Safety first - how to handle unsafe shooters
PUBLISHED: 17:26 12 December 2017 | UPDATED: 17:26 12 December 2017
Shoot days are exciting and good fun, but safety in the field is no joking matter. Phil Moorsom offers some advice on how to handle the awkward situation of a fellow shooter being deemed unsafe
On the whole I love hosting shoot days. The most satisfying side of it is simply to see those involved in the day enjoying themselves, whether beating, shooting or picking up. I am never really sure if most keepers are enjoying themselves on a day – it is usually at the end of a successful last drive that they will crack a smile, often out of relief. The primary job of a shoot captain is to ensure that all the Guns go home with a smile on their face, having had a decent amount of shooting.
On our roving syndicate we aim to be totally inclusive, welcoming Guns no matter what their age or level of experience as long as they are respectful of those around them and the quarry and – most importantly – safe! Many of us will have shot a low bird that they later perhaps regret, but there is shooting low and shooting dangerously low.
On the rare occasion I have had to ask a Gun to raise their barrels, they are usually most embarrassed by the offence, apologise profusely and are extremely careful for the remainder of the day, and may even apologise to the Guns either side of them. Some Guns, equally embarrassed, react in a different way – denial. If your neighbouring Gun, a beater or a stop feels even slightly in peril there is no excuse, and saying “Oh, I knew there was a stop there” or “It was way over their head” will make things worse not better. Being a safe shot is determined by those who are shooting with you – it is objective not subjective.
HOW TO SPEAK UP ABOUT DANGEROUS SHOOTING
On the whole we in the shooting community are extremely polite to each other, perhaps too polite when it is an issue of safety.
If one feels a fellow Gun is shooting dangerously it can be awkward to approach the individual, who may be a guest, parent or youngster, without creating an atmosphere. One should discreetly approach the shoot captain, host or keeper and make your concerns known. It is then down to them to approach the offending Gun or speak to the team as a whole to emphasise the importance of making sure everyone is shooting safely.
All too often, people will wait until the day is over to mention concerns about a fellow Gun’s shooting or send an email once home. This is basically passing the problem on. If the Gun is not spoken to they may carry on shooting carelessly and at some point be the cause of an accident.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SPEAKING UP
I think the majority of us would prefer that friends or fellow Guns let us know if they had an issue with the way in which we shoot. A little while ago, there was a senior gentleman that I went out shooting with whose fitness had diminished significantly over the past few years and – understandably – it has been a difficult deterioration for him to accept.
He had brought his lovely little cocker on this particular day, a driven partridge shoot, which sadly he just couldn’t control. He struggled to get to and from his peg on the first two drives even with help and the poor dog, unused to standing on a peg, barked incessantly all the way through, much to the annoyance of the neighbours.
On the third drive, he decided to release the hound who, thrilled with his new-found freedom, rushed forward picking and mouthing almost every bird that had been shot in front.
The gentleman in question then lost focus on his shooting, too busy working his dog, and at one point the dog knocked him over, shotgun in hand, down a bank and into an electric fence. I had made my way over from the other end of the line and to be honest was absolutely furious as to what I had seen.
I drew a breath and asked him to put his gun away and we took the dog to the back of the line for the remainder of the drive, which was pretty much over.
On the walk back to the gun bus I explained that it was not appropriate for the dog to run wild during a drive, picking birds that the other Guns would have liked their dogs to pick. I suggested that the dog should stay in the car for the final drive of the day and appointed myself as his loader and actually had to pick him up twice for questionable shooting.
In spite of this, the final drive was fantastic and the keeper was extremely generous with the bag. A couple of the Guns thanked me for pulling the bloke up but I knew that at the end of the day I would have to have a sensitive conversation with him and explain that it was simply not safe for him to be shooting, either on his own or with the dog.
Obviously, he was defensive at first but once I explained that it was a question of not only his safety, but also that of those around him, he was more understanding.
The point I am hoping to get across is that we all have a duty to pick each other up on safety issues and pass on tips that some Guns may not have been taught. It may be something simple like removing cartridges when passing your gun over a fence or removing it from a gunslip correctly. If you are uncomfortable doing this, a good shoot captain, host or gamekeeper will discreetly address the issue. As the poem, A Father’s Advice reminds us: “All the pheasants ever bred won’t repay for one man dead”.