From lateness and badly behaved dogs to poaching and peg loitering, there are umpteen ways to ensure your first visit to a game shoot is also your last says Giles Catchpole
Bad manners in the field
What time is this?
Lateness is a serious sin. Mark you, earliness can be quite embarrassing if you stride into the kitchen roaring for coffee and bacon sarnies to find your hostess, still in her nightie, surrounded by last night’s washing up, poking forlornly at the fire and roaring at the dog and her useless husband to rouse themselves because their so-called friends will be turning up at any moment for another bloody shoot.
The worst reason for lateness will be following the satnav’s advice, which will inevitably lead you down a progressively muddier and narrower track where you will either get hopelessly bogged down or drive into a river.
However, seeing a lot of tweedy chaps standing around in a farmyard is no guarantee you are in the right place. I have got as far as drawing a peg among a group of perfectly agreeable – but nonetheless total – strangers before it was gently pointed out that the place I was expected was the house some few miles farther along the road.
Having once arrived it’s ill advised to immediately let the dog out of the car. It will forthwith deliver a steaming five-coiler onto the freshly raked gravel, which is a sin that can only be magnified by collecting a hefty dollop on your shoe before striding down the hall and into the gun room surrounded by an unseemly pong and leaving the full horror of your passage behind you in a series of pungent footprints on the otherwise spotless Wilton.
Do you have a gun?
Having consumed coffee and buns you return to the car to find that you have a gun and cartridges but no fore-end. Or a complete gun but the wrong cartridges. Or no gun. Your gunslip is still hanging on the back of the hall chair.
You have one Wellington boot, no hat and the dog has registered its resentment at being left alone in the car by eating your ear defenders.
Your host and his less disorganised friends will doubtless be able to remedy these glaring omissions but no one likes a cadger. It slows things down and it embeds in the minds of those other guests, who do not know you well, that if he is this shambolic when he is packing, whatever is he going to be like on the peg with a loaded gun and birds flying in all directions?
He goes on a bit…
We all acknowledge that the real reason that we shoot is for the camaraderie. This does not extend, however, to putting up with a fellow Gun accompanying you to your peg and then loitering around explaining how he came to leave half his belongings at home when all you want to do is unship your gun, settle your dog, stretch your shoulders and focus on dealing with the brightest and best that the keeper can throw at you. There is a time to chat and a time to shoot, n’est-pas? Going on is definitely bad manners in the field.
Badly behaved gundogs
And while we are on the subject of dogs, I must declare an interest here. I have to admit that I carry a corkscrew. Yes, I bear the mark of shame of the inadequate dog trainer.
In his defence, he might stay if something falls a way off. But if it lands only a few feet away he’s going to have it. No question. Especially if it twitches. Or leaps about. So, I admit it, my dog is pegged. Not everyone pegs their dogs though, do they? “Sent it to one of the top trainers in the country, you know. Cost a mint but it’s worth it, I say. Marvellous!”
Not so blooming marvellous as it careers past you in full cry half way through the drive in pursuit of your neighbour’s neighbour’s bird. As often as not lugging a cartridge bag behind it and strewing shells as it goes.
It is worse still when the blasted thing pauses to pick-up my birds which my dog is expecting to collect at the end of the drive. My dog is content to bide his time until the whistle goes. Not happy, but content. But when he sees his birds being collected – mid-drive, mark you – by an interloper, he is not going to take that lying down. Or quietly.
I venture that even those wonderdogs that do sit throughout a busy drive gazing adoringly at their owners without so much as a twitch as the birds plummet around them would find their iron self-discipline under sufficient pressure that before you can say “Hi lost!” the entire line descends into a lot of red-faced men peeping their whistles and roaring at the tops of their voices.
Greed is bad
By elevenses the early good humour of your fellow Guns will be under considerable stress. So hauling out a gallon flask of whisky and a mug as an alternative to the shot glasses of sloe gin which the host has laid out on the tailgate is only going to push things further. As does grabbing handfuls of sausages while asserting that they might assist your hangover and stuffing your pockets with Mars bars.
Don’t pinch birds
Once the battue is resumed let us consider the shooting sins. Poaching is acceptable between friends. Good friends, that is, who have agreed to compete before the day even began. Between anyone else it is an abomination.
It is also a sin that is, to some extent, diluted by stylish success. Blatting unfeasible birds at astonishing distances is one thing. Half-blatting the same bird just as someone else is about to elegantly despatch it is quite another.
At the same time, butchery will also not win you friends. So if you can’t manage the high, wide and handsome, don’t take it out on the little cheepers which can barely clamber over the hedge in front of you.
And if you are ever going to shoot a hare, well, make damn sure that you bowl it over first time. Not many people do it now, but those who do will know what I’m talking about.
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Car crash behaviour
Do not put your dog, which has just retrieved a long runner from across the swamp, into the passenger seat of someone else’s Range Rover. It’s not polite. On the other hand, if someone else does it to you, don’t whine. It’s a Range Rover.
Similarly, don’t bleat when you sideswipe the narrow gateposts. If you can’t drive it, don’t bring it.
Don’t overdo the claret at lunch. Don’t comment loudly on the pheasants, the beaters, your fellow Guns or their wives and girlfriends. Don’t rush off at the end of the day or forget to thank the beaters and pickers-up. Don’t forget to tip the gamekeeper – generously – and take your brace at the end of the day even if you have freezer-full at home already. And always, always write to say thank you afterwards.
I would say, at this point, that this pretty much covers everything, but of course it doesn’t. It probably covers the main possibilities but there are any number of further bear-traps and pratfalls just waiting for the unwary. So mind how you go and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you. It’s a minefield, when you think about it.