I’ve been invited on a game shoot, but I’ve never been before and don’t know what to expect. What do I need to know?
AS many people in the City will attest, going on a shoot is a terrific social occasion. There’s nothing like spending a day standing in fields blowing fowl out of the sky, stopping only for the odd bacon sandwich and nip of whisky from the hip flask, to get the good cheer flowing.
Nevertheless, blowing birds out of the sky isn’t the easiest thing, so it’s worth getting in some practice first. If you’ve never held a gun before, try heading to a shooting school and taking aim at some clay pigeons for an afternoon or two to get your eye in and learn the feel of a shotgun. There are plenty of good schools around London, including the West London Shooting School (www.shootingschool.co.uk) and Bisley Shooting School (www.bisleyshooting.co.uk).
On the day, unless you’re lucky enough to be staying the night at the estate, you’ll generally turn up around 9am for a spot of breakfast before heading out on the shoot. Those taking part in the shoot are known as “guns”, and a party of around eight people is normal.
If you don’t have your own gun the estate will provide one, and may bestow on you a loader – traditionally someone to load sir’s guns between shots, but in this case to help you out as required and prevent you from mistakenly picking off a beater or one of your fellow guns.
You’ll draw for “pegs”, which is your position in the line for shooting, marked by a numbered peg in the ground. In a day’s pheasant shooting you’ll normally manage five sessions – known as drives – per day, moving from woodland to woodland for each. The guns in the middle of the line get the most birds over them, so you move up a couple of places for each drive, meaning that everyone has the chance to be in the best position at some point during the day.
On a pheasant shoot – the season starts next month – a team of beaters will drive the pheasant out of their woodland habitat towards the guns. When they see the guns the birds tend to climb higher to avoid them, unluckily making themselves better targets. Once they’re down , pickers-up with dogs will collect them. Don’t worry if you don’t hit many – this isn’t a competitive sport, and scores for individual guns aren’t kept.
At the end of the day you’ll be given a brace – two birds – to take home with you (the rest are sold), provided you observe an important tradition: always thank the gamekeeper.
With thanks to Glynn Evans of the British Association of Shooting and Conservation www.basc.org.uk