By Mike Swan
Thursday, 11 October 2012
The revised "Code of Good shooting Practice"
It was a little late-season day; one of those impromptu affairs that gets added to the programme because there are still quite a few birds about. The first drive was for duck — not reared ones, but whatever came off a gravel pit. I was at the end of the line, half watching for a bird, and half chatting with the keeper. Most of what had shown had gone out wide, but I had dropped a gadwall in the river in front of me.
As we stood there, I realised that the drive was effectively over, and I was about to unload and sleeve my gun, with a view to retrieving my bird, when there was a shot from further along to my left. “What was that about?” I wondered, and then I realised, the next-but-one Gun had popped at a mallard that was so high above me that I had not even considered it. I reckon we were two gunshots apart — this bird was so high up that I can only assume he thought it was over him, too!
In my opinion, there are far too many gameshooters who do not recognise the limited range of their equipment. Most of the time, gamebirds such as pheasants and partridges are shown within the range of a shotgun — their limited powers of flight see to that. There are, of course, the out-of-range high birds on some steep valley shoots, but they are the exception. I think, perhaps, it is for this reason that some game Shots think they are entitled to have a go at anything legal that flies over them. The trouble is that long-distance flyers, such as pigeon and waterfowl, can climb to much higher altitudes, which is where good rangejudgement skills come in.
Code of conduct
Most readers will understand this well enough, and they would hardly expect to be told that they must be competent at estimating range and shoot within the limitations of their equipment to kill cleanly and consistently, but these are the words on the subject in the new Code of Good Shooting Practice.
With a new season just getting under way, now is the perfect time to sit down with a copy of the updated Code and read it through. If I were to carry out a straw poll of gameshooters, I bet that at least 99 per cent would insist that they abide by the code. However, what if I then asked for an honest answer as to whether they had read it? “Well, it is all common sense,” most would probably say, and the truth is that most of it is, but there may be things that you are less sure of. So, why not give it a read?
Being the representative of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) on the Code committee may mean that I am rather picky, but I certainly see more mistakes in an average season than I would like to. Going back to that silly shot at the high bird, there is, of course, a certain pressure to shoot. No-one wants to see low birds shot with abandon and rendered inedible as a result, but it is all too easy to feel that your host may be offended if you do not shoot at the birds shown to you. That is why the new edition of the code says that the host should always brief the Guns at the start of the day, and that he should say, “Do not shoot at excessively high or out-of-range birds”.
Shooting within the boundaries
In my role at the GWCT, I also hear most of the Code-related enquiries and complaints that come our way. This leads me to the conclusion that friction over boundaries is the most frequent area where possible breaches of the Code occur.
Have you ever been sent to your peg and told: “Try not to drop anything in that garden — they’re anti and won’t let us pick-up”? What can you do? Make a superhuman effort only to shoot to kill? You should be doing that anyway. And what happens when, despite your care, you drop a runner and it heads straight for the garden in question? Sporstmanlike behaviour dictates that you must do your best to despatch that bird quickly, and the Code endorses that. The trouble is that you have no right to go after it on to land where you do not have permission to be. The Code also endorses that position: Shoot managers must have obtained permission before entering neighbouring property, especially during a shoot.
In fact, the answer is further down in the Code, and it is one that we may not like: Shooting should not be conducted where it will not be possible to retrieve shot game. Add to that: Avoid birds and spent shot falling on to public places, roads and neighbouring property, and you have only one answer — a shoot with this problem should either abandon the drive or adjust how it is taken and where the Guns are placed to avoid the risk of a breach.
Avoiding sticky situations
This problem need never have arisen. There are, of course, people who are completely against shooting, and who would never let you on their land. However, in most cases, this scenario could have been avoided with a little forethought. Imagine yourself as the householder in this situation: one autumn morning, without warning, there is a shoot going on just outside your fence. A couple of shot pheasants fall into your garden, and then a lumping great Labrador comes tearing across your flower borders, smashing the dahlias and carving a deep scratch in your carefully tended lawn. Had someone taken the trouble to come and speak to you to explain what would be happening, would you have been more understanding? Who knows, but once the situation is entrenched, it is unlikely to be resolved.
Going back to the out-of-range shot at the duck, there is another sticky issue that can arise, especially on smaller days, and that relates to the adequacy of picking-up. On bigger shoots, there is a strong incentive to make sure that there are plenty of good dogs and handlers, or too many birds may be lost. The thing is, whether eight Guns shoot 50 or 500, the proportion of the bag that is at risk of being lost is much the same. However, on the 50-bird day I was shooting on, we had just one person in that role, while only a few of the Guns had dogs. Guns’ dogs can be helpful, but they do not really qualify — mine included. No matter how good they are, they are in the wrong place to be much use on runners, where interception rather than a tail chase is the key to success.
This brings me to one other change in the new edition of the Code. Time was when if anyone other than the beaters moved during a drive they would be in big trouble, and that went for dogs too. However, the Code committee is of the view that times have changed, and rapid despatch is more important than the risk of distracting the Guns, unless there is a safety issue preventing this. Hence: wounded game should be retrieved during drives whenever it is safe and practicable to do so.
The Code of Good Shooting Practice is, indeed, about common sense, as well as being about safe and happy shooting. It is also about demonstrating to the wider public that we uphold the highest possible standards. So, be comfortable in your enjoyment of your shooting this season, and please read the new edition of the code before you start.
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