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A pick-up for pickers up?

There?s a shoot round our way where everyone walks between drives. It?s pretty unusual ? a feature of many modern driven shoots is the long line of vehicles snaking around the property. Sometimes the pickers-up are the worst offenders, though other times it?s the Guns.

It?s difficult to run a shoot without having to do some driving ? on bigger shoots there can be several miles between drives. Pickers-up tend to prefer driving their own vehicles, though occasionally, especially on high ground where the going can be rough, it?s the shoot rather than the individual that provides the vehicles.

Several shoots I know in the West Country have gone to considerable lengths to provide good communal vehicles in the shape of specially adapted pickups. Bench seats, nicely padded, are fitted down either side of the load bay and there?s a purpose-built canopy to keep the weather out and give adequate headroom. The capacity is amazing. I once counted eight in the back, two in the front and at least 20 dogs, though I couldn?t be sure not to have missed a few. Despite the heavy load, the vehicle coped well with the steep rough tracks of Exmoor. I wouldn?t have wanted to take my car where we went.

If your shoot has communal transport, you really need at least two vehicles. Spaniels can be a pain ? they jump all over the seats and you end up with a wet backside. That?s fine for spaniel owners who seem oblivious to such things, but I?ve noticed the Labrador owners, whose dogs are happier under the bench seats, prefer to travel in a separate vehicle.

If you travel in your own vehicle, a 4×4 isn?t the default answer. When my wife and I pick-up in France, we?re loaned a white van which copes happily on an estate with good tracks. Nevertheless, the tendency among pickers-up is to go for something more macho and more practical. The ubiquitous pick-up or Defender fits the bill for many. Some models with a drop-down tailgate have a wide gap at the hinge which is potentially dangerous to dogs? legs. It?s not diffi cult to fit a bit of matting to cover the gap, however.

Plenty of people use the family car as a shoot vehicle. Picking-up is not well paid so you see more economical vehicles than the ?Chelsea Tractor? type. My choice is a Subaru Forester, which copes much better than its appearance would suggest. Only on a few shoots will you need a really rugged vehicle. Almost any 4×4 will handle farm tracks and moderately muddy fields ? just be aware of your vehicle?s capabilities, especially its ground clearance.

An expensive solution

There?s a special niche for the chap who turns up towing a trailer with an ATV on it. It?s an expensive solution unless you use the ATV for some other purpose or have mobility problems. Once, when the pickup got stuck, we were grateful to our ATV-driving colleague who was able to pull us off the slippery stuff.

Opinion varies as to whether your dogs should be transported in a cage. In the back of a pickup you can get away with a bale of straw provided the dogs get on well with each other. If not then you?ll have to go for a cage. In the family car, a cage is pretty much de rigueur ? the last thing you need under hard braking is to find a pack of dogs wrapped round your neck.

Finally, the one mode of transport I?ve found to be most useful on many occasions is a boat. Dogs are best used hunting round the edge of a lake rather than swimming to the middle ? you?ll need paddles in case the engine won?t start.