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Shotgun loaders – why they are the hidden experts of game shooting

Little is spoken about them, but loaders are founts of all knowledge and countrymen through and through.

Shotgun loaders on shoot
  • There are two basic ways in which loaders offer their services: either they become involved with a game shooter wherever they travel to shoot, or they contact local shoots and shooting estates to offer their services as a loader to Guns visiting that particular estate.
  • Credibility – particularly in safety and shooting etiquette – is important.
  • Most new loaders probably become involved initially through contacts at a local shoot. They may then develop one-to-one relationships with Guns they meet on shoot days.
  • Being a shotgun loader can become a rewarding pastime. Groups of Guns and their loaders often travel far and wide, giving a loader the opportunity to visit high quality game shoots which they would not normally ever see.
  • Loaders become trusted companions and the banter between a long-standing group of Guns and loaders is always very entertaining.
Shotgun cartridges ready in bag

The main duty of a loader is to keep the shotgun replenished with cartridges

Double gun or “doubling up”?

Rather than double gun, many pheasant shooters prefer to use just one gun because “doubling up” requires them to put in more effort. Simply opening the gun, ejecting the spent cartridges and presenting it for reloading is an easier option.

The advantages of “stuffing”

A loader who is “stuffing” can keep his Gun more rapidly loaded on a continuing basis through a pheasant drive, compared to the slower, but more traditional double gun process.

Pheasants tend to appear during a drive in a significant stream of numbers, rather than in coveys or packs. With this type of presentation there is no gap in the requirement to have a loaded gun and stuffing is much more effective for the Gun who is willing to lower his gun and offer it for reloading.

Modern partridge shooting also tends to provide a continual stream of birds at the peak of a drive and, again, many Guns prefer their loaders to stuff.

It might take a little more effort, but a 
Gun and loader operating in complete harmony with a matched pair of shotguns 
is a honed art form, especially when a game drive hits its peak.

lady loader with GunDouble gunning was developed for grouse moors and English partridge manors where birds arrive over the Guns in coveys allowing four shots to be taken in quick succession from two slickly-handled guns. However, after the first shotgun change, the Gun will normally be waiting for the loader to make available the replenished gun for the second change. This is why some of the Victorian “big Shots” used two loaders and a triple gun technique!

If a grouse or partridge covey is sizeable, or when shooting a continual stream of pheasants, a Gun’s timing of shots will certainly be dictated by the speed of their loader. With the timing of his loader in mind, it’s important the Gun keeps looking forward to pick birds he can cope with comfortably.

Make no mistake, the operation of a good game shot and capable loader who work together regularly is like watching a well-oiled machine. Little indications reveal the degree of competence. For instance, having taken one shot when a short lull develops, the Gun and loader will change guns without a verbal or physical sign being given. End result is a fully loaded gun for the next birds to appear. In both stuffing and double gunning, a loader worth his salt will quietly act as a target spotter on drives when birds are appearing from numerous different directions.

Loaders as safety advisers and guides

In addition to the duties of keeping the shotgun(s) replenished with cartridges, a loader may also be required to act as a safety adviser and guide for a Gun who is unfamiliar with the layout of the land. In fact, many shooting estates will insist that a new Gun is accompanied in this way.

Loader and Gun

A loader will also act as a guide for a Gun who may be unfamiliar with the layout of the land

Coaching the Gun

  • The loader can be a valuable source of information during the day. For example, target height which the Gun is comfortable with is a given requirement, as is advice on cartridge selection for particular drives or particular species.
  • When the loader is active, the available time and the amount of movement involved when the birds start flying means he/she will be inhibited in diagnosing shooting errors with any accuracy.
  • Coaching while stuffing is somewhat easier than when double gunning. The activity and movement required from the loader in double gunning means that rarely is it possible to accurately diagnose the placement of the shot.
  • It might be possible to spot gross errors such as a Gun’s feet being in completely the wrong position when a shot’s taken, or a major mis-mount under shooting pressure, for example.
  • And always remember the golden rule of coaching: resist the temptation to offer advice if you are not qualified.