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The value of a picker-up

There is a huge amount of pleasure to be gained from picking-up, but David Tomlinson argues the case for fair and proper pay

value of a picker-up

A good picking-up team is a great asset and soon pays for itself on any of the commercial shoots

So what is the value of a picker-up? I met up with an old picking-up friend last month. I didn’t recognise him at first, as he was driving a Fiesta, rather than his venerable Freelander. Had he still got his dogs? Yes, was the answer. Would he be picking-up next season? No, was the emphatic reply. Why? Apparently the keeper had told him that though he was still welcome to come, he wouldn’t be able to pay him next season. Times are hard, explained the keeper. His boss had insisted he had to make savings, so not paying his picking-up team was his first step towards balancing the books. (Read more on the best clothing for beaters and pickers-up.

Value of a picker-up – an insult?

My friend surmised that the keeper was gambling on the fact that his picking-up team all enjoyed their days out with their dogs so much that they would be more than happy to continue, despite no brown envelope at the end of the day. My pal thought that this was an insult, especially as he had worked on the same shoot for more than 20 years. He is keeping his dogs, but decided that he no longer needed a 4×4, as it was used mainly on shoot days. He sold it and bought the Fiesta with the money it raised.


The commercial shoot he had worked on had paid him £35 a day. There were three shoots a fortnight, starting in October. He rarely missed a day, so he generally earned around £840 a year. As he pointed out, this went some way to paying the Freelander’s vehicle tax and a few tanks of diesel, plus a few bags of dog food, but hardly contributed to his vet’s bills. Yes, it was his hobby, but without any income, it was an expensive one, especially for a retiree receiving no more than the state pension.

I remember some years ago reading a letter in a now-defunct shooting magazine suggesting that far from being paid, pickers-up should help contribute to the cost of a shooting day as they gained just as much pleasure from the day as the Guns, who financed the shoot. It was a fair point, though my experience suggests that the pickers-up usually enjoy themselves more than the Guns, who invariably complain that all the birds flew over their neighbours. (Read how to stay safe when you’re a picker-up on a shoot.)

Over the years, I’ve met many pickers-up who are happy to provide their services for free, simply because they like to work their dogs. I’ve picked-up for free, too, with the only reward a brace of birds at the end of the day. Of course, this is hardly a perk these days, as so many shoots have a problem disposing of the birds they harvest. I have also met people who believe that anyone who picks-up for free is misguided and letting the side down, driving down the value of a picker-up. No driven shoot can be justified without a competent picking-up team, which should be rewarded properly for its work.


I wouldn’t hesitate to pick-up for free for friends, but I draw the line at commercial shoots. After all, anyone who can afford to pay £500 plus VAT for a day’s shooting — or even considerably more — can certainly afford to reward someone who gives up their time to work their dogs for them. The typical pay a picker-up receives is considerably less than the national minimum wage and, generally, barely covers expenses.

On a commercial shoot, where Guns are charged by the number of birds they bag, a good picking-up team soon pays for itself. They only have to find a dozen birds that might not have been picked otherwise and that’s the equivalent of around £500 into the shoot’s coffers. I’ve come across Guns who would prefer that the birds they shoot aren’t picked, as it means less to pay at the end. These are the characters who really need an individual picker-up behind them. Sadly, the fact that shot birds are virtually worthless these days has devalued the work of the picker-up. I’ve heard stories of shoot managers discouraging handlers from spending too much time looking for runners, as the bird isn’t worth anything when found. This goes against the whole ethics of shooting and makes the sport impossible to justify. Most of us who work dogs will always do our best to find any wounded bird, as the Code of Good Shooting Practice insists.

So how much is a picker-up worth? It’s a difficult question, as some are much better than others. Many shoots aren’t interested in the handler with a single dog, but it’s not unusual for the one-dog person to put more birds in the bag than the handler with multiple, less well-trained, dogs.

The value of a picker-up and rewards for pickers-up vary around the country, depending on supply and demand. I would suggest any handler with a good dog has to be worth £50 a day, more if they use their own vehicle. Not paying the pickers-up is a false economy, as I’m sure all gamekeepers, but not necessarily all shoot managers, would agree.