Beaters' day is one of the season's highlights - a chance for those who have been doing the hard graft to have some fun, says Simon Reinhold
Top tips to do yourself proud on beaters’ day
- Get your shooting kit ready the night before
- Practise mounting in the mirror 10 times
- Count 10 breaths in and out before the drive starts
- Point your leading foot where you’re going to shoot the bird
- Don’t lift your head off the stock until you see the bird fold
The beaters’ day at the end of the season, sometimes known as the cock day, is the gamekeeper’s way of thanking all those who have helped on the shoot throughout the season. For some people, perhaps more used to rough shooting than standing in a line of Guns, the beaters’ day can be a stressful exercise, but it doesn’t have to be if you bear in mind a few simple points.
Firstly, make sure you know the date and start time. It sounds obvious but I have been caught out by this on a new shoot. Having picked up all season and never moved off before 09.15, I strolled into the shoot room at 08.50 only to find I was 20 minutes late as the cock day starts at 08.15, moving off at 08.30. I hadn’t checked and spent the day apologising.
Getting all your kit set out the night before a shoot is a good start. For me, it is the beginning of the sense of anticipation that I find a hugely enjoyable part of a shoot day.
A shot at a pheasant is over in seconds but the anticipation is for me a source of great pleasure — where might a bird break cover, will it curl to me on the wind, will it break back over the beating line?
All these questions and more focus the mind on the moment and prolong the pleasure of the day. This anticipation is not only an enjoyable part but almost without realising you are preparing yourself mentally to make a successful shot.
Good game shots often seem to have more time than others and part of the reason is they have prepared through experience and anticipation.
It’s all about relaxed concentration and this is a key part of finding your best sporting performance.
The added benefit of preparing your kit the night before is that there is no last-minute panic because you can’t find your ear defenders. Starting the day with as little tension as possible means you arrive in good time in a relaxed mental state. You now have every chance of swinging the gun smoothly and shooting well. Preparation is the groundwork of good shooting.
Is your gun in a good, useable condition? If the last time it was out was roost-shooting some pigeons in February, then it’s best to check. Some shoots have no problem with semi-automatic shotguns on a cock day but check with the keeper.
The days are usually run as ‘walk/stand’ days and you will likely not be split into two teams of Guns.
Listen carefully to the briefing. It may be you are shooting ‘cocks only’, it may be ‘no partridges’. This year the last Saturday of the season is 1 February. Woodcock, coot, moorhen and inland duck and geese will all be out of season after 31 January.
I have known experienced shooting folk who would rather not walk with a gun. If you only want to shoot on the peg that’s fine but do explain to the keeper.
If you do shoot when walking through the woods then safety is, of course, of paramount importance. Your finger should stay out of the trigger guard until you have a bird in view and the gun in the shoulder. Safety catches can fail just like any other mechanism.
Don’t shoot birds going forward. You would not appreciate the standing line of Guns doing that to your team. Wily birds going back are your quarry and there will probably be plenty of experienced birds trying to make a break behind.
To turn and shoot this bird you must not turn your muzzles horizontally through the line of beating Guns. Your muzzles should be well up as you turn into position.
If someone else has shot a bird and they go back to collect it, you must be aware of their position before taking another shot.
This is the time to maximise your chance of a pigeon. I really enjoy going into ‘target acquisition mode’ and scanning the treetops for pigeon. They are likely to be a safe shot even if a Gun has gone back behind the line to retrieve a kill. But don’t focus so hard on pigeon that you fail to notice the beating line moving off again — it’s important to keep the line straight, for safety reasons.
After walking for one drive you will probably next stand on the peg. With most cock days I have been on, the Guns only move up peg numbers on the standing drives, but it’s worth being clear before you get started.
There is a good deal of banter on the beaters’ day and, for some, it can make their nervousness worse about missing in front of everyone.
There is a secret to dealing with those nerves and finding your best form: everybody misses. There are no exceptions to that rule. As soon as you understand that you can move past it, relax and enjoy yourself.
No shoot day should be taken too seriously, in my opinion — but least of all the cock day. Get your breathing going and concentrate on it. Counting 10 good breaths slowly in and out during the lull at the start of the drive achieves two things.
Firstly, it means your brain is focusing on something other than negative thoughts about missing. Secondly, well-oxygenated muscles perform better and you are more likely to swing the gun, free of tension, past the beak of the bird, giving you a successful result.
Whether you are walking or standing, good footwork is paramount. For a right-handed shot the simple act of pointing your left foot to where you want to kill the bird can make a huge difference. Between now and the day itself, spend 10 minutes a day (with a proven empty gun) ‘dry mounting’ in the mirror, making sure you can see your eye sitting nicely on top of the rib.
Once you’ve done that a few times, and you are comfortable your eye is in the right place, you can swing your gun along the ceiling lines of your living room. This mental and muscle preparation will allow you to give your best on the day.
You should understand your arcs of fire on the peg. Some birds will naturally be in your ‘window’ in front of you. With birds going between you and your neighbour you must decide whose it might be. If you make a mistake and poach one, just apologise and leave the next one well alone.
If you wound a bird, find someone with a dog at the end of the drive to help you. If help isn’t readily available, then inform the keeper. Also please remember to pick up your empties.
Cock days are some of my favourites. I’m always among good friends and spend most of the day laughing. You are also shooting at some of the most sporting birds of the year. Relax, stay safe, and remember — enjoy it.