In a new column for The Field, we ask what bit of kit is most indispensible in the field. Max Hastings answers us first, with a humble thumbstick

Everyone has one, indispensible bit of kit. Max Hastings goes first in a new column for The Field to reveal what he couldn’t bear to be without in the field: a humble thumbstick.

Find out what Max Hastings what do If I Ruled the World.


A humble thumbstick goes with me to every moor, covert and, indeed, on every dog walk.  I am no longer sure whether I carry it for moral or physical support; it is simply part of my sporting fixtures and fittings in rain and sun, on heather, sand and stubble. It swishes the air and grass idly on strolls, tests the depth of the briny on Devon beaches, thrusts back brambles in the woods and pulls floundering figures out of streams.

Some people like exotic specimens with ram’s horn handles or exquisitely carved leaping salmon and pheasant heads. For me, a stick is a tool, so it stays simple. Most shooting seasons I visit Stanage on the Welsh border, where Jonathan Coltman-Rogers’ peerless management includes a fine selection of sticks for sale in the lunch room.  I am a regular repeat buyer of the sturdiest, with plain antler topping, keeping one by the back door, its mate in the car and a third in the London flat.

You may say: “How silly you must look, carrying a thumbstick while walking the dogs in a Fulham park.” Ah, the stick is indispensable because I use it in lieu of a lead. Ever since I got serious about training gundogs, I have used it as a guide to keep them at heel. In the bad old years when I owned labradors that were hopelessly unsteady on the peg, the stick secured their leads. A friend also presented me with a clip-on cigar holder, which secured a smoking Monte Cristo to the haft while I missed pheasants over its head. I found a new home for the holder on the sad day that I abandoned cigars. Nowadays, on the summer pilgrimage to the north, the stick gets planted atop butts to prevent me swinging through, because I am so absurdly tall that the usual butt guard does not reach high enough.

The trusty stick comes into its own again at the end of a drive, to dispatch wounded grouse or pheasants, if any. When crossing marshes it pokes swampy ground ahead of my boots – getting soaked above knee-level no longer seems quite as funny as once it did – and it becomes an indispensable aid to scaling steep faces.

There is nothing to beat faithful old companions, such as my thumbsticks have been. I recently spent a weekend lecturing on the Somme and felt naked walking without one on those fields steeped in bloody memories. I knew that in the new age of security mania, Eurostar would have confiscated my stick as an offensive weapon. In truth, almost the only thing I have never used one for is to whack somebody – not even the peer who shot all those pheasants over my head last December.

Sir Max Hastings is a journalist, editor, historian and author.