Time to get “Beating Fit”!
It seems no time at all since the National Ladies Shooting Day back in June. Since then, I’ve carried on shooting with my local clay league, finding that progress comes in fits and starts. My biggest learning so far is that my shooting is as much affected by my mood as my skill level. A bad or stressed out day equates to a lot of wasted clays and cartridges!
However, living on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors means stress relief is not hard to find outside my back door. The season change from August into September is my favourite time of the year. The moors are showing off their glorious riot of purples & greens and then later the trees start to change. All over social media are pictures of fantastic views and gorgeous hues of heathers and tweeds, which I consume with a just a little envy! I’ll not be out on a grouse moor with a gun in my hand for quite some time (but never say never!). But I will be out on the grouse moors soon with something else in my hand soon, a noisy beaters flag!
I’m signed up to beat again this year on the Snilesworth Estate in North Yorkshire. This year they start their grouse days in mid-August, with partridge from September and pheasant from October onwards through to the end of January. There are 66 days this season, but to balance work, my pre-schooler and my fitness levels I’m sticking to just one to two days a week maximum. Beating days are hard-work, even for the spring chickens (teenagers).
In case you are unfamiliar, beaters are a vital part of a successful shoot. Under the supervision of the Gamekeeper, the beaters flush out the birds towards the shooting line. This must be done in a well-coordinated manner – with all the beaters moving in sync. You cover quite a bit of ground on each drive and are expected to keep in line with your fellows despite whatever obstacles are in front of you (waist high heather or peaty bogs spring to mind from my exploits last year).
Therefore, while I’m not able to get out there during the school holidays, I am doing my best to get “beating fit” by getting out walking with the boys on their bikes. I also need to check my beating kit is in order. I know I need a new pair of boots after getting soggy feet more than once last year. The moors are very uneven and boggy so short walking boots, wellies or country boots really aren’t safe. I’ll be investing in some high ankle waterproof boots come pay day and then getting out with the boys on to the moorland tracks to break them in. The views are fantastic, but with two noisy children and the dog (always on the lead on the moors), chances of spotting many grouse are slim (but they are there)
First day on the Grouse.
With the boys settled back to school & preschool, I signed myself up to do two days of beating in mid September.
First up was a day on the grouse moors. While it wasn’t my first outing, I am still very much a newbie to the beating world and I must straight away confess that I didn’t actually join the “beating line”, instead I was assigned to the flankers (apparently this is the easy job). Flankers, as the name suggests, bring in the sides (flanks) of the patch of moor being covered on each drive and try to stop the birds bailing out to the sides of the line of guns.
So, this is how I find myself standing on the top of the North Yorkshire moors on a sunny Tuesday morning with one of the finest views around. My day started getting a lift to the meeting point in the back of an old army troop carrier, now repurposed to a beaters wagon. After initial sorting into the various groups of beaters, flankers and pickers up, we headed out. For each drive, the team of gamekeepers work together to ensure all parts of the group move at the right time to ensure the best results. I had a previous life in project management, but this still looks to be a very difficult and precise process. The weather and wind conditions need to be considered, as well as ensuring the guns get to their positions on time without being rushed or conversely waiting about too long. I tried not to think about the logistics too much and just made sure to listen up and then keep up!
For each of the drives (three before lunch and two after) we went out into our flanking line positions spread out apart across a wide area. When instructed, we had to move forward keeping formation in a flat line as much as possible. Sounds quite easy on normal ground, but the North Yorkshire moors are a mix of heather, bracken, peat bogs and reed filled marshes. The heather itself varies stretch by stretch into short and recently burnt or bushy and thick (and difficult to negotiate). Then there are the hills and the streams to also contend with. On top of that, you need to keep cracking and waving your flag.
All in all, a lot to think about – look left, look right, keep up but don’t go too far forward. Keep my spacing left and right. Flag up! Don’t fall in a hole! Phew! With all that going on, you’d think it was stressful but conversely, I find it one of the most stress-relieving activities I’ve ever done. You just don’t have the opportunity to worry about anything else but what you are doing right there. I also worked out I’d walked over 10 miles, so pretty good exercise too. The small brown envelope at the end of the day is just the cherry on the top.
And then there are the other people who form the line with you. Camaraderie and banter keep your spirits up, even when the heavens open and do their worst! This came in buckets on the Thursday when Partridge was the order of the day. But that is for next time.
Bye for now!
(These blog posts originally appeared on the Alan Paine Country Clothing Blog. I’ve amended them and added some additional pictures)