Un­der­keeper

As more young keep­ers com­pete for fewer jobs, women face even greater dif­fi­cul­ties when try­ing to break into the still male-dom­i­nated pro­fes­sion

Shooting Times & Country Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Start­ing out in game­keep­ing is a dif­fi­cult task for any­one, man or woman, not least be­cause col­leges turn out each year a stream of wide-eyed, as­pir­ing young keep­ers who, when com­bined with lim­ited job op­por­tu­ni­ties, make for fierce com­pe­ti­tion for ev­ery va­cancy. It rather ex­ac­er­bates the up­hill strug­gle many women face even get­ting through to the in­ter­view stage. Most women com­ing into keeper­ing do so via other routes, such as help­ing on an es­tate or game farm or with the bless­ing of a fam­ily mem­ber or ac­quain­tance al­ready in the job.

It is still very much a male-dom­i­nated pro­fes­sion, though there are now con­sid­er­ably more full-time lady keep­ers than when I be­gan al­most 14 years ago. It is plain that tra­di­tion still stands in the way of most young women putting a foot on the lad­der. That said, how­ever, in all the time I have been in the shoot­ing world I’ve rarely been un­gra­ciously greeted. In­deed, to the con­trary, as most of those I meet, Guns or beat­ers, are pleased — and cu­ri­ous — to find a woman do­ing the job.

More ap­peal

There is no es­cap­ing that the role of the gamekeeper has changed through the years. As a con­se­quence, keeper­ing nowa­days un­doubt­edly holds more ap­peal for women than it would have done in days gone by. I wouldn’t have wanted to have done the job in the Vic­to­rian era when pitched bat­tles with poach­ers were the or­der of the day. ATVS and tech­nol­ogy in gen­eral have also rev­o­lu­tionised things and made as­pects of the job eas­ier. In my time in keeper­ing I’ve never found a task that I can’t do, even though I’m smaller and not as strong as the av­er­age man.

As a woman in the in­dus­try, some­times you must be pre­pared to push your­self that bit harder to achieve the same re­sult. I am of­ten asked how I man­age cer­tain things; the truth is over the years I have dis­cov­ered that there is a knack to ev­ery­thing, be it swing­ing a big ham­mer, wield­ing a chain­saw or car­ry­ing tonnes of feed. The an­swer is not al­ways brute strength; some­times the key is to stand back and solve the prob­lem ra­tio­nally. And you can learn an aw­ful lot by watch­ing oth­ers and ask­ing ques­tions.

You do need a sprin­kling of tenac­ity, too, as there are some el­e­ments of keeper­ing that no col­lege course, how­ever good — and there are many fan­tas­tic cour­ses — can pre­pare you for. Each day is dif­fer­ent, and who knows what na­ture might be plan­ning to throw at you. Push­ing on through the busy pe­ri­ods when you are tired and your joints are aching does test re­solve, but when ev­ery­thing comes to­gether there is job sat­is­fac­tion like no other. I have also learned that apart from 54 • Shoot­ing times & Coun­try mag­a­zine de­ter­mi­na­tion you need adapt­abil­ity and to be a jack of all trades — plumber, me­chanic, forester, joiner and trac­tor driver.

But it is not a job for the faint­hearted. There are long hours of hard graft, of­ten bat­tling the el­e­ments, and many things to con­tend with out­side your con­trol. When it goes well, it is the best liveli­hood in the world but catastrophe is never that far away. Keeper­ing can be tough on men as well as women. Of the lads I went to col­lege with only a cou­ple I know of are still in full-time keeper­ing, but I am so glad I have stuck with it. Any woman read­ing this, han­ker­ing to give it a go, should think long and hard, but I’d say the re­wards am­ply re­pay the blood, sweat and tears.

Two days into the cur­rent sea­son, we have had a great start, al­beit both wind­less and bright in the sun­shine, poor weather from a shoot­ing point of view, but it is still a plea­sure to be out. The first cou­ple of times are nerve-rack­ing but our birds flew well, the new game crops did us proud and, with a few changes to the gun stands, should be a huge suc­cess. We are mov­ing on to some of the big­ger let days, mainly dou­bles where the Guns stay overnight in Un­der­ley Grange. Most teams come back year af­ter year. It’ll be good to see them again.

“Tra­di­tion still stands in the way of most young women putting a foot on the lad­der”

ATVS and tech­nol­ogy have made parts of the job eas­ier and Jude finds there is no task she can­not do

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