As Will Grundy’s gamekeeping skills come under the microscope, Glynn Evans from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) explains how a typical day’s shooting works.
The planning for a day’s shooting starts many months before the season (1 October – 1 February for pheasants) and is really a year-round task. On some shoots, wild-hatched birds will feature significantly, on others pheasants will have been reared and released into the wild in the summer. They are released into woodland from large fenced pens, which provide shelter for the young birds, allowing them to move out once they become acclimatised to the local environment.
Well before any shooting takes place, the pheasants will be living in the wild but the gamekeeper will still be managing them. He will provide food and manage the habitat, often planting specific game cover crops. The extra food and cover crops provided by the shoot also benefit song and farmland birds throughout the year. Without good habitat, game shooting could not take place.
As the first shoot day approaches, the gamekeeper will be finalising plans. A day’s shooting isn’t just about the number of birds; it is about the companionship and being out in the countryside and about providing game meat for the table.
There are many factors which need to be right to ensure that a shoot day goes well.
Before the day, the keeper will have a long checklist of tasks. The first is; which drives will be used and in what order? Drives are areas where the woods are flushed by beaters and where the guns (the term used for those who will be shooting) are placed.
The gamekeeper will also be thinking about the weather. Will conditions affect how the birds fly? Heavy rain, strong winds, winds from an unusual direction or even a lack of wind can all disrupt the expected direction and flight-patterns of the pheasants. It can mean the difference between the success or failure of a drive.
The day of the shoot
On the day, the guns will meet and be fully briefed on safety and how the day will work. They will also be told about any rules which the shoot might have. Each day will cover a number of drives. The guns will be positioned at numbered pegs – predetermined positions over which the birds are likely to fly.
Once flushed the birds will be flying fast, at heights of up to 30 metres or more.
A team of gundog handlers, known as pickers-up, will be behind the line of guns, using their dogs to retrieve shot birds. The birds will be taken to a game cart where someone will be tasked with ensuring they are correctly handled before being refrigerated and sent on to a game dealer, butcher or restaurant at the end of the day.
With skill, planning and preparation, hopefully the drives will have gone well during the shoot day. The keeper will always be on the look-out for how the day is unfolding and what improvements can be made. They will be starting to plan for the next shoot day, and even for how things can be improved for the next year.
It is usual for the guns to take a brace (two birds) of pheasants home with them. The rest will be sold or passed on. The popularity of game has grown over the last few years as the interest in the provenance of food has increased. Today game is much prized by restaurants, pubs, hotels and consumers.
Glynn Evans is the head of game and deer management at the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.
Images are © BASC/Kevin Milner and are used with permission