As the downdraught from the rotor blades recedes and you hurry across the helipad to the burbling 4×4, where a V8 engine is warmed and ready to spirit you swiftly to the convenience of a champagne-soaked shooting peg, your thoughts turn in smug anticipation to the opportunity to unleash your shiny new pair of Royals on Devon?s highest oxygen-fuelled archangels.
And then the early-morning alarm clatters you into consciousness. It?s Saturday again and, just like last time, you?ve only seconds to snatch a charred piece of toast as you scoop cartridges, spaniels and sandwiches in one organic bundle into the back of a vintage Land Rover, before heading out for another day on the shoot, a day that will follow the same old familiar pattern.
What can you do to break free from the shackles of conformity to make your shoot day special and just that little bit more memorable? What cost-effective steps can you take to make it a bit different for your guests and improve their day? A bit of energy can pay dividends ? here are a few ideas, some more extreme than others. They may not suit everyone?s taste, budget or sensibilities, but they might just give you the impetus to put a rocket under the captain?s fusty shoot-day briefing.
1 Boost your invitations £
Dear X. Do you fancy shooting on 18 December? Yours, Y. It?s certainly traditional, but how much better to put in your invitation: Dear X. Do you fancy shooting on 18 December? Please find enclosed a little bit of history about the shoot, a short description of the shoot?s topography and information about our recent works to improve the shoot, as well as all the details you?ll need for the day itself. In short, setting the scene for the day shows you take pride in the shoot.
2 Shoot cards £
A small scrap of paper with the Guns? names scribbled on it or something a bit more elaborate? Along with the compulsory brace of birds, the shoot card is one of the few tangible things a Gun usually takes away from the day with him or her. Is yours a photocopied slip of paper that will be thrust in a jacket pocket, to be discovered crumpled under a pile of empty cartridges at the end of the season? If it is, think about making it a smarter affair. When you know who?s going to be shooting on the day, you can pre-print some proper ones on card and get the chap with the neatest handwriting to fill in the bag details before everyone waves goodbye.
3 Lapel appeal £ £
?That?s an interesting badge on your collar. Where did you get it?? While it?s true that we wear our hearts on our sleeves, shooters in particular also use their caps and lapels to hang their ?campaign medals? on. Having a lapel pin badge made to hand-out to visitors, beaters and hangers-on needn?t cost a fortune. A good-quality enamel badge can be made in quantities of 100 or more for less than £1 a badge ? a modest investment to make in boosting your shoot?s ?corporate image?.
4 Bangs for your bucks £ £ £
In terms of value for money, having your own cartridges printed with the shoot?s name on them looks flash, but really doesn?t have to cost the earth. For a modest initial set-up fee and the cost of the cartridges, larger manufacturers will print your designs on their own loads. You?ll have to order in large quantities of more than 10,000 to make it worth their while, but if you spread the cost between a syndicate it?ll make sense. A word of warning: do pick up your empties if you?re a guest elsewhere. You?ll be easily identified.
5 What?s your number? £
There?s always a quiet time when Guns are on the peg, even on the smartest of shoots. Why not use the time to spread a bit of knowledge? With a bit of thought and some weatherproof-laminated card, you can give your Guns useful bits of trivial information along with their peg number. Is peg four on the second drive the hot spot? Did shoot favourite Charlie Duffer hit his very first bird here in 2004? What?s the name of the big hill on the left? Was it Lord Ripon?s preferred killing ground? Don?t leave Guns whistling on the peg, make their shooting a trivial pursuit, too.
6 Flask fillers £ £
If your shoot has sloes, you?ve got a talking point. Bottle the berries with gin and your brew can keep the home team happy and the visiting Guns appreciative. Why stop there? Damsons, elderberries, apples, blackberries, plums and other familiar fruits have long been the staple ingredients of many shoots? own patent ?swing-ease?. But do ensure the Guns remember your special concoctions for the right reasons. Always test, in quantity if necessary, before you fill your own hipflask.
7 Secret ingredients £
Food is an integral part of a shoot day, and cost-effective and noteworthy shoot lunches are easily achieved if your shoot makes a point of serving its own game on shoot days. Check out the recipes pages in ST if your game-cooking expertise only extends to pheasant casserole. There are so many ways to make your game more interesting ? serve a shoot pasty at half-time, using last week?s birds as the principal ingredients, for example; it?s far more interesting and tastes a lot better than tucking in to an out-of-date pork pie bought at the petrol station on the way to the 9am meeting point.
8 Suits you £ £ £ £ £
If your shoot?s stuffed with well-heeled Beau Brummells, you could consider having a shoot tweed made. The larger and more-established estates have their own designs, which trace their origins back to the 19th century, when the Glenfeshie estate, near Aviemore, became
the first to kit out keepers in their own black-and-white check cloth. There?s no reason
why you shouldn?t order a few metres in your own distinctive check and get your local tailor
to run up some shoot breeks. Companies such as Andrew Elliot Ltd, in Selkirk ? visit www.elliot-weave.co.uk ? offer a bespoke tweed design service.
9 Ahead by a neck £ £
A cheaper, and possibly more acceptable, alternative to your own tweed is a shoot tie. The design possibilities are endless for those with a little flair, however, and the traditional green tie with the shoot?s name embossed or printed on the middle won?t break the bank at £10 or so per tie, with an origination charge of £150 to £200. For a little bit more (£30 to £40 per tie) you can even get a hand-painted tie made to your design by web-based companies such as www.linksandties.co.uk Type ?club tie design? into an Internet search engine and see what?s out there.
10 Flying the flag £ £ £ £
If you really want to push the boat out and make your shoot distinctive, don?t simply cut up those old grain sacks and string them haphazardly on to a bit of hazel to equip your flaggers. Why not get a real flag made up for the ultimate in one-upmanship? Would it make your shoot stand out? Well it would certainly be the talk of the beating line?
If you have a good idea to spice up your shoot day, why not share it with others on the ST online forum? Visit www.shootingtimes.co.uk or email it to us a STeditorial@ipcmedia.com