During the game season of 2019 I had my first taste of Beating on some of Scotland's finest shooting estates in the North Highlands. What does beating entail, how can you get involved and what do you need to get started?
On moving up to the Scottish Highlands in September 2019 I was keen to get my foot in the door of the game shooting scene. Having been shooting for a couple of years but mainly on clay grounds I wanted to learn more about the other side of the sport and get away from the shooting grounds and out in to the countryside. Not to mention, I was hoping to lose a few pounds from years spent sat at a desk working a 9-5 office job.
I have a few friends back in Yorkshire that used to go beating almost every week and I would tend to meet them in the pub for a pint after they had spent a day out on the estate. They always seemed to have had a great day, had some good stories to tell and had that "nice" tired look as a result of plenty of fresh air and exercise. It wasn't until I moved up to Scotland and freed up a bit more time that I decided to look in to beating a bit further and get involved.
Being new to the area I knew very little of the surrounding area or people so I leaned on the power of Google to find local shooting estates. I collated a few telephone numbers and email addresses and sent out a quick message saying that I had just moved to the area, was interested in beating and ask if they had any opportunities available. Very quickly I had a number of responses. Some estates said they unfortunately didn't need anyone or no longer hosted shoots but were quick to point me in the right direction.
I was contacted a short while later from an estate 20 minutes up the road who said they were looking for beaters and provided me the dates they needed and the details of where to go, what time to turn up and what to bring. I made them aware this was my first time and they were very supportive and said I would get all the guidance needed on my first day.
The day started at 8.30am where the beaters met in a nearby car park for a coffee and a catch up. I was a completely new face but made very welcome and included in the chit chat. No question was too silly and they gave me a good overview of what to expect for the day. I was introduced to the Head Keeper and not long after we were given our instructions for the day.
I had made sure to check the weather the night before so I had suitable clothing with me for the day. I was layered up with a t-shirt, shirt, tie (need to make a good first impression), jumper, shooting jacket, waterproof trousers, warm socks and a new pair of Aigle wellies. There were gloves in my pocket, along with a hat, my Swiss army knife, and a pack of polo mints, just in case. You can find some good articles online to advise on good gear to get for going beating but as long as you are warm, dry and comfortable you should be OK. You will find most beaters tend to wear shooting specific clothing in dark green or brown colours.
I don't have a dog (or at least not one suitable for beating) but if you do and you wish to take it along with you it is best to check prior to see if this is OK.
The aim of the beating team is to drive the birds over the line of guns and ensure they have a good days shooting. This tends to involve walking some distance in formation waving flags and making noises so that the birds fly away from you and over where the guns are located. The Gamekeeper will have carefully decided which drives to do for the day and where the beaters should be lined up for this to be most effective. A lot of planning goes in to running a successful shoot and you are an important part of the team, all you really need to do as a beater is listen carefully and do as instructed.
On the first drive I was handed my flag (an old broom handle with a plastic bag on the end) and bundled on to a trailer with the other beaters and their dogs and we were driven to our first location. We were dropped off and the Gamekeeper explained where everyone was to be lined up and in what direction we were to drive the birds. I was positioned on the side of a field and pointed in which direction to walk. It really is as simple as that.
The only advice I was given was to ensure I kept a lookout for the other beaters to ensure I wasn't too far ahead or behind of the line. We need a good formation and if we were asked to slow down, speed up, stop or move slightly I needed to be listening.
The banter between the beating team seemed to be good and you could tell there were some strong and lasting friendships within the group. Working together as a team and seeing the line of beaters taking place and closing in as we made our way closer to the guns was really enjoyable. Not to mention the sight of the partridge, ducks and pheasant lifting from cover and taking flight in large numbers.
This is one unique way to explore parts of the countryside most people don't get to see and to see some fantastic wildlife up close and personal.
The day normally consists of 5 or 6 drives and I have found on average by the end of the day I will have walked between 4 to 7 miles. It is a great way to get some fresh air and exercise! You are not following set footpaths and quite often will find yourself fighting your way out of a bush or through trees, streams, or boggy ground so it does require some level of fitness although I would argue it is suitable for most people.
We stop for elevenses after the first two drives for a glass of port and some warm sausage rolls and then it is one more drive before we head to the bothy for lunch in front of the log burner where the beaters have all brought packed lunches. It allows time to dry off, warm up and have a good chat with one another. This is where friendships are made.
The shoots I have beaten on tend to either pay you at lunchtime or at the end of the day and it tends to be between £40-50. Not a bad bonus for going out for a walk with your mates!
You may occasionally bump in to the guns on the day and it is nice to say hello, be polite and if necessary ask them how their day is going. I tend to opt for the speak when spoken to approach. You may also be asked to help retrieve some of the shot birds at certain times or you may happen across a bird that has been shot and needs dispatched so you should be comfortable with this.
Don't forget about beaters day! Game shooting is not the most affordable sport in the world and for some, beating is the best way to have the opportunity to shoot game on some fantastic estates across the country. You will tend to find that if you put in the work, show up on time, don't let them down at the last minute and show your face as much as possible, that you will get an invite to Beaters day at the end of the season. This is your chance to shoot on some of those drives you have come to love throughout the season and experience it from the other side.
Overall, beating is a great way to meet like minded people, make new friendships, get fit, explore the countryside, earn a bit of extra income, grow your knowledge of the countryside and have the opportunity to shoot some game! Find your local estate and drop them a message to see how you can get involved!