How has the latest shooting season been for you? Do you think you have conducted yourself with perfect manners? We asked some gamekeepers and shoot organisers why they would welcome some Guns back for another day's shooting and why they would rather see the back of others ...
Receiving an invitation to go shooting of one of the sport’s great pleasures. Hopefully you’ll receive several during the season.
But have you never noticed a falling-off in the offers you receive. Or wondering why they have stopped altogether? What is the problem? Could you be doing something wrong?
We got the opinion of those in the know who run and organise shoots.
Listen to what the host or captain says in the pre-shoot briefing
Jonathan Elliot lives near Bolton, Lancashire. He is a gamekeeper and organiser of shoots across the North West and says: “The first priority is that a guest should be safe with a gun, and he shouldn’t get my goat by arriving late, keeping everyone waiting, or not wearing the right clothing to suit the weather. One guest — would you believe it? — turned up in mid-winter with no waterproof coat, wearing carpet slippers. He didn’t even know how to put his gun together!
“It’s not asking much, but I do expect syndicate Guns and guests to listen to what the host or captain says in the pre-shoot briefing — not then to start asking questions later in the day, or not following what has been requested.
“What I do expect is that people can accurately mark fallen birds to avoid wasting time, be capable of dispatching pricked birds properly and treat dead birds with respect — laying them neatly on the ground for collection, not just piled in a heap.
“A Gun who spends too long over lunch — especially if the beaters are stuck outside waiting in the rain — is another irritation, as is the guest who isn’t selective in what he shoots.
“Time-wasting caused by people who needlessly get their vehicles stuck, or who talk too loudly in front of flushing points, is also one of my dislikes.
“If you want to score brownie points, take time out to have a chat with the beaters and pickers-up after a day’s shooting, and say ‘thanks’. When all’s said and done, good manners cost nothing.”
Arrive 15 minutes early
Duncan Thomas rents and keepers a mixed shoot in the north of England, in addition to working for BASC and comments: “Being invited to a new shoot can be both exciting and nerve wracking. Obviously you want to make sure you make the right impression, so remember:
- Check your kit, pack the night before and work out the best route to the meeting place.
- Allow plenty of time for the journey and arrive 15 minutes early.
- If in any doubt, ring your host and ask questions: What’s the dress code? Fibre-wad or plastic-wad cartridges? If a duck drive is included, take suitable non-toxic loads.
- Only take a dog if it’s absolutely welcome and well trained.
- Be sure to put your mobile phone on silent.
- Ask whether a meal is provided, or whether you need to take a packed lunch and hot Thermos flask.
- Always congratulate a fellow Gun for pulling off a good shot (don’t boast about your own).
- If in any doubt, don’t fire at a “borderline bird”, and never poach one from a neighbour.
- Check the going rate for the tip, and be sure always to give it to the gamekeeper personally.
- When you return home, feed and kennel the dog, then write a thank you note to your host and post it the next morning.
Graham Brockhouse, retired gamekeeper now living near Stamford, Lincolnshire, but still involved with hosting shoots locally advised: “I suppose you could say I’ve seen more than a few shooters since I started work all those years ago on a private estate in Somerset. After that I ’keepered on other family — as well as syndicate — shoots as far apart as the Midlands and Scottish borders.
“My ideal Gun, one I would like to see return, is someone who, after an introduction at the appointed meeting place, enquires after my family’s health and happiness, how the rearing season has gone, and what the day’s prospects are — in that order.
“They should be smartly dressed, preferably in tweed if the weather is good and, when the courtesies are over, they will have had their tea or coffee and be ready to move five minutes prior to my request. Last thing, they should deposit any mobile phones in the boot of their car before moving off.
“The best guests remember their peg number, quietly close the car door and walk to their peg without talking. They should wait for the drive to start with their gun resting on a hip or shoulder, barrels upward — not in a position where they have to be brought up through the advancing beating line when the safety catch is released.
“If they bring a gundog, it should be well behaved and sit quietly until the drive ends, then use it to pick-up birds in the near vicinity before being returned to the vehicle.
“At day’s end, the Gun will go to the beaters’ room first, thank everyone for their efforts before going for tea and thank the ladies who had prepared drinks, elevenses and lunch.
“The final act is to accept a brace of birds as a matter of course and thank the keeper for the day.
“I know you can’t spend a ‘thank you’, but I would far rather have £10 given graciously by an ‘impoverished gentleman’, than £50 from a wealthy person who has no manners at all.”
Handle a gun safely
Richard Witt, gamekeeper at Vine House Farm, Lincolnshire, a Purdey award-winning wild bird shoot owned by Nicholas Watts said: “Guests, of course, must be able to handle a gun safely, and we enjoy having people back who appreciate what we are trying to achieve with wild game.
“Fortunately, most of the invited Guns have an understanding of how a shoot like this operates, either because they have shot here before, or because they farm in the Fens and are neighbours of Nicholas and his family.
“Is there such a thing as an ideal guest? Maybe not, but we like to have people with a nice sense of humour who get along easily with the other Guns and the beaters. They also need to be able to shoot straight and reload quickly — Fen birds like these often lift in a flush, hit the wind and go like bullets; it’s so frustrating if a Gun is forever fumbling for fresh cartridges when birds are in the air. Bag size certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all, but it’s always nice for all concerned if we get somewhere near the day’s actual potential.
“Wild pheasants, more than most, will leg it when they hear a human voice, so it’s essential that guests keep quiet as the team tries to get around holding cover and into position.
“Mobile phones are a necessary evil these days, but I don’t like to hear them ringing while a drive is underway — they’re best left in the car or switched to silent, with calls only returned between drives, if there’s time, or at lunch.”
Don’t be a greedy Shot
Michael Dacre runs the noted Littledate Hall Shoot near Abbeystead, Lancashire: “Someone who’s safe and brings a bit of humour to the party is invariably good company, welcome as a guest on any shoot, and likely to be invited back at some point or other.
“Here at Littledale, all our days are now taken by regular teams rather than individuals, so the emphasis is maybe a little different — parties are usually made up of friends who are able to police and pace themselves accordingly.
“My advice? If you are a guest, or shooting in a team of strangers, don’t be a greedy Shot. If the expected bag is 200 birds from five drives between eight Guns, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out the sums — five birds per person per drive. Walking back with armfuls of pheasants on two of them isn’t going to win you many friends… or a return invitation, for that matter.”