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
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