This season you may have the good fortune to be invited to your first shoot, or perhaps you have joined a syndicate with friends. On this page and the following pages you will find plenty of information about what to expect, shooting etiquette, what to wear, etc, as well as other interesting information about the sport.
Upon receiving an invitation to a shoot, whether by telephone, post, email or in person, it should be treated with high importance. Many of the shoot arrangements hang on spaces being filled, so you should check your diary to be sure the day is free, before accepting. If you cannot answer straight away, be sure to give a deadline by when you will get back to your host. Once you have accepted, the date is set in stone and should not be cancelled for anything but the most urgent situation. If you inconvenience your host in such a way you will quickly gain a reputation as unreliable or impolite and the invitations may not be repeated.
How You Should Prepare
Before attending your first driven or rough shoot, it is important to have at least some experience of shooting and handling a gun, most importantly for safety reasons but this will also stop you looking the amateur in front of all the other Guns on the day. You can gain experience with an instructor or on a clay shoot, which will be a great experience simulating the game shoot and will really help you to work on your aim.
On the day of the shoot you should ensure you bring enough cartridges for the day, carried in a cartridge bag. Your gun should also be sheathed and carried in a gunslip. Arriving at a shoot with an unsheathed gun will look very odd. You should also dress in weather appropriate clothing and footwear. This will require a little forethought as shooting attire is very specialised. You need a shooting jacket and midlayers which are designed to allow for maximum freedom of movement as well as being weatherproof and breathable for comfort in the field. Nothing will spoil your day quicker than being cold, wet or unable to move with ease, again a clay shoot will give you some idea of how your garments should adapt to your movement. We have a dedicated page What To Wear To A Shoot where you can find more information. Ear protection is also essential to protect your hearing during the shoot.
If you are having lunch after the shoot and it looks like the weather may not be on your side, it may be worth packing a towel and a change of outer layers. Be sure to bring money with you to buy drinks in the event that they are not included in the cost of the day. You will also need some cash to tip the Gamekeeper and the beaters at the end of the day.
Remember that it is perfectly acceptable to ask your host questions that will help you better prepare for the day, it will help them along too! Some important questions to ask include:
• Where and when do we meet? (You shouldn't rely solely on a GPS to find your way, as many shoots can be far 'off the beaten track' where signal isn't great)
• Is lunch provided?
• How many cartridges would you recommend bringing? (And then add a few more for good luck!)
• What is the dress code?
• How much should I tip the Gamekeeper?
• How can I pay?
• How much is the deposit and when is the balance due?
What to Expect on the Day
When everyone has arrived there will be a briefing in which you will learn what is going to happen throughout the day and you will also be reminded about safety. At some point in the briefing there will be a draw for peg numbers. Your peg number determines where you will be positioned throughout each of the drives.
When taking part in a driven shoot, the Guns are placed at a stand or peg and on a grouse moor this will be in a small enclosure called a 'butt'. To keep up the pace of the day you should go directly to your peg and not stop to talk on the way. Note the position of other Guns, beaters and pickers up etc around you.
At the end of a drive the Keeper will give a signal - perhaps a whistle or horn - which tells the Guns to unload and sleeve their weapons. You should then collect spent cartridges from the ground around you and take them to a cartridge receptacle if one is available, or put them neatly by your peg if not. You should also pick up any game that is near you and take it to the game cart. This will help immensely as the efforts of the pickers up will be focussed on collecting the more hard to find birds.
Between drives there may be a chance for conversation with your fellow Guns and if it is a particularly long break, refreshments may be offered. You will know in advance if lunch is included and it may be held in a barn, house or a local inn. If it is the two latter you will definitely want to bring a change of footwear and outerwear. If lunch is not being provided, you can bring your own along.
At the end of the day you will all return to the starting point and the Gamekeeper will count the total number of birds (the bag) and notify the shoot captain. The total bag may be laid out on display in the European custom and this provides you another opportunity to lend a helping hand. The Gamekeeper will then present each Gun with a brace of birds and this is your opportunity to thank him and offer a tip. If asked, the shoot captain will advise on how much is suitable to tip. You should use this remaining time to thank your host, the shoot captain, caterers and everyone who has worked to make the day a success.
The correct way to hold a gun when not in use
Shooting etiquette revolves around two simple rules;
"You must be safe and you must be sporting"
Within these two rules there has developed a whole host of field etiquette points. We highlight these below...
• Upon receiving the invitation to the shoot, respond promptly and ensure that you are there, on time on the day
• Dress appropriately in warm, weatherproof and functional garments
• You will be expected to provide your own gun. You should also have invested in some lessons prior to the shoot if you are a novice shot
• Carry your gun in a gunslip and cartridges in a cartridge bag. Ensure they are the right bore for your gun
• The invitation should make it clear whether partners are invited, whether you will need to bring a 4x4 and whether or not your gundog and/ or loader will be welcome
• Make sure you arrive on time. Too early and you risk interupting your host and the Gamekeeper as they make their preparations, too late and you will cause delay
• In the briefing you will be told what game you can shoot. Ensure you keep to these guidelines
• Obey the instructions given by your host and the Gamekeeper at all times. It is their job to ensure safety
• Before loading your gun, check the barrels to ensure they are clear of obstruction and again, ensure you have the correct size cartridges
• When walking, always break your gun and keep the barrels pointing downwards. Carelessness does cause accidents
• You should unload and break your gun before handing it to someone else to hold, or if climbing over a fence or stile
• Only ever shoot at a bird that has clear sky around and behind it. Never shoot into hedgerows or woodland as this is where the beaters could be
• Do not shoot at low birds as again, this will pose a danger. Do not attempt to shoot birds that are too high as you will likely only wound it
• It is considered very bad form to shoot your neighbour's bird - known as poaching - unless they offer the shot to you
• If you have an off day, don't complain. Remember nobody likes a sore loser and it will be far better for you and the other Guns if you accept it with an optimistic attitude. "They were too good for me" is a stoical and upbeat attitude to have
• You might well be offered an alcoholic drink upon arrival, perhaps another mid morning and again at lunch. Don't over-indulge, know your limits and consider the effect it will have on your shot
• However long your journey home, don't be tempted to duck out early. Remember that shooting is a communal occassion and you will look selfish if you leave before helping the others to pick up birds and cartridges.
• After the shoot, be sure to write a thank you note to your host, within a couple of days. Your appreciation will make all the hard work of the host and Gamekeeper worthwhile
Now you're kitted out with the knowedge, it's time to kit you out with the attire. See our next page > What to Wear to a Shoot