Shoot-day planning doesn’t have to cause a headache; Glynn Evans explains how he uses the shoot calendar to make the sport more inclusive for all
There are many notable dates in the shooting season; 12 August and Boxing Day for example, but for me a special day that I have not missed for many years is the last day of the season. It is strange in that it is both a highlight and something of an anti-climax, in that it signals that feathered game will be off the shooting menu for many months.
Writing this, with a couple of weeks left to go of the 2-13/2014 season, I am in the very fortunate position of being a member of a couple of small shoots, so I am to be able to choose where I will be. I could bemoan the fact that one shoot might have been planned to avoid clashing with the other on the first of February, but I am definitely not moaning because I will be able to send a stand-in, so someone else will also get the chance of a day out. This year, 1 February falls on a Saturday, so it should provide an opportunity to shoot for those who have to work in the week and also, especially, younger shots and helpers who ordinarily might have school commitments.
On one of the shoots we have a few young shots who come and beat for us. Our shoot captain has planned to do something special for them and let them have a shot at the pheasants that they have helped to flush all season. They have already started eyeing up different pegs.
Along with all the other shoot-day planning that our shoot captain – or indeed any keeper – has to deal with, having less experienced guns brings its own set of issues. While all of our younger helpers have shot before, either at clays or on less formal days, some of them have less experience of shooting on this type of day. Each will be given a mentor to ensure high standards and to make sure they have an enjoyable day. These mentors will give up the chance to shoot, but I think they are looking forward to the day as much as our young guests.
The last day is used by many keepers to invite those who have helped throughout the year to have a shot, and there can be many variations to the format of this type of day. For those who manage wild pheasants it is essential to get the right ratio of cocks to hens left on the ground at the end of the season, and this day provides a final opportunity to a get a few more wily cocks in the bag – we have all seen it; come 2 February cocks will suddenly appear all over the shoot.
On most shoots the beating or picking-up team will have some members who do not actually shoot, and it is important not to forget them on the keepers’ day. Many will want to come and beat for their colleagues. Those who cannot will still appreciate an invite to any after-shoot gathering or end-of-season dinner.
Fortunately, the chance to give helpers some shooting doesn’t end with the pheasant season. With the cover low and spring around the corner it is a time when most keepers will be renewing their efforts on pest and predator control. Fox control, rabbit shooting and drey poking are all chances to get people involved. One of the most sought-after opportunities will be the chance for roost shooting in areas that are likely to have been off-limits in the season. Rather like the youngsters on our shoot, many of the beaters will have been keeping their eyes on likely spots in anticipation of an invitation to the roost shoot.
Ideally you want to have all the likely woods covered, so I work out both the minimum and the maximum amount of shooters that can be accommodated. This might mean more than the regulars are needed. I am happy to allow those I trust, like the regular beaters, to bring guests, provided they can vouch for them. Saturday is generally the best day to hold an organised roost shoot as there will usually be more people available. It is not always possible to get the best weather to order when planning ahead, but overcast and windy evenings tend to be the best.
I like to arrange for everyone to meet before I allocate woods and positions. This enables me to give a full briefing, ensuring everyone hears the same instructions. At the briefing I make sure everyone knows know what can and cannot be shot. I have known a regular pigeon shooter pass up on taking a close fox because he was not fully briefed. I also remind everyone about being safe and sporting and to treat the quarry – even pests – with respect, noting any special instructions for a particular area.
Everyone must know what time they should finish, and I like them to return to base so I can keep a record of what has been shot and, most importantly, know that each person has returned safely.
With the briefing over I allocate the woods. In the past I would draw for these, but now I allocate woods to individuals. Some of those shooting will travel together so logistically it makes sense for them to be in the same area. Woods are individual, coming in various sizes, with different types of tree, and in different locations. Some will only accommodate one person, where others will have plenty of room for more. If there is a youngster or someone less experienced I might want to send them to these woods with a more experienced shooter to learn the ropes. Some of the guns will not have a dog, so I put them in an area with someone who does. Rather like putting guns out on a driven day, I don’t think this approach of allocating spots causes any issues provided it is done fairly and no one is given the ‘best woods’ every time.
The control of pigeons and corvids is allowed under the terms of the general licence and it is important that anyone shooting these birds understands and complies with the relevant licence. There are several different licences and they can vary depending upon which of the home countries you are in. Details of these licences can be found at http://basc.org.uk/shooting/general-licences/