The Shoot Captain
Ever since he failed to get into Sandhurst, Johnny Frust-Rated has enjoyed the opportunity that the role of shoot captain gives him to shout at people for no good reason. Spaniels not at heel, chattering wives, poor parking-all give him the perfect excuse to let off a verbal volley before the guns have even got to their pegs. What the keeper never tells him is that the volume at which he conducts the day disturbs the birds far more than any dog running in.
Most likely to say:
‘WILL YOU HURRY UP!?’

The Beater
Derek has had his favourite stick since he first started beating on the local shoot when he was an apprentice car mechanic. It’s good for tapping trees, strong enough to whack into kale and is just the right height to rest his chin on when waiting for orders from the keeper. His fellow beaters range from students from the local sixth-form college to the keeper’s wife and children. He enjoys the opportunity to let off a few cartridges on the beaters’ day at the end of January, but, really, this is about being outside with like-minded people. Being a well-run shoot, there is very little talking in the shooting line, but there’s plenty of banter at lunch, over homemade sandwiches he’s brought in. Shooting line or beating line? Derek thinks he’s the lucky one
Most likely to say:
‘Aye, aye, aye!’ 

The Cocker Spaniel
If Raffles had a human equivalent, he would be one of those exuberant, eager-to-please waiters who always smiles no matter how many times you send the wine back. When a bird lands a few yards in front, he has to call on all his powers of self-control not to go rushing in before the drive has finished. He is usually assisted in this by being tied firmly to a metal stake. Adored by all the family, Raffles is rarely in the bad books for long and spends his evenings curled up in front of the drawing-room fire. For him business and pleasure really do mix.
Most likely to say:
‘Sorry, got to dash’ 

The Keeper
Keith is that rare man who ducks when you shout ‘woodcock’ and looks up when you shout ‘duck’. He has a waistcoat with more pockets than a billiard table and an unerring ability to remember whose tip he has slipped where, the better to analyse each gun’s generosity that evening. He has a PhD in wind direction and pheasant psychology, and regards the high-curling bird over the middle of the line as the apotheosis of his profession. He likes to make improvements every season and, this year, the oven-ready brace he hands out comes with two rashers of bacon on top.
Most likely to say:
 ‘Will you take a brace, sir?

The Lady Gun
She is, of course, stylish and beautiful, but it’s the fact that Petronella very rarely misses that is the main cause of admiration and envy in equal measure. The high-curling pheasant, the flaring partridge and the jinking pigeon all fall easily to her Ray Ward 20-bore. She probably wouldn’t do it unless she was brilliant; all the men, although feigning nonchalance, are keenly aware of her every shot. As the head of her own highly successful City PR firm, she knows all about image management. The tweeds are immaculate, the dog is perfect and the tip generous, but, somehow,
she manages to be modest without being coy. The other guns’ wives should perhaps come out for the afternoon drive.
Most likely to say:
‘A double-gun day on your grouse moor?
If you really mean it…’

The New Gun
Why is this man offering me a small plastic toothpick out of a leather wallet? What does he mean when he says number from the left, up two each drive? Of course I’m a walking gun, why is he asking?’ These thoughts are running through the head of Nigel New-buoy’s head as he unsleeves his recently purchased gun with as much aplomb as a novice can muster. For the uninitiated, the esoteric world of the formal driven day is akin to an Australian cattle rancher trying to understand the workings of the London Library cataloguing system. He has tried his best to learn the rudiments of safety, and knows that swinging through the line is not some suburban erotic laundry ritual. He has bought the kit: his gun sleeve is a bit too small for his 12-bore, his cartridge-bag buckle is still very stiff, and his cap hasn’t yet developed the frayed and comfortable look common to the seasoned veteran. And when he’s asked at the end of the day whether he would like a brace, he declines, saying that it’s not him who has the puncture.
Most likely to say:
 ‘Does my gun look big in this?’

The City Man
Booming voice, big chequebook, large check suit and new Czech wife, Robert hasn’t let a small thing such as the credit crunch erode his confidence in the shooting field. He might not arrive by helicopter any more, but he still has his Range Rover and ‘man’ there so that he doesn’t have to walk too much during the day. He lavishes Champagne and sloe gin on his fellow guns in between drives so that he can show them close up his damask-barrelled Purdeys and photographs
of him boar-shooting in Romania. He knows that it shouldn’t really be about numbers these days, but until Irina learns that the new Puritanism applies to Knightsbridge shopping as well, he doesn’t see why he can’t indulge in a few bag-filling days himself.
Most likely to say:
‘It is double guns isn’t it?’

The Cook
Like a sandwich bar in the City, Poppy has to produce large amounts of good food very quickly for large numbers of people who have less than an hour to eat it in. She has skilfully adapted the culinary skills acquired during her chalet-girl season to convert fondues and raclettes into large stews made from pheasant, venison and rabbit. Although partridge on melted cheese raises some eyebrows, her bread-and-butter puddings go down a storm, particularly as they provide good ballast for the copious quantities of claret and Port that have to be drunk in double-quick time before the quaffers are ordered back out.
Most likely to say:
‘More pudding, anyone?’

The Labrador
Purdey knows her pedigree is every bit as grand as her aristocratic master’s. She doesn’t want to be snooty, but it doesn’t look good to talk to oikish terriers or the more arriviste breed of retriever. She has perfected the art of sitting at her master’s feet in such a way that conveys the message of effortless superiority. She only has to incline her head towards a dead bird to indicate that she will be picking it up at the end of the drive. On the way home, his Lordship talks Purdey through the day. This saves her Ladyship having to listen to it later on.
Most likely to say:
‘I think you’ll find that’s our bird’

The Girlfriend
Formerly a real home-bird, Flora’s enthusiasm for standing in muddy fields in the wind and rain has only dimmed slightly since she fell for Rupert’s charms as he ‘whacked the rat’ at the village fête in the summer. But she has noticed how none of the married women make an appearance, except at elevenses. After bull shots and banter, they have no hesitation in returning to the Old Rectory’s open fire, copies of Hello! and the latest Elegant Resorts brochure. Flora has learnt when to duck as he swings behind, but she no longer loads for him after he trapped her newly varnished fingernail in the breech. The other guns give her three more outings before she runs up the white flag and retreats indoors.
Most likely to say:
‘Isn’t St Lucia rather nice at this time of year?’


The Picker-up

Although Daphne is the wife of a rear admiral, she knows she shouldn’t talk to the guns. This is not the same as drinks after church: she is here to work. Or, more precisely, Nelson, her golden retriever, is here to pick up as many of the fallen and wounded birds before the next drive starts. Jim, with his platoon of spaniels, will hoover up most of the obvious ones, sometimes to the annoyance of the guns with their own dogs, but Daphne prides herself on seeking out the pricked bird that lands several furlongs back. In the same way her husband enjoys sailing their yacht through dangerously shallow waters, she scours the rough edges of the woodland and the precarious, boggy areas by the river. Nothing gives her more pleasure than telling the gun at the next drive ‘I found that bird, you know’, before retreating to a safe and discreet distance
to await the starting whistle for it all to begin again.
Most likely to say:
‘I’ve found two-are you sure you shot six?’

The Stop
When stopping on the third drive, Jack stands by the same tree he has stood by ever since he retired 22 years ago. Before that, he was keeper on the estate for 27 years, so, although he’s now stone deaf, unsteady on his pins and feels the cold wind blowing in from the fens, he’s never happier than when he is ensuring that birds don’t run out of the end of the wood. He carries a stick on which is nailed a plastic sheet, useful as a crutch when he’s not flapping it as a flanker, and invaluable as a badge of rank.
Most likely to say:
‘What?’

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