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UK Shooting Terminology

Visitors or people new to British shooting can sometimes be confused by particular names and phrases used within the various shooting disciplines. The following are short explanations of some common terms that you may encounter in the shooting field in the UK.

Shooting Refers to the shooting of game birds such as grouse, partridge, pheasant, woodcock and snipe. What truly defines British shooting from other types of game bird shooting is the time and effort taken by the shoot host and their dedicated team of assistants to present the finest quality and most challenging of birds, while maintaining the highest standards of field sportsmanship and etiquette. Etiquette and maintaining century old traditions are a critical part of the British driven shooting custom. This includes the exclusive use of break barrel guns in this classic style of shooting, the wearing of traditional English field dress and displaying the highest level of sportsmanlike conduct at all times towards the game and fellow shooters.Note: The term “Hunting” in the UK refers to hunting with hounds and is normally associated with fox hunting.  Hunting with hounds in the UK in the traditional manner became illegal in 2002 in Scotland and 2005 in England and Wales, but continues on in Northern Ireland. Today Hunting is practiced by setting an artificial drag trail for the hounds and huntsmen to follow. The local Hunts still have strong followings in their regional communities by participants and supporters alike.
Driven Shooting Game birds are traditionally pushed along (driven) by the Gamekeeper and his team of Beaters tapping sticks and waving flags with their dogs working close at hand pushing through the undergrowth, to a flushing point (where the birds start to fly instead of running along the ground) short of where the Guns are positioned. This allows the birds’ time to gain both height and speed before they cross the line of Guns so as to increase the “sporting chances” of the birds. The Guns are positioned on their respective pegs (shooting positions) by the Shoot Captain. The pegs are generally spaced between 25-50 yards apart depending on the terrain and vegetation and are positioned so that the Guns will have the birds presented to them in the most challenging way.  With numerous birds in the air at once, a Gun is expected to shoot only those birds that will test their personal shooting ability. As a rough rule of thumb, partridge and pheasants below a height of 60-75 feet (20 – 25 metres) would not normally be engaged. Grouse fly much lower to the ground at very high speed.
Rough Shooting Usually conducted by not more than 4 Guns accompanied by dogs to help find and flush game birds and ground game like rabbits and hares. Rough shooting can be conducted over a wide variety of terrain but tends to be carried out on the fringes of farms and estates that are not generally included in driven shooting drives. A variety of gundog breeds are used in the sport including pointers, spaniels and retrievers and the increasingly popular Hunter Pointer Retriever (HPR) breeds like German Wirehaired Pointers, German Shorthaired Pointers, Weimaraners and Viszlas. Rough shooting is not dissimilar to “American Walk-Up” shooting in the way it is conducted though the dog handling and retrieval of game may seem more regimented.
Gun A male who is shooting on a shooting day be it driven, rough or walked up shooting. There are usually 8-10 Guns in a “syndicate” on driven and walked up shoot days (across the more open terrain of the moors) and 4 Guns in a rough shooting “syndicate”.
Lady Gun A female Gun.
Back Gun The name given to a Gun positioned behind the front row of Guns. Generally used when a high number of birds are expected over a certain part of the gun line or in partridge shooting where the birds fly just above the ground and rise quickly over hedges giving the gun line limited opportunity to get many shots away.
Shoot Captain Is the person in overall charge of the day’s shooting and in particular, the conduct of the Guns and their shooting safety. The Shoot Captain’s duties include delivering the welcoming address to the Guns in which the conduct of the day is outlined, the firearm safety and OH&S brief, advising the Guns about the nuances of the various drives they will encounter, conducting the draw for the initial peg that Guns will take and their movement to other pegs throughout the day and placing the Guns on their respective pegs for each drive. The Shoot Captain is also responsible for ensuring that the Guns maintain the highest standards of firearm safety and British field etiquette throughout the day. He has the authority to ask an unsafe Gun or one who is not abiding by accepted British shooting etiquette to “slip their gun” (put it back in the carrying case) and to retire from the remainder of the days shooting.
Gamekeeper A Gamekeeper is employed by a Shoot on either a full or part time basis to receive and raise the young game birds to maturity, manage the shoot environment to ensure the birds remain safe from predators and disease and to keep the birds within the geographic boundaries of the shoot. This is achieved primarily by habitat and environmental control and development on the shoot and long hours spent walking the shoot boundaries “dogging in” (pushing the birds back into the shooting ground with the help of various breeds of gundogs). On shoot days, the Gamekeeper controls and directs the Beating team (not unlike a General moving his troops around the battlefield) in an attempt to drive the birds over the entire length of the gun line in a steady stream and not just in one large flush. Depending on the size of the shoot, the Gamekeeper may be assisted by one or more Under Keepers.
Beater Beaters are usually paid or volunteer village locals who under the direction of the Gamekeeper drive the game birds towards the Guns. The Beaters are very much the unsung heroes of every shoot. As well as a small remuneration for their efforts on shoot days, an additional reward for their seasons toil is Beaters Shoot Day held towards the end of the shooting season. Traditionally Guns would reverse roles and beat on this day as a gesture of appreciation to the Beaters.
Picking Up Team or Pickers Up Gundog handlers whose task it is to pick up all the birds shot throughout the day. Pickers Up will generally be positioned to the rear of the gun line on each drive so as not to interfere with the shooting of the Guns. Picking up should only commence once the Gamekeeper has sounded his horn signify the end of the drive and only then after the Guns with dogs have had time to have a couple of retrieves with their dogs. The exception to this rule is dealing with “runners” (wounded birds). Runners should be retrieved as soon as possible to ensure they are dispatched in a humane manner and added to the bag total.
Stand One – Walk One On alternate drives, the Gun shall stand at a peg and shoot the birds as they are driven towards them, or they will walk on the flank of the Beaters as they drive the birds towards the gun line. Birds that lift and fly towards the gun line the “Walking Gun” must leave for the Guns on the pegs to deal with. Any birds that break sideways or curl around to the flanks away from the gun line can be shot by the “Walking Gun”.
Bag or Bag Limit Is the agreed number of game birds that a shoot should allow the guns to harvest during a days shooting e.g. a 150 mixed day of pheasant and partridge. The average shot to kill ratio on most shoots in the UK is 3:1. That means that for a 150 bag to be achieved, a shoot should attempt to put a minimum of 450 quality birds over the Guns. Weather, topography, shooting ability of the Guns and other unforeseen circumstances may make it difficult for the bag to be reached or for the shot ratio to be close to 3:1. Most shoots will try very hard for the bag limit to be achieved i.e. putting on one or two extra unscheduled drives (light permitting). On some shoots where the birds are flying very high and/or very fast, the shot ratio may rise to as much as 8:1 or higher. Shoot operators will know how many birds are in the drives and should be able to manage most circumstances to ensure the bag limit is reached or at least close to it. An experienced syndicate will understand the reasons why when a bag limit is not reached and will acknowledge the efforts of the shoot’s management to present as many quality birds as they could for the Guns.
Unders and Overs As explained in Bag Limit, an agreed number of birds should be shot by the syndicate during a days shooting. Most shoots will allow a few extra birds over the agreed limit at no extra cost. However, there are shoots that state in their contract with the syndicate or the sporting agent that they will charge additional fees for additional birds shot over the agreed total i.e. an agreed price of each bird plus 20% VAT. Overs payments are expected to be settled at the end of the days shooting with the cost being shared equally between the total number of Guns making up the syndicate. If the bag limit is well below that agreed with the shoot management and the reason for that cannot be attributed to poor shooting by the Guns, then it is appropriate for the shoot management to offer some form of compensation to the Guns.
Shooting Lodge Is a small country house or purposely constructed/decorated rooms specifically used for shooting parties, lunches and dinners. A Shooting Lodge may also be called a Hunting Lodge. Besides the dining room, the Lodge may also have an anteroom, a game larder and a gun room where guns and ammunition can be secured. On many of the smaller shoots the meeting and dining facilities are often less salubrious but still very welcoming.
Deer stalking Refers to the hunting of all species of deer either by ground stalking or shooting from pre-positioned stands on the edge of fields and forests. Although deer stalking in Scotland offers hunters the opportunity to experience the unique Scottish stalking traditions and the magical allure of the Highlands (as well as breathless climbs, cuts and bruises from crawling over rocks and through the heather, and countless midge bites); excellent trophy deer of various species can also be found in Norfolk and other parts of England.
Wildfowling Refers to the hunting of ducks, geese and water birds in the harsh environment of the tidal marshes and foreshore.
Wood Pigeon Shooting The Wood Pigeon is the largest and most common of the UK pigeon species with an estimated population of around 5.4 million pairs in 2014. Wood Pigeons are a major pest to UK agriculture causing millions of pounds damage to crops each year.  They are a most challenging bird to shoot due to their keen eyesight and heightened sense of awareness and therefore are a popular sport for shotgun shooters. Wood Pigeon is a very tasty table bird that can be prepared in a variety of ways ranging from pie and casserole through to the traditional roast.
Simulated Game Day Simulated Driven Game Days or “Sim Days” follow the format of traditional driven game shooting but substitute clay pigeons for game birds. Sim Days are usually conducted over four drives and are more relaxed in shooting etiquette than driven shooting days. On Sim Days “poaching” of a neighbour’s clays is often encouraged if the neighbouring Gun is of equal or superior shooting skill. Elevenses and a shoot lunch on the shooting ground or at a local pub are usually included in the price.  While initially designed to simulate driven pheasant and partridge shooting, in recent times, shooting grounds with the right topography have constructed butts so that simulated driven grouse shooting can also be enjoyed.
Tweeds The traditional dress for game shooting in the UK for both men and women is Plus 2 or Plus 4 Shooting Breeks (knee length trousers), long shooting socks with garters, boots (rubber Wellingtons or leather), chequered twill collared shirt with subdued or game theme tie, cap and tweed shooting jacket. In recent years the tweed jacket has often been replaced with a dark coloured water-proof “technical” shooting jacket complete with large cartridge pockets. The wearing of bright coloured clothing, jeans and camouflaged clothing (only used during pigeon shooting and wildfowling) are strongly discouraged.
Elevenses Morning tea break usually taken after the first or second drive. Generally consists of hot soup, sausages or savoury game pies washed down by Sloe Gin (gin mixed with the juice of the Sloe berry – a very tasty tickle) or champagne. It is considered “poor form” to over-indulge on alcoholic refreshments while there is still shooting to be done. Soft drinks and hot beverages are made available for the teetotallers (non-drinkers).
Shoot Lunch or Dinner Most shooting estates offer the Guns and their guests a 2 or 3 course meal either at lunch or dinner time on shoot days. Game and vegetables harvested from the estate or purchased from nearby markets are usually served. Simulated game days usually follow the same protocol but in a less formal environment.
Brace and Tipping It is customary for Guns to be presented with a brace of birds (two) at the end of a day’s shooting at which time the Guns will tip the Gamekeeper for the services he and his Beating team provided during the day. Fellow Guns will be able to give advice on the appropriate amount to tip but it is always better for a Gun to err on the side of generosity especially if they have had a good day and were happy with the presentation and quality of the birds. Guns will also need to pay and tip their Loaders if they were present. Guns should also find the time to thank the Beaters, Picking Up team and Under Keepers (if present) for their efforts before departing the shoot.
Left and Right In game shooting terms, a left and right is where you successfully kill a bird with each barrel, in quick succession. The term is still used when an over and under shotgun is used instead of a traditional side by side shotgun.
Poaching Birds When a Gun shoots a bird that was in the arc of another neighbouring Gun. Poaching is considered to be “very poor form” indeed in driven shooting. The exception to this unwritten rule is on Simulated Driven Game days when poaching is actively encouraged but then only when a Gun is on a peg beside an equally talented or superior shot than themselves. A Gun should never “show boat” at the expense or embarrassment of lesser skilled Guns.
Runner A bird that has been wounded but is still able to run and hide once it lands. The Picking Up team standing behind the gun line will watch for Runners and will send their dogs to retrieve them at the earliest opportunity that does not interfere with the Gun’s shooting.
To Wipe Someone’s Eye A term used when a Gun gets the better of another Gun e.g. when one Gun has missed his bird and a neighbouring or Back Gun shoots it.














UK Game Seasons

 (Supplied courtesy of the BASC – British Association for Shooting and Conservation – website).In the UK “game” is defined in law by the Game Act 1831. Other (non-game) birds that are hunted for food in the UK are specified under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. UK law defines game as including:

Game birds Common Pheasant, Grey Partridge, Red-legged Partridge, Red Grouse, Rock Ptarmigan, Black Grouse1, Eurasian Woodcock, Common Snipe   Quarry speciesMallard, Teal, Wood Pigeon, Golden Plover, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose2, Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Common Pochard, Common Goldeneye, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot   

Deer Red Deer, Roe Deer, Fallow Deer, Sika Deer, Reeves’s Muntjac, Water Deer  

Other quarryEuropean Hare, Red Fox, European Rabbit    

Other Bird Species – The aforementioned species are those primarily pursued for game shooting. Feral Pigeon, Jay, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Rook and Collared Dove are shot in the interests of vermin control rather than as game birds.

Black Grouse are no longer shot regularly, due to a continuing decline in numbers.

Capercaillie is now a protected species and is no longer shot in the UK.

Eurasian Coot and Moorhen are also shot. They have a closed season that follows the wildfowl season and are classed as game. 

Species       England, Scotland & Wales    Northern Ireland                                       Season                           Season

Pheasant October 1 – February 1 October 1 – January 31
Partridge September 1 – February 1 September 1 – January 31
Black Grouse August 20 – December 10 N/A
Red Grouse August 12 – December 10 August 12 – November 30
Ptarmigan August 12 – December 10 N/A
Brown Hare No closed season August 12 – January 31

Although there is no close season for hare outside Northern Ireland, the Hare Preservation Act of 1892 makes it illegal to sell, or offer to sell, hare between 1 March and 31 July.

Deer are not included in the definition, but similar controls provided to those in the Game Act apply to deer (from the Deer Act 1991).

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