Knowing your manners has always been important out in the field. But lately we've had a few more things to think about. Tony Bracci provides a refresher.
Shoot day etiquette has been the cornerstone of a day in the field ever since we have been shooting game, both driven and walked-up. What with COVID-19 restrictions and the ability to buy a peg for the day, it does no harm to take a fresh look of the important aspects of what is and what isn’t acceptable shooting etiquette during COVID.
Traditionally, you would have received an invitation to which you would reply and never to pull out of, even if in your estimation a better invitation had come along. Nowadays, you’re just as likely to book your peg online. Whichever scenario, the first responsibility of good etiquette is to turn up on time. There is nothing worse than everyone waiting for a late arrival.
The briefing on the morning before the shoot starts is important, as it will give you all the information you will need about the day. This will include the intended quarry, the way the drive is numbered – that is to say, from the left or the right – whether the drive starts as you get to the peg, or wait for a signal to start and a signal that the drive has ended. You will also be told how many pegs you will move up each drive. Also, it is quite normal to not shoot vermin species until the first gamebirds have come through. More recently it will include procedures to fulfil COVID-19 risk assessment, including social distancing, the use of hand sanitiser and face masks, hospitality arrangements and moving around the shoot. I cannot emphasise how much it is worth paying the closest attention to the brief, as it will help your day run as smoothly as possible.
On the peg
Once on the peg, look around you. The peg number will usually face the direction the birds are coming from. In front of you, do you see any breaks in the trees? A cover crop? Or beaters stopping off the drive? Behind you, do you see any pickers-up? A release pen or gap in the tree line the birds will head for? Any people you see around you, including your neighbouring peg, give them a wave to show you are aware they are there. As you wait on your peg, hold your barrels directly up in the air or have your gun broken. When you feel something is about to happen or the birds start to flush, adopt your ready position, always keeping your barrels in a safe direction. Birds should be taken with plenty of sky around them; not so close that you wouldn’t be able to eat it, and not so far away that you risk only injuring rather than despatching the quarry. This will depend on your ability.
As a team of Guns, you will be pegged out around 40 yards apart. When shooting in a line of Guns, you should be shooting above 45 degrees in front and to the sides, possibly more depending on the topography. Also, be aware of other Guns that you could ‘cut off’, including back-guns. This is where we sometimes see a different approach between an invited guest, who would happily let some birds through to a back-gun, and a Gun who has bought a peg for the day. Pegs that have been bought for the day sometimes seem to be overeager to get their fair share of the bag. It is a gentleman’s sport and, as such, should be conducted in a gentlemanly manner.
After the drive has finished, you should do your best to ensure all the birds that have been taken are accounted for. If you can count and mark your birds to help the pickers-up then do so. Try to only pick your birds as your neighbouring Gun should be trying to account for his own. It is good practice to pick the birds around your peg and leave them there as the pickers-up will be working further back. Though we are accounting for the birds we shoot, it is not good etiquette to brag about the number you have shot. If you have been lucky enough to pick a good peg, and have had a good amount of shooting, it is acceptable to slow down and just pick out some good birds; not everything that flies over your peg has to be shot at. It is also bad form to run out of cartridges.
When on a walked-up shoot it is important to keep in line with the Guns as you walk-up through cover, very much like a beating line on a driven shoot. Muzzle awareness is critical as you are shooting, and the gun should be broken if you encounter any obstacle that may cause the muzzles to point anywhere other than a safe direction. As you walk along, you should be very aware of your fellow shooters and surroundings, and only shoot if you are happy that you are shooting into a safe area. Any opportunity to open the gun, when there is no chance of game flushing, should be taken. As a walked-up group you should all stick together, rather than one person branching off on their own. If you have a bird to pick, the line should stop and wait for it to be gathered before moving off together again.
Shooting etiquette during COVID restrictions
The coronavirus restrictions mean that for the foreseeable future we will have to adapt to continue shooting safely. We may have to meet outside to keep socially distanced rather than indoors. Food and drink will have to be served to you by one person rather than everyone digging in. Elevenses may be presented to you in a little hamper or bag for individual use rather than a platter going round. The shoot dinner would have to comply with current restrictions, or you may shoot through and go home for dinner. This will not be the most popular option as a game day is, if it is anything, a social event.
At the end of the day you should go out of your way to thank everyone who has helped to produce a day’s sport for you. You should also tip the keeper; if you are unsure of how much, ask your host or shoot captain what the usual amount is. If you have had a great day then give a little bit more. Traditionally, you would pass this gratuity with a handshake, but in the current climate this will be out of the question. I would suggest ‘posting’ it into one of the keeper’s pockets or placing it into an envelope and handing it to him or her. When giving the keeper the tip you should look them in the eye and thank them for a great day, possibly pointing out some of your most memorable parts of it. If you have been invited, a handwritten letter of thanks to the host will be in order, and hopefully the invitation will be repeated next season.