Can the lack of discipline be blamed on a little too much of "The liquid barrel straightener"?

Sue Knight looks at how standards may be dropping on our shoot days.

This season (2013/2014) will stay in my mind for three reasons. First, was the rumour and gossip about the new regulations on paying beaters and pickers-up. Second, it was my young dog’s first season picking up. My ‘Learner Labrador’ can now throw away the ‘L’ plates! Third, was the bad behaviour experienced on several shoots. Is it me, or is the behaviour of Guns and shooting etiquette declining?

The former
The Former

I enjoy a glass of something warming on a cold shoot day but drinking between every drive and over indulging at lunch is unacceptable. One group of professional young people who drank excessively got rowdier with each drive and by the end of the day were whooping every time a bird was shot, showing no respect whatsoever for the quarry.

"On another shoot I was amazed to see two Guns walk to their pegs with a full champagne flute and following an extended lunch"

On another shoot I was amazed to see two Guns walk to their pegs with a full champagne flute and following an extended lunch, one Gun boarded the beaters trailer swilling a bottle of beer and puffing on a cigar, despite the prominent ‘No Smoking’ sign.

Sometimes a little too much of what you fancy is not such a good idea
Sometimes a little too much of what you fancy is not such a good idea

The most disturbing event was with a novice Gun. From the moment he got out of the car wearing casual jeans and shouldered his gun incorrectly (stock down) suspicions were aroused. After the first drive word spread through the beating line that he was dangerous and should be watched.

Fortunately the shoot captain witnessed his low shooting and poor gun handling and had a word but the day was spoiled by fear of an accident.
There is excellent advice in ‘The Young Shot’ written in 1940 by Noel Sedgwick, which still holds true today. “The etiquette of the shooting field proper is strict, but it may be relaxed when friends are walking round together, or on the rough shoot….

The unwritten laws of the shooting field, however, including good manners, safety-first procedure and proper consideration shown to game, particularly wounded game, must remain unbroken under all circumstances…”

I have seen Guns despatch birds by flinging them against their pegs or walking away without note of shot or wounded birds. Are more people coming into game shooting via clays and without the training and education from an early age by an experienced mentor? I wonder how many game shots have read or are aware of Mark Beaufoy’s  poem ‘A Father’s Advice to his Son’. This was apparently written on the occasion of presenting his eldest son, Henry Mark, with his first gun in 1902. Perhaps a timely reminder is required.

If a sportsman true you’d be
Listen carefully to me.
Never, never let your gun
Pointed be at anyone
That it may unloaded be
Matters not the least to me

When a hedge or fence you cross
Though of time it cause a loss
From the gun your cartridge take
For the greater safety’s sake

If ‘twix you and neighbouring gun
Bird my fly or beast may run
Let this maxim e’er be thine
Follow not across the line

Stops and beaters oft unseen
Lurk behind some leafy screen
Calm and steady always be
Never shoot where you can’t see

Keep your place and silent be
Game can hear and game can see
Don’t be greedy, better spared
Is a pheasant than one shared

You may kill or you may miss
But at all times think of this
All the pheasants ever bred
Won’t repay for one man dead
Have Shooting Standards Declined?
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