elsewhere, it’s very easy to have a quick word with the shoot host or keeper and inform them you have left some birds by your peg awaiting the game cart, or that there is a wounded bird down by the stream.
They have radios and can relay messages.
Many guns take a great deal of pleasure from watching their own dog picking-up birds they’ve shot.
Sadly, stories of guns leaving empty cartridge cases everywhere, game randomly lying around the field and just walking off on the phone do nothing to endear the guns to the pickers-up.
It can therefore mean those of us with dogs can suffer as the picking-up team becomes less aware and less sympathetic to the guns.
The picking-up team are an integral part of the day; they are often great characters and their job is vital to the well-being of our sport ensuring that nothing goes to waste.
The picker-up’s responsibilities
There can be no set rules around picking-up, and the terrain often dictates the situation, but there are some fairly obvious points.
Clearly, the further back the picking-up team are the more they can see and they can get cracking earlier without impinging on the gun line.
Likewise, in thick cover and woods it makes sense for them to get on with their work to ensure birds aren’t lost, although guns will still appreciate a bird or two to be left on the nearest edge of the wood, which should be possible given the pickers-up will be starting further back.
But picking dead game on an open field during a drive is totally unnecessary, and if it’s behind a gun with a dog it’s very poor form.
Clearly, during the drive picking a runner is a priority wherever it is.
Dogs should not be working around or in front of the guns unless absolutely necessary.
There is no doubt that poor picking-up can affect the gun’s experience.
And we have to remember on a commercial shoot it’s the guns who have paid for the day, and no shoot would want to risk the overall enjoyment of the day from its main source of income.
I have on occasions become so upset that I have broken the rules: I have started to send my dogs for my birds during the drive simply to stop them being picked by others. This culminates in chaos.
You can’t concentrate on shooting and picking-up at the same time.
Guns should not work dogs during the drive – nor should they have a need to.
I think at this point it’s worth saying that pickers-up are not the only culprits here; shoot owners and other guests often contribute by allowing dogs to roam, thereby adding to the confusion.
The ideal sporting field
Some guns are also sensitive to having dogs worked around them during a drive.
The doctor who shoots with me travels from overseas to join us; he has spent a fortune on shooting lessons and by his own admission needs maximum concentration on the peg.
Surely a bit of peace and quiet is not too much to ask for? All guns know concentration is essential for successful shooting.
There is no better setting for a line of guns than seeing game presented over woodland without the beaters in view, pickers-up working around or flagmen waving – this is not meant with any disrespect – but it presents the guns with a less artificial feeling.
I was shooting on my regular syndicate at Hopton Wafers, Shropshire, last season and remember vividly on one drive standing in stunning parkland watching birds climbing from the distant wood and all the guns in the line standing alone, waiting with anticipation.
The sporting field was a picture of calm and tranquillity. I think shoots under-estimate how some guns use the sport to relax, and therefore often appreciate the setting and presentation as much as the shooting.
Unless absolutely necessary, dogs should not be working around or in front of the guns while a drive is in progress.When it works well
I thought it would be useful to highlight some good examples of what I consider best practice picking-up.
A few years back I shot at The Brigands and can remember on one drive the main picking-up team was located about three fields behind the line of guns.
This gave them a perfect view of proceedings and also allowed them to work inwards after the drive had finished.
Given the drive traditionally shows high birds and therefore there is greater chance of birds dying further back, they were also well positioned to deal with such birds.
They were far enough back to work away during the drive without disturbing anyone and then, once the horn had gone to end the drive, they picked-up from the back as they worked forward.
This allowed ample time for the guns with their own dogs to pick-up behind their pegs.
It’s also worth noting that they had placed a picker-up alongside the shoot host – who picked any wounded game during the drive, but did not pick dead game on the open field behind the guns.
This ensured any wounded birds were quickly dispatched (something we all agree is vital) but it didn’t affect the guns’ own enjoyment at picking their game.
I think this is a near perfect scenario for all involved.
It’s good to talk
Simple communication can often resolve any dispute before it arises.
I was shooting at Stanage a few years back and after the draw one of the gentlemen helping run the day enquired which guns had dogs.
He noted our peg numbers and then informed the picking-up team who had dogs and where we’d been pegged.
This ensured that throughout the day those of us with dogs were given ample space and time at the end of the drives to pick-up.
It’s imperative the senior and seasoned beaters and pickers-up make sure their teams are well briefed and understand the requirements and the etiquette involved.
I often find mistakes are made not on purpose but because the level of understanding of everyone’s role is not high enough.
Ultimately, the shoot owner or host has to take on this responsibility to avoid irritations arising.
There is little debate around the importance of the picking-up teams, and there is also no debate that on commercial shoots guns are the clients and they have to be treated as such.
But we must also all be able to laugh and enjoy the day.
Observation of good etiquette by all involved, respect, communication and a healthy dose of common sense should ensure all goes smoothly.