KEEPER’S COUN­TRY:

Adam Smith re­flects on the lack of eti­quette shown by the odd oafish shooter who is happy to pinch his neigh­bour’s birds and de­bates what ex­actly con­sti­tutes ‘sport­ing range’

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

What con­sti­tutes ‘shoot­ing range’?

As a re­cent guest on a typ­i­cal small­ish shoot, where birds on the wing are counted in ones and twos rather than scores, the Gun on the next peg loudly, and per­haps just a lit­tle too fre­quently, laid claim to each and ev­ery bird fly­ing roughly in his di­rec­tion.

“Mine!” he’d yell, estab­lish­ing ex­clu­sive own­er­ship of bird and airspace, and fiercely damn­ing the eyes of any­one so boor­ish as to deny him first dibs. It was an in­di­vid­ual sort of ap­proach to cor­rect be­hav­iour in the field and one which seemed to work on other Guns dur­ing the day, since many de­nied them­selves a shot or two for the sake of peace and quiet.

When drawn as his neigh­bour, I was able on two oc­ca­sions to drop ‘his’ bird af­ter he’d missed with both bar­rels – which was a bonus, but one which still earned a glare. Per­haps he be­lieved that, hav­ing been missed, the bird had es­tab­lished the moral right to fly on, unim­peded and un­scathed. Maybe he had a point.

Any­way, in my ex­pe­ri­ence he is an odd­ity. Not a par­tic­u­larly of­fen­sive one, just a bit quaint and ap­par­ently un­aware of dis­play­ing his own greed, although com­pared to some oth­ers I have met he was al­most saintly. Now, I know I’m get­ting on and am in­creas­ingly un­able to suf­fer fools gladly – a com­mon and pre­dictable at­tribute of the el­derly and one which can only get worse – but I’ve nursed an en­trenched at­ti­tude to lane dis­ci­pline since long be­fore the grey hair and wrin­kles ar­rived. Ever since I first started game shoot­ing, in fact.

It’s re­ally not rocket sci­ence. Birds com­ing straight at you are un­ques­tion­ably yours to hit or miss as abil­ity al­lows. Birds slightly to one side of you are most prob­a­bly yours, and you can drop or salute to your heart’s con­tent, but not be too of­fended if your neigh­bour tries his luck. If there’s any el­e­ment of doubt and he has a ves­tige of sports­man­ship, he’ll let you shoot first any­way. Birds def­i­nitely off to the side could well be as much yours as theirs and both should be able to shoot with­out cre­at­ing ten­sion or of­fence.

Where po­lite­ness can af­fect the is­sue is when each waits for the other to shoot – by which time the bird is usu­ally out of range any­way – although this could be ap­plauded as con­ser­va­tion in ac­tion and should not be crit­i­cised. That’s about it, see? No more com­pli­cated than conkers.

Where the ag­gro starts is when Guns to ei­ther side of you start blaz­ing away at a bird that is un­equiv­o­cally yours. It’s an­noy­ing, it’s un­nec­es­sary and it’s un­gentle­manly (apolo­gies for the turn of phrase, ladies, but it’s mostly blokes that do this any­way). Should said bird thump to the ground close to your feet – a sit­u­a­tion that once hap­pened to me eight times on one drive and still brings a red mist to mind – then, the way I look at it, you’re en­tirely within your

rights to ex­press your se­vere dis­ap­proval by hurl­ing clods of mud and spent cartridge cases at the greedy lout to your left or right.

But of course we don’t, do we? No, we fume within and very prob­a­bly shoot in­creas­ingly badly, as the con­se­quences of thought­less­ness and a lack of sports­man­ship spoil the day.

To be fair, it’s not al­ways the Gun’s fault. There are fac­tors which can in­crease the prob­lem – like peg­ging too close. On some drives it’s un­avoid­able with­out back-gun­ning (which is al­most al­ways the bet­ter op­tion), but a sim­ple rule I al­ways tried to use was that pegs could com­fort­ably be 60 to 70 yards apart. With the ac­cepted ef­fec­tive shot­gun range of 40 yards, a bird fly­ing mid­way be­tween would still make a sport­ing shot for ei­ther Gun.

Any­thing less than this, favour­ing one or the other, made the choice an ob­vi­ous one – pro­vided, of course, they both had some ba­sic grasp of range as­sess­ment. And that’s the rub, isn’t it?

Know­ing ranges or guess­ing ranges has ever been the sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­tween a good sport­ing shot and just a hope­ful one. But, like most things in life, prac­tice re­ally does help to make per­fect. Sim­ply get­ting into the habit of not­ing a stone, tree, or some mark and es­ti­mat­ing how far away it might be, and then count­ing the paces, will soon build a ‘ref­er­ence book’ in your mind – and you’ll be a bet­ter shot as a con­se­quence. You don’t have to be walk­ing in the coun­try ei­ther; prac­tice on tele­graph poles or post boxes is just as ef­fec­tive, although the risk of bump­ing into peo­ple might be in­creased. Mind you, the met­ric po­lice might take an is­sue be­cause the av­er­age pace is closer to a yard than a me­tre, but keep the sums to your­self and you should be al­right.

The ma­jor pit­fall of the ‘mark and pace’ sys­tem is that it’s much eas­ier to prac­tise and as­sess hor­i­zon­tal ranges. Ver­ti­cal range is never quite so easy, be­cause there are sel­dom ref­er­ence points in a clear blue sky ex­cept, of course, for your tar­get. Hen pheas­ants can of­ten look higher than they are, for ex­am­ple, be­cause their shorter tails make them ap­pear smaller; again, recog­nis­ing this and ad­just­ing your lead is a mat­ter of prac­tice.

When fronting a wood, you will have trees to use as height ref­er­ences, although the re­sults might sur­prise you. A bird sail­ing over typ­i­cal ma­ture oak, for in­stance, could eas­ily be close to twice the height of the trees and still be a sport­ing shot. Don’t be­lieve me? The tallest trees in the UK are gi­ant red­woods, which in ma­tu­rity can be any­thing from twice to three times the height of a ma­ture oak but they av­er­age out at 40 to 45 yards, so a bird just clear­ing their top­most branches would still be at an ac­cept­able and sport­ing range.

Which opens an­other can of worms: just what is a sport­ing range? Not ev­ery­one would agree with the tra­di­tional stan­dards, and these days some Guns seem to think it’s ac­cept­able and ‘sport­ing’ to drop birds at 70 yards or more, tak­ing shots over the head of their neigh­bour’s neigh­bour two pegs away. Clever marks­man­ship and skil­ful shoot­ing, no doubt, but sport­ing? I don’t think so.

Maybe to them it’s more im­por­tant to have a laugh than to bother with sports­man­ship, and that’s fine if you have no re­gard for the live tar­get you drop to the cheers of your com­pan­ions. Some say it’s just the mod­ern ap­proach, to take ‘wip­ing an eye’ to ex­tremes – since ex­tremes seem to be the norm – but I’d ques­tion whether it’s to the ben­e­fit of our shoot­ing sport. Maybe FITASC is to blame, but an inan­i­mate clay at 65 me­tres (cor­rect ter­mi­nol­ogy in keep­ing with la Fédéra­tion) is not, and should not, be re­garded in the same way as a blur-winged game­bird.

Part of the prob­lem these days is cost. As com­mer­cial shoots be­come big­ger and big­ger, their rep­u­ta­tions are es­tab­lished based on ever larger ar­eas of sky oblit­er­ated by clouds of pheas­ants, which goes hand in hand with the ever larger sums of money re­quired to launch ever heav­ier quan­ti­ties of lead to­wards them, the place of sports­man­ship can only be­come di­min­ished.

But then, that’s what hap­pens with old fash­ioned things, in­nit?

‘Hen pheas­ants can of­ten look higher than they ac­tu­ally are be­cause their shorter tails make them ap­pear smaller’

Shoot­ing is an ex­tremely so­cial sport and good eti­quette and sports­man­ship play a large part BREAK IT DOWN In­stead of guess­ing, try break­ing dis­tances down into in­cre­ments by us­ing fea­tures in the land­scape around you.

Is there a wor­ry­ing trend of treat­ing pheas­ants like clay tar­gets?

Adam ques­tions what con­sti­tutes ‘sport­ing range’ in mod­ern times

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