It's not only about respect for your host, it's respect for your quarry. By Blue Zulu.
Essentially shooting dress has not changed for 150 years. Flick through Lancaster’s The Art of Shooting from 1889 and the chaps are wearing exactly the same kit as us. Or more accurately, we’re wearing theirs.
The iron rule of these sceptred isles? Never, under any circumstances, be seen to be trying too hard when formal gameshooting. Trying too hard sins include:
- Jumpers sporting embroidered pheasants
- Shooting socks bearing bon mots such as “bang bang bugger” (how we chortled)
- Shooting capes (unless you’re Sherlock Holmes)
- Fur hats (excepting femmes fatale and Russian agents)
- Tweed so loud that the neighbours file for a noise abatement order.
If you spot a chap wearing dairy boots and rubber overtrousers from Mole Valley Farmers, it’s almost guaranteed that he’s both a top Shot and a duke. If his Barbour is so patched that the only remaining original feature is the zip, bow immediately, as that will be HRH the Prince of Wales.
Are cravats acceptable?
Among this upper echelon, neckwear is uncommon, perhaps to draw a distinction between those of blue blood and those with the red stuff. For several seasons, I aped this fashion, especially when the weather was cold, and opted for silk turtleneck jumpers, despite my offspring’s accurate observation that they made me look like a dodgy 1970s ski instructor with a sideline in “adult” movies. And I have also toyed — deep breath — with the idea of wearing a cravat.
It does seem to be creeping in. Only last week, three of the Guns had donned them, and they didn’t seem ridiculous.
Perhaps this is down to growing more gnarly and conservative with age, sartorial showmanship being left for the young bucks. My drift is towards that despondent couplet of T. S. Elliot: “I grow old… I grow old… I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” But I think it’s down to a growing feeling that we need to reinforce the code of respect that we owe our quarry.
Sins against sportsmanship
I’m saddened on those rare occasions when I hear people refer to our gamebirds as “targets”, and when I watch pheasants being thrown in a heap on the gamecart. I’m bemused when I watch Guns address birds that are clearly out of ordinary effective range and then celebrate a fluke kill. That, to me, is a far more serious sin against sportsmanship than the clobbering of a close bird.
Continental etiquette and formal gameshooting
We are lucky to be free of the laws and bureaucracy that burden other countries.
We do not have to pass the exams and tests that are mandatory on the Continent. Instead, we have a code of etiquette and behaviour. So we don’t fish downstream in our hallowed chalkstreams and we plait and groom our horses before hunting. Formal gameshooting is subject to equally rigid social rules, but they will only remain rules if we enforce them.
For all the continentals’ problems with legislation, their treatment of the dead quarry can be instructive. Who doesn’t now admire the French saluting their fallen quarry with doffed hats and the stirring notes of the trompes de chasse, the Hungarians laying out their birds formally at the end of a day’s shooting and the Germans placing the “last bite” in the mouth of a dead boar? We’ve considered such things a little excessive, safe in the knowledge that our own sports were conducted within a framework of equal but understated respect, as befits our national character. But we have to ensure our standards do not slip.
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As an example of what can happen on British shoots, I remember a local partridge shoot where the Guns turned out in a mix of designer loafers, shirts embroidered with their initials and black cashmere trousers. Perfectly acceptable garb for a spin round Annabel’s, followed by a visit to a casino, but not what we expect on a shooting day. The keepers and loaders, all traditionally attired, looked unhappy — but not as unhappy as later in the day when a shift in the commodities market caused the Guns to disappear before the final drive.
So, when we dress for a day’s formal shooting this season, let’s eschew all temptation to be “different” and don the tweeds-and-tie uniform of our forebears. Not for the sake of our hosts, though no doubt they appreciate it, but because our quarry deserves nothing less.