If you aren't shooting with old and trusted friends, you run the risk of a day's sport ruined. Ian Mason reveals some of the sins of the single roving Gun
So why the apparent decline in teams of friends shooting together? The authors speculate that the villains are time and money, and there could be some truth in this.
Finding suitable venues can be a nightmare
Over the years I have been involved in both static and roving shooting syndicates. I take my hat off to anyone who organises shooting for rovers. Finding suitable venues and dates to satisfy 10 people with different incomes, abilities and expectations can be a nightmare.
As a single Gun, I have joined mixed teams on sold days, but with varied results. Meeting new people is always a pleasure and shooting folk tend to be highly sociable and good company when thrown together in a Gun line. However there are downsides to mixed teams. First and foremost is safety; just how experienced is the Gun on the next peg? When a low partridge skims forward, is your neighbour going to swing through the line in the heat of the moment? When you are a walking Gun, will you be safe pushing through cover when a woodcock zig-zags low across the treeline? The last example is far from academic. I once came close to being decapitated by such a shot – all the more alarming because the pre-shoot briefing had specifically ruled out woodcock for safety.
A common theme in several dreadful accidents has been a fresh face of unknown ability joining a team of Guns. In each case the shoot captain (and other Guns) had been far too polite to sound out the stranger about their shooting experience and common sense.
The greedy Gun
Then there is that perennial blighter of the modest bought day – the Gun who failed O-level maths. Let’s say eight Guns purchase a 100-bird day. You would think that most adults could work out that this means a dozen birds each (give or take). Spread over a day that could mean six drives, with a couple of well-chosen birds per Gun per drive. Enter the O-level maths failure, who proceeds to nail the bag on the first drive. It was largely for this reason that I gave up buying odd pegs on let days – especially early season partridge days where the birds tend to funnel over one or two Guns. If you have drawn a bad peg, being “in Siberia” is not helped by watching someone else fill the bag with low, unsporting birds. Furthermore, having driven hundreds of miles to shoot, it is devastating to have the day called after two or three drives because the bag is complete.
When a team is well disciplined, it can be a pleasure to witness. A pal of mine recently returned from such a let day. Their bag limit was 120 on a mixed partridge and pheasant day. They had a full day in the field and at the end of the shooting the keeper came over to warmly complement the team on how selective they had been in choosing only the most challenging birds (although some of his beaters had been grumbling about the number of drives – they were more accustomed to greedy Guns and going home early!). My pal’s roving syndicate has been shooting together for many years and the members have developed a flawless understanding of fair shares for all.
Weeding out rogues
Of course, shooting with friends does not always prevent the problem of the greedy Gun, but over the seasons, rogues can either be weeded out or tamed – a classic case of better the devil you know!
Safety and fairness apart, there are many other reasons why a close-knit friends syndicate scores every time. When your shooting goes to hell on a handcart, you need not feel self conscious about missing yet another sitter. Furthermore you will have an idea of the mild abuse you are going to suffer over elevenses and be ready with some choice rejoinders. Good-natured banter and leg pulling is so much easier with people you know well – even if you’ve all heard their jokes many times. Indeed, like a good television situation comedy, sometimes the best humour in a day stems from predicting how so and so will react to provocation.
It is important we welcome newcomers to shooting. I suspect that internet sales of many single pegs prove useful for people who are newbies – after all, it can be difficult to join an established syndicate as a beginner. Once people progress and gain experience the day becomes less about their own shooting and more about the pleasure of being out in glorious countryside enjoying the company of good friends who share the same interest. “You get the company right, and the day will be right”, as a wise old hand once told me.