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Loaders: are they more trouble than they are worth?

Giles Catchpole wonders

loaders on a shoot

From time to time I have been asked to load for visiting Guns. This can involve a range of functions and can require a good deal of tact and discretion. If the air is likely to be filled to bursting with birds, using a pair of guns is the best way to maximise efficiency. At least it can be for a Gun who is thoroughly used to shooting with double guns. For anyone else it is more likely to result in doubling their rate of fire while, in all probability, halving the accuracy. (Read what is expected of a loader on a shoot?)

Shooting double guns is tricky, and it is best undertaken by those who are well used to working together as a team. The safety aspects of shuffling loaded shotguns back and forth between Gun and loader are tricky enough, but there is also the awkward possibility of clashing barrels in a pressured moment which, when handling guns possibly worth a small fortune, might easily cause tears before bedtime.

For those unused to the experience it is better, in my view, to stick to a single gun and have the loader act as a stuffer. This allows the Gun to concentrate on selecting their next bird and certainly increases their rate of fire. Although, as anyone who has shot off a box of shells in short order at a charity shoot flush will tell you, shooting at this rate very quickly renders a single gun too hot to handle safely. (Read more on charity shoots here.)

Role of loaders

However, firepower is not the only consideration here. Sometimes the role of the loader is to act as mentor, tutor and perhaps supervisor for the Gun entrusted to their care. This need not be a disagreeable experience. Most of the young people I have encountered have welcomed advice, but I generally limit my input to pointing out where the birds may be expected to come from and suggesting a couple of obvious trees or other reference points between which the birds can be addressed with safety and confidence.

I have said before that a busy peg is not the place to learn how to shoot and I am not an instructor in any case. I am surprised, however, by the number of inexperienced Guns I have met who baulk at the cost of a course of lessons at a reputable shooting ground but who are prepared to lash out on the cost of a driven day with only the faintest prospect of contributing to the bag.

At the other end of the scale are those elderly guests, when the loader’s role is to carry the paraphernalia between pegs and to try to keep the old souls upright as far as possible. I was told by one Gun’s wife as we walked to his peg that he was more likely to take a tumble when swinging after a crossing bird than when addressing them overhead, only to be told by the gentleman himself as I passed him his gun, “I don’t fall over that often but if I do I’d rather you caught the gun if possible.” He then proceeded to shoot the highest and fastest birds with effortless and stylish efficiency without so much as the slightest wobble.

I have been loaded for on only a very few occasions and, on the topic of the proper fee for a loader, on each occasion I was told quite explicitly what the service was going to cost me. I’m bound to say that not all of them have been worth their fee. Mind you, there are probably some who would say the same about me.