Anyone who yearns to rub shoulders with the landed gentry, wealthy weekenders from the city, High Court judges, acclaimed thespians and the like, or even minor royalty, should seriously consider taking the plunge into the elite world of country sports, unique idiosyncrasies ; albeit often cold and wet! There are however some necessary attributes for the country sportsman.

First, and most important of all, gun sense. Even if you yourself don’t shoot learn to keep well out of the line of fire. Second, be sure you always stay alert.

You will need to possess the ability to assess situations quickly and, if appropriate, follow instructions calmly without question from those in authority such as a head-keeper or huntsman. Field sports can be highly dangerous and it is always safer to trust the professionals when in a tight spot.

Thirdly, and probably most important of all, when taking part in country sports it is important to remember your manners, especially in the excitement of the chase, when it is alarmingly easy to forget that there are other people waiting to jump a hedge or pot a low flying bird. Many nasty or even fatal accidents could have been easily avoided if a little more patience or consideration had been applied at the time.

It is said that good sportsmen are born, not made, but you can go a long way down the line to improving your expertise, simply by using your eyes. For example don’t ride your horse over bright green or yellow turf; it invariably will be a deep bog.

Follow sheep tracks on rough ground; animals always know the best route. Don’t get in front of the beaters on a shoot or the birds will fly the wrong way. Keep well downwind of the deer when out stalking and if you lose the hunt and you and your horse are hopelessly lost, look around for alert or scattered livestock; they will hear the hounds even if you can’t.

Other useful skills to smooth your path are: an ability to make a tourniquet from your hunting stock (essential after a battle with the anti-hunt mobs), appearing spellbound by monosyllabic ghillies and perfecting the art of remaining unflinching when several over-affectionate, damp gundogs, with severe halitosis, insist on sharing the only remaining seat in His Lordship’s Land Rover.

The latter attribute can take many years of determined desensitisation if you are not born of a great family. A well-aimed kick is rarely a substitute, as the dogs will first attract attention from the doting owner and then craftily fix their uncomfortable assailant with hurt brown eyes.

Anyone wishing to become socially accepted in the British countryside must understand the long-standing and important rule that on most country estates working dogs generally rate higher in the pecking order than wives or children.

There are several other country sports faux pas that are equally unforgivable in this carefully structured, almost obsolete, society. It is worth knowing, for instance, that it is just not done to shoot another chap’s bird (this is more offensive than stealing his wife) neither is it ‘quite the ticket’ to wear bright clothes or shout loudly up on the grouse moor.

Bragging in the game book is frowned upon, as is forgetting to tip the head keeper at the end of the day; even if you found that he was far more snobbish than his employer.

Hooking out your host’s salmon with a worm when you think no one is looking is grounds for social divorce; but there is no crime so heinous as allowing your horse to kick a hound whilst out hunting. The penalty for this public disgrace is usually to be banished from the field immediately with the offending mount. It was not unknown, in times past, for even some of the most powerful landowners to be sent home from their own land with the Master’s insults still bellowing in the wake of their departure.

Hound shows, hunt balls, country fairs and point-to-points, etc. are all useful ways to meet fellow sportsmen, become accepted in the field sports fraternity and eventually receive generous offers of a horse to hunt, a river to fish or a moor to shoot.

For those keen sportsmen who gain their ‘spurs’ and are awarded the ultimate privilege, namely an invitation to stay at a large country estate to participate in ‘a spot of shooting’ be warned. Take heed. Whatever else you pack, don’t forget your thermals. English ancestral homes are infamous for their poor heating systems.

The gentry are raised in the ‘Nanny knows best’ ethos and over the centuries have developed a natural immunity to damp, cold and plain discomfort. If times are hard there is sometimes only one decent open fire in the whole house and don’t always expect to get near this either; the sitting room fire is often hogged by the master’s gundogs; most of which are wet and, worse still, incredibly smelly after all the fun of the day’s sport.

Another useful tip is: be aware that it is ill-advised to partake of too much liquid near to bedtime. Bedrooms in these great houses are rarely en-suite and the nearest bathroom could well be three long, dingy corridors away; with plumbing so antiquated and protracted that a simple act of relief is enough to wake the dead.

A fair degree of fitness is required for the country weekend as, apart from sport and eating and drinking, there isn’t much else to do except walking and then more eating and drinking. Be prepared to be shown the far-flung corners of the estate – on foot!

When it is finally time to leave don’t forget to ‘thank’ the staff who will be hovering at a discreet distance. A few crisp twenty pound notes will normally suffice and keep you in favour for next time. Thanking the staff, incidentally, is even more important than thanking your hostess, as good staff are considered nearly as valuable as a good gundog!

USEFUL COUNTRY SPORTS ADDRESSES

CLA Game Fair
www.gamefair.co.uk

Clay Pigeon Association
Edmonton House, National Shooting Centre
Brookwood
Woking,
Surrey GU24 0NP
Tel: 01483 485400
www.cpsa.co.uk

Country Land & Business Association
16 Belgrave Square
London
SW1X 8PQ
Tel: 0207 235 0511
www.cla.org.uk

Countryside Alliance
The Old Town Hall
367 Kennington Road
London SE11 4PT
Tel: 0207 840 9200
www.countryside-alliance.org.uk

Fish & Fly
PO Box 1079
Worth
Crawley
Surrey RH10 4WH
www.fishandfly.com

Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust
Burgate Manor
Fordingbridge
Hampshire SP6 1EF
Tel:  01425 652381
www.gwct.org.uk

Institute of Clay Shooting Instructors
4 Holmlands Crescent
Durham Moor
County Durham  DH1 5AR
Tel: 0191-3842499
www.icsi.org.uk

Masters of Draghounds and Bloodhounds Association
Blacklands Farm
Millford Road
Elstead
Surrey GU8 6LA
Tel: 01252 703304
www.mdbassociation.co.uk

Masters of Foxhounds Association
Overley Barn
Daglingworth
Cirencester
Gloucestershire GL7 7HX
Tel: 01285 653001
www.mfha.org.uk

UK Gun Dealers Directory
www.gundealer.net