Game shooting is too often seen by its detractors as being dominated by outmoded traditions. However, as anyone who takes time to look more closely will see, the reality is quite different. Those traditions that are prominent have acquired their status because they represent very good ways of doing things. Moreover, even the most traditional of traditions isn’t set in stone – shooting has a long history of combining tradition with innovation and it still does so today, with any luck, in ways that will ensure today’s new trends become traditions of the future.
Tweed, guns and cartridges are all examples of elements of shooting that retain some vital ‘traditional’ features whilst embracing the latest technological innovations. Modern shooting tweeds not only blend in with their surroundings and keep the wearer warm, smart and comfortable, but they can now be waterproofed, made stain-resistant, and even machine-washed. The forms of modern shotguns and rifles has been around for the best part of a hundred years, but gun makers have been tweaking and fine tuning for the whole of that time, whether it’s to make them more effective, affordable or just more aesthetically appealing. Cartridges have looked pretty much the same on the outside for just as long, but inside, the ballistics boffins have been toiling ceaselessly to increase effective range and reliability, reduce recoil and fatigue, and to comply with changing legal and environmental restrictions.
It’s visible in how shooting grounds are changing, and how shoots themselves are adapting to changing economic conditions, and, not least, in the new breed of shooting suppliers and outfitters. Take by way of example Out of the City, based in Chorley, Lancashire, and Forelock and Load, based in Suffolk, and, from the Highlands of Scotland, Glenfarclas whisky.
Out of the City has a cutting edge exterior wrapped around a core of traditional values and exceptional product knowledge and customer service: it began life in 2004 as an online retailer of country clothing and footwear, and now has a cosy shop attached to its head office and warehouse in Buckshaw Village, a new residential and industrial development on the site of the former Royal Ordnance Factory. However, it’s not a mere flash in the pan; founder and MD, Sky McCann, spent the first ten years of her career managing the clothing and footwear section in her father’s gun shop, which was itself established by her great-grandfather. No stranger to the traditions of the shooting world, Sky brought the best of them with her to Out of the City, where she combined them with skillful use of the internet, social media and marketing to build a successful business, offering premium brands at affordable prices.
Although it’s primarily an online business, shopping with Out of the City still feels in many ways like shopping in the best sort of local shop, where the staff care about doing a good job and know what they’re talking about: there’s always a real person at the end of the phone to deal with queries, from sizing and suitability of different boots, through the exact colour of a particular tweed, to rearranging a delivery. If you’re lucky enough to live locally, or even be passing, it’s well worth popping into the shop. Plans for the future include linking up with local fieldsports photographers and artists, whose works will be on show alongside tweed, tea and biscuits.
Forelock and Load was set up in 2012 by brother and sister, Nick and Kirstie Johnston. Its exterior is as traditional as Out of the City’s is modern, in this case, it’s the novel approach that’s hidden on the inside. The shop – in the final stages of construction – will be located in a 16th century barn rescued from ruin, belonging to Nick and Kirstie’s family, which has been involved in shooting and stalking for generations. Once finished, it’ll be more than just a place to buy shooting and equestrian supplies: there’ll be coffee, cake and conversation and, as above, links with the local rural community. There’s also a donkey (outside), and plans are afoot to have more animals on site to get children and whole families involved – more than just a shop, almost an afternoon outing.
For those not fortunate enough to be able to get there in person, most of the stock is available online, and Nick has also set up an online forum offering a place to chat and share advice. Their aim is to get more people trying and understanding shooting, which is vital when it comes to safeguarding the future of shooting as a sport, particularly when it comes to game shooting.
At the very top end of the scale too, businesses have their eyes on carrying the best traditions of the past intact into the future. Single malt whisky in general is a drink infused with a sense of history and tradition, and the history and traditions associated with the whisky made by the Grant family at Glenfarclas are particularly strong. The distillery has been in the hands of the Grants for a snifter under 150 years, and current management comprises the 5th and 6th generations. The Glenfarclas ‘family casks’ comprise an unparalleled collection of the best single casks of the past 60 years; the collection currently includes casks from every year since 1952, up to 1997, with more to follow in the future.
Not limited to producing the ultimate post-shooting dram, Glenfarclas are also about to launch possibly the most exclusive gun cleaning kit of all time. Only 20 have been made, each one handcrafted in Britain. A joint project with London gun and rifle makers, William & Son, the kit will include the finest shotgun and rifle cleaning implements known to man (or woman), and, crucially, will contain a bottle of extremely rare Glenfarclas 1963 single cask single malt. Each kit also bears a brass plate with space for two sets of initials to be engraved. The intention is that the first set of initials be those of the first owner, and the second those of a member of the next generation of his or her family who will inherit the kit (but possibly not the whisky…).
With any luck, innovative efforts such as those above will pay off in their different ways at all levels of society, and there will be a long future for shooting and its traditions. The more members of the shooting community use modern methods to enlighten, educate and encourage others, the better the chance the traditions have of continuing, and the greater the likelihood that the lucky few who come to own the Glenfarclas cleaning kits will need to invest in a new brass plate, as well as a new bottle of Scotch.