How has the relationship between pickers-up and Guns changed?
Sadly, I think the increase in commercial shooting over the years has increased the pressure between Guns and pickers-up. Picking-up teams are more fixed to the estate whilst the Guns come and go. As a result it is difficult to establish a working relationship, unlike with a more traditional, regular syndicate.
I suspect commercial shoots attract slightly less Guns with dogs than the traditional syndicate, which means on commercial shoots the picking-up team have more of a free rein. I also suspect on commercial shoots the picking-up on a shoot day can be a bit more industrial, given the time pressures between drives if bag targets need to be met.
It is important that, whatever the type of shoot, each different part of the team, including the Guns, understands the etiquette and respects each other.
As a Gun who always enjoys taking my dog with me on any type of shoot day I can confirm that picking-up at the end of a drive gives me huge pleasure, and nothing upsets me more than being unable to do this.
Any Gun who owns a gundog will agree with this. I think many shoots underestimate the pleasure this gives to some of their Guns.
Some Guns enjoy picking their game as much as the shooting itself and shoots should acknowledge this, as they are enhancing the overall enjoyment of the Gun’s day.
A Gun’s responsibilities
One of the problems which picking-up teams have is that different teams of Guns care differently about the various issues.
It is sad when you hear a picker-up talking of the Guns not caring or showing an interest in whether the birds they have shot have been picked.
If a Gun does not have a dog they still have an obligation to make sure any birds around the peg are neatly gathered, to check in with the picker-up behind them that everything is in order and help to point out any injured birds.
If no picker-up is around because they are working elsewhere, it’s very easy to have a quick word with the shoot host or keeper and inform them you have left some birds by your peg awaiting the game cart, or that there is a wounded bird down by the stream. They have radios and can relay messages.
Guns leaving empty cartridge cases behind, game randomly lying around the field and just walking off on the phone do nothing to endear the Guns to the pickers-up.
The picking-up team are an integral part of the day; their job is vital to the well-being of our sport ensuring that nothing goes to waste.
The picker-up’s responsibilities
There can be no set rules around picking-up. The terrain often dictates the situation, but there are some fairly obvious points.
The further back the picking-up team are the more they can see and they can get cracking earlier without impinging on the gun line.
Likewise, in thick cover and woods it makes sense for them to get on with their work to ensure birds aren’t lost, although Guns will still appreciate a bird or two to be left on the nearest edge of the wood, which should be possible given the pickers-up will be starting further back.
But picking dead game on an open field during a drive is totally unnecessary, and if it’s behind a Gun with a dog it’s very poor form. Clearly, during the drive picking a runner is a priority wherever it is. Dogs should not be working around or in front of the Guns unless absolutely necessary.
Poor picking-up can affect the Gun’s experience and remember that on a commercial shoot it’s the Guns who have paid for the day.
Somebody who shoots with me travels from overseas to join us; he has spent a fortune on shooting lessons and by his own admission needs maximum concentration on the peg.
Concentration is essential for successful shooting. Some Guns are also sensitive to having dogs worked around them during a drive.
There is no better setting for a line of Guns than seeing game presented over woodland without the beaters in view, pickers-up working around or flagmen waving. I remember vividly on one drive standing in stunning parkland watching birds climbing from the distant wood and all the Guns in the line standing alone, waiting with anticipation.
The sporting field was a picture of calm and tranquillity.
Essential advice for beaters on a shoot day
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It’s vital that the senior and seasoned beaters and pickers-up make sure their teams are well briefed and understand the requirements and the etiquette involved.
Observation of good etiquette by all involved, respect, communication and a healthy dose of common sense should ensure all goes smoothly.