Nick Ridley takes a stroll through the different types of walked-up or rough shooting and the possibilities for the season ahead
I recently discussed rough shooting (walked-up shooting) with Matt Clark, Sporting Gun editor and how to go about participating in this most enjoyable part of our sport. (You can listen to the discussion here)
Organising rough shooting days
I am passionate about this type of shooting and over the years I have been fortunate enough to have organised some great days for my modest rough shooting syndicate, the Circle of Trust (COT). With the issues that shoots are experiencing with the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus crisis there may be more opportunities for those of us who pursue this less formal form of shooting.
Three types of rough shooting
For those who don’t know or are unsure, it is important to understand the different aspects of this kind of shooting. I would divide it into three categories: rough; walked-up; and walk one, stand one.
True rough shooting is by far the hardest to find and, in many ways, the most enjoyable. For this type of shooting the ground will most likely be unkeepered and you will need fieldcraft aplenty, plus a good dog to locate the sparse head of game that may inhabit the scrubby corners and dense bramble bushes. The pleasure of rough shooting is that you never know what you may encounter and though the bag will never be big, it will almost certainly be varied. I believe it to be the purest form of shooting and also true ‘one for the pot’ sport. However, trying to find suitable locations for this type of shooting has been nigh on impossible, in my experience. The reason for this is that most farmland is now either too cultivated or farmers have joined ranks and formed small syndicate shoots of their own.
Walked-up shooting is basically what it says: you walk up in a line and shoot any game that gets up. There are, however, a few different kinds of walked-up shooting and it is necessary to understand what kind of day you may be booking. The vast majority of walked-up shooting will take place on keepered ground and the bag will consist mainly of gamebirds with, perhaps, the odd woodcock or pigeon. You can expect to be shooting the boundaries of the shoot and bags can vary from about 20 to 60 birds. The COT normally shoots with four or five Guns and we are quite self-contained in that we have our own dogs and four-wheel-drive vehicles, so all we ever need is someone to accompany us during the day to show us where we can and can’t shoot.
If your team does not have dogs, then the shoot may offer to supply ‘help’ in the form of handlers or beaters. If this is the case, you should check a couple of things beforehand. First, if dogs and handlers are going to be supplied, ensure you check as to whether the handlers understand that you are shooting walked-up birds. This may sound obvious but we did have one shoot where the keeper insisted on bringing out a couple of beaters with dogs and it was a nightmare; I ended up asking him to get the guys to either put the dogs away or keep them on a lead. The issue was that the dogs hunted too far ahead and were flushing game out of range and they were also prone to running in on any birds that we had shot and, of course, we wanted the retrieves for our own dogs.
Another frustration caused by a lack of understanding is that the extra ‘help’ is more used to beating on driven days and walks through the shoot making ‘brrrrrr’ noises and clapping. This is, of course, counterproductive to walked-up shooting, as we need the birds to tuck in and sit tight, not leg it to a non-existent flushing point.
Walked-up days on root crops are popular and the bags tend to be larger. If you and your team have never tried this kind of shooting before then I would suggest this would be more suitable, rather than shooting in woodland or rough areas of cover. Shooting while walking is very different to shooting on a peg and safety has to be paramount; it is far easier to see your fellow Guns and to know where your safe angles of fire are if the cover is only knee high. Also, provided you walk up the rows, it can be easier to keep your footing on root crops.
Walk one, stand one
Walk one, stand one shoots have become more popular in recent years. They are a good way of combining both driven and walked-up shooting. It involves two teams who take it in turns to walk and beat while the other team stands on a peg; most shoots allow the walking Guns to shoot up to a certain point in the drive.
However, a word of caution: I would suggest that if you are looking to book this kind of day then it is advisable to try to make up the team of Guns with people you know. I have heard of situations where people have booked a single team and not known the opposite team of Guns and there have been fallouts due to one team being greedy and shooting a far higher percentage of the bag. An element of restraint and fair play is needed.
How to find rough shooting
So, how do you go about trying to locate suitable shoots? Normally, I would suggest looking at relevant Facebook pages and websites, such as Guns on Pegs, but this season I would suggest a different tactic.
I know of a number of shoots that have furloughed their gamekeepers and are not going to shoot this coming season. As such, it may be well worth a call or a visit to see if these shoots would be willing to put on a few informal walked-up days. The cost is minimal to the shoot and there will always be plenty of residual birds about. In fact, one estate we shoot on hasn’t had a gamekeeper or formal shoot on the ground for more than six years and yet we still manage to shoot 20 or so head.
Get a reliable team together along with some decent dogs and, hopefully, the shoot will see that it may be a way of recovering some revenue during a season that many have written off.