Whether you are a human or canine your financial value is greater the closer you are to the Guns, yet your physical worth is greater the further away you are, says Nick Ridley
Last week I started my 2016/17 picking-up season at my regular shoot, near Henley-On-Thames in Oxfordshire. During lunch there was the normal early season grumblings about how much people get paid and how such and such a shoot has increased its daily rate. I never get involved in these conversations, let’s be honest in “normal” life if someone offered you a day’s work for £25 where you would have to walk many miles, at times get soaked through to the skin and probably scratched to pieces, and you’d have to supply your own boots and clothing, you’d probably tell them politely to go away. At the end of the day none of us do it for the money, we do it because we want to be out in the fresh air, be with like-minded people and to get some well-needed exercise, it is like being part of a community.
As I drove home I got to thinking about the conversation and I came to realise that basically there is a hierarchy in the shooting field and the closer you get to the Guns the more you can expect to get paid – let me explain.
If we start with the loaders, they stand right next to the Gun, they will be expected to make sure shotguns are always loaded during the drive, carry guns and cartridge bags and clean the equipment at the end of the day. They will more than likely be driven around in the Guns’ bus or up market 4x4s and normally they can expect to receive the highest pay for the day. With my tongue firmly in my cheek, I think I could say although it is a very responsible job, it is not exactly hard work!
So let’s move onto the guys that are slightly further away from the Guns – the pickers-up. They normally have to own and work more than one dog and on most shoots they will have to drive around in their own vehicles at their own cost. It is often said that a picker-up only has to pick one pricked bird to pay for their wages, which is normally less than a loader’s pay. I know from my own experience that clothing and boots can take a hammering and will need replacing every couple of years, especially if you want to look smart. You have the cost of looking after your dogs and the time and effort of training. Does the pay really reflect the cost? No, of course not, but seeing your pride and joy come running back with a lively runner more than compensates for a few pound notes.
Then we come to the beaters, the “engine room” of any shoot. Beaters are the unsung heroes, quite simply without them there wouldn’t be any birds for the Guns to shoot, so the loaders wouldn’t have any need to “stuff” cartridges and the pickers-up and their dogs wouldn’t have any birds to put in the gamecart. They walk miles every shoot day, get hollered at by the gamekeeper to keep in line, scratched by vicious blackthorn bushes, tripped up by rambling bramble runners and some are lost and never seen again. And yet they get paid less than the loader and a picker-up.
Value of gundogs
I had quite a long drive home and my thoughts moved on to the value of gundogs on a shoot and I came to the same conclusion.
Let’s look at the dog that will be nearest to the Gun, the “peg dog”. Over the years I have witnessed a massive variation in the level of training of peg dogs. This ranges from dogs that have been tethered next to the Gun, but will still try to do a pretty good impression of a kite flying in a high wind, to ones that stay absolutely still even during the most hectic of drives. You would normally expect one of the retrieving breeds to accompany the Gun, although spaniels can do the job, but to my eyes they just never look happy. The job of a peg dog is to sit still and quietly next to its handler and to mark any birds that get shot. At the end of the drive the dog will be expected to go out and retrieve the birds in the vicinity of the Gun’s peg. The peg dog is unlikely to cause any real issues during a drive as the Gun can keep it under control. But, if you were to look for a well-trained peg dog you can expect to pay anything from £3,500 upwards.
A picking-up team can be made up of both spaniels and retrievers, and like the peg dog they will be expected to sit quietly and, if the conditions allow, to pick runners during the drive. They will need to be soft mouthed and not damage any game they retrieve. Whether the handler keeps the dogs on a lead is up to them, but the potential for it to all go very wrong is always lurking in the shadows. So what is a good picking-up dog worth? Personally you cannot put a price on it, but you wouldn’t expect to pay much more than £2,000, or even less.
So now we come to the dogs furthest away from the Guns, the beater’s dog. In a way the beater’s dog has to be better trained than both the peg dog and the picker-up for one simple reason, you cannot, or at least shouldn’t, keep a beating dog on a lead. They have to work in a nice tight pattern and be under complete control, especially when there are a lot of birds around – the potential for disaster is around every bit of cover. If a dog in the beating line gets out of control you will know about it very quickly. They will work their socks off all day and the chances are they will never be seen or their work acknowledged by the Guns. I have seen dogs advertised as “fully-trained beating dogs” for just £500. In fact I doubt anyone would pay much more than £1,000.
So my theory kind of works out, whether you’re a human or a canine your financial value is greater the closer you are to the Guns, yet your physical worth is greater the further away you are – it is a funny old world!
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