The UK's only dedicated gundog magazine
Michelle Oseman picks-up four or five days a week in the Cotswolds and here she shares some of her well-earned wisdom.
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Shooting requires many elements to produce a successful day. Keepers manage the shoot, beaters make the birds fly on the day, Guns shoot the birds, hosts run the day smoothly and safely and pickers-up ensure all shot game is retrieved and any injured birds are dispatched quickly and humanely. No one part of this team is more or less important than any of the others, so support your team mates!
It is important to understand the layout of the shoot ground. How do the drives interlink? How do the weather conditions on the day affect where and how the birds fly? It is also important to know where you can drive, walk and pick. The keeper won’t be happy if you start unloading your dogs in the middle of his next drive. Learn where other pickers-up stand on the drives. We all know George starts picking-up from the wood through to the Gun line but where in that wood does he go? I would also definitely advise all pickers-up to go beating for a few days. This will help you gain an understanding of the layout of the ground and knowing what goes on in the beating line can only be a bonus.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions of others on the shoot. It’s better to check than get anything wrong. Don’t forget to maintain your dog’s training during the off-season. If you have any doubts about the steadiness of your dog during a drive, keep it on a lead. Nobody wants to hear the keeper on the radio asking who the black cocker running through the Gun line belongs to, especially if you’re the only one with a black cocker out that day. Take the opportunity to train with others. You will be working as a team on a shoot so why not practice with other handlers to get your dogs ready for the upcoming season?
One of our main priorities as pickers-up is to swiftly retrieve and dispatch wounded birds. Check with the keeper or head picker-up on the etiquette for picking wounded game on the day.
Only send your dog for a runner if you are confident that he will successfully retrieve the bird and deliver it straight back to you.
If your shoot uses radios (and I highly recommend it), call any wounded birds you see to other pickers-up. They may be in a better position to safely retrieve.
When a dog is in full work mode they seem to be oblivious to pain. Quickly check your dogs after every drive so any injury can be dealt with immediately.
When you’ve finished for the day and head home, give your dogs a good wash down and thorough health check. A smallish barbed wire gash that goes unnoticed and uncleaned could very quickly develop into a much bigger problem.
No matter how wonderful dinner smells as you walk by the kitchen, you owe it to your dog to tend to them first. They are the tools of your trade. No dogs, no picking-up.
It’s important to mark the shot birds, especially any injured game. On big shoot days there can be a lot of birds over the Guns at any one time. If the whole of the picking-up team are watching, you’ll stand a better chance of marking birds as they are shot. Discuss what area you’ll be watching before a drive starts.
No dead bird is going to run so keep your eyes focused on those potential runners. Teamwork is important here. If they do run, there’s every chance they will run towards another team member so communication is key.
One of the things I love about the sport is that every shoot day is different. The keeper may have specific instructions for the pickingup team due to the Guns that day, weather conditions or even something as simple as requests from landowners. You may be asked to stand somewhere different because the wind is pushing the birds to the other end of a drive or livestock have been moved so gates now need to be closed.
Every shoot has a Bob, George or Mary that has been part of the furniture for many years. They are a source of incredibly useful information so try to use it. If you’re someone looking to get into pickingup or an experienced picker-up working on a new shoot, try to get a day out beforehand with one of the experienced members of the team. Don’t take a dog, just go along to watch, listen and learn. They’ll have plenty of stories to tell you!
The Guns have paid for the experience of a day’s shooting and should be viewed as our clients. If they want to work their dogs, etiquette dictates you hold your dogs back from picking-up until they have finished picking their birds. This is another case of the rules changing day by day so you should ensure you know what the etiquette is on the day. Usually, Guns are watching what they’ve personally shot. They may inform you of a bird that’s landed 100 yards back over the hedge. Your duty is to try to retrieve that bird unless you know it’s already been picked or the area is currently being worked by one of your colleagues. It goes without saying that you should be professional in every interaction with the Guns.
Good equipment need not cost a fortune but the right tool for the job will help you enjoy your day. Some of the things you may want to consider are:
• A suitable vehicle, although some shoots provide vehicles for your use on a shoot day.
• Game carrier or bag
• Radio. Personally, I like all pickersup on a shoot day to have a radio to help with communication and safety.
• Priest or humane dispatcher
• Appropriate clothing and footwear are important. Nobody enjoys being wet and/or cold.
• Whistle and lead. Use the whistle to handle your dog and I’d advise ALWAYS have a lead to hand, even if you don’t usually carry one.
• Canine first aid kit. Many an injury has been lessened by administering basic first aid as soon as an accident occurs. We ask a lot of our dogs on challenging grounds – injuries will happen.
• Water and quick snacks for both yourself and your dogs – it’s thirsty work for all of us.
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