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A shoot day invitation is always welcome, but can lead to concerns over etiquette. Should you accept if you can’t reciprocate? What about tips? Simon O’Leary has the answers...
Words: Simon O’Leary of Hownhall Shooting School | Pictures: Ben Wright Photography
Amazing really, if you consider the amount of extreme changes and trends that have evolved over the last 100 years, all relating to the way we live our lives. Technology has propelled us into a new age (discounting myself from this comment, as a truly committed Luddite). It is therefore quite refreshing that some traditions stand strong, and what better example exists than that of the approach of participants involved with a day in the field? It’s one of the few events that continue to uphold traditional values and good will, albeit with a subtle mix of technology relating to guns, cartridges and the water-repellent fabrics that clad the backsides of some!
Unless the world is about to end, an invite to shoot is to be entertained without fail. Death, marriage and divorce do hold weight over the decision of acceptance, otherwise... you’re going! God forbid you should need to bail from a particular date. If that happens, then a reply, certainly within 48 hours, is essential. This is good manners, keeping you well within the boundaries of respectability.
As a side note, I perceive invites as an example of friendship from one to another, and they are a wonderful thing indeed. However, they must not be treated as a precursor to a reciprocal arrangement. Some are less fortunate than others and a day in the field can be costly. I suggest the idea is that a gesture or offer of a relative gig should be dictated purely by kindness, not requirement – in other words, don’t feel you have to be able to return the favour in order to accept.
On the day, I like to give the beaters a bottle, enabling the individual a little ‘leg straightener’ at lunchtime, just to warm the innards of course. I will also take a bottle of ‘barrel straightener’ as a small quencher for my associated Guns. Not all partake, but it’s a nice gesture for those who do... It’s the little things!
Dress the part?
Appearance is important, as nearly all Guns make an effort. It is not a catwalk, nor a competition; looking like Toad of Toad Hall is absolutely not required. A lean towards country attire, with a clean shirt and a light demeanour will do just nicely.
And remember, leave the semi-auto and plastic wads well and truly at home! Looking smart shows that you are not only committed but respectful of that particular shoot.
Once on peg, the shooting of others’ birds is always irritating, unless of course you are with friends and it’s all combined within the day’s barracking. As a guest, it is always best to err on the side of caution and ‘let go’. There is nothing more off-putting than an over-hungry guest – I’ve experienced this before... it is not good. Remember why you’re part of the day, inhale the sum of its parts, not just the shooting. Momentarily watch the birds fly, give your neighbour a chance, or maybe leave a couple to fly overhead, allowing the back Gun to engage. All is seen as very sporting and indeed will be remembered.
Show your appreciation
The day rolls on, elevenses are consumed with vigour, further shooting is devoured and the day comes to a close. It is utterly essential, where possible, to thank the beaters. This is not always feasible, due to them being spread out, however, where possible, show acknowledgment and give praise. It goes without saying that without these souls, birds rarely fly!
A discussion in advance with your host will normally square away the amount required to tip the keeper. This figure is, of course, discretionary, although it’s always good to be informed, at least for continuity.
I think the old way was £20 per 100 birds shot. However, if you’ve had a belter of a day, based on the fact you felt that most birds were presented for you and you only, then pile on the cash. Normally, this is a matter of personal preference, but will definitely be met with a huge grin and would not need to be discussed with other Guns.
Just in case you haven’t noticed, this year has been slightly different. The way in which a day is run has now altered a little, to say the least. I was recently invited to The Colworth Shoot in West Sussex and was hugely impressed at their organisation relating to Covid-19. On arrival, a clearly marked parking area, hugely oversized relative to the amount of vehicles involved. Immaculate toilet facilities, again adhering to guidelines with sanitisers provided etc. On entering the meeting point (masked), our temperatures were taken and we were ushered through to a socially distanced external area. All staff were gloved and masked, and emitted an air of safety and committed management, not at all detracting from the atmosphere of the day. Elevenses and post-shoot lunch were all managed with the same professionalism, a huge readjustment strangely showing minimal change. I use this shoot as a case study purely due to the fact I was kindly invited... and of course took them the customary bottle of sloe gin! I know for a fact this is one of many local shoots (and I’m sure the same can be said of all shoots nationally) that follow the same line. Yet another example of the dedication and professionalism that resonates throughout our shooting community.
You must remember though, that if you were unsure of a detail or, worse still, felt that something or someone was not playing the game, a brief polite word with the host or shoot captain would see a swift realignment of procedure. Like general safety itself, Covid-19 compliance is non-negotionable and no-one is exempt. For me, one of the most annoying factors of our current climate is the ‘no handshaking’ rule. Super difficult when you’re meeting new people or acknowledging a thank you or associated praise, but rules are rules...
Just a note to conclude... I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again, remember to feel blessed when you’re in the field, more so if you’ve had a free invitation! There are many who would like to be in your boots, so remember to relax, breath and enjoy, and ensure you keep your hands to yourself... you’ve landed!
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