Bitten by the beating bug

The value of shooting is greatly publicised.. but what about the value of beating?

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“Come along on Saturday- its great, fun lots of banter.”

‘Banter?’ I frowned as the estate owner tried to sweet talk me into joining his team of beaters on the growing syndicate shoot he owns in the village I grew up in.

Spending a day chasing around birds for people who are paying to do what I want to be doing (shooting) and not getting anything but a hot lunch from it sounded really great fun..

I had a million and one other things to do but this guy had been good to me, he lets me graze his 500 acre estate for free, hell he even gave me a wild boar once, so I dubiously agreed.
Arriving on the day was slightly daunting- I can’t say I’m your average looking country bumpkin and I often get underestimated in my abilities to get my hands dirty. A bit of lipgloss can only help not hinder surely? But I was welcomed with open arms by fellow beaters, all very chatty and keen to get a sniff of where this fresh meat had suddenly emerged from. “You’re the girl from South East Farmer!” one lady chimed. I was pleased to see my regional celebrity status stretched to the beating line.
Upon first impressions, I was surprised to see such a variety of people there- especially woman. Infact predominantly women. Kids in high visibility jackets ran around playing and older gentlemen with their grey faced spaniels at their feet chatted away to the guns like they’d known them for years. In fact, looking at the scene as a whole, they probably had known them for years. This was a community.

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The first drive- around 150 birds are shot each weekend which are then supplied to a local pub

 

I was offered a shot of brandy and a sausage sandwich, which obviously I gratefully accepted and we were on our way; stick in hand, dogs at foot but still chatting away.

It turns out that the actual process of beating is a very minor part of the day.

Short periods of time were spent diving through cover crop in a carefully arranged line, but the rest is spent laughing, walking, eating and yes, Ian was right, an awful lot of banter.

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I was easily convinced to join the guns and beaters in the pub afterwards. Guns tip the beaters by leaving money in a pint glass at the pub and voila free drinks all night.
As I lay in bed that night I felt an immense feeling of happiness (and a slightly spinning head). In one day I had become part of an exclusive fraternity- I’m pretty sure some of the nicest and most welcoming people I have ever met were at that shoot. After growing up somewhat of a black sheep I had found a group of people who understand everything I had been scorned for in the past.

One lady, Karen, told me how she decided to try out beating five years ago when her confidence levels were at rock bottom and she was terrified of loud bangs. She hasn’t missed a day since and her confidence has grown no end, with her daughter and granddaughter now also being heavily involved.
“You’re back?!”, Gary, a particularly welcoming member of the group exclaimed as I enthusiastically arrived the following week.

My weekends began to revolve around the shoot, declining invitations regularly “sorry I have work that day.” Not strictly a lie.. “No, I cant do the evening either, yup, still working”- I was ditching life long friends for people I had just met, knowing full well I’d have a much better time with them.

My love life suffered, I couldn’t possibly get a boyfriend- what if he expected to see me on Saturdays?!

If you had told me a year ago that I’d be going on nights out with men twice my age stood in Michelin starred pubs and being glarred at for my mucky wellies, I’d have laughed.

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These people are not only great fun, they’re amazing advocates for the countryside and the shooting industry. Not living in a particularly rural part of the country, every Saturday evening we raid a pub in town head to toe in wellies, tweeds, flat caps, wax coats with spaniels at our feet. But that’s where the stereotype ends. We have builders, bank managers, beauticians and babies within our group and do we seclude ourselves? Far from it. Every man, woman and child that enters that pub gets a smile and its unusual for them to leave without having asked for the phone number of someone so they can come beating for a day to try it out.

And to leave you with a final revelation.. I have spent much of my past on shoots, gun in hand, numb with the cold, waiting and waiting, and for the final day of the season I am brushing the cobwebs off my 20 bore for a day on a peg, and all I can say is, quite frankly, I’d rather be beating.

Its long way from now until October, but if you want a great day out, plenty of exercise, a brace of pheasant to take home, and to make great friends along the way I urge you, find your local shoot and get stuck in!

 

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Think Westies Can’t Work? Think Again.

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I’m going to take you back to 2009, a few months before I had lost my cherished (but pretty useless) Labrador Bessie, and all I wanted for my 18th birthday was a puppy. So imagine my delight when on the day I was told we’d be off to choose two puppies, a girl for me and a boy for my mother.
On arrival I was greeted by 4 beautiful tiny white balls of fur which I was told were West Highland Terriers. Ignoring my Dads advice I chose the puppy that showed personality traits similar to my last beloved dog. My mum chose the last dog pup left and three days later we collected them.

They had a normal upbringing for a puppy; not particularly countrified and I generally kept them away from the farm and the horses. They were socialised well with my friends’ dogs and at puppy classes too.

Ted (my Mum’s dog) showed typical delinquent signs and took great joy in disappearing for hours on end whilst being walked and ignored all training. We hoped this was just a rebellious teenage faze and continued to keep him on the lead wherever he went. Hattie on the other hand was an absolute angel in every way despite her love for occasionally scrapping with other dogs.

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To cut a long story short after Ted (above) massacres some of my Mum’s hand reared ducklings she disowned him and the responsibility was passed on to me. There have been times I’ve wanted to rehome him after spending hours waiting for him to resurface from a field of rape/thicket of brambles/abandoned badger sett but after years of suffering we have come to an agreement. I recently read a very interesting article in The Countryman’s Weekly about how to stop your dog running off and it was so true. A dog looks to his master for everything and if your hunting techniques are poor he will take matters into his own hands.. or paws. It explained the importance of showing your dog you CAN hunt and allowing him to help you. By working with Ted rather than against him I have taught him I know all the best places to find rats, rabbits and anything else of interest and I believe he now truly sees me as the alpha.

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Of course there are times he’ll disobey. If he’s sniffing round the hay and a fox bolts I have no chance and when I see that cheeky twinkle in his eye I know I’ll have a job to get him back.
Hattie on the other hand has never been a problem; she’s always done exactly as I please. We started terrier racing when she was about one and I can proudly say she has never come lower than second in a race. When she sees that bit of fur flying across the ground she lets out a blood curdling howl there’s no stopping her.

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Now you may be thinking I’m just an amateur who has no idea about training a dog but I have spent hours of my time researching, reading and recording any information I can find. There’s nothing more I love than dogs and I tried everything.
Hats is a credit to me and anyone that knows him, will say Ted is too.
Without sounding big headed people come to me for training advice and help with their dogs. I just seemed to end up with the worlds most strong willed terrier, but hey, challenge accepted.
My dogs spend almost every minute with me and come with me pretty much everywhere I go, including away to university.

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Now, when someone thinks about a westie they probably imagine a little old lady pottering along the seafront with her pooch waddling along by her side. After reading a number of threads and blogs about working westies it seems most people’s opinions are similar. They are nothing but little yappy dogs allergic to grass seed, dust, sunlight, breathing etc. One gamekeeper spoke of a westie he used to work, who he said was great but believed its drive was learned by growing up with other working dogs.

This was not the case with my two, if anything I’ve discouraged them and scolded them in the past for anything they killed. Now I’ve learnt to embrace it and enjoy nothing more than a day out ratting with them and my boyfriends JRT cross. .
I am often given funny looks when I arrive at a terrier race or ratting permission (I’m used to this for generally being a girly gamekeeper/farmer) but people are always impressed and astounded by their ability and their drive for quarry. They are not the fittest dogs and will sleep for hours after a day working but this is more down to me and their regime rather than their capabilities.

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So if you think that these terriers are merely family pets, think again. If I ever have a terrier like either of these two again, I will feel more than blessed.

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And if you’re worried your westie might be about to turn into a killing machine, don’t, they make a pretty good lap dog too.

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The British Shooting Show 2014

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Last weekend saw the sixth year that The Great British Shooting Show was held, this time at the bigger location of Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire.

With abysmal weather for any kind of country pursuit what better way to spend Valentine’s Day than at this show surrounded by guns, guns and more guns.

With 20,000 square metres of shotguns, rifles and airguns along with accessories there is something for everyone.

Shooting has been known to have a ‘rich persons’ stereotype behind it but it was really great to see a distinct lack of tweed at the event with just really normal people walking around and enjoying themselves. The nature of the exhibitions means the show can be enjoyed by those who are completely new to shooting, those who have been shooting since they could dress themselves and even those that have no interest in shooting and just fancied a bit of shopping.

Despite going on the first day there were still some impressive deals to be had.

The Countryside Alliance were boasting great show offers with a full membership for under 25s at just £12 along with a free bottle of sloe gin and, as always, happy and helpful staff. This covers insurance for all riding, shooting and hunting for a year along with a copy of their quarterly magazine through the letter box. What more could you ask for? And even better, if you’re at an agricultural college you got everything for free!

BASC put on their normal delicious cooking demonstration attracting large audiences with their unusual twist on game meals with the help of Chef Rayeesa of Rayeesa’s Indian Kitchen.

The Best Fox Call stand claimed popular and seemed to be surrounded by customers throughout the day trying and buying remote electronic and mouth fox calls.

Browning’s put on their normal brilliant display with a wedding dress that some country girls could only dream of.

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Colin’s Traps had some great prices on traps for foxes, squirrels, mink and rabbits which he hand makes  at his home in Peterborough as a retired gamekeeper.

Surprisingly, my favourite exhibit was a very large book stand with a publication on every topic imaginable in which I ended up spending a small fortune on books in gamekeeping.

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Two thirds of the show is made up of the gunmakers hall. This had shotguns for fieldsports, wildfowling and competitions, rifles for pest control, stalking, hunting and targets as well as historic, classic and modern military rifles and even cannons for sale.

As a lady I appreciated that most rifle stands exhibited at least one pink rifle but was disappointed to see a lack of women’s wear on clothing stalls and a complete lack of women all together.

The day finally ended after my card refused to participate in anymore shopping and was declined whilst buying a rather fetching pair of camouflage trousers for my other half’s valentines present.  The large number of visitors each year truly reflects the quality of this show and it is definitely one to be added to everyone’s shooting calendar.