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Beating for Newbies    © shootpics.co.uk    

Contents:                                  
                                                                                                
                        
Ages of beaters                         
The 'pay' and benefits                 
Lunch                                  
What if you need a leak?                
What clothes to wear for beating?                    
Sticks and flags                        
Safety                                 
The beats/drives                
Looking for beating        
 
BUKs forum    - Gamekeepers, Pickers-up, Beaters, Shoots forum & beating / picking-up vacancies etc 
                                        
                                        
A nice straight beating line



What is beating?

Basically,  beating involves walking in teams over land in a controlled fashion,  in line, under the direction of a gamekeeper.  The line of beaters aim to 'flush' or 'drive' the game birds (in my case pheasants and partridges) to fly over the ‘Guns' who will be standing at their ‘pegs' waiting to get some good shooting, often called 'driven shooting'.   This can often involve getting the majority of pheasants to run towards a flushing point (or flushing points) in front of a line of Guns, rather than 'flushing' them (getting them to fly) as the beaters and dogs disturb them. 

On occasions, beaters might have slightly different roles, which you will read about later in this text, but whatever we do it is as part of a team and every job is as important as any other.

Beating is a lot of fun: we meet a great group of fellow beaters, often including some beating beginners, take in the fresh country air and scenery ... we get some exercise and enjoy the company.    Newly-starting beaters are always welcomed and will be helped by us oldies!

See this beating video by mplbroad which may not be indicative of the shoots I attend as they wouldn't want all that yelling as the human voice is what disturbs animals and birds the most easily, but might give newbies some idea.  (BTW, any potential 'Guns' should note that the way the chap in the opening sequence closes his gun, is APPALLING for a field sport.  It may be OK in a 'protected' clay-shoot cage but NOT in the field.  "Always, always lift the stock to the barrels, so the gun remains pointing at the ground, because one day it might just go off as it's closed and anyone in range could be killed or injured".  My father's wise words ... drummed into me from a very early age!  And, yes, I've seen/heard guns go off accidentally....and met a guy who'd had his toes blown off by his own gun!!

The beating season is the shooting season...so for me it starts with partridges on 1st September, followed by pheasants on 1st October and goes through until 1st February.  BUT, the birds are often not ready, so we rarely start beating for partridges until the last week of September and pheasant beating from the last week of October.

By the way, shot pheasants and partridges (game) are collected by game-dealers who then process them to be sold to UK or overseas residents.  In 2013 some game dealers are paying only 25p per bird ... so the shoots recover very little .... forcing the price per bird upwards for the Guns. 

Personally, I make game-sausages out of pheasants and partridges as well as plucking them to cook whole, or simply remove the breasts (as fillets or butterflies) and the legs and discard the rest. What does NOT happen is the myth that they are discarded dug in pits in the ground!  No matter how low the price is for the game birds, the shoot will sell them to a game-dealer and would not consider wasting them.

[If this information has not answered your query please join our FREE open forum at BUKs.org.uk (Beating etc UK)].
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Beaters with dogs

Ages of beaters

A question often put to me is, "How old do I need to be to start beating?" or, "At what age can you start beating on a shoot?". 

I’ve seen people as young as 7 or 8 with their mums or dads, really enjoying beating - I was about 8 or 9 when I first went with my father.  It can be a tiring day for someone small and we must not forget that fences etc seem pretty high to them.  But often they can squeeze through gaps more easily than us bigger chaps! There is usually a complete range of ages, with boys and girls coming out for the day. 

The older beaters may get what appear to be some of the ‘easier’ jobs to do … but that's because their joints don’t work as well as they used to (don't I know it!) but they still love a good day out in the countryside and the gamekeepers welcome them to help us all out.  However, instead of keeping warm like us by walking through the woodland etc, they may be standing around in the cold at times ... so spare a thought for them!

These chaps are often very knowledgeable, particularly about country matters and are a mine of information. Some of them are great story-tellers too! 
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                                                        A happy beater!

Lots of visits to shootpics.co.uk  in Oct 2011 from listeners of Radio 4's 'The Archers'. 


The 'pay' and benefits

If we’re lucky, we get some compensation for the travelling, the gear we equip ourselves with, etc.   Any 'pay' is a ‘thank you’ from the shoot members and goes towards our costs, which for some of us are higher than the 'pay'!

On some shoots I have been to there is no money, but a good lunch instead and/or a brace of pheasants or some partridges to take home.  On others we might get £30+ as a senior beater and the juniors may get £15+.  Rumour has it that a certain Russian landowner in the south, who also obtained the shooting rights when he bought the property, has been paying well over £100 per day to his beaters!   Apparently his gamekeepers never have a problem covering a day and the 'potential joiners list' is enormous!   Money talks.

Some shoots pay more for beaters who take dogs (I get £35 on one shoot now) - as they appreciate that the dogs are time-consuming: the dogs may need a good clean after a day out beating.   In addition, you may be paid more for helping out by having a radio (walkie-talkie) .... or for going out early to cover a 'stop' location.

The 'pay' may be for starting at about 9.00 am and finishing at 3.00 or 4.00 pm with perhaps an hour to recharge the batteries at lunchtime.   Some shoots only have a quick snack though, and finish earlier. 

Many of us don't go for the rewards - we enjoy what we do.  But the 'compensation' we receive does help.  Some shoots I have been to are a fair distance away (around 100 miles each way on occasions - though I wouldn't travel that far now with all the early morning traffic - and there's enough local beating for me) so anything to help cover wear and tear on the car and help towards fuel, is more than welcome.  Recent talk amongst beaters is that as fuel costs are now so high, they are reducing the mileage they are prepared to travel.  One shot bird costs a 'gun' £42 - £47 in my area.  Perhaps some shoots need to 'wise-up' a little, in order to get quality beaters etc?  Beaters enjoy what they do ..... but many do not like what they regard as 'bad treatment' by very wealthy 'guns'.  There again, perhaps that's down to the shoot management?

Sometimes we are paid at the start of the day, or perhaps at lunch time - and either the gamekeeper or shoot captain come around with an envelope/cash.   It's great to be paid early in the day ... then the beaters can get away as soon as the shoot day is finished if they want to.

(Also, see the following 'lunch' section).

[If this information has not answered your query please join our FREE open forum at BUKs.org.uk (Beating etc UK)].

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Beaters against a bright sky         



Lunch

Some shoots provide a pub lunch, others provide soup and a roll or a snack and on others the beaters take a packed lunch.  At one shoot I go to we get a lovely homemade soup and a roll and on another the most delicious homemade sausage rolls - and they are huge!  Lovely too!  On another shoot we have been provided with a crisp oven-cooked jacket potato (wrapped in foil to keep it hot) and a delicious soup.  Great on a cold day!

You just have to play everything by ear, find out how your new shoot operates by asking in advance or on the day.  But don’t turn up the first time expecting to be fed unless you’ve checked it out … play it safe and take a bite to eat and a drink - you don't want to be starving at lunch time!  Often there will be a bottle of beer or a soft drink - one per person - and some beaters prefer to take the beer home and will pop it in their bag.

Some shoots have a beaters cabin with good facilities …. on others you may sit in a car or wagon at lunch time and have a bite to eat.  They are all different.

[If this information has not answered your query please join our FREE open forum at BUKs.org.uk (Beating etc UK)].
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What if you need a leak?

One of the first questions many people ask when they know they will be out in the countryside all day.  So, it may be worth checking about toilet facilities in advance.  If you need to relieve yourself you may have to find a ‘convenient’ tree or bush!

[If this information has not answered your query please join our FREE open forum at BUKs.org.uk (Beating etc UK)].
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                                                               Beater enjoying the sun and keen to start


What clothes to wear beating?


One of the most common Google questions that brings visitors to shootpics.co.uk is 'what clothes should I wear to go beating'. That's great! Because it shows that new people are getting into our sport.

So, which clothes to wear when beating on a pheasant shoot?  It might be a good idea just to wear some old clothes to start with … and take what is appropriate for the weather.  As the season is over the winter months, that often means wellies and warm gear - though in this age of 'global warming' it sometimes means short-sleeved shirts. 

If rain is forecast, some people take a spare set of beating clothes in case they get a soaking and they don’t want to have to travel home in damp clothes.

Most beaters wear a good coat and hatwellies or boots, trousers and something appropriate to keep the water off their trousers ... walk through a crop that was rained on last night and you can come out rather wet at the other end - so a covering for your legs can be useful.  Personally I wear some waxed leggings when beating, which hang from my belt and drop down below the tops of the wellies - they cost me about £15.  (Have a look on Ebay for waxed leggings). The leggings also help when walking through brambles or stinging nettles as they stop them getting to the skin - and it's nice to avoid being stung, believe me as the stinging nettles seem to be head-high this year!   Some beaters wear overtrousers which can be better if they have a short coat on as they stop water dripping off the coat onto their trousers. 

Whatever you do, do not wear jeans when beating!  When they get wet they refuse to dry, whereas other materials will dry out much faster and if you do get wet you will soon feel comfortable again..

You will see a variety of dress on all shoots, whether beaters, pickers-up, guns etc as there is so much choice these days.  Instead of waxed jackets, many people now wear those made of breathable material.  They are lighter and you don’t get as hot once you get moving.

My waxed jacket was too heavy and hot for the early part of the season - so I invested £60 in a Seeland 3-way jacket at Scats - HALF PRICE!   Not the best of jackets for tackling tough woodland perhaps, but great for crops etc.  Whilst at Scats I found the Bonart country shirts which at only £10 each seem a fantastic buy to me.  Not, perhaps top quality, but they do the job.  BTW, they are not pre-shrunk, so you might need to buy a size or two larger! 

You may find that your 'waterproof' clothes gradually lose that protection!  There are some very good products to extend the life of your waterproofs.  Waterproofing products are available for all sorts of textiles.  You can buy a 'wash' product that will clean some textiles without reducing the waterproofing .... then you can wash them again with a waterproofing agent in the machine.  It could not be easier!

There are also sprays and 'rub-ins' that can be used on some material.

Scats will order things for you if they're not on display.  I ordered a couple more Bonart shirts (well at £10 each when they seemed to be about £25 on many websites I thought they were a bargain).  There are better quality shirts available.

I now have plenty of shirts for country sports ... and with washing machines and tumble driers I reckon I can now cope with a fair few consecutive days when they crop up.

Some beaters prefer to wear a wide-brimmed hat to stop the rain dripping down their necks, others wear the caps with ear flaps to protect them in really cold weather.  Some  beaters have various hats to suit the weather.  My poor old cap had been with me for many years and seen a lot of beating and shooting activity and was destined to be replaced, but the Seeland cap (to match the jacket) seemed darned expensive at nearly £30 (or was it £40?).  Anyway, an olive green Simon Fairfax moleskin cap was nothing like that price and does the business. 

My beating trousers had shrunk over the past year by quite a few inches(!)  But at about £80 I found the Seeland ones well out of range.  But I have discovered  trousers which were ideal for beating, though leggings will still be required to fight off brambles etc.  (Try Sainsbury's Tu clothing for good quality at a very low price).

Gloves are absolutely essential as beating days can be really cold.  I prefer to have the ones that are fingerless and have a flap on them which can go over the fingers, as I often need to change camera settings.

Most of us also take a scarf, not just to keep us warm but to stop rain going down our necks if we don't have a jacket with a hood, or a wide-brimmed hat...and on some shoots they like the beaters to wear ties, though on most that I attend the only people wearing ties are other gamekeepers and the pickers-up. 

If you want more ideas then you could look through the photos on other shootpics.co.uk or visit the shootpics picture gallery.

[If this information has not answered your query please join our FREE open forum at BUKs.org.uk (Beating etc UK)].
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                                                               A beater heading for the wagon after a drive


Very few shoots seem to supply beating sticks these days, though they usually provide beating flags.  Many beaters like to carry their own stick, to help them get up and down banks etc as well as beating the undergrowth.  To start with, if you don’t have a stick you might just find that one of the beaters will have a few spare ones - there are always some in the back of my car for any newbies and they are more than welcome to borrow one.  Some beaters carry a flag that than be attached to their beating stick when required.

You can always cut a beating stick for yourself.  It might not last too long, being ‘green’ but if you cut a couple of nice straight hazel sticks and hang them up by one end in your shed or garage, 12-14 months later you should have a 'seasoned' stick, which will be lighter and stronger than when first cut as it should no longer contain any or as much moisture.  There is a bit of an art with sticks these days … you will see some wonderful sticks made by the beaters.  But just an ordinary stick will do to start with.

There are some great websites about stick-making for those who are interested and there is a separate page on here now containing far more information on straightening sticks by steaming and just how easy that can be.  On the same page there are links to websites where you can buy sticks etc. So visit the beating sticks page for much more information or if you would like a choice of books on the subject have a look at our online bookshop.

BTW, a fellow beater previously expressed surprise at how useful a stick can be.   We had to get into a rather deep ditch (with a lot of water flowing as the weather was naff!) and with very steep, clay sides.  He managed to slide down on his wellies (must be a good skier!) but this oldie couldn't manage that. So I jammed my stick in the clay, part way down the bank and then used that to support my foot/weight before I then stepped to the bed of the ditch.  No sliding/skiing down, LOL!

Sticks can also be very useful for getting up steep banks .... the beater above you just offers his stick and you grab hold and pull yourself up ... much easier.

OK - so you now have appropriate clothing, food and drink, a stick and the gamekeeper will probably give you a flag. (If you want your own you can buy beating flags online at the shootpics 'shop' ...... or, like many of us, make your own quite cheaply).

What next?

[If this information has not answered your query please join our FREE open forum at BUKs.org.uk (Beating etc UK)].
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                                                        Beating flag at the ready


Safety

Some shoots will offer you the use of hi-viz vests to go over your togs. On the shoots I go to none of the beaters bother as the shoots are well-controlled and the guns are regular, safe guns - often having been reminded of their responsibilities beforehand. On our old family shoot my father would give a safety talk before every shoot started - so the guns knew exactly how things would work.  Most of the guns had been before - but they were all told again to make sure they understood the rules of the day.  If you or your parents feel you should wear a hi-viz vest that should be no problem.  Some gamekeepers think this will become compulsory in the years ahead.

Likewise eye protection.  We can't walk around in body-armour, LOL, but our eyesight is a very valuable tool.  So the wearing of safety glasses may become compulsory and in any event is considered sensible.  Shootpics now sells superb Smith & Wesson safety glasses for shooting and other uses.  They are tested for impact by a 1/4 inch steel ball fired at 150 feet per second.  Despite the protection offered, they are very stylish and are made to fit over some glasses.

I will mention safety on drives later as it's important to consider, but nothing to worry about on good well-run shoots - which most are these days, either because people realise how important it is or because Health & Safety regulations require it.

There is usually a first aid kit on the beaters wagon - just in case somebody should get caught on a thorn or barbed wire.

So, having the gear and knowing it is a safe activity what happens next?

[If this information has not answered your query please join our FREE open forum at BUKs.org.uk (Beating etc UK)].
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                                                        Beaters flagging the birds up



Start of the day

I won't go into great detail here, but let me take you through a normal type of day on a typical pheasant/partridge shoot for me:

We all meet at about 8.45 - 9.00 am, usually at the same place on a shoot, where there is probably a beaters cabin. Sometimes we may meet at a different location as the drives have been arranged differently that day, but that's pretty unusual.

We change into our gear - which just means putting on footwear and probably waterproofs etc. We chat to the other guys, some of whom may be new and are introduced to the regulars, enter the sweepstake (usually £1 each for a guess at how many birds there will be at lunchtime or the end of the day) and watch the gamekeeper and his chaps getting everything ready.

Then we are called by the gamekeeper to 'load up'. So, after dipping our boots in disinfectant (particularly in times of Foot & Mouth Disease) we climb on board the wagon and take a seat, to be taken to the first drive.

[If this information has not answered your query please join our FREE open forum at BUKs.org.uk (Beating etc UK)].
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                                                        A beater winding in the line



The beats/drives

The beaters wagon may stop en route to drop the odd person off, perhaps with a dog. They may be 'blanking-in' an area to try to drive birds towards the main beat. Those dropped off are the beaters who know the land really well and know exactly what to do.  As a 'newbie' you'll probably be part of the main group and be close to the gamekeeper or a regular beater to start with - until you too are a 'regular'.

Shoots can vary and on some of the larger ones there may be very little, if any, blanking-in … we simply arrive at a large wood or crop and beat through that. The gamekeepers may well have been out early in the morning with their dogs, to drive birds on to the ground we will be walking over. You might well hear them say that they have been 'dogging-in' since the early hours.

Anyway, lets assume that there's a little bit of open land for you to walk over before the final beat of this drive begins. The gamekeeper will probably space the beaters out fairly evenly in a line so you can all see each other. You may still be quite a distance apart and there could be the odd hedge between some beaters. It's important that you make sure you can see each beater to your left and right.  Many of us simply hold our flags unfurled (if provided) so that we can easily be seen from a distance, especially as most people wear green or camouflaged country clothing. 

You may be within earshot of the gamekeeper or somebody who calls out instructions and he'll call out when to start with something like "OK let's push it through" or "take it on".  If he wants the beaters to go slowly he'll say "Right oh …. take it steady", or something similar.  The idea is that the line of beaters sets off at the same pace you then keep looking to your left and right every few minutes (just a glance) to make sure that you are in line with the other beaters and haven't gone on too quickly or lagged behind.

The 'line' of beaters may be a perfectly straight line, or it may be a curved beating line, or one side may be pushed slightly ahead of the other side so that the line is straight but on a diagonal!  In addition, there may be lines to either side (flankers) doing similarly.  Hmm .... all sounds very complicated, right?   Well, it's not.  In fact it's all very simple and there will be somebody in charge of each line so you just follow instructions and keep glancing left and right to see where your closest beaters are.  If everyone does that the line will stay 'straight' or perhaps that should be 'correct'.  It's easy to do and enjoyable!

If a beater can't see somebody to one side then you may hear, "Where are you, Pete" or "where are you on the left" (or right) if the beater doesn't know his fellow beater's name. The response he receives lets him know where the chap he can't see is, so they can maintain the line.  If you get such a call, then reply clearly so the calling beater can tell from your voice where you are.   We're all trying to get the right result (birds over the guns), so staying in touch and keeping the right 'line' is important.

Should you get stuck getting through some cover (very rare these days as 'rides' are often cut though heavy cover, so we don't get tangled up any more) you might need to yell out to let the line know and the gamekeeper will probably hold things up for a few seconds to enable you to get back in line.
                                                        Another happy beater!

You may be required at this stage to wave your flag - just watch the others (particularly the gamekeepers) and see what they do. Sometimes the flags are made of plastic and give a loud crack as they come down - again, just use your eyes and ears to see what the regulars do as each shoot is different and even the drives on your regular shoot might be handled differently on some days.

Keep your eyes peeled for any game birds flying off in the wrong direction in front - a good wave of the flags may turn them in the direction of the guns.  Sometimes the gamekeeper will yell "flag 'em up" and everyone frantically waves their flags to try to turn the birds.   Once they've made their minds up where they're going most birds just carry on regardless, but the gamekeeper and guns like to see every effort made to turn them, so whatever you do, don't just stand there - get that flag waving!

Occasionally the line of beaters will stop. The gamekeeper is usually in communication with his under-keepers and/or a few trusted regulars by radio ... and he may be checking on their progress and how their 'flankers' (the beater's to each side) are doing. There may a cry of 'hold it!' or something similar and/or the gamekeeper will raise his flag aloft and keep it there until everyone has noticed and stopped. You'll quickly spot a stationary line if you are glancing left and right - or you'll pick it up out of the corner of your eye.

When he's ready to continue, the gamekeeper will often call out "OK then" or "OK - take it on a bit" or something similar and he will usually indicate with his flag that we are moving again. If the lie of the land is a bit tricky (hilly or trees in the way) you may hear a few other people repeat the gamekeepe'rs instructions so that everyone is aware that the line is moving again. It's all done to make it easy for us - the beaters.

If the first part of the beat was blanking-in, you'll eventually get to the wood or crop where the game will now be flushed from to be presented over the guns. You might have to line out again and perhaps get across a fence (watch that barbed wire!) - then the final drive begins and you should hear a lot of shooting, though the guns are quite distant, well out of range of the beaters and it's not a loud noise at all.
                                                        A pensive beater!
At the start of the season the trees, undergrowth and crops may be quite dense. But after a frost or two, the leaves come off the trees and the crops may start to die off. So the going gets easier as the season progresses. And it's easier to see the beaters to either side, or the guns on occasions .... so you may even see some shooting on some drives.

When the gamekeeper calls to start, you may then be using a flag or a stick. Some game birds will stay pretty tight under the brambles or other cover so a gentle tap with the stick may make them go forward rather than hiding away!  It's usually important to work the cover (undergrowth or crop) with your stick, but not by hitting it too hard.

As always, you need to be alert as to what is going on around you. Don't tear ahead - watch the other guys. You will very quickly pick it up.

On occasions birds will get up in quantity and the beating line will stop - the gamekeeper doesn't want them to go together as the guns won't have time to reload and they really do not want to see lots of birds flying over their heads at once.

When not bashing the cover, the beaters are often required to tap the trees to keep making a noise which may convince some birds to move forwards and be ready to fly off, hopefully in the direction of the guns. The gamekeeper may say "keep those sticks tapping!"  Now that doesn't mean whacking the nearest tree as hard as you can!  Just keep tapping the trunk or branch to make a few birds decide to move a bit - ready to fly off.

On some shoots you will hear the beaters making weird noises ……. like a brrrrrr sound between their lips. Or they say "haaaaa-ah" - or "aye aye aye". It may seem rather odd at first but you might eventually find yourself joining in - though you don't have to!  On a few shoots I've been to the "haaaa-ah" sound is used to indicate that a bird or two has been flushed - perhaps to make the beaters and guns aware, or perhaps they are trying to get a bird that's just taken off to fly higher and faster.  On other shoots there are so many birds that it's completely irrelevant - so once again just play it by ear and see what the others do.

As you get towards or reach the end of the woodland or crop cover, the gamekeeper will usually blow a horn or a whistle to signify the end of the drive. At that stage, the guns, who are usually well out of range of the beaters anyway, are not allowed to fire again, no matter what flies over them. This is to ensure the safety of the beaters and the other guns.

Drive finished, so usually it's back on the wagon, and off to the next drive!  You may be lucky and some kind soul might have put a packet of sweets in his pocket, which are passed around in the beater's wagon. After the next drive another beater may produce some others.  They taste so much better out in the fresh air.  Some beaters carry a small bottle of water or a cup or two of coffee in a small flask - but it's not advisable to try to drink in a moving wagon .... you'll end up soaked!

I sometimes take some hot sausages. In a few Stanley Classic metal food flasks they stay nice and hot for 5 or 6 hours ... and as they are quickly consumed on the beater's wagon they don't get a chance to go cold!  If you really want to keep food hot whilst travelling and/or at a beater's hut, this Kampa heater & freezer is superb. I managed to buy a 'return' for just £80 instead of £250+ and found that one of the connecting cables was loose - so soon fixed at a bargain price!  It heats to +50c and freezes well below the ambient temperature.

Overall, there may be 3 or 4 drives in the morning, then lunch - yippeeee!

Lunch is usually at a special cabin, or in a pub, but sometimes it's just a barn or we sit in our cars - it just depends on the shoot. Some shoots provide food or soup, others don't.  Most of us take flasks of coffee and some sandwiches and on some shoots we take a flask of soup on cold days.  Often there will be a beer or a soft drink for each beater - and some guys who don't drink at lunch time (or if they have to drive home) will pop a can/bottle in their bag and take it with them.  Believe me, a nice drink when you get in from a day out in the countryside tastes wonderful!  Usually there is one drink per beater and any left over are kept for the next shoot - they are not to take away as extras!

Once lunch is out of the way there may be 2 or 3 more drives in the afternoon depending on the weather and the light.  Then, we go back to the beaters cabin, sort ourselves out and head for home - a bath and a beer!

[If this information has not answered your query please join our FREE open forum at BUKs.org.uk (Beating etc UK)].
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The sun goes down as we start the last drive of the day - hope the guns can see OK!



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