When The Field magazine published a feature on the 75 best game shots of 2012, eight of them (over 10%) were female, a situation which did not exist even a few years ago, and which reflects the increasing numbers of ladies who shoot, and shoot well. However, women were not always so willingly accepted on the Shooting Field, and Queen Victoria once opined ‘Only Fast Women Shoot’!
Meanwhile Sir Joseph Nickerson once famously, and accurately observed that, ‘A woman only knows she is a good shot when the men stop telling her she is’ – this quote is taken from his daughter, Rosie Nickerson’s book on shooting etiquette entitled, ‘How to be Asked Again’, published in 2009 by Quiller.
Game shooting is attracting more and more female participants, and is no longer the exclusive preserve of the alpha male! We thought it was time to look at this phenomenon, and try to provide good advice for any lady intent on joining the men in the shooting field. So, here is The Vintage Magazine’s Guide for ladies who would like to shoot, and we tell them where to go to learn the art of shooting, where to practice it, what to wear and which gun to buy.
The first matter to be addressed is where is the nearest, and most convenient Shooting School with qualified instructors?
There are hundreds all over the country, and it is worth taking advice from your local gunsmiths, or friends who shoot, who will know the local shooting school, and may be able to recommend suitable instructors.
There is a list of the better-known shooting schools below, and they all offer beginners’ courses, when you can use one of their guns, until you decide what type of gun you prefer, and many of them will help you get ‘fitted’ for it, and a few of them will happily sell it to you. However it is well worth ‘shopping around’, and not being afraid to ask what discount each retailer is willing to give. After all, you will be buying a lot more than a gun! In addition to a gun you will also need a gun slip, cleaning kit, ear defenders, a cartridge bag, boots and a boot bag, gloves, a hat, a waterproof coat, trousers (plus twos or plus fours), shirts, etc and this lot, without the gun, can easily cost from £2,000 to £5,000.
However, let’s start at the beginning. Below is a list of well-known shooting schools:
E.J.Churchill & Co are based at The West Wycombe Shooting grounds set in the heart of the rolling Chilterns less than 30 miles from central London. They have established a reputation for outstanding shooting facilities, friendly, professional and knowledgeable staff and have justly been voted the Best Shooting Grounds in the UK on four occasions. Led by the amiable Rob Fenwick, and his lovely wife, Jane, they are passionate about getting everyone involved in shooting.
Rob says, ‘It is now a very popular sport among ladies of all ages and hence we launched Hellfire Ladies. Every year we arrange lots of events specifically targeted for ladies, from catwalk shows, showing off the latest country fashion, to simulated game days and specific shooting events, hosted by The Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club which caters for all abilities. These events are intended to introduce ladies to the sport of shooting while meeting new people and sharing stories over tea and cake.’
E.J.Churchill, Park Lane, Lane End, High Wycombe, Bucks, HP14 3NS
T: 01494 883 227
The Royal Berkshire Shooting School was established over two decades ago, this School is recognised as one of the finest facilities of its kind in the country. This is a class act, with numerous stands for every possible combination of game bird stimulation, including grouse butts. It has a Gun Room and a shop with a wide range of clothing. This is the venue for numerous corporate events and charity shoots, and is only one hour from central London.
The Royal Berkshire Shooting School, Tomb Farm, West Berkshire, Nr. Reading RG8 8SD
T: 01491 672900
The West London Shooting School – They run the new Purdey Ladies Courses for beginners and novices which they started in 2010; a perfect way for ladies with busy lifestyles to get into shooting.
You can join them for three one hour lessons, booked at your convenience, which includes cartridges and clays. You will be then invited to join them and all the other Purdey Ladies for a friendly competition, followed by a Champagne reception, where the winner receives a Purdey Shooting Suit and the three runner ups are invited on one of their simulated days. The lessons can be booked between 12th August 2013 to 23rd June 2014. The next competition will be taking place on: 24th June 2014. Price: £275
N.B. They occasionally run a Special Offer of three lessons for the price of two!
The West London Shooting School, Sharvel Lane, West End Road, Northolt, Middlesex UB5 6RA
T: 020 8845 1377
Bisley Shooting Ground, was established over two decades ago, The Shooting School is recognised as again one of the finest facility of its kind. Employing seven full time, professional shooting instructors and having one of the most expansive shooting grounds in the country. Unfortunately, their website is currently being re-designed, but it is normally at:
Bisley Shooting Ground, Bisley Camp, Brookwood, Surrey, GU24 0NY
Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds were the first to teach ladies to shoot in 1995 with a special beginner’s course, entitled The Green Feathers Course. Since then, 1400 women have completed this course, which offers three lessons, followed by a competition day.
Their instructors are justly famous throughout the world for the quality of their tuition, concentrating on instinct and movement to develop a comfortable, natural technique suitable for any moving target.
Whether you are a novice shooter wanting to try the sport for the first time, or an experienced shot needing to brush up your skills, lessons are available 6 days a week and at 75 minute intervals, unlike other shooting grounds, ensuring a full hours instruction in the field.
Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds, Ducks Hill Road, Northwood, Middlesex HA6 2ST
To discuss your needs contact the Shooting Grounds.
T: 01923 825349
David Olive, is one of the most experienced and effective coaches in the UK, and has a loyal following, who quite often return for ‘refresher’ courses.
David can be found at Apsley Estate, Nr.Andover, Hants, SP11 6NA
T: 01794 388477
Assuming you intend buying your own gun you will first have to apply for a shotgun Licence. You need a firearms certificate issued by the police to possess, buy or acquire a firearm or shotgun. You must also have a certificate to buy ammunition.
How to apply
You can get a firearm or shotgun certificate application form from the firearms licensing unit of your local police force. They require you to obviously complete an application form, provide 4 passport photographs and have one referee for a shotgun licence but two referees for a firearm certificate and then of course there is the fee. A certificate usually lasts 5 years from the date it was issued or renewed.
Of course a shotgun licence is not just a matter of filling out a form and paying the fee, you also have to prove to the Chief of Police that you are worthy to hold a licence.
Buying your Gun
Once you have jumped through all the legal hoops you can now think about what type of gun will suit your needs.
Some of the shooting grounds have gunshops on the premises, or are associated with a particular gunmaker, such as William Evans at Bisley, so you can try out their guns at the shooting school, which makes life much easier.
Others, like the excellent E.J.Churchill shooting grounds at West Wycombe, have a gun shop on the premises, with an excellent stock of new (and second-hand) shotguns and rifles for sale.
Generally, women tend not to want to shoot with a twelve bore because of the weight. The most popular ‘ladies’ guns’ are a 20-bore or 28-bore, and you will still have to make the ultimate choice of ‘side-by-side’ or ‘over-and under’.
This is a purely personal choice, and many new shots find an ‘over-and-under’ simpler to use, and there are a wide range of guns available for beginners, with a good option being the Beretta ‘Silver Pigeon’ which retails at about £1500.
The best way to decide is to go to a shooting school where you can shoot with a wide range of guns, to find the one that suits you best; then you know what you are looking for, and can ‘shop around’ all the gunsmiths and gun wholesalers and retailers, to find the best deal.
There are a number of gun makers who produce 20-bore and 28- bore guns as side-by-side or over-and-under guns, and, of course some of these makers offer a bespoke service and will make guns to your exact specification, but this is be best left until you have had more experience of shooting game.
Gunmakers who make 20, and 28 bore shotguns, some made-to-measure:
If you want the ultimate in gunmaking perfection, look no further than James Purdey & Sons which was established in London in 1814, the year before the battle of Waterloo, and has always been at the forefront in its technological innovations. You will be in good company as every crowned head of Europe has been a customer of James Purdey & Sons.
One of the joys of owning a Purdey is the knowledge that, from the very first fitting, every element of the gun has been made entirely for you. When placing your order for a Purdey gun, you set in train a process of hand-crafting that may take up to two years to complete.
To properly understand your requirements, Purdey will arrange to take you to the West London Shooting Ground where they have been fitting their customers since the 1930s.
There, you’ll be fitted with a ‘try-gun’, and spend time shooting as they take your stock dimensions. The try-gun has an articulated and fully adjustable stock, allowing fine alterations to be made by the instructor, in order to achieve the perfect fit.
If time does not allow, they can take your stock dimensions in the Long Room at Audley House, where they use an electric try-gun originally devised by Harry Lawrence, to aid the convalescence of King George V.
When you visit them in Audley House, you will also have the opportunity to select the walnut stock blank that will be used for your gun.
James Purdey & Sons Ltd, Audley House, 57-58, South Audley Street, London W1K 2ED
T: 020 7408 7213
Holland and Holland
The importance of a correctly fitting gun cannot be too highly emphasised. Although it can be argued that it is possible to shoot with an ill-fitting gun, it must be obvious that a well fitted one will handle better in all circumstances and requires less body adaptation to achieve a successful shot.
The basis of good gun fitting lies in a combination of astute observation by the fitter, along with expert use of the try-gun, without which it will be impossible to successfully achieve a satisfactory result. A try-gun (of which they have a wide range in different calibres) is used to determine three sets of measurements – those of length, bend or drop, and cast (either on or off). All these measurements are needed if a new gun is being made, or an existing gun is to be restocked. One or more will be needed if an existing stock is to be altered.
The fitting requires a one-hour lesson to be booked and at the time of booking it is imperative you specify that you are booking for a fitting. The charge for the fitting is the same as a one-hour lesson, plus the cost of the cartridges and clays used. Should you be contemplating the purchase of a new or pre-owned gun, either from them or an alternative supplier, they strongly recommend that you avail yourself of their gun fitting service in order to get the maximum enjoyment from your new purchase.
To discuss your needs contact Holland & Holland:
T: 01923 825349
Other leading gunmakers include:
E. J. Churchill Gunmakers who have been synonymous with fine handmade English shotguns for over 120 years. Today E. J. Churchill still uphold these qualities throughout its range of the very best guns and rifles.
W: www.ejchurchill.com T: 01494 883 227
AYA – www.aya-fineguns.com E: email@example.com T: 01728-688555
William Evans – www.williamevans.com T: 020 8846 8849
William Powell – www.williampowell.com E: gunroom@william powell.co.uk T: 0844 573 0293
Browning – www.browning.eu Tel: 01235-574350
Westley Richards, Birmingham – www.westleyrichards.com T: 0121 333 1900
Beretta – www.beretta.com T: 020 7408 4411
c/o Ray Ward Gunsmiths T: 020 7235 2550
You might also consider buying a gun at one of the auctions which take place throughout the year, and the best ones are organised by Gavin Gardiner, www.gavingardiner.com in association with Sotheby’s, and normally take place in April (at Sotheby’s in London), in late August or early September, at Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, and in December at Sotheby’s in London.
You can read all about Gavin Gardiner under SPORTS – Shooting, in this magazine, which also has his contact details, and he will be pleased to advise you on suitable guns in his auctions.
Second-hand guns, or as political correctness would have it: ‘previously owned’ guns! Most of the gunmakers referred to above, will also stock second-hand guns, and there are a few specialist retailers who sell second-hand guns; these are:
Ray Ward still make guns, but also sell a wide range of other makes including traditional English shotguns, and European and North American guns.
Ray Ward Gunsmiths, 12, Cadogan Place, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 9PU
T: 0207 255 7702
Jason Abbot is another well-known Gunmaker who also sells a wide selection of high quality second-hand guns, who has years of experience, and is one of the best game shots in the country. He has his many fans, and is a dedicated countryman whose passion is shooting, so if you want a personal service, then Jason is your man.
Jason Abbott, The Swan, High Street, Tetsworth, Oxfordshire, OX97AB
T: 01844 281 765
The Outfit and Accessories
Having dealt with all the serious stuff, the Lady Gun can then have an absolute ball choosing all the clothing and accessories The hunting, shooting and fishing ‘look’ is really ‘IN’ at the moment, so here are some tips on finding the best clothing and accessories imaginable.
Specialist Sporting outfitters in London include: James Purdey
HOLLAND & HOLLAND OUTFITS
But there are dozens of good provincial shops selling country clothing.
There also a huge number of smaller companies offering a similar service, and one of the best of these is: Field Moor and Stream, who have an internet shop, and an actual shop in a barn at Rogate near Petersfield on the Hampshire/Sussex border.
E: firstname.lastname@example.org and it is best to telephone in advance and make an appointment; this is gentlemanly behaviour, and personal service at its best.
Finally after the gun has been chosen and fitted and of course licensed; you have been through your chosen shooting course at one of the respected Shooting Schools; the outfit has been chosen and admired, now is the time to become familiar with the ‘rules’ of this particular sport.
One way is to attend a Simulated Clay Days. Once you have progressed to a reasonable level of competency with your instructor, the next thing worth trying is to go on one of these days, where you shoot as part of a team of guns on a number of ‘drives’, on an estate, just like a formal shoot, except that you will have hundreds of clays put over you to simulate driven birds on a proper shoot.
This is an excellent way to get used to the ‘form’ on a proper shoot, like drawing pegs, and learning about the safety aspects of being on a formal shoot, including not to ‘steal’ your neighbour’s birds, or shoot ‘low’ birds, and, unlike the ‘real thing’, you are guaranteed to have hundreds of ‘birds’, to shoot at.
E.J. Churchill, which is considered to be one the best clay set-ups in the UK. They offer several packages from £265 pp plus VAT for a 5000 day, unlimited cartridges, team photo, £395 per person excluding VAT
T: 01494 883808
West London Shooting School: Estates include Ashcombe, Wilts, Great Tew, Oxon; Chevenage, Glos, Bereleigh, Hants. From £256 plus VAT per person
T: 020 8845 1377
Really Wild Clay Company at the Royal Berkshire Shooting School, estates include: West Woodhay, and Highclere Castle, Berks, Well Barn and Kingston Lisle , Oxon; and Stanage, Salop. Cost ‘Keepers Day’ £199, plus VAT, per head, ‘Owners’ Day’ with unlimited clays and cartridges, £6,000, plus VAT .
Kelbrook Shooting School, Colne, Lancs, (woodland adjacent to Grouse Moor) From £100 per head incl VAT
T: 01282 861 1632
W: www.kelbrookshooting.co.uk (Do not let the reasonable price put you off!
Drummond Estate, Perthshire: Costs £165 inc VAT per person, based on eight guns shooting, includes bacon roll, elevenses
T: 01764 681257
Smoking Barrels: Rutland Leics, £235 inc VAT cartridges, coffee, elevenses, lunch and post-shoot meal, up to 16 guns.
T: 07802 497799.
E: Maxwell Jacques at email@example.com
Plummer Dixon Associates: Venues include Wherwell Priory, Hants, Chavenage, Glos, Leighton Hill, Lancs, Hampden House, Bucks, Wrackleford Estate, Dorset, and Catton Hall, Debyshire, Costs from £20 per person excl VAT.
T: 01451 844714
Wrackleford Estate, – this 1,700 acre estate is set in the unspoilt deep chalk valleys of Dorset. Owned by the Pope brewing dynasty and now ably run by Oliver Pope, there is an amazing shooting lodge at the apex of the Wessex Downs with panoramic views of Hardy Country towards the sea at Lulworth Cove
It is a good idea to be well-briefed in the Etiquette of Shooting, so that you can relax and enjoy your shooting to the full, and the best set of rules for Game Shooting are contained in a ‘A Father’s Advice’ and I reproduce it below
A Father’s Advice
If a sportsman true you’d be
Listen carefully to me. . .
Never, never let your gun
Pointed be at anyone.
That it may unloaded be
Matters not the least to me.
When a hedge or fence you cross
Though of time it cause a loss
From your gun the cartridge take
For the greater safety’s sake.
If twixt you and neighbouring gun
Bird shall fly or beast may run
Let this maxim ere be thine
“Follow not across the line.”
Stops and beaters oft unseen
Lurk behind some leafy screen.
Calm and steady always be
“Never shoot where you can’t see.”
You may kill or you may miss
But at all times think this:
“All the pheasants ever bred
Won’t repay for one man dead.”
Keep your place and silent be;
Game can hear, and game can see;
Don’t be greedy, better spared
Is a pheasant, than one shared.
If you follow these rules, you will not go far wrong, although there are some other important rules governing the use of the gun, how to hold it, and open and close it. This sounds simple, but so many people get it wrong.
The Etiquette of Shooting has been the cause of many a misunderstanding, and some of those who are new to the Art of Shooting do not fully appreciate that.
The shooting code is based on common sense, in as much as it is decidedly dangerous, as well as impolite, to ‘steal’ your neighbour’s birds, just as all the rules passed down from one generation to the next are designed to prevent the extinction of the species, as much as for the social niceties.
Fortunately, there are many ways in which shooting enthusiasts can express their individuality, through their dress, their choice of guns, and many other small, but significant eccentricities, but the one area where we all have to conform is in observing the rules which have evolved with the development of the sport.
As with all sports, it is advisable to look after your equipment and particularly in the case of shooting it is imperative from the safety aspect. A good gun, well maintained, will last a lifetime, or several, so it is worth taking the trouble to look after it properly. Investing in a really good gun cleaning kit is highly recommended as your gun should be cleaned immediately after every shoot, or whenever you use it, and as soon as the gun is clean and dry, putting it back in your gun cabinet, where it can be safely locked away. As well as careful maintenance an annual service by an experienced gunsmith is essential.
However, if you are one of the fortunate few who get invited on shoots where you have a loader for the day, he or she, will normally take care of all this, and present you with a clean gun before you leave, so make sure you tip them well.
On one Ducal shoot, I returned not only you find my gun cleaned, but my car cleaned inside and out, and looking like new, but I hasten to add this is far from the norm, so please do not expect such spoiling on your local shoot!
Whilst on the subject of tipping, it is always best to ask your host’s advice if you are unsure, although a good guide is to tip the Keeper £20 per 100 birds shot, so, on a 200-bird day, you should tip him at least £40, and so on.
With reference to loaders, if these are provided by your host, then, again, seek his guidance on a suitable tip, but a loader would reasonably expect to be paid a minimum wage of say £10 per hour, so if he is with you from 9am to 4pm, a tip of £70 would not be unreasonable!
Good loaders will also give you helpful hints about your shooting if you invite their opinion, and many of them are also qualified instructors, so their advice is worth heeding. They are also a source of ‘local’ knowledge and will tell you how the birds tend to fly on each drive, which can be invaluable information.
So, as you will realise from the above, there is no such thing as a free day’s shooting, and even if you are invited on a modest day, with no loaders, you will still not get much change from £150 after you have taken into account, the Keeper’s tip say £40, and 250 cartridges will cost between £45 and £85 depending on type, load, and where you buy them, but an average of £65 per 250 cartridges would not be unreasonable
In fact, short of Helicopter Skiing and Ocean Racing, game shooting has got to be up there with the most expensive sports that you can take up, with the cost of a 300 bird day on a good estate costing around £15,000, that is £1875 per gun, plus tips and cartridges, quickly takes the cost to £2000 for the day, plus petrol and accommodation if staying at an hotel the night before shoot, so £2500 would be about right, multiplied by say 30 days a season amounts to £75,000 pa.
However, as my very good South African friend says, it is still ‘the most fun you can have with your pants on’, although I am not sure how that translates for the ladies!
Anyway, having perfected your shooting technique, and bought the full kit, it is time to find out where you can put all this into practice on a proper game shoot.
If you do not already know shoots where you might be invited, then it is helpful to look at one of the many shooting magazines and websites which offer game shooting all over the country, and there is a company called ‘Guns on Pegs’ www.gunsonpegs.com which will help find you a place on a shoot.
There is also a website dedicated to helping and advising Lady Shots, called ‘The Shooting Society’ founded and run by Claire Zambuni, the High Priestess of female shooting, who describes below how she came to found it. This is a lady who is an inspiration to all aspiring lady shots:-
Eight years ago I founded The Shooting Society to encourage others to share my passion for the sport.
I don’t come from a shooting background, nor do I have a gumboots-and-Labrador partner but a decade ago I was encouraged to book myself onto Holland & Holland’s Green Feathers Course for lady shots.
I had no idea what to wear, so pitched up in combat trousers, a biker’s jacket and army boots only to be greeted by ladies in fitted tweed jackets, Hermes scarves and cashmere jumpers. However, I persisted, learnt a great deal from supportive friends and wanted to try game shooting.
But it’s a very big and daunting step from clays to the mysteries of formal driven shooting. I soon discovered that others felt exactly the same so I started The Shooting Society for my club in London, Home House on Portman Square.
The social side to shooting is so phenomenal. I have made some of my closest friends through shooting over the past 10 years and we have enjoyed some incredible experiences in the UK and abroad.
Shooting is now a real passion of mine and I am fully immersed in the shooting world. I eat what I shoot and you won’t find fresher more organic meats than this. Human beings have hunted for a lot longer than they’ve been buying chickens from Asda – hunting is the most natural things in the world.
I now write a monthly column for ‘The Shooting Gazette’, am a former member of the council of the BASC, and Chairman of the charity, Fishing for Heroes.
I am also a Freeman of the City of London and a member of The Worshipful Company of Gunmakers.
Finally, I ought, immodestly, to add that I’m also in The Field’s Top Shots list.
All Claire’s team share her passion for shooting, conservation and throwing an amazing party, and here is a sample of what they get up to, from their website, and I particularly like the ‘Club Rules!’
The Covert Girls (with a silent t….of course) is a girl’s only shooting club for women who shoot or want to learn how to shoot.
Whether you have never picked up a gun before or your father taught you to clean his Purdey before you could walk, The Covert Girls events are fun and specially tailored to the discerning woman.
Anyone can join and gain confidence shooting with like-minded girls before inviting the men to play too. If you have always wanted to break into a traditionally male-dominated sport in a relaxed manner and enjoy events with a feminine touch then this is the club for you.
Events have included dinners in private member’s clubs with guest speakers, game shoots on exclusive estates with instructors provided for the less experienced to lunch and a shoot at a top London shooting school, followed by champagne and shopping at exclusive London gun dealers and shooting outfitters. We like to be spoilt.
- To never keep your lipstick in your cartridge pocket
- To poach each other’s birds mercilessly, but never one’s men
- To always acquire and shoot weapons that are beyond one’s financial means
- To support fellow Covert Girls at all times
- All loaders must be male, hot, extremely attentive and know how to dress in white tie
Advice is given on what to wear, etiquette and everything needed to experience the best of what shooting has to offer.
Anyway, the above gives you a flavour of game shooting, but when all the training is done, and the shooting outfit is complete, and the simulated days are done, then it is time to experience that adrenaline rush when the first covey of Partridge or Grouse comes wheeling towards you, and you have to ‘pick’ your bird, and get a good line on it, whilst that ultimate computer which is the human brain, makes its calculations about distance, speed, and direction, and you have to give the bird just the right amount of ‘lead’, but also keep the gun swinging at the right pace, and pull the trigger at just the right moment, and you see the bird ‘fold’ as soon as it is hit, indicating a ‘clean shot’, and fall to the ground, then you will know what it is to feel the satisfaction of a beautifully executed kill, but do not rest on your laurels, because the next birds are on their way!
Welcome to the world of game shooting!
Robert Jarman – Editor & Founder of The Vintage Magazine