So either you have received your first invitation to attend a driven shooting day or you have made the bold decision to buy a day – hopefully along with other friends.
Either way, congratulations! You are about to embark on one of the finest sporting activities available in the UK.
Here are a few tips to help you prepare and get through your first day confidently, safely and in style.
Respond to the invitation or pay promptly
As soon as you have decided to accept your shooting invitation you should respond in writing to your host. A hand written note is still the most preferable way to do this but in these days of electronic communications, more often than not, invitations and responses are being sent by email. Either way, you should send your reply promptly.
If you have purchased the day, as a courtesy to your shoot host and/or sporting agent, you should ensure that you send your deposit and balance payment promptly. This allows the Shoot to confirm numbers for the day and also prevents that awkward email or phone call asking you to “stump up”. Never the best way to start a new sporting relationship.
What clothing to wear?
If you have not attended a shoot before you will be able to get guidance on what is deemed suitable attire from the bevy of country clothing shops up and down the country or from shooting publications like The Field and Shooting Gazette. Remember that comfort and functionality are just as important as colour and style when making your selection.
Tweed is traditionally the material of choice for men’s trousers and breeks (Plus 2’s & Plus 4’s), ladies skirts and shooting jackets for both sexes but today all these garments are also available in modern, lightweight, waterproofed fabrics like Gortex.
When purchasing a shooting jacket consider taking the next size up so that thermal undergarments and a jumper may also be worn without sacrificing your comfort and maneuverability when raising and swinging your gun.
Colour choice and coordination is just as important as garment design when making your clothing selections. Neutral, earthy colours are much more desirable than bright colours that may cause the birds to ‘flare off” away from the shooting line.
Matching shooting suites are not as popular as they were years ago and are generally only worn by the staff on the premier shooting grounds. Mix matching breeks and jackets are far more prevalent these days. Guns often sport well-worn shooting clothing as a badge of honour and a sign of their experience in the shooting field.
The ladies are not left out here. The top outdoor and shooting clothing manufacturers all make ranges of clothing designed specifically for the ladies.
In years gone by it was always expected that Guns would wear a tie or cravat. That rule seems to be relaxing somewhat, especially during the hotter months while grouse and partridge shooting. If it doubt, wear a tie – you can always remove it at the invitation of your host or other members of the shooting syndicate. A cap or hat is also normally worn as a sensible precaution against the elements but is not deemed to be essential.
Guns have the choice of wearing Wellington boots (rubber or leather) or ankle boots. Ankle boots are usually preferred for walked-up shooting across dry moors and fields with the Wellington coming into its own in inclement weather and boggy fields. If your budget allows, a pair of both ankle boots and Wellingtons are not out of place in a Gun’s wardrobe.
Both forms of footwear are normally worn with long, brightly coloured shooting socks and garters. Wool is by far the best fabric for these.
As a simple guide, a Gun should buy the best quality (weatherproof) shooting jacket and boots they can afford. Being wet and cold with freezing feet soon takes the edge off enjoying your day in the field.
It is not deemed appropriate by many shoots to wear camouflage clothing of any nature when participating in driven shooting.
What equipment should you have?
Let’s assume that you own a shotgun and will be using it on the day. Before leaving home ensure that your firearm is clean and serviceable and that you are in possession of your Shotgun Certificate.
Make sure you have cartridges that are suitable for the quarry and terrain that you will be shooting over. For high bird shooting you will need cartridges with a little more powder behind them.
During your journey to the shoot, ensure your firearm is locked away securely out of sight of all and separated from your cartridges.
Most Guns prefer to carry their shotguns in a leather or canvas slip to protect it as you travel around the shoot. Remember to carry the slip with the butt of the shotgun uppermost. This will prevent your gun from falling out should you forget to close the zip or the zip fails.
A cartridge bag large enough to hold two drives’ worth of cartridges is usually preferred by most Guns. When selecting your cartridge bag remember there is a considerable difference in size between 12 and 20 bore cartridges.
Once on their peg, Guns will usually stuff a sufficient number of cartridges into the bloused pocket of their shooting jackets rather than keep bending down to take them from the cartridge bag. It is not advisable to shoot with a heavy cartridge bag slung over your shoulder. This will undoubtedly unbalance your stance and make it even more difficult to shoot birds.
When shooting, wearing both effective hearing protection (either hearing muffs or plugs) and safety glasses are sensible safety precautions.
Shooting day etiquette
Ensure that you arrive at the requested time – not too early as the host will be busy organising the day and his staff and certainly not late as your delay may hold up the days proceedings which is not only rude but could cause the final drive to be missed because of loss of light.
If you have a long drive to make, consider driving up the night before and billeting at a local firearm friendly pub or B&B. Not only is it a sensible precaution against being late or getting lost enroute, it also injects much needed cash into the local rural economy. You will also probably have a pleasant evening chatting with the locals.
On arriving at the shoot make your presence known to your host or syndicate leader and then make your kit ready for a quick “step off” when directed to do so by the Shoot Captain.
Breakfast ranging from a resplendent sit down affair to a sausage and hot cup of coffee is usually offered.
The Shoot Captain will issue the safety and conduct brief for the day which will include what quarry can be engaged (game birds, pigeons, foxes etc.) and just as importantly, want quarry is not to be engaged like ground game such as rabbit and hares. They will also cover such things as the transport plan, how each drive is expected to be conducted though that may change with the weather, how a drive is started and stopped, noise discipline when approaching the pegs, when Guns may load and must unload their guns, when and where Elevenses will occur and the lunch plan – is it to be taken midway through proceedings or do they intend to shoot through and have the shoot lunch at the end of the day.
At the end of the briefings Guns will be asked to draw for their initial shooting peg. At this time the Shoot Captain will explain the Gun’s movement on the pegs after the first drive; something like move up 2 on each subsequent drive. This is done so that all Guns have a chance of being in the “hot spot” somewhere throughout the day.
Shoot day safety
Nothing is more important on a shooting day than it being conducted in a safe and responsible manner and all Guns are expected to play their part in that with exemplary firearm safety and situational awareness while shooting.
Guns must never shoot low birds because of the danger of shooting approaching beaters and stops and because it is simply poor form. As a rough rule of thumb, birds should not be engaged below an angle of 45° and those birds flying through the line at below 20-25 metres should be left for another day.
Guns may be able to shoot behind the line depending on the rules of the shoot. Having said that, Guns must never “swing through” the line of Guns. Shotguns must be elevated to the almost vertical as a Gun turns to take a shot at a bird to the rear and must be conscious of the picking teams who are usually positioned strategically behind the gun line.
“Poaching” is the term given to shooting birds that should have been shot by your neighbouring Guns. Poaching is considered poor form and at the very least can bring the vocal wrath of neighbouring Guns if it occurs too often.
At the end of every drive it’s important to unload your shotgun and put it in its sleeve. If you are required to pick up spent cartridges please do so and place them in the bins provided in the shoot transport.
If you have a trained gundog with you, by all means allow them to have a couple of retrieves of birds that you shot or with the permission of the responsible Guns, birds from neighbouring pegs.
Guns have a responsibility to assist in finding all downed game, especially “runners” or wounded game so that they can be dispatched humanely and added to the bag.
Helping to carry shot birds back to the game cart is much appreciated and another good way to engage with the shoot staff who are usually up for a hearty chat with the Guns if approached.
No matter how good a day or drive you had, it is considered impolite to brag about the number of birds that have fallen to your gun. Likewise, if the birds have evaded your peg on a particular drive or worse luck, for most of the day, then you should endeavor to keep your disappointment to yourself and simply remember the old adage, “Any day in the shooting field is a good day”.
At the end of the day tipping the gamekeeper while shaking hands and accepting your brace of birds is expected. If you were supplied a loader then they will also expect a suitable gratuity.
A guideline for tipping the correct amount that is often used on commercial shoots is £10 per 50 birds in the bag plus £10. For example, a 200 bird day would be £50.
If you have any questions about the running of the day be confident enough to approach your host or the Shoot Captain. They will be only too willing to assist, as they know that everyone had to start out sometime and want you to be sufficiently comfortable with the day’s proceedings to come back again.
Note on Dogs
Well-trained gundogs are usually welcome on most shoots but you should always ask your host if it is ok to bring them along.
They should be dog friendly and be use to riding in all sorts of vehicles so they are not over-come by the day’s events.
Ensure you pack a lead, a method of restraining them while on your peg, drinking water and bowl, a small snack, a towel to dry them off at the breaks and the end of the day, some dry bedding to keep them warm on the drive home and a practical first aid kit to treat the inevitable minor cuts, thorns, torn pads and dew claws etc.
Post shoot activities
After securing your gun, tending to your dog, receiving your brace of birds and tipping the appropriate gratuities and then thanking all the shoot staff who were involved in the day, it will be time to either adjourn with the other Guns and your host for afternoon tea or the shoot lunch/dinner. Remember to slip your muddy boots off and place on your shoes before joining your hosts. Take care not to overstay your welcome or to over-indulge in your alcohol consumption if you are driving. It could be that your hosts need to clean up and get ready for another shooting party the next day.
Having not only survived your first shooting day but also hopefully enjoyed it immensely, you can while away the time on the drive home planning your next shooting day and the next and the next.