Arming Yourself For Battle: Shoot Day Preparation

September 8, 2017

Have you accepted the invite? And is your host expecting you (and your well behaved dog) and maybe even your better half? Shoot days aren’t crashable events like parties someone clearly meant to invite you to, or weddings that you happen to stumble into. They require a little forethought to avoid the painful embarrassment of being the only gun dressed head to toe in tweed, or god forfend period costume (no, I’m not making it up and it wasn’t me).

Your host, sporting agent or the shoot itself should provide you with directions to the meet point. Don’t assume it’s the farmyard, shoot room, doorstep of the owner’s house or pub. Do ask if you haven’t received them a week before the shoot date (but check your email’s junk mail first). And find out what time you’re expected. With those two pieces of information, you can calculate how long it will take to get you there, and the best way to take
at that time of day. Be sure to take into account road works, holiday traffic and rush hour as most shoots start at 9ish. On shoot days, if not in life in general, it’s better to be two hours early than five minutes late.

Is this a BYO affair or a fully catered event? Your host will know, and it’s always best to ask so you can prepare appropriately. A growling tummy on the peg is a distraction to you and your neighbours!

Cartridges are another thing to check with your host about: knowing the bag expectation will help you decide on how many slabs to pack (again, err on the side of caution and pack way more than you could ever use). Most shoots now insist you shoot with fibre wads (more agriculturally and environmentally friendly). The shot size, however is up to you and your personal preference. I pack 7s for early partridge and move to 5s for late season pheasants. Knowing a little about your destination and the
kinds of birds it shows will help in your cartridge selection – are 28 gram loads going to be ample, or should you pack the big boys for a day of eye-wateringly high birds?

Never let it be said that I shy away from the difficult topic, and tipping is certainly one and it’s often a divisive subject prone to opinion, many people still adhere strictly to £20 per 100 or part thereof.

Personally, I take the view that a tip should reflect your enjoyment and the effort you perceive the keeper and shoot staff to have put into making your day a memorable one. Sometimes, a day blighted by weather or other vagaries of shoot days outside the control of the keeper, means he has to work harder just to show an average day. For me, those are the days when I tip to reflect my appreciation of their effort.

Once you know the predicted size of the day, you’ll have the outline information necessary to calculate how much cash you’ll want to withdraw from the cashpoint. If you will be enjoying the services of a loader, make sure you have the cash to tip them as well. Your host should be able to advise you what is expected.
Night Before the Shoot

I like to pack the car the night before…except the dog and gun, of course. Attire and degree of risk aversion are personal choices, but I like to be sure I have:

Two coats – nothing is worse than putting a wet coat on after lunch. Or having left a coat out of your wardrobe entirely based on a weather forecast that turns out to be accurate for Spain and California, but not the Yorkshire moor where you’re stood. Being soaked reduces the fun of the day.

Wellie boots and walking boots – so my feet are comfortable whatever the weather and ground conditions turn out to be on the day.

Waterproof trousers – for the obvious. Tweed is great for all but the most torrentially wet of days.

Hearing defenders and spare batteries (if yours require them).

Sunglasses – low winter sunshine can ruin a drive for you if you’re without.

Cartridge bag – even if it never leaves the vehicle, it’s great for containing errant and escapee cartridges and prevents incidents with the armed response units (that one did happen to me).

Gunslip (assuming you’re travelling with your gun in a hard, lockable case).

Dog lead, whistle, screw (if your dog needs one), bowl and water.

Refreshments for you as required (see above).

Gun cleaning kit – I’d like to claim I was a paragon of virtue on this front, but I’m not. I carry it primarily to deal with barrel blockages, but should use it for immediate post-shoot wipe downs.

Morning of the Shoot

On the morning of the shoot, having woken before the alarm, I’ll pack the last few items that I can’t leave in the car overnight:

Pack guns. I carry a spare having had one too many terminal breakdowns on the peg. Not everything can be fixed with bailing twine, cigarette lighter springs (great temporary ejector springs) or cable ties. DO be careful when you leave home, friend’s house or hotel that you’ve taken everything you need for the day the first time you shut the door behind you.

We all intend to tiptoe out silently as dawn breaks. Having to beat down the door to wake your hosts so you can retrieve your gun or missing an entire day’s sport waiting in a pub car park for the breakdown service to liberate your car keys from the pocket of your shooting coat…in the locked boot of your car, is not the ideal way to start a shoot day.

If spouses, significant others or cheering sections are welcome or invited on the day, make sure you’ve let your host, agent or shoot know whether you are plus one or not so they can cater for the right numbers. And dress your additions appropriately. There’s nothing worse for your shot to kill ratio than a cold/hot/hungry peg mate!

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