I was on a grouse moor last week in shooting trousers, walking boots and gaiters heading towards a grouse butt. Yet still someone asked me if I was shooting. Even now, in the 21st century’s second decade, very few women shoot grouse.
“Yes, I am,” I responded as sweetly and politely as I could, although it was the third time I had been asked that same morning and it was not yet 10am. I was not there to admire the scenery, I added, although it is pretty spectacular up on the Yorkshire moors. I was the only woman on the line, something that after eight years of shooting I am getting used to.
Going grouse shooting is always an education. We stayed in a very comfortable stately home, which, like most others in Britain, is long on architectural elegance and short on en suite bathrooms. I did have one, no doubt due to the kindness of my host, but the rest of the guests were not so fortunate. Thus it was that coming down to breakfast one morning I encountered a bleary-eyed fellow guest wandering down a corridor in his white underpants.
I have said this before, but it is worth repeating. Shooting in the UK is an activity that requires a key bit of kit: a dressing gown. I like to think that with all this grouse shooting I have trained my bladder to perfection, mainly because there is very little to hide behind on a grouse moor. At the Yorkshire shoot I managed from 8.30am until 6pm, which I thought pretty impressive. But even so, there will always be that moment in the middle of the night where you don’t really want to encounter a captain of industry in his underpants.
Seeing men in clothes in which you are unaccustomed to seeing them can really affect how you perceive them – and yourself. As I walked into the dining room at the Yorkshire stately home, I glanced outside just in time to see my host, looking incredibly fit, arriving back from an early morning run. He was clad in the smartest imaginable running clothes. Not only did this make me feel (a) impressed by his discipline and (b) completely inadequate myself, but also (c) it affected my breakfast ordering.
Suddenly I felt I should be eating less and trying to look more like my host. I have now seen him in black tie, business suit, shooting clothes and running kit and all of them scream quality and style. I am sure I will never encounter him in his underpants, but, if I did, I expect they would too.
Our host’s appearance had had a knock-on effect: the men on the line with me seemed concerned with their figures. Pastry from the shoot lunch steak pie was discarded, dessert was declined, cheese left untouched. It wasn’t being a woman that made me feel like the odd one out – but eating my tarte citron with raspberry compote did. The one thing we all indulged in, though, was the 2005 St Estèphe served at dinner. Choosing the right wine for shooting dinners is as important as packing a dressing gown.
I am determined to get more women shooting, and this year have organised a series of events that started with a clay tuition day for 70 ladies in March, through a simulated game day in June. This month we have arranged a 200-bird partridge day where the line will be a mix of experienced and novice ladies. We are staying with, and shooting with, my Ducal Girlfriend at Belvoir Castle. Not all the accommodation is en suite, but with no men present at least we won’t need dressing gowns.
What we will need is some wine for our dinner, which I am about to order. The budget doesn’t run to 2005 St Estèphe, I am afraid. But in an internet trawl I have found just the thing. It is a range of wines that carries the excellent name “Ladies who Shoot their Lunch”, and it does a chardonnay, a riesling and a shiraz (the 2008 version of which won Australia’s top shiraz prize in December, beating more established and far more expensive wines).
I like the label, and the idea – the newcomers outdoing the long established. Which is what I hope many more ladies will do, when I get them on to grouse shooting.