Certain etiquette expected at traditional game shoots. Follow our straightforward guide for before, during and after the shoot and you will not go wrong.
Before the shoot
When you receive an invite to a game bird shoot, reply promptly and in writing with a letter or email.
Large driven game bird shoots are planned months in advance and take considerable effort from the gamekeeper and all involved. Always answer a game bird shooting invitation.
If you accept an invite, you should not cancel for any reason other than an emergency. Successful shoot days only happen when people turn up. Should you receive a second coinciding invitation to another game shoot one must decline the second offer.
Game bird shooting is a sociable country pursuit, great for gatherings of friends and business colleagues. Shoots allow you to bring partners and/or dogs, others do not. Always respect what the invite says. The invite may offer to supply a person who loads your gun for the day, known as a loader. If this is the case, you should accept. A loader can be extremely useful for changing and reloading your guns as well as a second pair of eyes.
Purchase clothing and kit well in advance.
The gun and associated equipment:
Will you need to bring your own gun? Ideally, it is better to take your own gun that has been fitted for your use. However, if you are completely new to the sport, let your host know as they may be able to supply a gun for you to borrow and/or arrange for a loader or someone to aid you on the day.
The law means you can only borrow a gun if it is being used on private land for live quarry or clay shooting. The person who lends you the gun must have a valid shotgun certificate, be aged eighteen or over, and be present when you are using it. Also, the borrowed gun must be used in the presence of the occupier of the private land, or another person who is authorised in writing to use the land.
Looking to buy your own gun? Before you can own, buy, or acquire a shotgun in the UK, you need a firearms certificate. You can get the application form for a shotgun certificate from your local police force. The certificate can take three to four months to be issued, so do this in suitable time, and it usually lasts 5 years from the date of issue or renewal. Take your shotgun certificate or a copy of it to the shoot.
If you are buying a shotgun for the first time, visit a reputable gun shop to get advice on what gun will suit you. By law, you can only buy a gun and cartridges face-to-face in a store, not online.
Whether you own a gun or not, we say that you book lessons with an instructor before the shoot day. It is best to learn at a shooting school with clay targets first, as there are safety questions when shooting a gun. This can help both novice and seasoned shooters. Booking on a simulated game bird shooting day during the summer months will help novice and expert alike.
Alongside a gun, you will need cartridges, a cartridge bag and a gun slip or case. The gun slip allows you to easily carry and protect your gun when not in use, while travelling to and from the shoot. To buy cartridges you need to show your shotgun certificate in person. If you do not have a shotgun certificate yet, you are allowed to buy cartridges on a registered shooting ground, but you will only be able to use them on the day. Instructors take charge of cartridges.
Confirm what quarry of game birds you will be hunting ahead of the game shooting day, so you can buy the right cartridges. It is illegal in the UK to use lead cartridges to shoot duck, geese, coot, and moorhens, and when shooting on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Grouse moors are SSSIs, use non-toxic cartridges. If you are unsure whether the shoot will occur in a SSSI, check with your host. Guns are not suitable for non-toxic cartridges, so ensure that your gun is proofed for this type of cartridge also.
Always bring adequate cartridges with you for your game bird shooting day, this includes having enough non-toxic cartridges, be aware most game bird shoots have a fibre wild only policy.
You should also have shotgun insurance which you can buy online, for example at BASC. This will cover you against injury before you head on to the field.
If you already have a shotgun, get it serviced in suitable time and order cartridges. Having your gun serviced regularly or every 12 months ensures it will work and gives you the confidence that it is safe to use. When you get a gun out of storage, the first thing you should do is check the safety catch is on. Then open the gun and check that the chambers are empty. Check and make sure your barrels have no obstructions, known as the bores, do this using the sky. Always use a gun slip when taking your gun to a game bird shoot.
Finally, the night before the shoot, pack all the equipment you need – this will prevent you from forgetting anything or having to borrow something. Remember to tip the gamekeeper in cash approximately £25 per hundred birds is acceptable i.e., £50 tip for a 200-game bird shooting day per person.
you will be given a date and time of arrival for your game bird shooting day, use Google Maps to ensure you arrive early, if you arrive late, this is seen as bad manners and the shooting party may have left without you.
The shoot day
When you arrive on time, greet your host, and introduce yourself to the other guns, gamekeepers, beaters, and anyone else making the day happen.
Format of a driven shoot
The shoot briefing
At the start of the day, there will be a briefing before the shoot begins. Listen carefully to the brief – this is where you will be told what you can and cannot shoot, known as the quarry, what signals to look and listen out for, and safety information. Follow all instructions given to you by your host and the gamekeeper. They are there to keep you safe.
Draw for stands
On a driven shoot, after the brief and safety instructions, there will be a draw for stand numbers at the start of the day. Remember your peg number, write it down, if necessary, remember to move up numbers between each drive. The stands may be in a straight line or curve with the ground. There will typically be eight guns in a game shoot team.
For a pheasant or partridge driven shoot you will be placed at a stand known as a peg, usually marked by a number. Your peg number dictates where you will be standing for each game bird drive. Shoots have diverse ways of moving guns from drive to drive, so make a note of what peg you will start from and which you will move to for each drive.
On a driven grouse shoot, the stand is a small bunker known as a butt. Grouse butts have a pair of safety sticks at the front which acts as a physical barrier stopping your gun barrels from swinging through the line, do not move the sticks as they are there to stop you shooting towards your neighbouring gun.
When the shooting starts
Walk directly to your first peg or butt to start the shoot and do not stop to talk on the way. This keeps the pace up of the day. If you are standing at a butt, double check the safety sticks are positioned correctly. At shoots you will be given a signal before you are allowed to shoot, for others you will be ‘live on peg.’ Being ‘Live on peg’ means the moment you arrive on your peg number regardless of whether other guns are ready or the horned start the drive has sounded you may shoot at once.
Regardless of whether you need a signal or not, take a minute when you arrive at your stand to familiarise yourself with where the beaters, guns, and other shooting members are before you start to shoot.
Wait for the horn to sound before you start shooting unless you are told specifically otherwise. The sound also lets you know that the beaters are in range of the guns, and you must only shoot from behind your stand. Occasionally you may hear a beaters cry of “OVER” this is just intended to alert you that game bird is heading your way
Beaters put out a flushing line while in woodland for pheasant shooting, or while in thick heather for grouse shooting. A flushing line is the area where the birds will stop running along the ground and should take off to fly overhead of the guns.
Acting as a walking gun
On a driven game bird shoot, you may be asked to function as a walking gun. Should you be asked to function as a walking gun make sure you have sure footing ahead of you and you only shoot birds going back or to the side. As a walking gun, your task is to shoot any birds that are flying away from the direction of the drive. These birds are not heading forwards or in the direction of the line of guns, so are yours to take. If you are new to the shoot, you will normally be given an escort to help with this role.
Elevenses, lunch, and alcohol
Whenever the shoot party stops for refreshments, ensure you break your shotgun, unload it, and put it in its gun slip. Shooting straight through to around 2–3 pm and then stop for the day. If this is the case, you are likely to be served a sizeable elevenses mid-morning and just drinks or a lighter bite after the shoot. Others, stop for lunch and then continue to shoot later in the afternoon. Ensure you have enough cartridges with you for the afternoon.
A shoot lunch or elevenses may either be served outside or inside. Elevenses is served from the boot of the hosts four-wheel-drive, lunch may be sandwiches in the barn, heading off to the pub for a lunch or an invite into the farmhouse for a two or three course meal. Take your boots off and leave them outside or in the car with the guns, bring a pair of smart shoes. If you are wearing waterproof over-trousers, take them off. Wet and muddy clothing is never appreciated in the farmhouse.
Should you bring your gundog with you ensure he is safe in the car with water, a nuisance dog around the table will ensure you are not invited back.
The time to pack up and head off after lunch may be announced at short notice and you should not lag. Be ready to eat up and head off quickly. It is important to abide by the timings of the day as this contributes to a successful shoot.
Should alcohol be offered to you throughout the day be aware that by law shooting a firearm is the same as drink-driving. It is best to drink a minimum amount until the shooting has finished as you are in control of a firearm. Do not get drunk or drink beyond your limits as you may lose control of your shotgun, leading to dangerous accidents.
If you have any specific dietary requirements, due to allergies or religious requirements for example, let your host know in advance of the day so they can prepare suitable food.
Take your time to put away your gun safely. Put on the safety catch, unload your gun and check for any obstructions in the barrels and chambers before placing it in its gun slip. Carry your gun in its slip while you help the pickers-up who are collecting the birds.
Do not leave the shoot at once when the shooting stops. Always help with picking up the birds and spent cartridges once the shoot is over, and if possible, show the pickers-up where your birds have fallen. Even experienced pickers-up can miss the odd bird and you should look for anything you have shot in the interest of welfare. For small shoots birds will be divided amongst the guns and beaters, but with larger shoots these game birds will head off to the game dealer, do not pile up game birds in a heap, they need to call down and be braced up on the game cart.
If you have been asked to bring your dog, only allow it to run around and pick up birds once the shooting has stopped. Do not let your gundog run around during any drives, if you cannot control the dog ensure he is securely pegged next to you, if your dog continually barks it would be best to leave the dog at home.
Shooting is a sociable sport and there will often be drinks after the shoot, where you can enjoy further hospitality provided by your host and relax with the rest of the shoot party.
The bag and thanking all involved
when the shooting day ends the gamekeeper will count the number of birds shot and collected throughout the day, shoots will also let you know the overall shot count for your day’s game bird shooting, you will be given a card with the details on.
Next, the gamekeeper offers a brace of birds to each gun, and it is always polite to accept. Shake the keeper’s hand and thank your loader. The amount to tip should be at the discretion of each gun, but you can ask your host to give you a guide on how much to tip. The traditional way to tip is £25 for the first one hundred birds in the bag, then £10 for everyone hundred thereafter. Tipping relates to the service and quality the game birds have been presented throughout the day. So, if you were on a hot peg, show your appreciation and tip more, or less if you were out of the shooting, throughout the day. Consider the day as a whole and how you have been looked after as a team, not just as an individual, spend time with the gamekeeper and chap and asking how he seasons been, it is always worth building up a good rapport with the gamekeeper.
Ensure you are polite and grateful and thank the host, spend time, go, and talk to the beaters and thank them for their challenging work. Although not an obligation, consider bringing a gift for your host, particularly if you are staying overnight, such as a bottle of sloe gin or port.
After the shoot day
it is good etiquette to write a handwritten letter thanking the person that invited you on the game bird shooting day. It is also polite to reciprocate the hospitality with an invitation for your host – you may not be able to hold your own shoot, but an invite to dinner is fine.
Make sure to store your unloaded shotgun in a lockable cabinet at home for safety.
There is no compromise with gun safety on any shoot.
When walking to your assigned peg, carry your shotgun unloaded in its gun slip with the stock facing upwards and the barrel down. When you arrive at your peg, recognise where the other guns, beaters, dog handlers and shoot party members are going to be and show your safe angles of fire. Always make sure you have a clean and unhindered footing area to shoot from.
Before loading your gun, check both barrels are completely clear when you take it out of its slip. Break the gun, allowing you to see both chambers and barrels are clear. Zip up your gun slip so that debris cannot enter.
Only load the right bore cartridges for your gun. Never assume that a cartridge handed to you from a fellow shooter is safe for your shotgun. Every shotgun has different requirements and cartridges should not be shared. Look at the flat of the gun barrels to find a stamp or ask a reputable gunsmith to confirm this for you.
The wrong cartridge can lead to explosions and severe injury. Never exceed the largest cartridge load a gun is proofed for. For example, a 20-bore cartridge can slip down and become lodged in a 12-bore gun. The resulting explosion could split the barrels of your gun, taking a finger off and risking your life.
Should you own different calibres of shotgun it is imperative for safety you do not mix different calibres of cartridges in your pockets or cartridge bag. It is a good habit to keep just one size and type of cartridge in your cartridge bag for the day’s shoot. Always ensure you have enough cartridges in your shooting jacket pocket just in case your cartridge bag has left on the gun bus.
While on a drive, it is best to carry your gun broken and resting over the crook of your arm at times when you are not shooting. It is bad practice and dangerous to carry a gun over your shoulder. Whenever your gun is broken, remove the cartridges because an accidental discharge could occur if you drop the gun on the ground, fall, or if someone bumps you from behind. To be completely safe, take gun cartridges out when you are near people. Good gun safety will make those around you feel happy and safe.
Do not stand near others with a closed gun – a closed gun is an unsafe gun. You should always treat a closed gun as a loaded gun. If your gun is closed and loaded, you must point the barrel at the ground or up in the air. Even if you think your gun is unloaded, never point a closed shotgun towards anyone. You do not want to risk pointing an accidentally loaded gun in the direction of others.
Also, be aware that a safety catch on a gun does not make a gun safe. Never point a gun at any person ever! The safety catch acts as a trigger lock, so even if the safety catch is set to ‘safe’, an impact on the gun could fire it! A shotgun is only safe when open and unloaded.
Never rest the barrels of your gun on your foot, whether it is broken or not, because you may plug the barrels with mud or snow which may have kicked up onto your boot. If anything, other than a cartridge gets lodged in your gun, this can lead to misfires and dangerous accidents.
Should any other syndicate members have poor safety or shoot low on sporting birds discreetly bring this to the hosts attention and avoid conflict.
During the shoot, obey your host and gamekeeper’s instructions completely, whether from the morning brief or any next guidance. Once you know the quarry for the day from the morning’s brief, it is important to only shoot the target bird and not anything you do not recognise. If in doubt, leave a bird out of the shooting.
When the birds start to appear in the distance, take the broken gun from the crook of your arm and close it by lifting the stock, keeping the barrels pointing down to the ground. Make sure you close your gun with the barrels pointing to the ground.
Next, wait with the barrels pointed to the sky and the stock resting against your hip, with your fingers away from the trigger. When you want to shoot and your gun is pointing in a safe direction, release the safety catch first. Then close your grip and place your fingers on the trigger before taking a shot. Do not pull the trigger before the safety catch is released. Shotguns are fitted with auto safety catches, but manual safety catches still exist. So, before breaking your gun and ejecting cartridges and reloading, you must manually slide the safety catch back.
If you hear abnormal sounds from a shot or a dull report, you should unload your gun at once and look for blockages. Remove an obstruction with a cleaning rod, pushing it out in the direction it came from. Never fire a shot gun if there is even the slightest abstraction within your barrel as this is extremely dangerous for the shot gun user.
The same applies if you hear an abnormal sound from another shooter’s gun – shout over and let them know. If you are a novice shot, getting used to the normal sounds on a shoot can take time, so having a loader on your first shoot can be helpful.
Shoot your birds, not your neighbours. What birds will be yours to shoot? You must only shoot birds that are high and passing over your head. Birds that are flying towards your neighbour or another peg are not yours to shoot. Shooting crossing birds is seen as bad manners.
Never shoot low birds as it is disrespectful to the quarry and dangerous to the surrounding shooting and beating teams. Only shoot when you can see bright sky around and behind your target bird. Never shoot towards woods or hedges where the beaters could be.
It is poor form to shoot a bird at close range or too far away. Shoot at close range and the bird will be ‘pillow-cased,’ where it is full of lead shot and cannot be sold to a game dealer for human consumption. Too far away or high up, for instance, more than forty yards away, and the bird is likely to only be wounded. Aim for a clean kill that brings the birds down quickly. If you think a bird has been maimed, make a mental note of it, and let the pickers-up know when the day has ended.
Game bird shooting is not a competition, it is a social and friendly environment where you are looking to remember just one or two great shots throughout the day, it is not a clay shooting competition so do not treat it as such. Be sporting and if your neighbour is out of the shooting whereas you are getting many, you may offer to let them shoot a few birds over you or let a few birds fly over your neighbour. If they then miss, do not pick the bird off yourself which is known as ‘wiping someone’s eye,’ as this is seen as uncourteous. Equally, if you are having a dreadful day, keep this to yourself and do not moan about your lot.
This is where two people are posted at each peg – a loader and a gun. The loader can help to load cartridges and carry your guns. Loaders are not only there to load your gun but to ensure you are safe and help you with etiquette.
Never assume that your loader will check that the gun barrels are empty. You should ask to check that the barrels of both guns are clear yourself before they put the cartridges in at the start of the drive.
Always slide the safety catch of the gun back to safe before handing the gun back to your loader, even if the gun is empty.
No experts or mobile phones
Unless someone asks for your help, do not comment on the shooting form of anyone else, be modest and respectful, everybody is different shooting abilities, respect others and allow them to enjoy the day no matter what their ability.
Avoid using your mobile phone at any time while on a drive or at lunch and put it on silent. You are there to take part in the shoot and not to be seen on your phone. It is considered extremely rude to take business calls during a game bird shooting drive, if you must be discreet and take your calls and the end of the drive or lunchtime.
Format and etiquette for a walked-up shoot
On a walked-up shoot, guns walk in a line with dogs in front. This is for smaller shoots which saves on the expense of beaters and picker uppers.
Being aware of your surroundings is even more important as well as only shooting into blue sky for safety. You need sharp reactions to shoot the quarry and you will not have the support of a loader. When a target has been hit, the dogs will pick up the bird at once on request of the guns, rather than waiting until the end of the day as on a driven shoot.
In addition to the gun safety guidance above, if you are at a walked-up shoot you must be extra vigilant when walking with your gun all day. If you need to climb over an obstacle, such as a fence or stile, always unload and break your gun. Hand your unloaded gun to another person while you manoeuvre the obstacle, making it clear that the barrels are empty. Then take the gun back and offer to do the same for them. Never leave your shotgun leaning against a tree, wall, or fence when it is loaded and/or closed. The gun could get knocked over by accident and fire.
Carry your gun broken, unloaded, and resting over your elbow until you are ready to shoot. When shooting on a walked-up shoot, hold the gun resting on your hip or gripped in both hands, keeping the muzzle end of the barrel always pointing to the sky. Always bring the barrels of your gun to at least above eye level before firing and make sure you can see bright sky behind the bird.
If your arms get overtired at any point from holding your gun up high, it is best to break your gun and have a short break. Do not allow your barrels to lower throughout the drive towards the oncoming beaters.