A readers asks about the legality of walking with his dog close to a country estate where pheasant shoots take place.
Q I have recently moved to live in a house on a country estate where, at this time of year, they have pheasant shoots. I have an eight-year-old Golden Retriever and intend to avoid walking on the estate when these are planned. However, there is a footpath running near the area where the shoots take place, and I may have to use this to access other walks. What do I need to be aware of and what is the legal position in this case? Obviously, I’d stick to the footpath and keep my dog on a lead, but I don’t want to put him or anyone else involved at risk.
Your Dog reader, Norfolk.
Stephen says: In legal terms, if that footpath is a public right of way, by law the estate must keep it unobstructed and safe to use at all times. If it’s close to where there’s shooting, the best-run shoots will provide stewards to advise people of what’s happening and ensure their safety.
However, paths across country estates can often be ‘permissive’ meaning there’s no general right to use them (even for local residents); usage is usually dependent on the goodwill of the estate owner.
The best advice is to talk with the estate or shoot manager, as apart from this being neighbourly it can have added benefits. For example, you might obtain a list of when and where shoots are occurring during the pheasant season, which in England is October 1 to February 1 (excluding Sundays and Christmas Day). Do remember that shooting can take place at any time of year, and at night for some species like rabbits and pigeons.
If your dog isn’t used to the sound of gunshot, liaising with the estate can help you habituate him to loud bangs in a managed, positive, and gradual way. Just because a pet is a gundog breed doesn’t mean he won’t be scared or startled.
Irrespective of one’s views on shooting live birds, it can be very enlightening to witness the joy of gundogs doing what they were originally bred to do, especially when trained using modern, positive techniques that reward them for making best use of their natural abilities.