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The social and mental health benefits of beating

Beating isn’t just good exercise, it fosters communities, promotes inclusivity and has mental health benefits too, says Jamie Culpan

Life-long friendships are made during time spent in the field

“Let me get this right, you’re proposing I get up early with you, wrap up warm to protect from the cold and cover myself in waterproofs in case the sky opens, all so I can traipse around the woods beating birds into flying so you can shoot them?” my girlfriend queried. 

“You don’t beat the birds, you flush them, and besides, the dog does most of the work. You like seeing the dog happy, don’t you?” I replied. 

After much persuading, she relented and agreed to give it a try, under the stipulation that if we woke up and it was raining, she was remaining firmly ensconced in bed. Well, we woke the next day to one of those glorious cold December mornings with a hard edge to the frost underfoot. I rustled my girlfriend out of bed and ran through the morning essentials: coffee, bacon roll, load the car, double check the car, pack whatever I forgot the first time into the car, another coffee, and we’re off. 

To add context, the syndicate I’m part of is a friendly bunch of Guns and regular beaters with occasional guests. We operate on a walk one, shoot one basis, with walking
Guns being permitted to shoot backwards but rarely bothering as the land is pretty challenging at the best of times. 

Upon arriving, my girlfriend looked at me questionably when handed a bacon roll. “Do you always have two breakfasts when you’re shooting?” she asked, and seemed slightly disheartened when my response was, “Load up, you’ll need the energy.” 

I took her around, introducing her to everyone and their trusty best friends. “I know you said there were a lot of dogs, but I didn’t know there were this many,” she said, delighted. 

Following breakfast, the real business began. We drew cards and assumed numbers. Fortunately, I drew a card that placed me in the beating team on the initial drive, allowing me to accompany my girlfriend on her first foray into the woods. 



Once on the drive, she took to it immediately, plunging through the undergrowth, clacker clutched in her hand, yelping away with the best of them. The highlight of the day was when I was standing on a drive, eyes on the sky, and saw a smiling face and a hand waving. She motioned towards a bush that a vizsla was pointing at. 

Holding up her hands, she signalled “one, two three”, then shouted, “Get on,” at the dog. God knows where she learned that command, but the bird took to the sky, soaring straight over the top of my head a mere 20 yards above, only for me to empty both barrels into the open sky. I swear I could hear the bird clucking away in laughter as it went overhead, which was nothing compared to the mirth with which my better half was shaking. 

Indeed, she still brings it up to this day when attending a charity clay competition or offering instruction to a new Gun. “Don’t listen to him, I’ve seen him shoot,” she’ll start before retelling the story of her first time out beating. With every recollection, the bird seems to get lower and my shooting wider. 

Our four-legged friends also greatly enjoy a day out in the countryside, working in the beating line


Fast friends

But back to the day, and by the time lunch had rolled around my ever-sociable partner had made fast friends with half the syndicate. Indeed, on the drive home, she was regaling me with stories I didn’t know about members I had known for most of my life. Since then, she has managed to convince one of her friends to join us on numerous outings, extolling the camaraderie, splendid slap-up meal and, of course, the social aspect. 

My own experiences aside, when researching for this article, I scoured the usual sources — BASC, GWCT, Countryside Alliance and so on — and I interviewed the keepers’ team at the Balavil Estate, led by headkeeper Jack Smith. As gamekeepers, this team was able to offer a unique perspective on the value of beating. However, as most of them have grown up immersed in fieldsports, I sought the view of a relative newcomer. This led me to interview another Jack, a local Aviemore lad who has recently finished his first season beating. 

Elevenses is a chance for Guns and beaters alike to get together and chat over good food and drink

This charming pastime, often misjudged as a mere countryside escapade, offers a range of social benefits, from community cohesion and the building of new friendships to the strengthening of existing ones and feeling like you are ‘part of something’. Even just knowing you’re beating at the weekend can add a bit of colour to rural life, which throughout the winter can be particularly harsh. 

Furthermore, beating offers an avenue into fieldsports for those who aren’t lucky enough to have grown up with a parent or family friend who shoots. The keepers are full of stories about ‘so and so’ who knew nothing about fieldsports but was asked to go beating for a day and has since taken to it like a duck to water. Then, upon discovering a new passion, they have numerous opportunities to enjoy. As one keeper said, “It’s great networking for young people as it’s common to hear, ‘We’re needing beaters next door,’ and before you know it they’re working at a number of estates.”

A united beating line requires listening and communication skills from all those who are involved



Picture your usual crew of beaters, ranging from farmers and landowners to city dwellers and a pack of eager dogs. Beating fosters camaraderie and lasting friendships, transcending social barriers and bringing together like-minded souls in a shared passion for the great outdoors. As Jack, the local lad, put it, “I think it’s a very social event; probably one of the most social sporting events I’ve attended.” 

Good beaters are crucial for a successful day’s shooting, and the pastime offers the opportunity to see some incredible country

Jack specifically mentions that he enjoys the team aspect of beating. In today’s individualistic society, talking to a young man who enjoys his time out on the hill, being part of a team and working towards a common goal is refreshing. When questioned if he has made new friends beating, he answered that not only has he made new friends, but beating with existing friends has strengthened their bond. There are fewer and fewer social spaces where the full range of society comes together and works as a team, so we must continue to protect and foster these traditions. 

Collaborating with fellow beaters and keepers helps to build a wealth of knowledge and expertise


Skill development

Today’s youngsters, due in part to the pandemic but also due to technological advances, are becoming less and less socially developed. This has been highlighted in several global trends, with adolescent mental health plummeting. Beating provides an excellent opportunity for skill development — not just practical skills but also social skills.

Navigating the terrain, working with dogs and collaborating with fellow beaters and gamekeepers helps build a wealth of knowledge and expertise: boosting confidence, developing listening, building team skills and a whole range of other social benefits. However, it’s not only the young who benefit from the social aspect of beating, it’s everyone involved. A 2015 BASC survey showed that 94% of respondents felt that their wellbeing improved due to participating in shooting sports. 

Overall, the social benefits of beating should not be underestimated. By encouraging interaction between people from different walks of life, beating plays a crucial role in fostering community cohesion, promoting inclusivity and creating lasting friendships.