Shooting etiquette is basically a combination of thoughtfulness, common sense and safety. Being invited shooting for the first time somewhere new can be somewhat daunting but if you follow our guidance you can be confident that your behaviour is what is expected (and that you may be invited again.)
So you’ve been invited shooting
First things first. You’ve received an invitation to shoot so now what? You need to reply promptly. Whether you were asked verbally, by letter, text or e mail you need to accept or decline. Your host will be trying to put together a team and if you can’t come they will need to find a replacement.
The host will be looking for a like-minded group who will ‘gel’, so respond quickly. Don’t PBI (pending better invitation) and hedge your bets. It is very rude and your host will probably know what you are up to.
However if you have had a really good day then tip above the expected rate. Keepers work long and hard for the extra bit they receive at the end of a shoot day and if you get a reputation as a bad tipper you may never lose it.
Obviously it’s paid in notes, not by coins or bit coin… So make sure you visit the cash machine before you arrive at the shoot so you have the readies to hand at the end of the day.
Shooting clothing by William & Son
What to wear shooting
Look at shooting clothing worn 50-100 years ago and you’ll see that the designs of tweeds and breeks haven’t changed dramatically.
However the shooting world is becoming more open to different styles – particularly with the arrival of performance fabrics.
It’s best to stick to a traditional smart look and always wear a shirt and tie on a formal day, which many regard as a mark of respect to the quarry.
You don’t have to wear traditional breeks, smart trousers will be acceptable although if you are on a formal shoot you’ll never be out of place in breeks.
Don’t forget ear defenders if you want to keep your hearing. (You can read our list of the best ear defenders here.)
Always wear ear protection
Do you have to bring your own gun?
If you are completely new to shooting and have been invited to shoot, the likelihood is that your host will arrange for a minder/loader to accompany you for the day and guide you on the do’s and don’ts. This is a fantastic chance to learn from your guide and gain as much out of the day as possible. If you are already a regular shooter and possess your own gun, then of course bring it along. Again the host is the perfect reference point to check this with.
You can learn a lot from your loader
On the shoot day itself
If you’re game shooting: When you have accepted your invitation your host will then send you details of where and when to attend for the shoot – it’s always best to be very punctual. An awful lot goes into making a shoot day successful and it involves a lot of people working hard to make it the best experience for you.
As far as the day is concerned, firstly the host will brief you on the format of the day, followed by the ground rules for safety which are to be followed. This is called the shoot briefing.
Some shoots stop for a lunch and then continue to shoot in the afternoon whereas others will shoot straight through until around 2-3pm and then stop for the day. Days like this are often accompanied by a substantial elevenses which act as a pause in the day to refresh and socialise. Which of course is a huge part and enjoyable part of the shoot day.
Know your limits and stick to them, remember you are in control of a firearm. However once the day is over and the guns are locked away then of course a glass of wine is welcome.
Always chat to the gamekeeper afterwards
Talking to the gamekeeper
You’ll notice the gamekeeper circulating throughout the shoot day making sure everything is running smoothly and trying to put right any situations when things don’t quite go to plan. During the shoot he is often busy but will attend the end of the day drinks to receive his tip.
Don’t just tip him – take the opportunity to have a chat. Gamekeepers are a mine of information. Ask him how he thought the day went and which drives went particularly well.
Write a thank-you letter
A lot of time and effort is put into making a shoot day successful so dropping a line afterwards (the old-fashioned way, in a letter rather than an e-mail) is well received. It shows that you appreciated being invited (and may mean you’re more likely to be invited again.)
A bottle of sloe or damson gin is always a welcome gift
A retired gamekeeper comments: “My ideal Gun, one I would like to see return, is someone who, after an introduction at the appointed meeting place, enquires after my family’s health and happiness, how the rearing season has gone, and what the day’s prospects are — in that order.
“They should be smartly dressed, preferably in tweed if the weather is good and, when the courtesies are over, they will have had their tea or coffee and be ready to move five minutes prior to my request. (Read our tips on what to wear shooting.)
“The best guests remember their peg number, quietly close the car door and walk to their peg without talking. They should wait for the drive to start with their gun resting on a hip or shoulder, barrels upward — not in a position where they have to be brought up through the advancing beating line when the safety catch is released.
“At day’s end, the Gun will go to the beaters’ room first, thank everyone for their efforts before going for tea and thank the people who had prepared drinks, elevenses and lunch.
“The final act is to accept a brace of birds as a matter of course and thank the keeper for the day.
“I know you can’t spend a ‘thank you’, but I would far rather have £10 given graciously by an ‘impoverished gentleman’, than £50 from a wealthy person who has no manners at all.”
Keen shooters give their top etiquette tips
John Sugden, a keen Shot who manages Campbells of Beauly says: “Don’t forget the keepers tip! You’ll never be able to live it down and you’re likely not to be invited back!”
Rob Fenwick, Managing Director of shooting ground EJ Churchill advises: “Always write a thank you letter to your host afterwards even if they say don’t bother. Verbally thank everyone at the end of the day like the beaters, picker-uppers, chefs and anyone who has worked hard for you, you could not shoot without them!”
Another regular shoot host comments on how to be the perfect shoot guest: “Someone who’s safe and brings a bit of humour to the party is invariably good company, welcome as a guest on any shoot, and likely to be invited back at some point or other.
“If you are a guest, or shooting in a team of strangers, don’t be a greedy Shot. If the expected bag is 200 birds from five drives between eight Guns, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out the sums — five birds per person per drive. Walking back with armfuls of pheasants on two of them isn’t going to win you many friends… or a return invitation, for that matter.”
Top shooting etiquette tips to remember
Don’t use your mobile phone whilst on the peg and throughout a drive. Make sure it is on silent. In fact, leave it in the car if possible.
Appreciate how lucky you are to be shooting. It is an amazing sport and lots of people work very hard throughout the year to make it possible.
Enjoy watching other people shoot well and enjoy seeing other people who have been “In the shooting”. Following on from this, don’t get grumpy if you are not in the shooting! Once you appreciate and enjoy seeing others in the shooting, your whole day will become a lot more fun and you won’t care whether you draw 1 or 4!