This time two weeks ago it was ‘set-up’ day for the Game Fair. Four of us were on our way to Ragley Hall to assemble The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club stand and, hopefully, have a successful couple of days enticing even more women to get out there and try clay pigeon shooting. We rocked up late afternoon with two cars full of merchandise and decorations. My decorative contributions to the stand were somewhat under appreciated; one clay and a vase of pinecones. I’m still not sure why I thought they would bring in the crowds but that’s what you get when you pack having opened a bottle of champs…
After a few hours, the stand was starting to take shape but it soon became very clear that I was far better at the heavy lifting than with the decorative element. After placing pictures in all the wrong places and having the complete wrong idea about where merchandise should go, I gave up!
I really enjoyed my four days at Ragley Hall. Firstly, the social side was great and a particular highlight has to be The Game Changer party on the Friday night. Organised by Zambuni PR, Chelsea Thoroughbreds, Bettws Hall and Orvis, it was tipped to be the party of the Game Fair and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I hadn’t actually seen dad or Jack for about two months so what better way to catch up and have some banter than while supping on Pol Roger, sat in the back of the Orvis Land Rover?!
Secondly, it was also great to get some bargains ahead of the game season and a welcome opportunity to catch up with friends without the distractions of being on your peg or in a clay ground. However, what I enjoy most is the speaking to and meeting the Game Fair visitors. I felt that there was a different type of footfall this year, this could have been a result of our position in a very busy stretch of Gunmakers Row, meaning that we actually just had greater footfall than last year, but what was clear is that there is still plenty of room for ladies shooting to grow! I spoke to so many ladies (and their other halves) who were attending their first Game Fair or who had never tried shooting, but had heard about the Club and wanted to give it a try. One lady was actually referred to us by her Dentist! It was also great to see how many men were popping by to pick up details for daughters, wives, girlfriends, daughters-in-law and the like. I think ladies shooting certainly has its feet under the Fieldsports industry table but there is still so much more room to grow.
The ladies passing by our stand fell into one of four categories: (1) not interested in shooting at all, (2) tried shooting and given it up for some reason, (3) already a keen shot and interested in taking it further or (4) they were already a member! Some women (and men too) have just never thought about trying shooting or haven’t found a way into it. For others, they’ve tried it but either a passing remark was made on their shooting which knocked their confidence, or the gun didn’t fit properly so they couldn’t enjoy the day or they suffered recoil and so were put off. All of these reasons are things that can be corrected and it’s taking the time to engage with others, showing that there are ladies are out there shooting and explaining that their one experience does not determine their ability which makes all the difference.
On the whole, by standing in front of our stand explaining what may have caused their experience and reassuring them about trying again, most of the ladies I spoke to were ready to sign up and get back out there. The most common questions or feedback I received at the Game Fair was around recoil, fear of the stock hurting faces, ladies accompanying their partners to a local shoot and lacking confidence or that a man, at some point along the way, has made a passing remark about that lady’s ability which has caused her to put down her gun. This is something we can change! Be mindful of new starters, take the time to understand what is motivating them or the root of any nerves but also remember that everyone started somewhere. What resonated the most with me about this is that with a bit of education to non-shooters, we can get the message out there that clay pigeon shooting is a lot of fun and can be an incredibly inclusive sport! It does not matter on age, background, height, weight or sex. All of this can be, and is, accommodated for. With a sprinkle of confidence to those who have been put off, we can call them back. Taking some time to explain and positively promote our sport and industry is crucial to our growth – but it has to be a team effort from everyone.
Having said that, it is not just about educating others, actually, we need to make sure that we are educating ourselves too. Can you answer (honestly) and in the affirmative to the following: Do you know how to disassemble, clean and reassemble your gun? Do you understand chokes? Can you select the right cartridge for your sport or quarry? Do you know how a shotgun works? If you are a game shooter, do you fully understand your quarry? It is this basic level of knowledge that helps not only make you an integral part of the shooting community, but will build your respect and credibility to others outside of the community. Here are a few links which can help beginners:
- Fur, Feather & Fin – ‘Cartridges explained’
- Shooting UK – ‘How a shotgun cartridge works’
- Shooting UK – ‘Which Game Cartridge’
- The Field – ‘Guide to Shotgun Choke’
- Napier of London – ‘How to Clean a Shotgun’ youtube video
- BASC – Pocket Quarry Identification Guide
As part of positively promoting the sport of shooting, it is important to take the time to explain to others outside of the shooting sphere. In London, while there are definitely those who actively participate in a variety of fieldsports, there are far more who do not. I have had many a conversation about shooting, the pros and cons of fieldsports and even have a friend who, every time I meet her, tells me how she disagrees with shooting. I completely respect those opinions but I feel very passionately about getting the other side of the story out there. There are so many myths and misconceptions around shooting which ever prevalent every year in the build up to the 12th August.
The 12th August is referred to, in the Fieldsports community, as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ as it marks the start of the grouse season – which in turn marks the start of the game season. There are a lot of people who feel incredibly strongly against game shooting and the Glorious Twelfth rouses a lot of emotion; especially given the amount of adverse publicity it receives. There will always be people that cannot understand or comprehend game shooting, and I respect that, but there are those which have formed an opinion based on what they have seen which, historically, has been incredibly one sided. This year more than ever, the Fieldsports industry has tried to emphasise the benefits of grouse shooting including BASC and Jonathan McGee producing short films explaining the positives from both economic and conservation perspectives. If you have not already watched these, please take a few minutes to do so:
I would also recommend that you read The Telegraphs article as this is a very balanced portrayal of grouse shooting and moorland management.
But should the public perception of grouse shooting matter to anyone from the shooting or Fieldsports community who will not be visiting a moor this season? Answer: yes. I respect all opinions as long as they are formed from an assessment and understanding of both sides. My issue with the reporting on grouse shooting is that there is a dominance of those who oppose grouse shooting with very little recognition of the benefits. But I guess this could be said about shooting generally. Due to this imbalance there is even more responsibility on all of us to try and communicate the positives – and that is why anyone in the Fieldsports community should care about the perception of grouse shooting in the press.
I have found that taking the time to explain and educate those who are not involved in Fieldsports as to the ‘why’ and the benefits of this way of life actually helps non-shooters understand why Fieldsports are imperative to conservation and sustainability. For example, very few people understand that Fieldsports – and shooting in particular – are based on the principles of respect, conservation, tradition and responsibility. Even fewer understand that the countryside needs management and this is the motivating factor, not just an thirst for “blood sports”. I have had many a conversation with friends in London on this topic and when I answer their questions, they are usually taken aback. I have heard “Oh I didn’t know that” on numerous occasions – and that’s the point. In fact, one friend of mine used to be a vegetarian until she learnt the respect that game shoots pay their quarry, how important it is to anyone in this industry to know where their food has come from and to ensure it has had a good life, but that we also take responsibility for all stages of food – including preparing the birds and cooking them afterwards.
It is this latter stage which actually means the most to me. Yes I do game shoot. Yes I do come from a family who live off the land, so to speak. I do this because I do not believe in the ethics or morality in eating animals – or their byproducts – that have been cooped up their entire lives. I want to take responsibility for where my food comes from. This is an ethos which has seen several of my vegetarian friends decide to dally in meat eating every now and then. It is either from a local butcher or something I have brought home, because we can both vouch for the farm or the life that the animal has had.
The more that we can understand our world, the more that we can educate others. As I have said, there will be those who cannot understand the loss of an animal’s life to become a food source, which I entirely respect. I am not saying that we should aim to convince everyone, but let’s get our message out there and give the non-shooting community chance to make up their own minds. Take whatever opportunity you can to show that shooting, even just clay pigeon shooting, is not a bad thing to be part of.