YOUNG KEEPERS: Re­ports from driven days hosted by stu­dents

Storm Brian made an ap­pear­ance as stu­dents from two col­leges hosted for­mal driven days. Rod Green­wood was im­pressed by the young­sters’ abil­i­ties

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

One of the as­sess­ments our sec­ond year stu­dents have to un­der­take here at Sparsholt is on as­sist­ing in the run­ning of a for­mal driven shoot day. This en­tails en­sur­ing that all prepa­ra­tions prior to the day are made, tak­ing charge of the beat­ing line for the du­ra­tion of at least one drive on the day, and fi­nally eval­u­at­ing the suc­cess of the day. The as­sess­ment in­cludes:

Ob­ser­va­tion of safety aware­ness through­out Pre-shoot day prepa­ra­tion Or­gan­is­ing all per­son­nel con­cerned on the day Clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion to all in­volved Post-shoot eval­u­a­tion

Un­like some col­lege cam­puses, we have a small farm shoot only a cou­ple of min­utes drive away, where stu­dents can un­der­take the above task. Read­ing it through, it is al­most ex­actly what many keepers will be do­ing through­out the shoot­ing sea­son, pos­si­bly mul­ti­ple times a week. It is un­for­tu­nate that the aca­demic year and the shoot­ing year do not knit to­gether neatly for all of the as­sess­ment.

Some fox drives had been co­or­di­nated by staff and stu­dents at the end of the spring and sum­mer terms. The par­tridge pens were built and made as ready as pos­si­ble, along with the pheas­ant re­lease pen fence wire, the elec­tric fenc­ing and the wa­ter sys­tem and sup­ply.

As the staff re­turned to work after the sum­mer break, the poults ar­rived and within a month the stu­dents were out feed­ing and top­ping up wa­ter in prepa­ra­tion for their first shoot day in Oc­to­ber. Af­ter­noons were spent walk­ing the ground and prep­ping them­selves to run spe­cific drives, know­ing where stops might be re­quired and how flanks and Guns will move into po­si­tion. For our first day – a run-through in a new sea­son with new plans and ideas – we tried to keep the day in­for­mal with only six Guns, two pick­ers-up and eight stu­dents run­ning the day, along with eight more beat­ing. In the same week, Martin Ed­wards, our cur­ricu­lum leader, and I were in­vited by an old work col­league, Cur­tis Mos­sop, to one of New­ton Rigg’s stu­dent-run days up in Cum­bria. After a five-hour drive north, we ar­rived in the evening and got our heads down ready for the forth­com­ing shoot day. It was the week­end of Storm Brian, so the winds were strong with in­ter­mit­tent show­ers. The stu­dents did very well to get around the birds but they were test­ing as they lifted and turned on the wind; the har­vest­ing of the for­age maize on the col­lege farm helped im­prove one of the main drives, con­cen­trat­ing the birds into the cover strip sup­plied by David of Bright Seeds. Both the Sparsholt and New­ton Rigg day had started with a safety brief­ing ex­plain­ing what was

‘The winds were strong with in­ter­mit­tent show­ers but the stu­dents did well to get around the birds as they lifted and turned on the wind’

ex­pected of the Guns, along with other ba­sic rules about be­ing safe, not shoot­ing ground game, and when you could start shoot­ing and the sig­nals for the end of drive.

Our first drive after the safety brief was slightly com­pro­mised by the Guns be­ing very choosy over the early sea­son pheas­ants, as the par­tridge in the drive had eluded the beat­ers, but the sec­ond drive, White­lines, was a suc­cess with the par­tridge slid­ing across the gun line and farm build­ings to present some sport­ing tar­gets. The stu­dents run­ning that drive halted the beat­ing line as cov­eys of red legs flushed.

In the north, hav­ing the cover strips and drives dot­ted around the col­lege cam­pus made it very easy for the stu­dents in their year groups to take re­spon­si­bil­ity of in­di­vid­ual ar­eas, al­though some con­flict can arise be­tween the different de­part­ments with space be­com­ing a com­mod­ity. An­other slight prob­lem is that the rear­ing and re­leas­ing sea­son doesn’t mould well with the aca­demic year, but there are ways and means of get­ting around that.

In Hamp­shire, there isn’t the clash with other de­part­ments vy­ing for space and time on the ground, but there are foot­paths and the public to con­tend with. The stealth cam­eras have some great footage of dog­walk­ers tak­ing their over­weight choco­late Labradors well off the beaten track, only for them to smile and point at the re­al­i­sa­tion that they might be on camera.

Most stu­dents at this time of life for­get about these seem­ingly small prob­lems, and may strug­gle to deal with the pres­sures of a full sea­son, but it does give them an in­sight into plan­ning and the sud­den re­al­i­sa­tion of how much ex­pla­na­tion and pa­tience is re­quired to run even the small­est shoot day.

If you know where the Guns are stood and have an inkling of the wind di­rec­tion then an al­len­com­pass­ing horse­shoe line of beat­ers should help to get some birds over the Guns, but they must be steady and be sure that the Guns are lined out be­fore giv­ing those chances for game to be shot.

It’s a very proud feeling when the stu­dents do gel and take con­trol of as­pects of their as­sessed shoot days, and the com­pli­men­tary feed­back from the Guns helps to gal­vanise their be­lief that they can ful­fil their ca­reer dreams.

The stu­dents give a de­brief at the start of the day

Pre­par­ing for the big day

A good driven bird day was hosted by the stu­dents

Work on the shoot be­gins pre-sea­son

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