KEEPERING WITH THE NGO
There’s more to beating than aimlessly waving a flag or tapping a stick – something all Guns, especially newcomers, should be aware of, says Tim
‘Beaters turn out in all weather and go on massive manoeuvres through woodland, thicket, covert or over moors’
All big shoots rely on certain things to make the day work, and to some extent the same factors make or break a smaller shoot. Things like how well the birds have flown, the weather and even the lunch can make a day.
But one thing that makes a shoot really work is the beaters, without whom you simply wouldn’t have a driven shoot at all. Beaters turn out in all weather and go on massive manoeuvres through woodland, thicket, covert or over moors that sometimes make the blitzkrieg look amateurish. Beating is a skill, it’s not just swinging a stick and flapping a flag – there is much more to it than that.
When you are flanking on a partridge day the beater has to know when to flag and when to keep quiet and out of the way. The timing of lifting the flag is also vital; beaters learn these skills over time. Woodland pheasant shooting is also an art; when to tap to move birds, when to stand still and when to make a noise and move forwards are all learnt from winter days in the line.
I was loading on a shoot in Gloucestershire in early December and I would imagine that about half the beaters were between 15 and 17 years old, equally split between boys and girls. That really was great to see and it is one of the very best ways to get youngsters out of the house, into the fresh air and to do some exercise. I can’t think of any negative aspects of a Saturday spent out in the countryside in good company.
I will have to be honest now, I don’t actually swing a stick or wave a flag as much as I used to. I do still get out beating, but more often than not I am loading or picking-up, which I also love. One of the interesting things about loading is that you see the shoot from the same point of view as the Guns. It’s particularly interesting if you have been beating and picking-up because then you will have an idea of how the drive and the shoot works.
I meet a lot of Guns during the season and when you’re loading you get to spend a good amount of time with them. Some are talkative and others not so much, but you can get an idea of what they genuinely know about shooting from the grass roots up. Many of our Guns have been brought up shooting and have done their time in the beating line as a youngster, but a lot of those
that I meet are new to the sport and have little idea of how a shoot is actually run. They don’t know the skill and the hard work required by the beaters and pickers-up, which I think is a shame.
New people coming into shooting is great and I am all for that, no matter what level they enter. Shooting needs Guns of all ages and financial stretch. However, it would be nice if the newcomers who are going straight into the gun took a little bit more time to learn about shooting as a whole, to learn about the benefits to general wildlife, the social and economic benefits to the local area as well as the health benefits to those that take part.
I like to see the little gestures on a shoot day: the Guns acknowledging the pickers-up and beaters with a ‘thank you’ or ‘good morning’ – without these hard workers there would be no day to have. I also like to see Guns taking game home with them or, better still, being served it at lunch. Before we can go out and fully educate those that have no idea what we are doing, we need to look inwards occasionally. We should also never forget the hard work of those that swing a stick and raise a flag, week in and week out, for our sport.