The home of Shooting Times and Sporting Gun

Two Guns shooting at the same quarry can lead to ill feeling

Two Guns inadvertently shooting at the same quarry can lead to some ill feeling, but there are times when it is wise to have a bit of insurance advises Alasdair Mitchell

Grouse shooting

Grouse shooting

Some years ago, an old army friend invited me up to the Highlands for some walked-up grouse shooting. I wasn’t very good at it. The problem was that whenever some birds got up, I invariably waited for somebody else to shoot first. As anybody used to this sort of shooting knows, even the slightest hesitation often leads to a missed shot. My contribution to the bag was minimal.

Eventually, at lunchtime, my friend upbraided me, telling me to stop being so wimpish and to shoot as soon as an opportunity presented itself. “We’re not here for some gentlemanly exercise”, he said. “We’re here to shoot grouse, dammit.” Having been ‘picturised’, as we used to say in the army, I proceeded to get into the swing of things and my tally improved.

Crossed wires

What is extraordinary, it seems to me, is the number of times that one or more Guns shoot at the same bird. (Read which is your bird?) This is readily apparent when a driven pheasant flies exactly between two Guns on a line, but it also happens when a group of friends are shooting geese over decoys, or when duck flighting.

It must be something to do with the visual prominence of an individual bird. Unless somebody actually says “you take the one on the left”, the result can be two or more shots fired at about the same time at the same bird.

Between good friends, of course, the resulting banter is all part of the enjoyment of the day. But on a commercial shoot, with guests who barely know each other and want to get their money’s worth, an undercurrent of competition and even ill feeling can sometimes arise.

I recall once being on such a shoot when a friend of mine told me that a neighbouring Gun had blatantly “poached” a couple of his birds on the last drive. “But I got my own back,” said my friend, “by deliberately dropping a couple right at his feet. That should do the trick.” Unfortunately, the offending Gun had been blissfully unaware of his own sin and came up to me afterwards to complain about the antics of my friend. I felt like piggy in the middle.

One problem I noticed when inland goose shooting was that it can be hard to judge the precise flightline of a bird from off to one side — especially in poor light. I used to get exasperated with a friend of mine saying “why didn’t you shoot? It was right over your head”, when in fact the bird was way off to the side of me.

When hunting dangerous game, there is a habit among some professional hunters of ‘following up’ their client’s shot with one or more of their own. This has always seemed odd to me.

To be clear, I am not talking about a charging animal, when it’s a case of all hands on deck. In Alaska, there is a convention that the guide should shoot if a wounded grizzly is about to escape into thick brush. Again, that doesn’t explain all the instant double shots.

I am not against the hunter who ‘pays the insurance’ with a shot at a downed beast. There is a saying in Africa: “It’s the dead ones that kill you.”