The season is in full swing. And I mean FULL SWING judging by the vast number of pictures of pheasants and plump partridge hanging on game carts: autumnal plumes looking stunning, reminding me what an amazing time of year we’ve just hit.
Shoot days are such a fantastic part of our heritage and it’s a celebration of our wildlife, our countryside, our traditions… But, let’s be honest, we can’t all afford to be part of the guns for the day. Does that mean we can’t still be a part of the sport? Nope. Ladies and gentleman, it’s time to get those flags out and start beating.
Beaters are essential to a shoot, and it’s so popular with both male, female and all ages which is one of the things I love most about it. Everyone comes together in all sorts of weather and it doesn’t matter what jobs everyone has in their normal day to day lives, or where they live or who their friends with.
To make it sound all technical and clever… a beater’s job is planned out well, with routes and tactics and all sorts so they can strategically flush out the birds to where the keeper wants them to go, ready for the waiting guns. Expect to walk in lines across various fields and strips of land with flags, whistles and dogs. It’s a team effort, even if someone breaks away or there isn’t many others in your sight line, and that’s why it’s such a good thing to join in with.
Spend the day in the fresh air (yep, sometimes it even…. rains) with people who must all share an interest – you’re all there aren’t you! Have a chat over lunchtime snacks, sometimes these are provided thanks to the game keeper’s preparation, admire the dogs of others and secretly wish yours was that well behaved. Or be quietly grateful yours is far better behaved, perhaps?! Enjoy the scenery, you’re looking at the countryside at its best!
Picking up is another vital part of a shoot, beating is often used as a generic term which can include the pick ups but it is a different role.
Pickers up stand behind the guns (quite a distance back for sight and for safety) and their dogs are used to retrieve the game that’s been shot. There can be any number of people on this job and they can have more than one dog. BUT the dogs have to be very well trained, this may go without saying and seem like common sense but, well, I’m sure you can imagine the embarrassment and awkwardness of a poorly behaving dog, not to mention how bad it would look on the keeper.
The keeper is still in charge of the operation going on behind the guns so pickers up should be aware of what the plan is, they should also be aware if the guns have any of their own dogs they wish to use. It’s also worth noting that a picker up will require equipment a beater wouldn’t need!
Even if you can, and do, take part in driven shoot days it’s nice to take part behind the scenes, too. Even if only to appreciate what really goes on behind the action to make the day work so well.
There’s some really useful websites to check out if you are interested in beating and picking up, or just for a bit more knowledge on the subject perhaps:
http://www.nobs.org.uk (National Organisation of Beaters and Pickers Up)
Basc.org.uk (The British Association for Shooting and Conservation)
Beating and picking up is not a fashion show. You get muddy, you get wet, you get cold and who gives a damn if you have a logo on your clothes – no one, that’s who. BUT it’s important to be practical… It’s not what you look like but how you feel. However, I do like to dress to represent the tradition, to respect and to create a good image for the keeper.
Layers. That’s all I need to say. It’s key. Like, seriously, we’re in the UK, when is the weather forecast ever right and when does it stay in one type of weather for more than an hour? It’ll be Arctic cold first thing and then by mid-morning you’re hotter than a beach in the Bahamas, but rain can still hit you like a tonne of bricks at midday.
A good quality cotton check shirt is a traditional look and a lightweight jumper on top to add warmth. A waterproof, neutral-coloured practical coat that you find easy to move about in. Waterproof trousers can be a life saver and I know a lot of people who like to wear moleskin trousers, another traditional item. Wellies and welly socks. Obviously. Why would you even be reading this if you don’t like wellies?! And gloves for beating the flag and some form of ear warmer or hat are often encouraged by seasoned beaters.
Sedgemoor Jacket, Musto, £185 / Check Oxford Shirt, Joules, £39.95 / Langdale Crew Neck, Barbour, £64.99 / Glyn Lady Trousers, £89.99, Seeland / Vierzonord Wellies, Le Chameau, Prices Vary
Woodcock Jacket, Seeland, £149.99 / Classic Twill Shirt, Musto, £59.99 / Oakham Fleece Gilet, Schoffel, £129.95 / Durham Waterproof Trousers, Alan Paine, £149.99 / Aigle Wellies, Prices vary
Pheasant on game cart image from The Field