1) Don't leave home late - especially on frosty/icy days
2) Let the gamekeeper know if you can't make it to a shoot day - ASAP
3) When beating or blanking-in, keep the line and spacing
4) Be alert to everything around you, especially the beaters on either side
5) If necessary, pass on any instructions very clearly to fellow beaters
6) Do precisely as asked
7) Switch off your mobile phone 8) Wear the right clothes for the weather
9) Take enough lunch
10) Enjoy yourself! (And take a slip of paper or two with your contact information on)
There ... it's simpler than it looks! All the rest is just common sense, or you will learn 'on the job' whilst beating!
Such courses can be pretty limited and may involve a lot of travel so most people learn 'on the job'. However, it's advisable not to pick up the bad habits of some beaters and stick to what you know is right instead - and follow the directions of the gamekeeper. If you can find a local course it will help you, even if it only makes it clear that you already know what you need to. Beating is not difficult ... it's just common sense and good clear direction/instructions.
Some years ago I went with a beating colleague to a shoot where all but one of the other beaters were newbies. They had all heard about beating from others and wanted to experience it. They were a great crowd with a number of them in their late 20's or early 30's and the rest were all lads on their half-term break from school. They quickly got into what was required (I said it was easy!) and we all had a great day.
Now, there are beaters wagons and there are beaters wagons! Some wagons are like a large caravan - comfortable seats and solid walls, perhaps with windows. Other wagons are a farm trailer, covered in canvas to provide some protection from the elements and with fitted seats - a Health & Safety requirement.
One of my shoots has installed wooden benches in the wagon as they would not accept that 'fixed' straw bales were acceptable. If you want a numb-bum, sit in a wagon on wooden planks, LOL!.
Most beaters' wagons are not like the open trailers we used to have years ago - with just a few loose straw bales to sit on and many beaters standing, whilst holding on to a wobbly wooden rail! Those days have long since passed with all the Health & Safety legislation .... and over-enthusiastic interpretation of such legislation.
The beaters' wagon is usually towed by a tractor as we have some mucky ground to cover. If the tractor driver thinks the terrain is a bit dodgy (in snow and ice or example) he may ask the beaters to walk rather than risk an incident.
I tend to sit closer to the tractor end of the beater's wagon, or over the wheels, if I can - you don't seem to be bounced around as much when going over rough ground. The gamekeeper and his under-keepers and 'trusted' beaters will usually sit at the other end of the wagon where they can discuss the next drive etc.
Some beaters wagons suffer from condensation ….. and you might suffer too if it drips off the roof and down your neck, LOL! So, if you spot any on the roof you might want to keep your coat collar turned up. As sure as 'eggs is eggs' when the wagon hits a bump there will be a drop or two and somebody will exclaim that 'it went straight down my neck'!
It also drips onto any seats that some dogs haven't already put their wet, muddy paws on! So, you just might want to take a small plastic bag in your pocket to place on the seat before sitting down. When you get up, the back of the plastic bag will be wet …. so carefully wipe it on the trousers or coat of the chap in front, he really won't mind, particularly if he's the gamekeeper!! ;-)
Barbed wire is a nuisance for beaters - I've yet to find a beater who doesn't occasionally swear about the stuff - including me! I managed to get my brand new Seeland liner torn by barbed wire. Yes, I swore!
In the past, somebody may have fenced off a field and before the Health & Safety regulations just discarded the remaining barbed wire in the woods - usually close to where he'd finished working. It's worth being on the lookout, particularly at the start or end of a drive as you wouldn't want to trip over any.
Getting over barbed wire fences can also be a pain. Some gamekeepers put up stiles, or cover the barbed wire with pipe insulation, a split plastic tube which is then taped up, or a rolled up plastic sack tied in place, to help people get over without snagging their clothes or important parts! On some countryside websites you can buy a special gadget to carry with you - Fred's barbed wire covers - you can Google it as we do not have them at the shootpics shop. I haven't seen one, but people say they do the job very well.
I now carry a homemade version which just folds up and slips in my pocket. It's simply the side of a barrier mat - rubber on one side and ridged carpet on the other - used just inside the back door. I just cut it along the long (60cm) side leaving about 6 ridges. I've fixed some strong Velcro to it. It folds into 3 and slips into my jacket pocket, ready for use. As I've already torn one pair of trousers and a jacket liner this season it is now being put to good use! The barrier mat cost under £5 in B&Q and I've got 4 barbed wire protectors out of it.
Just take it easy when getting over a barbed wire fence if you have to climb it. I've seen a beater get on top of the fence and then somebody else, without thinking, has jumped onto the fence further along, causing the strand to jump up and resulting in the first person falling. Queuing up and taking your time may be the best approach. (I can still see a scar on my wrist after 45 years when I fell in similar circumstances. My gun (unloaded!) and arm went one side of the fence as my body went the other. A large chap about 4 fence sections away, had jumped onto the top wire causing me to be 'airlifted' LOL! It was incredibly cold and I didn't notice the bad cut until a colleague saw all the blood in the snow).
Wire fences will be taut or slack. When taut they can be easier to climb over - for young, fit people! When slack, quite often it is easier to squeeze through than climb over and a beater will put his foot on the lower strand and pull up on the higher one to help you and the following beaters get through. Now if somebody is kind enough to stand on the 'wrong' side of the fence to help others through, if you are the last one then it helps to stand on the 'right' side of the fence and help that last chap through.
I have torn the ligaments in both knees on a few occasions. Also had arthritis since my early 40's. I never expected this as I'd always been incredibly fit and been very sports-orientated. But, that's life! It now means that I can't jump down from fences like I used to ... or run as I did before. So, please offer to help your fellow beaters .... they may not be 'old' but they might still appreciate some assistance!
I have a groove cut in the top of my stick - so if I'm on my own when crossing a loose fence I can put the top strand in it and wedge the stick on the ground so that the barbed-wire strand is raised as much as possible. Then I just push down on the lower strand with my hands and squeeze through, hopefully without snagging my coat ... or anything else!
It's also helpful to let the dogs through in a good place - otherwise they may get a bit excited and try to jump. That can result in an injury to the dog (and I've seen one on my own dog - she jumped, caught the skin above her back leg and had to have it all stitched back up) - so just help the dogs through in front of you if you can, if they are not with their owners.
Some shoots have special 'doors' that have been placed under a barbed wire fence and you might need to encourage a dog to use it rather than trying to jump between or over a barbed-wire fence.
Gamekeepers may or may not want beaters to take dogs with them. If you have a well-trained and well-behaved dog (particularly in the company of other dogs) there is a good chance you will be able to take it. It's always worth asking the gamekeeper if he wants you to take your dog when he calls to see if you are available for beating. Sometimes there are enough dogs and sometimes none - it just depends who is going that day. So the opportunity may arise.
At certain times during the day the gamekeeper will probably ask for some dogs to be restrained on leads as he doesn't want the birds getting up too quickly.
I was incredibly pleased when standing in for a beater on another shoot (Kevin's Dad's shoot) not only to be told in clear detail what was happening on each drive, but to be placed in prime position to be able to watch the shooting. In fact, on the last drive, they kindly put me in a fantastic position to be able to see some incredible shooting. I just wish I'd had the camera with me! It was a brilliant finale to a great day.
Another shoot I've been to has a great gamekeeper and two under-keepers who all provide superb information about each drive. It makes it an easier drive when you know what is going to happen. They may say things like "we just push straight through" or "we take it up to a dog-leg and then swing the right-hand side round" - whatever the info we all then know what to expect.
On most shoots the gamekeeper and a few others communicate by walkie talkie. On some shoots I've been to a number of beaters also take their own walkie talkies so that they can listen in to what is going on - it makes for a more interesting day. On one shoot there must be about 10 of us with walkie talkies …. very handy when you are well spaced out, or can't see what is going on, as you can hear it instead!
Walkie-talkies are great for those of us who are a tad deaf too from all that shooting without ear-defenders years ago! In addition, somebody just shouting instructions might not be heard against a strong wind or over a long distance. So you may be given hand/arm signals. Having been on the receiving end of these I can honestly say that at best they are often difficult to understand and at worst, impossible!
The signaling beater may not have a flag ... so he signals with his arm/hand. There he stands, against the backdrop of a dark hedge or wood, wearing dark clothing and gloves, getting all frustrated because you can't understand what he wants ... when all you can see is his white face getting redder through all his exertions! Now if he took off his gloves and pulled up his coat sleeve a bit, you could probably see some more white flesh and get an idea of what all his arm-waving is about! Even so, from the wrong angle, you might not be able to tell whether he's waving for you to move further away, or calling you towards him - the arm movement may appear to be very similar in one plane. Perhaps we could have a chart in the wagon and cabin showing the 'approved' arm/flag signals etc!
Many gamekeepers are extremely good at telling you what the next drive is, how it will be worked, where the guns are etc particularly where shoots are not laid out too well due to the lie of the land. Communication of this sort is fantastic as you're not at all concerned then about getting things right. If there's a newbie near me and the gamekeeper has not had a chance to tell him/her what's happening, I will help out. Other beaters do the same - it all makes for more enjoyment of a first day. After a couple of days beating on the same shoot you will start remembering how some drives are usually handled and that makes it easier.
One problem I have encountered is that it can be difficult with modern, digital walkie talkies, to find the channel being used by the gamekeeper. Some of the older Motorola and Kenwood walkie talkies in use today seem to operate on 'different' channels. A low channel number of say 2, might be picked up by my scanner as an 8. A high channel number used by the gamekeeper might be 'invisible' to my machines as it is perhaps 'out of range'. So, a channel 8 used by the gamekeeper might not be acceptable by my walkie talkies. Hmmmm .... c'est trés difficile, n'est-ce pas?!
The other thing to bear in mind is that although most modern walkie-talkies have a 'scan' facility, some only show the 'channel' being used for output. So, channel 8 might enable you to listen in to what is going on, but should you find the need to communicate you cannot do so. You need to find the channel subset (0-99) for being able to be heard - and many modern walkie-talkies will not pick it up from a scan.
Luckily I have an old walkie-talkie which scans and picks up both numbers ... so should I need to communicate I can do so.
The walkie-talkies I use (and some of the shoots I go to now use) are shown on the beaters shop.
Close to Christmas it is common on many shoots for a sip of sloe gin to be made available. Beaters will take some ...... the gamekeeper might provide some and on occasions even the guns let the beaters join in and have a drink with them.
There is a lovely ginger liqueur that some shoots now provide .... and on other shoots the gamekeeper might produce homemade strawberry liqueur, sloe gin, raspberry vodka or blackberry whisky! There are many other varieties of homemade booze!
You might be invited to 'guess the ingredients' ...... on the promise of a second swig if you get them right from your first swig! Somebody will have made up a concoction from various alcoholic drinks and will love to test you out! Watch out for the guy who does a 'switch' on you ..... by putting his hip flask back in his pocket and drawing out another hip flask which he has carefully placed alongside. It might contain something rather different!
Noises - stick tapping
It's important to understand what the gamekeeper wants of you - so watch and listen to the gamekeeper and other beaters. Some gamekeepers want no noise other than stick tapping or the crack of a flag. Sometimes they don't want a flag waved as it might cause too many birds to get up at once. So, you just have to be alert to the gamekeeper's requirements - and use common sense.
You will often find that as you approach a flushing point (at the end of the drive) you will walk very slowly, stop regularly, have your flag rolled up and keep quiet. Human voices in particular affect animals and birds the most and the last thing the gamekeeper (or other beaters) want, is to see the birds flush all at once. Quite often the line I am in will stop and just the gamekeeper will go forward towards the flushing point. He will send one of his dogs forward and immediately recall it. Just a few birds getting up will put others up, so us beaters just remain still and quiet. The gamekeeper will do this on a number of occasions, until he is satisfied that most birds have flown. Then he will release all of his dogs and those beaters with dogs will take theirs off the lead.
It's all very easy ... and very enjoyable!
One shoot I used to go to wouldn't allow any noise at all other than stick-tapping. In fact, when we first went there we were surprised to be handed a stick and a much shorter stick with it. The gamekeeper didn't like a sound to be made during a drive other than stick tapping - definitely no calling other than to repeat instructions along the line - so the smaller stick was used to tap on the larger one. It was different, it worked, so no problem.
That gamekeeper would not have flags in the beating line and would not tolerate any other noise - particularly any of the odd noises (the 'brrrrrr' and 'aye-aye-aye!' etc sounds) made on other shoots. In addition he wouldn't hesitate to let you know if you were out of line! Perhaps he was out to impress or a total perfectionist - this was a 'Royal' shoot and there were many of the family shooting as well as some well-known celebrities … so things were done very 'properly'!
On most driven shoots they do not want to hear people yelling 'forward' or 'back' or 'left' etc every time a bird gets up. The guns are well-positioned to be able to see the birds. But occasionally it might help, particularly where there is a gun standing behind us in a wood, as sometimes happens. Again, play it by ear and you will soon take in how things work on your shoot.
I always take my own beaing tflag as some gamekeepers seem to make the stick handles too long for me. My beating flag stick has been cut with a bend in the handle end - which is great because I then don't have to grip it quite so hard as a straight stick when cracking it down - ideal for someone with reduced grip, due to arthritis. You can make your own beating flag very cheaply, with some strong plastic from an empty bag of feed which you can often pick up from a gamekeeper and use the following season. Of course, if you want to spend some cash on your own beater's flag, you can buy the hi viz ones.
Sometimes you may go through a crop that is quite high - in fact it may be over your head. In such cases the beaters will often carry their eating flags aloft for much of the drive, so they can be seen and the beating line can remain straight. Personally I tend to hold my beating flag high for a few paces and then crack it down to flush out any birds in front - then back up over my head again so that the other chaps can see me. A few steps and then crack the beating flag down again.
Beating flags can also be very useful when you are the other side of a hedge to let people know where you are. On 'youngsters day' in particular (it used to be called 'boys day' but girls shoot a lot these days too) I like to have a beater's flag to hold up high … they may not be quite as experienced at shooting as their parents and I like to be very sure they know where I am. However, it's normal for a parent to stand behind a child when shooting and they will tell them to 'leave it' if a bird is going low. Everyone is very safety-conscious these days.
Some drives can require a few beaters being placed out in the fields on either side so that if birds break sideways there's a chance they can be turned towards the guns. My own experience of this is that those flagging out on the flanks often don't see the birds against the background of a hedge or trees until the birds have already committed themselves to a particular direction. However, the person walking down the hedge often sees the birds as soon as they take off and if he can call to the flankers to wave their flags there's a much greater chance of the birds turning in the right direction straightaway. So, with the gamekeeper's permission I always yell "flag up" when I'm on the edge of a drive and can see the birds being flushed out to the side.
One day one of the guns who could see this happening came over and thanked me and a colleague for some 'excellent beating'. He'd had a great drive and we had managed to put many birds over the guns. The wind direction helped, LOL, but we also turned a lot, which he'd obviously noticed. It's nice to get a thank you now and again!
Beating Flags are also used by some beaters who stand just ahead of the guns, perhaps in front of a hedge at the end of a drive. Now that might not sound safe, but it is all worked out properly and the guns are aware of the presence of the flaggers! The guns will only fire at high birds anyway… and they like them as high and as fast as possible. The guns will know that there are beaters flagging in front of them, albeit perhaps on the other side of a hedge. Those beaters are there to raise their flags at birds which have committed themselves to flying over the guns, in the hope that the beating flags will get the birds to fly even higher.
Now I have to tell you this, though he'll probably kill me for doing so, but there's a lovely chap called Kevin who beats on one shoot I go to, who is the son of the head gamekeeper on another shoot and that gamekeeper (I was amazed to find!) was the head gamekeeper on a big shoot over in Kent where I first started beating some 45+ years ago! It's a long way from where I'm living now in Hampshire.
Rick came on the scene well after I used to beat there, but as it was so far away it struck me as quite a coincidence. Anyway, Kevin, instead of using a cut hazel stick has lately been using a broomstick to beat with .... and his beating flag, unlike any I've ever seen when out beating, has black and white checks on it, rather like the winners flag at motor racing!
In fact, it's probably useful for the gamekeeper to be able to spot beaters by their flags, so perhaps different colours etc can be a good idea?
You may be asked to act as a 'stop'. That usually involves standing in one spot and making your presence known to game birds that are trying to run off in the wrong direction - perhaps where a wood is shaped like a T and we don't want the game birds going down into one part of the T. Gently waving the beater's flag can get them to go the right way, ready to be flushed forwards in the final part of the drive.
You might be asked when you are an experienced beater to count the shots, but not until you've been many times. You are given a head counter which you press for every shot you hear. The best way to do this is to not press every time you hear a bang, but to count the bangs as best you can in your head and quickly press the counter the relevant number of times during a lull in shooting. There may then be a couple of shots which you remember to add on before the next sudden flurry. Quite often there will be a lot of shots at once, but you soon get used to guessing how many there were and adding those on.
Often there will be two people 'counting' so you can compare notes. Some beaters actually count in their heads and keep tally ..... I've been amazed by those who do so, they can be very accurate!
The section on dispatching game birds etc has been moved to game priests
Occasionally a deer may get up and come running through. Everyone says the best thing to do is stand still and not panic. I hold the flag out in front and hope the creature isn't blind! So far, in many years of beating the deer have always avoided me and I've never seen anyone hit. One came very close, the closest ever which raised a few laughs from my beating colleagues, but it still missed me. They are more frightened of us than we should be of them - and the chances of one coming that close are incredibly remote.
In order to cut any good beating sticks while waiting for a drive to start, some beaters have a small pruning saw with a blade which retracts into the handle. It's handy and safe. A nice beater's stick hung up by one end in the garage for a year or two can make a long-lasting beating stick.
Naturally, it's polite to ask the gamekeeper at the start of the day if it's OK for you to cut a stick but I've never heard one refuse - but only cut one whilst waiting for the drive to start, they won't want you holding up the line to cut a stick. Oh, and it would be prudent not to cut a stick from a prized holly tree near the estate house! ;-)
Particularly at the start of the season some beaters carry a small pair of secateurs in their jacket pocket - just to snip off a few branches where we have to cross a fence. It's amazing how much the branches grow from one season to the next. If the gamekeeper has not had time to provide clear access at the usual crossing points, a pair of secateurs can be really handy, particularly near blackthorn and other spiky growth.
Just because the gamekeeper is using his mobile phone on occasions doesn't mean it is acceptable for the beaters to do likewise - in fact many guns, shoot captains, gamekeepers and fellow beaters will frown upon anyone making or taking phone calls.
Most of the time when the gamekeeper is on his mobile, he could be talking to the guns to find out whether they are on their pegs or to make a slight change perhaps because the wind has changed direction - and he's 'the boss' so he's entitled to do what he wants. We used to call it 'the bosses prerogative'!
Many beaters have responsible jobs and/or run their own businesses these days and 'need' to stay in touch, but they turn off their mobiles and may leave them locked in their cars. In order not to annoy anyone I strongly recommend not having a mobile phone whilst beating. That way you won't put your beating in jeopardy. I've seen some pretty sharp looks from shoot captains at beaters using mobile phones, even during a break between drives.
There is no smoking allowed in the wagon or the cabin as it is now illegal to do so - those who want to smoke do so whilst standing around between drives. So, if you don't like second-hand smoke, it's easy to avoid! Though I have to say that most beaters I'm with don't seem to smoke these days and Health & Safety rules make it illegal to smoke on most wagons.
After the afternoon drives it's back to the beater's cabin to remove the wellies (for which some of us carry boot-jacks in the back of the car so we don't get filthy trying to get them off - from only £4 each - search on Google) and head for home whilst the gamekeeper works with the pickers-up to find and retrieve any shot birds.
On one shoot I go to they provide a wellie-washer - what a great gadget! Turn on the hose, pop one leg in through the bristles in the top and the water and rotating brushes get all that mud off. Superb.
If you are taken by somebody else, it's good to have a plastic bag to put your dirty boots in … I've seen people get rather annoyed when someone throws some muddy boots into their nice clean car, LOL!
You may hear quite a lot of bad language when beating … so don't be shocked - it will happen. There are usually a few real country characters in a crowd of beaters - and some of them will probably tell some pretty raunchy jokes too!
I was on a pheasant shoot one day where we were rather short of beaters and one of the guns offered the services of his two children. So, they joined the line and although they'd never been beating before (posh kids don't usually beat!) they quickly got the hang of it and were great. The young lad was soon "brrrrrrr"-ing and "aye aye aye"-ing like an old timer! And I must say what a great lad he was ..... he kept asking questions as he was keen to learn and he really enjoyed himself doing something that many of his private-school chums had never experienced - being in a beating line!
The guns will all be spoken to before a pheasant shoot or partridge shoot now and usually told that they can only shoot over the tree line - no shooting at anything on the ground - and no shooting after the horn/whistle has gone for the end of the drive. Everyone obeys this.
That wasn't always the case many years ago. I will never forget an incident (the only time it's ever happened) on a shoot about 35 years ago when my father went up to a gun and remonstrated with him for (a) firing his shotgun after the horn had been blown and (b) shooting at ground game and (c) swinging through the line, which by that time consisted of beaters as well as guns!! He apologised profusely ..... though I recall that at age 9 or 10 I was as embarrassed as could be at the antics of my father especially when told by the head gamekeeper (who was quietly laughing his head off!) that he'd just bawled out a member of royalty from another country! But my Dad didn't end up in the Tower of London or anything and there was a further very humble apology made to us at the end of the day.
That sort of thing has never happened since ... and I wouldn't expect it to. Pheasant shoots & partridge shoots are very safe these days.
I always carry a spare set of clothes in the car and a towel, just in case I get wet when the weather is bad. Though as my jacket and leggings are reproofed now and again (I use NikWax) I rarely need the spare clothes. But better safe than sorry!
There are various handwarmers available in country stores and on the Internet. I've used the solid fuel type and they do work very well in the main, though tend to be a bit messy and the fuel sticks don't last long enough for most of my beating days.
However, the lighter-fuel hand warmers are brilliant. They are not as thick, will last for a whole day (depending on how much fuel you use) and they do not smell if the right fuel is used. I usually have one in each chest pocket of my jacket and pop my hands in to get instant warmth. In addition, if I'm acting as stop and standing around in the freezing cold, it's lovely to be able to press my jacket in close and feel all that warmth spreading through my chest. The warmers come in different sizes and finish - I just have 2 standard ones.
At the end of the season there is often a 'cock' day where the beaters who have regularly attended that season are allowed to shoot the cock birds for the day, not the hens - and there may well be a meal afterwards, either at a local pub, at the beaters cabin or more often at a hall. Many beaters do not shoot so just go along for the fun - often unpaid. They beat as normal and enjoy a meal and good company afterwards. At some stage in the proceedings there may well be a hat passed around for those who have enjoyed a good day's shooting to show their appreciation to the gamekeeper, but the beaters for the day do not contribute. On many modern shoots 'passing the hat' is not allowed by the shoot owners as they regard it as a 'thank you' to the beaters and pickers-up. The Gamekeeper's Day rounds off what has probably been a very successful shooting season .... and then we all eagerly await the start of the next one!
There's nothing better than getting stuck in! Please don't try to remember all of the above - you don't need to. Just go along to your first beating day, take in what is going on around you and you will naturally absorb it. In the main, it's just common sense anyway and some of what I've said above might help. Then you'll be keen to be asked again and on subsequent days you'll remember the lie of the land and how the shoot drives tend to be handled. Enjoy!