Too close for comfort
The experienced picker-up knows where to stand but sadly the Guns sometimes don’t always put others’ safety first, warns David Tomlinson
I suspect there are few experienced pickerups who haven’t been peppered or encountered bad or even dangerous shooting. This was the one subject I didn’t consider when I discussed picking-up etiquette (Pick-up good habits, 24 October), because it deserves an article to itself. My guide states: “If there is a Gun out on the day who continually takes dangerous shots, putting you or your dog at risk, inform the keeper or shoot captain immediately.”
As a picker-up you are invariably going to be in a vulnerable, if not dangerous, position standing behind a line of Guns. Experienced Shots are usually safe and wouldn’t dream of shooting low behind. Sadly, that is not always the case, as the excitement of the moment can lead to a momentary lapse of concentration. My narrowest escape was when the Gun, a retired army officer of high rank, fired low behind at partridges. Fortunately he missed me, though not by a great deal. He did at least have the manners to admit his mistake and apologise profusely. He also got a severe reprimand from the shoot captain.
Of course, shooting low is standard practice on a grouse moor, but there the pickers-up know that they have to keep their heads down during the drive. I remember sheltering behind a drystone wall on the first drive of a grouse day. Hardly a shot was fired, though plenty of birds went whistling overhead. It turned out that none of the Guns had shot grouse before. They had not fired as they thought the birds were too low. The keeper was not pleased. Guns switching from grouse moor to lowland shoot have to remind themselves that shooting low is no longer acceptable.
It always makes sense to stand as far behind the Guns as you can to do your job as efficiently as possible. You don’t want to be too far away. You certainly don’t want to be too close. One time I was on a shoot where all the pickers-up positioned themselves about 50 yards behind the Guns on each drive. I thought that was far too close for comfort, but it seemed to be accepted practice on this shoot.
It is not always easy to get as far from the Guns as you would like. My most unpleasant experience was picking-up on a syndicate day on a semi-commercial shoot. The syndicate was a little unusual, as though they shot together, there was not much camaraderie. The shoot was on an estate that had been divided between brother and sister. They had fallen out, with the result that the
“It makes sense to stand as far behind the Guns as possible, not too far away but you certainly don’t want to be too close”
Experienced Guns will always be safe, but the pickers-up must be aware of the line of fire