Wednesday, November 28, 2018

DAY 55: A Shooting Party

In the final weeks of autumn, country house parties assembled at places like Blenheim Palace and Sandringham House to enjoy the the shooting season, which began on the Glorious Twelfth--August 12th, for red grouse--and ran until early December. Pheasant shooting began later, usually in October, and could run through February. When one adds duck, partridge, dove, and ptarmigan shooting, the possibilities for marksmen were endless. As the nineteenth century waned, women joined the shoots as participants; in earlier years, they merely spectated.
1880s hunting costume: The lady's Norfolk Jacket

Rough shoots--where the "guns," as those doing the shooting were known--walked through open fields with dogs flushing the birds from hedgerows and undergrowth, were one form of engaging in the sport; but on large country estates with gamekeepers, the preferred method of bird-hunting was the Driven Shoot.

In this approach, a group of beaters--men deployed by gamekeepers--flushed and drove the birds toward a range of Guns positioned in a line behind "butts," or what we might call blinds, that disguised their presence. Each shooter employed a pair of guns, so that an attendant might reload the first while the second was being fired. The flushed birds rose out of the undergrowth and took wing, at which point a Gun would bring it down mid-flight. A retriever--commonly known as a gun dog--would then fetch the downed bird. Shooting party etiquette required that you shoot only the birds driven toward your butt, and not those intended for your neighbor. When not firing, you might settle your chilled behind on a shooting stick--a collapsible seat carried to the butt by your attendant.

Bamboo and rattan shooting stick

Often those who chose to spectate behind the range of  Guns would arrive with the luncheon carts, which brought whiskey and food for the shooters, and signaled another opportunity to socialize over a picnic.

Shotguns for sport such as these crafted by James Purdey & Sons Ltd, a bespoke gunsmithing firm founded in 1814, were extremely expensive and cherished works of art. (A pair of Purdeys today costs well over $100,000.) They were meticulously maintained in an estate's gun room, where the game book was also kept as a record of the shooting bag. A boy's first pair of important guns was usually a gift from his father at perhaps the age of sixteen; they were also handed down as bequests. 

Gamekeepers. They maintained prey populations by eradicating predators and poachers,
as well as by cultivating suitable terrain.
For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel. 

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