Not sure what to wear, where to stand or what to say when things go wrong? Charlotte Lancaster presents some game shooting etiquette tips.
Looking back over seasons past, during which I have traipsed the length and breadth of this sceptred isle in the wake of an itinerant and enthusiastic gun, I thought it was time to share my thoughts on how to be a decorous – and decorative – addition in the shooting field.
I should perhaps point out, given the number of girls who now shoot on an equal footing – in every sense – with men, that these suggestions could quite as well apply to chaps who find themselves in the same position. Although if that’s the case then the sartorial aspects, perhaps, should be treated with circumspection.
The first and critical issue is whether you really want to be there. If shooting is not your thing – and it is not to everybody’s taste – then no matter how gorgeous the object of your affections, the whole thing is going to be a frost and you’d be better off at home with a good book. There will be weather. There will be mud. And blood. There will be a good deal of testosterone and some fairly fixed attitudes. So, if you are going to venture into the lions’ den, do not be surprised if there be lions in there with everything that implies. But if you do elect to enter, here are a selection of whips, chairs and revolvers which might prove handy.
Game shooting etiquette: What to wear?
When was this ever not a question? The answer is not necessarily tweed. Tweed is good. Indeed, tweed is hard to beat. Things which do beat it, however, are cashmere and mohair. In fact, some clothing now comes in mohair/cashmere/tweed mixes and these can be very satisfactory: warm, light, weatherproof and, properly tailored, both comfortable and dazzling. And, on the subject of dazzling, all outfits should be subdued in colour. This does not mean that beige is the only option, but rural hues are de rigeur. So greens and browns predominate but an occasional dash of mauve or blue is acceptable.
Leather is another option. Biker trousers teamed with a distressed flying jacket will turn heads but not hares. Fur is not recommended, largely because it does not cope well with rain, but also because it can have an unsettling effect on some dogs. Boots are essential. Any wellies – other than the diamante festival specials, perhaps – will be fine but a dashing pair of Spanish riding boots will impress. And a hat. This is an area where a certain daring is permissible. Caps can be fetching, as can trilbies and racing felts – discreetly enhanced with a suitably pheasanty brooch perhaps – but don’t go too broad is my advice, because the shooting field can be a breezy place and you don’t want to be haring about trying to retrieve your titfer while shooting is proceeding.
I advise against loading for your lover. Loading is a skilled business and unless you have those skills it will not go well. There will be fumbles. And fumbles lead to words. Sometimes harsh words. And thence to rancour and beyond. If he asks you to grab the cartridge bag and shovel a few shells into his pocket, be my guest, but further assistance should be a no-no. Quite apart from which, loaders get paid and unpaid labour is not what relationships are all about.
The same rules apply to managing the dog. The dog, if it’s any good, should not need managing during a drive. It should be settled by its master and sit staring adoringly at him throughout operations until such time as it is instructed to commence picking up. If it needs to be restrained by you it should be at home. Probably with a good book.
Game shooting etiquette: Silence is golden
Where to stand? Or sit? It depends on what is being shot. If the quarry is partridge in the early part of the season then you should be close-ish to your gun. Only a couple of steps behind the peg. But bear in mind that he may have, on occasion, to turn and shoot behind so you should be ready to duck. Where pheasants are the principal objective it is better to stand a few paces further back. This will give you a better view. And it is important to concentrate here because – with any luck – birds will be plummeting hither and yon and you do not want to be clouted by one. So it is essential to keep your wits about you.
Occasional murmurs of appreciation and admiration will be welcome but avoid criticism. All guns have good days and less good days but they can tell the difference without assistance.
And while we are on the subject of plummeting birds, there arises the thorny issue of what to do if a wounded bird lands within striking distance.
If you are not willing to address the issue, this should be clearly understood by all parties from the off. Dispatching a wounded bird is not hard. The key is to carry a priest – for administering last rites. A priest is a small club, often of weighted staghorn or similar, about the size of a small rolling pin. In fact, a small rolling pin would do the trick splendidly. Grab the bird by the wings, or just plant your foot on it and apply a sharp whack to the back of the bonce. That should do it. If it doesn’t, re-apply with equal firmness until it does.
You don’t have to carry dead birds if you don’t want to, but there is something strangely bonding about collecting what the old hunter-gatherer has garnered and being prepared to do so will ensure you are fully integrated into the tribe. You can pop them down on his peg for the pickers-up to collect if carrying them to the game-cart is too much. All this apart, your usual charm and elegance will ensure that your presence will be welcomed.
One last thing. Shooting, especially if he has been shooting well, is a very basic and essential undertaking. Quite literally engaging the inner caveman. So you might find, later, that your partner’s vigour and energy are enhanced by the experience. Unless he has overdone the claret again, anyway.
PS. If you have any thoughts on how to enjoy a day out as a shooting companion then email the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org