The Etiquette of the Shooting Party

A woman at a shoot There are large shooting parties and small shooting parties, shooting parties to which royalty is invited and shooting parties restricted to intimate friends or relations, but in either case the period is the same, three days’ shooting.
If a party is limited to five guns, seven ladies is the average number invited, the hostess relying upon a neighbour or a neighbour’s son to equalise the balance at the dinner table. The success of house-parties mainly depends upon people knowing each other, or fraternising when they are introduced or have made each other’s acquaintance. The ladies of a country-house party are expected, as a rule, to amuse themselves, more or less, during the day. After luncheon there is usually a drive to a neighbouring town, a little shopping to be done there, or a call to be paid in the neighbourhood by some of the party, notably the married ladies, the young ladies being left to their own resources.

At the close of a visit game is offered to those of the shooters to whom it is known that it will be acceptable. The head game-keeper is usually instructed to put up a couple of brace of pheasants and a hare. But in some houses even this custom is not followed, and the whole of the game killed, with the exception of what is required for the house, finds its way into the market, both the local market and the London market.

The first three weeks of September gives a hostess little anxiety on the score of finding amusement for the ladies of the party, as so many aids out of doors are at her command at this season of the year. This is a great advantage, as although some few ladies possessing great strength of nerve have taken up shooting as an amusement and pastime and acquit themselves surprisingly well in this manly sport, yet ladies in general are not inclined for so dangerous a game, and find entertainment in strictly feminine pursuits, while even those intrepid ladies who have learnt how to use their little gun would never be permitted to make one or two of a big shooting party, even were they so inclined.

Occasionally, when the birds are wild and sport is slack, a sort of picnic luncheon is held in the vicinity of a keeper’s lodge, under the shade of some wide-spreading trees, when the ladies join the party; but keen sportsmen despise this playing at shooting, and resent the interruption caused by the company of ladies at luncheon, and prefer to take it in the rough and smoke the while. Thus ladies generally have luncheon in the house at the regulation luncheon hour, and are not rejoined by the gentlemen until the day’s shooting is over, between five and six o’clock. Every day of the week is not thus given up to shooting, and there are few owners of manors who would care to provide five days’ consecutive sport for their guests, and two days’ hard shooting is probably followed by what is called an idle day.

On these off days in September the hostess often gives a garden-party, or takes her guests to one given by a neighbour at some few miles distant, or she holds a stall at a bazaar and persuades her guests to assist her in disposing of her stock, or she induces her party to accompany her to some flower-show in which she takes a local interest; or the host and one or two of the best shots start early after breakfast to shoot with a neighbour, and the remainder of the guests drive over to a picturesque ruin, where they picnic, and return home in time for the eight o’clock dinner. If the owner of a mansion has a coach the whole party is conveyed on it, otherwise all the carriages are brought into requisition, from the barouche to the T-cart, while saddle horses are provided for those who care to ride.

Manners and Rules of Good Society: or, Solecisms to be Avoided by Member of the Aristocracy (1888)


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5 replies on “The Etiquette of the Shooting Party”
  1. says: Hels

    The ladies of a country-house party were expected to amuse themselves during the day. I imagine that wsn’t a difficult requirement for the women, given that the shooting experience was liking to be loud, wet, cold and thoroughly unpleasant. But it clearly put an extra burden on the hostess.

    This is a great reference. I have created a link to your post.
    Many thanks

    1. That and women were generally considered to be too much of a nuisance, too squeamish, or too delicate to have a gun. Thankfully, there were a few men in the house party who didn’t shoot (much to the derision of the male guests) and whose purpose was to entertain the house-bound ladies.

  2. says: Lauren

    I would have no problem staying in the house during a shooting party. My husband occasionally goes waterfowling and it sounds absolutely miserable! He loves it, though. And hooray for the non-hunting men. One hopes they were all as witty as Noel Coward.

  3. says: Gwynhwyfar

    I was just reading about the London season, from its inception in the 17oo’s to 1920’s and how it was almost all formed around the good times of year for hunting! It reminded me of the scene in Sense and Sensibility in which Marianne is consoled for the lack men (read Willoughby) by Mrs. Jennings, who says that they are all in the country, hunting and that the first full frost will “drive them back”! For more on this interesting phenomenon, here’s a link:

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