The perfect shoot day

This Insights column from BASC president Lord Geoffrey Dear first appeared in the September/October edition of Shooting & Conservation magazine

Some people call them ‘bath birds’ – moments from the field they revisit while sitting among the suds. Others reflect on a day’s shooting during the drive home instead, while chatting away to the dogs in the back. Either way, it’s not just the birds we think about, is it? It’s far from just the birds…

Perhaps this year, against the backdrop of gamebird supply issues and wider economic difficulty, the surging costs – for shoots and shooters – will sharpen the focus on what is really important to so many of us. Change often causes us to reappraise our approach to something, and I wonder if that will ring true for game shooting.

I suspect that if you were to stop, take stock and list the key components of a perfect shoot day, your list would look quite like my own. What about if you were to then re-order that list based on worth – what matters most?

Without question, first and foremost for me is the company – those with whom we share the experience. We’ve all been on days that stand out as being truly exceptional because of the people involved. Whether we are spending time with old friends or new, that camaraderie and sense of togetherness is crucial – but not a given.

After that, on my list, is an amalgam of the setting, the mechanics of the day and the attention to the smaller details which merge to create the experience as a whole – the sort that are so difficult to capture in words on paper. How is the shoot managed to benefit other wildlife? Who are the characters at its core? What might it be doing that breaks the mould?

I have been on double-gun days where more than 600 birds have been accounted for. And I’ve no real issue with that, so long as the birds enter the food chain and best practice is adhered to. For me, however, such days miss the point.

My father always said that if you can’t remember each bird you have shot, you’ve probably shot too many. I tend to agree. In my experience, fewer birds and less shooting translates to more time to speak to the beaters, the stops, the pickers-up and the keepers – and more time to truly appreciate the pheasants, partridges or other quarry that feature along the way. Too much, too often and that homeward-bound reverie becomes a muddled blur of fast-paced action – it lacks the defined moments that last in one’s mind.

Perhaps a growth in smaller shoots and smaller days will take many of us back to the purer forms of shooting – the sort enjoyed by my father in the post-War years – where emphasis is not on numbers but on a day out with good friends in well-managed countryside. It’s more relaxed, there’s no haste – a chance to watch the dog works, ask questions and learn about a shoot’s conservation credentials or its place in the community, while putting birds in the game larder that will be shared come home time.

All of these things, these details, BASC holds dear. Your organisation is about everything that goes with shooting – the sense of community, the biodiversity, the appreciation of nature, the wonderful food. It’s always about far more than just numbers.

I wish you a safe and sporting season.