There’s nothing as quintessentially British as a day out shooting, dressed in your finest tweed in the fresh air, surrounded by rolling countryside… With easy access to a range of wonderful estates from London, it’s little wonder that more people are trying out the traditional rural sport
Organising a day out shooting for you and friends is simple. Shotgun shooting is split into two main sections: game and clay pigeon. At the top end of game is grouse, where the season starts in August on the famous Glorious Twelfth. Birds are pushed over shooters by beaters, people on foot. But if grouse is not on the cards, there’s also partridge and pheasant, the seasons of which start later, in September and October respectively.
‘If you’ve never shot before, book yourself a course of lessons at your nearest shooting school,’ says Jonathan Young, editor of The Field magazine. ‘Most people with decent hand-to-eye co-ordination can learn the basics in 10 sessions, though the naturally gifted can do it in five.’
Organising a clay shoot is easy, as booking lessons at a local centre doesn’t require a licence or your own gun. Centres such as West London Shooting School in Northolt or EJ Churchill in Buckinghamshire will arrange classes for beginners. Once you’ve progressed through this it’s time for the countryside.
‘It is best to use a credible sporting agent who will talk you through the process and ensure you find a shoot which will live up to your expectations,’ says Mathew Latchford of Roxtons, a top-end company which organises a wide range of shoots around the country.
‘Agents are also excellent at ensuring all the details are taken care of, such as transport, instructors, gun hire, lunches, any other special requirements.’ Latchford recommends starting with clays, which mimic game birds, to understand the handling of a gun and learn about safety.
‘If you do want to start with pheasants or partridges look for a day with a reasonable quantity,’ he adds, ‘it is really difficult to get going if you only have a handful of opportunities.’
The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club offer a ladies only introduction into clay shooting. It has an international following and has brought around 10,000 women into the sport. ‘Shooting is such a diverse and inclusive sport, it’s addictive, exhilarating and anyone can get involved,’ says founder Victoria Knowles-Lack. ‘The tradition in the UK makes for a truly memorable day where the occasion is just as important as the actual sport.
Never be afraid to admit that you’re a novice – we all were once
‘So never be afraid to admit that you’re a novice – we all were once. Tell your host that you’re new to the sport and they will usually be able to arrange a ‘minder’ for you, an experienced shot who will be able to tell you which birds are safe and which are yours, as well as providing a gun and cartridges. It’s also a good idea to be insured and most people belong to a shooting association that has this as a membership benefit.’
The sport does come at a financial cost though, as on average most game shooting days can cost around £1,500 to £2,500 per person. ‘It is certainly not a cheap hobby but a very rewarding and sociable one that will last a lifetime,’ says Latchford. ‘Like all other country sports, shooting allows you to access the countryside which you wouldn’t be able to enjoy otherwise which is a huge part of its appeal for many.’
Tipping is an integral part of game shooting and you are expected to tip the game keeper at the end of the shoot to show your appreciation for the day, a general guide is around £20 to £30 per 100 birds.
Shooting is a country sport with a deep and rich history, and due to its nature etiquette is focal point. However, this is really is just basic manners and things like thanking the shoot staff is wise.
‘Politeness is key, no one likes a rude neighbouring gun,’ says Knowles-Lack. ‘Pinching your neighbour’s birds is a huge ‘no no’. Things like running out of cartridges mid drive, being on your phone and shooting low birds are not good either.’
Ultimately nothing should come ahead of safety, though. ‘It’s imperative that you keep your gun facing forward at all times, never have a closed gun that’s out of its slip, even if you know it’s empty,’ warns Knowles-Lack. ‘It’s also highly recommended to check down your barrels before you load to ensure there are no blockages.’
Shooting is hugely traditional and it’s seen as proper to dress smartly and practically in respect of your quarry
It is however, prudent to be correctly kitted out, so a trip to Purdey in Mayfair, William Evans in St James’s or from online outfitters like Really Wild and Fur, Feather and Fin are in order. Shooting is hugely traditional and it’s seen as proper to dress smartly and practically in respect of your quarry. Shooting skirts can be a nice touch, but are not essential, for ladies, as moleskin trousers will suffice.
Jonathan Young says not to worry too much about attire if you’re just starting out. ‘If you’re a novice, you don’t need a battery of tweed breeks and jackets, but you will need decent gumboots, a hat and a waterproof coat,’ he says. ‘If you’re a man, you’ll need to wear a tie too.
The essence of all shooting kit is to blend in with the countryside – so green and browns predominate – and to be smart, not because we wish to be ‘formal’ but because it shows respect to the birds we shoot.’
The UK’s Shooting Seasons
Pheasant: 1 Oct-1 Feb
Partridge: 1 Sept-1 Feb
Red Grouse: 12 Aug-10 Dec
Black Grouse: 20 Aug-10 Dec
Duck and Goose: 1 Sept-31 Jan
No shooting on Sundays or Christmas Day