Inside in­for­ma­tion on what hap­pens on the peg.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing a good loader and a great one of­ten comes down to get­ting the ba­sics of your job done quickly and ef­fi­ciently – with a dose of mu­tual re­spect added for good mea­sure.

Shooting Gazette - - This Month - WORDS AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: DAVID HUD­SON

Imag­ine you are in a butt on a grouse moor. A covey of grouse is skim­ming the heather to­wards you. You kill three out in front of the butt, spin around as they twist and bank through the line and take two more be­hind. Now I think you will agree to do that you need to be a pretty good shot, but more than that, you will need a damn good loader at your el­bow.

A good friend’s fa­ther, who was the keeper on a lo­cal es­tate and loaded for his boss, said that “the Boss” could reg­u­larly take five grouse from a covey. The trick was to take the first bird well out in front and then change guns so the loader only had one car­tridge to load while the Gun was tak­ing two more birds in front of the butt with the sec­ond gun, then chang­ing guns on the turn and tak­ing two more be­hind. Great team­work, of course, but team­work that stemmed from long prac­tice and both Gun and loader know­ing ex­actly what they were do­ing.

Do you have to be that ac­com­plished in or­der to be a good loader? I don’t think so. Last year

I was stand­ing in for the reg­u­lar loader of an ex­pe­ri­enced shot. He had a beau­ti­ful pair of Berettas but when I went to re­move the sec­ond gun from the car he said, “No. We’ll just use one gun to­day.” I must have looked sur­prised be­cause he went on to ex­plain, “Un­less Gun and loader are used to work­ing to­gether, stuff­ing a sin­gle gun is just as quick as switch­ing around with two.” He went on to shoot like a dream with just the one gun and I was left think­ing that it would be an awe­some sight to see him work­ing with an ex­pe­ri­enced loader and a pair.

So what makes a good loader? Let’s start by look­ing at a loader’s du­ties. Ob­vi­ously, first and fore­most the job is to load the gun or guns. There are two ways for a loader to work: dou­ble guns or stuff­ing. Briefly, dou­ble guns is the clas­sic way of load­ing where the loader stands at the Gun’s right shoul­der with a loaded gun while the Gun is deal­ing with the busi­ness of ac­tu­ally shoot­ing. Once a shot or two has been fired the empty gun is ex­changed for the loaded one: the Gun gets on with shoot­ing and the loader does what it says on the tin. When stuff­ing, the Gun never lets go of his gun but just pushes the top lever to al­low the car­tridges to eject, then the loader re­places one or both.

Hav­ing a loader, whether dou­ble guns or stuff­ing, means firstly that you can get more lead in the air than if you were fum­bling about for car­tridges your­self, so you might de­cide that a good loader is one who can get car­tridges into cham­bers as rapidly as pos­si­ble. And you would not be wrong, but there is much more to load­ing than sim­ply re­plac­ing spent shells.

Leg­work and heavy lift­ing

The loader will carry the guns and car­tridges to and from the peg – and this can be harder work than you might imag­ine if you have a pair of heavy guns in cowhide cases plus 500 shells to lug to a grouse butt hand­ily sited half a mile away up a steep hill. When the drive is over and the guns back in their slips, the empty cases need to be gath­ered and the game ly­ing close to the butt or peg col­lected, un­less the pick­ers-up have done that al­ready. At the end of the day it is the loader’s job to clean the guns and put them safely away.

Those are just the ba­sics. You and “your” Gun are go­ing to be spend­ing the day in close com­pany and es­sen­tially work as a team. It is your job to do ev­ery­thing you can to make sure that your Gun gets

as much en­joy­ment out of his day as pos­si­ble. This can lead to some slight dilem­mas. I once heard one of the Guns (semi-jok­ingly) re­fer to “the end­less stream of un­wanted bal­lis­tic ad­vice” he was re­ceiv­ing from his loader. Hav­ing watched him shoot I would have to say that the ad­vice may have been un­wanted but it cer­tainly wasn’t un­war­ranted, but that isn’t the point. If your Gun doesn’t want your ad­vice then it is bet­ter not to of­fer it.

Safe han­dling

The loader has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to make sure that the Gun han­dles his gun safely. With an ex­pe­ri­enced shot this shouldn’t be an is­sue, but not all shots are ex­pe­ri­enced. I was load­ing for a young man from East­ern Europe and asked him if he had shot pheas­ants be­fore. “No,” he replied, “This is my first time.” “And have you used a gun be­fore?” I en­quired. “Oh yes,” he said. “Yes­ter­day.” He’d had a few shots at some clays the day be­fore which was the first time he had ever fired a gun. At the first drive we were down in a lit­tle val­ley with three stops on the hill above us, all nicely within range. And the gun he was us­ing was a trap gun with no au­to­matic safety. Squeaky-bum time for the loader. In fact, he lis­tened, did ex­actly what he was asked to do and killed quite a few pheas­ants.

An­other day, an­other Gun but this time it was me feel­ing ner­vous. My Gun came com­plete with a team of eight body­guards who never let him out of their sight. One of them, armed and alert, stood just be­hind us at ev­ery drive. As we were head­ing to our peg one of the other load­ers said, sotto voce: “Don’t make any sud­den moves.” Half­way through the first drive I no­ticed that the body­guard had his fin­gers in his ears. Well, it was quite a busy drive and every­one else was wear­ing ear de­fend­ers. As for the Gun, he was a plea­sure to load for, in­sisted on be­ing on first-name terms with ev­ery­body and was a good shot into the bar­gain.

Some­times you might get to have a shot your­self. It was the last day of a week-long trip for a US party. My Gun was a qui­etly spo­ken gen­tle­man who had “a lit­tle place in Mon­tana” that turned out to cover 100,000 acres. As we went to our pegs for the last drive of the week, he handed me the gun and said “Gimme some shells. The first two are yours. Roost­ers only.” I man­aged to kill two “roost­ers” with not too many shots and handed back con­trol of the gun to the right­ful owner. Af­ter the drive it turned out that all the load­ers had been given a chance to shoot two “roost­ers”. I sus­pect they were run­ning a book on which loader could kill two cock pheas­ants with the least num­ber of shots. I don’t know who won but I sus­pect it wasn’t me.

So what makes a good loader? Some­one who can add to “their” Gun’s over­all en­joy­ment of the day. If you can get those car­tridges into the cham­bers ef­fi­ciently, give help or ad­vice if it is re­quired, add a lit­tle praise or a lit­tle sym­pa­thy depend­ing on whether that high pheas­ant crum­ples or sails on un­touched, share the odd joke and finish the day feel­ing that you have both made a new friend, then per­haps you are on the way to be­com­ing a good loader.

Now bring on that covey of grouse and let’s see if “our” team can get five down for five shots.

“It is your job to make sure that your Gun gets as much en­joy­ment out of the day as pos­si­ble.”

In the close con­fines of a grouse butt Gun and loader need to work seam­lessly.

Clean­ing guns on the hill at the end of a grouse day.

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