Hello, my name is Sophie, for those who do not already know who I am I am the head of Gundogs for CGUK and the owner of Highpowley Gundogs which was founded in 2016 when I bred my first litter of Labradors from my foundation bitch Bella. Bella is now unfortunately retired due to injury so she enjoys her days on the sofa!! Back in the day, she was the queen of beating (along with everything else) she would smash through any cover, people used to laugh and say she was crossed with a spaniel with her being small and so hard hunting.

My team this season consists of 4 Labradors (3 of Bella’s daughters) and a lovely strong bitch I work for friends, along with 8 Cockers (yes…I didn’t think I would ever see the day I ran anything other than Labs but here we are!!) Throughout the season we are mainly picking up, however, we do a few days beating still which I quite enjoy the variety of the days, it gives the dogs a change and makes them use their brains differently.

I have been working on shoots for over 10 years now and still learn every time I’m out! each shoot is different, but it is really nice to see how different shoots work! Some being more relaxed than others!

Given I have a good team to pick from now, I am selective about which dogs I take to what shoots as the last thing I want is a younger dog being out of its depth or setting them up for failure – which we see far too often! If you are ever in doubt, put them back on a lead! There is no shame in taking back control and being a responsible dog handler!

Arriving at the shoot, there is going to be a lot of people and a lot of dogs, so keep your dog on the lead during this time as the buzzy environment can be quite outfacing for some or excitable for other (I have both) so keeping them on a lead but letting them say hello just keeps things controlled for them to get used to this.

Always offer them “toilet time” – some dogs are particular about where they go to the toilet and everyone concentrates better when you’re not holding in a wee right?! During this time at the shoot meet, you will be given instructions for the day and move off with the team of beaters.

Once at the first drive, you will be lined out and set off. You really must keep “in line” working your dog away in front of you. I always keep an eye on those around me and how far they are working their dogs to ensure mine aren’t going too far! And if the line is held usually under the command “hold the line” it is important to recall or stop your dog immediately! Once you get to the end of the drive it’s important not to let them run out and start picking as this is not etiquette. If they would like help picking up you will be asked don’t just let your dog run in!

My top 5 tips for preparing for you dogs first day beating are:

  • Having a good recall – you need to know that your dog is coming back no matter what! You don’t want to be the one responsible for ruining a drive as it can only take one wrong move!
  • Having a good stop – being able to stop the dog which could be working away quite some distance in front of you if there are any signs of danger/ fences they haven’t seen, ground game or a big covey of birds you need to know they aren’t going to just run in and cause carnage or run a hare or deer right through the middle of the drive!
  • A good heal – at points, you’re going to need your dog with you not hunting away. You may be going through game crop or thick cover which sometimes is difficult with dogs on leads so if you know your dog is there with you it makes life a lot easier!
  • Flagging – When beating you are often required to carry a flag to use to make a bit of noise and assist in lifting birds to gain height, please please please try and get your dog used to flappy things making noise, use a carrier bag wave it around like an idiot you will feel stupid at the time but I have seen to many times dogs bolt when people start flagging, this is all down to poor preparation at home!
  • Enjoy your day!!!!! Relax – if you don’t enjoy your day you won’t want to go back, your bad energy feeds your dog, and it becomes a vicious circle! Ask questions if you are unsure, if you don’t ask questions you don’t learn!

People often overcomplicate things with the equipment they need, especially with all the new gadgets on the market.

Keep it simple!

  • Lead – You always need a lead to slip on between drives or even during a drive. I always take a spare as I am really good at losing them!
  • Whistle – I’d be lost without mine! I use my whistle more than I use my voice when working with my dogs!
  • Energy Bars- personal choice!! I take them with me all the time as I have seen my dogs crash and it’s not nice! I use the Skinners ones, they are a handy size to fit in your pockets and just the little perk-up your dog needs at lunchtime.
  • First aid kit – I always say if you have one you won’t need one! All the injuries I have had is when I haven’t had a first aid kit in my car, BIG ERROR!
  • Towels and drying coats! If your dog has had a hard day’s work, don’t leave it sitting wet and cold in the car! Dry it off and if you have drying coats put them on, they will be dry by the time you get home!
  • Water – 9 times out of 10 there will be rivers or ponds for the dogs to drink out of throughout the day, but at the end of a long day’s work, it is nice to offer your dogs a clean fresh drink!

I have probably missed a lot of information out of here but you can talk forever about shoot days and beating and dogs. The most important thing is to enjoy your day, don’t overthink it! And never be afraid to ask questions during your day, always listen to instructions and if you are unsure, double-check!

I hope you all have the very best season and enjoy every minute!

Written by Sophie Mair