Most is not enough
The bigger the shoot, the less respect the Guns seem to have for the quarry once they’ve pulled the trigger, says a concerned picker-up
Picking-up is about one thing — finding shot birds. The joy I get from finding one bird that would otherwise be lost gives me more pleasure than shooting even the highest of pheasants.
Over the years I have managed to climb the picking-up tree, from a small syndicate with one dog to picking-up three or four times a week on some very large estates. What has become increasingly apparent is that there seems to be a direct correlation between the number of birds shot and the lack of reverence given to the birds once the trigger has been pulled.
At the bottom of this mythical tree, we have the tiny syndicates; the walk one, stand one type. The amount of effort the team puts into picking each and every bird is amazing. Often everyone and their dog will hunt a patch of cover for that one bird that everyone saw crumple but nobody seems able to find. The shouts of
“get on”, “high lost” and “find it” are almost at fever pitch as the dogs dive in and out of cover. The Gun looks on in anticipation, waiting for that exuberant and triumphant shout of “I’ve found it”. There will only be two outcomes — either it is found and the person who picked it walks out of the cover proud as punch, or everyone keeps looking until every patch of ground has been checked and double checked.
Further up the tree, we have the small commercial shoots offering let days. Here the birds have a price on their heads. This is where we start to see teams of paid pickersup who have more than one dog. They are positioned strategically throughout the drive, ready to send their dogs to intercept runners as soon as they hit the ground.
At the end of the drive the dogs burst on to the field to pick the birds lying in front of them. It is like a conveyor belt of dogs and birds as each one returns with its retrieve before being cast out again. Once the field is clear, they concentrate on the margins and hedgerows, searching for the bird they had marked earlier or taking direction from a Gun who insists they have a bird down “over there somewhere”.
These pickers-up are no less intent on finding every bird than those on the small syndicate because this is their job. It is what they are here to do and they take pride in the fact that, if they haven’t picked it, it is because it’s not there. Their determination to pick every last bird often means they miss elevenses, are late for lunch or are the last ones to return after the day has finished.
The keeper and shoot owner know that finding those last few birds can make the difference between making the bag or having to do another drive and one extra bird a drive covers the cost of any picker-up many times over. Unfortunately, due to time The small commercial shoots pay teams of pickers-up to find runners
“Anyone involved in shooting knows that a bird which is lightly pricked can be in the next county before lunch”
On walk one, stand one shoots, everyone and their dog will hunt for that one bird that they all saw crumple