Receiving shooting invitations is a pleasure, writes Robert Gibbons, giving due consideration to etiquette. Illustrations by John Bradley

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Shooting invitations are delightful to receive and essential to send. Robert Gibbons gives his advice on the etiquette surrounding shooting invitations. Whether you are a guest or the host, make sure you don’t slip up this season.

Are shooting standards slipping, or should we take a more relaxed attitude to etiquette? Find out in shooting etiquette: are standards slipping?

SHOOTING INVITATIONS

There is something about a shooting invitation that distinguishes it from all other forms of communication. For a start, it is usually received with the greatest of pleasure. Even if it is not possible to accept, always regrettable, it is nice to be asked. We are all familiar with invitations, from large, gilt-edged stiff ones on heavily embossed card to a wedding or memorial, down to small, plain, simple invites advising the recipient that the host is “At Home” or a request to attend a dinner, luncheon, tea, garden party or some other event or celebration. With modern technology, which started with the telegram, invitations now come by way of faxes, emails or texts rather than by letter or card. This I rather regret as there is nothing like a letter.

Shooting invitations, however, are different. Without seeking to impose an etiquette, I think the following observations might form the basis for one. As for the format, I do not much care for invitations by text or email, a lazy way of communicating for what is a special occasion. Would you send a wedding invitation by email? I doubt it. Some may argue that you cannot put a wedding invitation on a par with a shooting one. I can and do. Bowing to modernity and in the spirit of compromise, I send my shooting invitations by letter and, at the same time, despatch an email enclosing a copy of my letter. I have no problem with an email response as it does save time. To receive a confirming acceptance letter is appreciated and is good manners. I maintain an invitation to shoot should come personally from the host. Unfortunately, there are those who send out invitations along the lines of: “X would very much like you to shoot at…. on…, signed secretary to X.”  When I receive such an invitation I make a point of sending my written reply to my host directly rather than to his secretary, declining to use the stamped and addressed envelope that sometimes accompanies it.

SHOOTING INVITATIONS: FORM

Shooting invitations can be handwritten or typed and, in the latter case, is best topped and tailed by the host. A simple but personal touch. A deplorable practice, which seems to have crept into the catalogue in recent years, is that of sending out an invitation giving lots of dates requesting that the recipient indicates first, second or third preference for when they might be able to shoot. Either a host is inviting you to shoot or not. A shooting invitation is not, and should not be, a lottery. I presume this method is adopted to help the host fill his days without the fear of doubling up. In practice, what it does mean is that the recipient is required to block three or more days, pending his host graciously deciding which day he will be honoured with a place, which may take the host weeks to decide, denying the recipient the chance of accepting a day elsewhere, which may clash with the days he has been obliged to set aside. I recently found myself a victim of such a process when, having been given the choice of some 12 days, I opted simply for two only to be advised after two months by my host’s secretary that, regretfully, he was unable to accommodate me that year. Presumably because the two days I offered were filled by others whom, I imagine, were more acceptable than me. Having been asked to shoot and then told your presence is not required is plain discourteous. Probably not the intention but that is the impression you are left with. Having blocked off the two days and turned down one invitation on one of the days from elsewhere, I was not amused. I have no desire to be accommodated now or in the future.

Shooting invitations. Crowd

One shoot organiser, due to a lapse, inadvertently sent out two sets of invitations.

The giving of verbal invitations to shoot is becoming far too common. Being asked at a dinner party, luncheon, reception or bumping into somebody in the street or at a race meeting, during a game of golf or, as happened to me recently, at a funeral, whether you would like to shoot on a certain day or not requires an act of recollection of memory few of us have and I do not keep my diary in my head. You are left having to scribble the date on a piece of newspaper or menu or race card, only to find the invitation is not followed up by a formal invite; more often than not you hear no more. Also in this category is the person who tells you what a splendid shoot he has and goes into a descriptive rhapsody of what can be expected on a day with him. Having done the verbal, he promises to send you an invitation, going to great lengths to get your address, email, mobile number and general availability… and then silence. I have found in these instances that the more expressively a shoot is described, the less chance there is of an invitation materialising. Then there are those who do not write or email but telephone. I have no problem with those who telephone to see whether you can shoot or not on a particular day, although such calls seem to come at a most inconvenient time, and appreciate the host’s need to fill the day, so long as this is followed up by a written confirmation. Sadly, not always the case, so you are left in a vacuum.

Once shooting invitations have been sent out and accepted, to avoid misunderstandings I send out a simple card as a reminder a couple of weeks before the given day that the guest is shooting with me on such and such a day. It is a courtesy I welcome and avoids an invitation slipping through the net, God forbid.

SHOOTING INVITATIONS: TIMING

The timing as to when to send out shooting invitations has long been a matter for debate. Clearly for grouse in August, shooting invitations should be sent out around Easter. For the rest I have made it my practice to send out invitations the week after Ascot. I know there are those who send invitations as early as January. While this may have the advantage for the host of clearing the decks early on, a lot of people receiving invitations in March for a shoot in November cannot see how their diary is going to be and are faced with the predicament of either accepting a distant date and running the risk of having to cancel or declining the offer. The other side of the coin are those who send out their shooting invitations a couple of weeks before the day and are surprised how few takers there are, given that most people have commitments or prior engagements. This is not to be confused with the invitation from the host who suddenly finds they are a gun short due to a cancellation. I have no complaint at being called the day before as I class this as an emergency when normal rules do not apply. At least we have not yet got to the stage of sending out cards saying “save the day”.

Then there is the question of the format. I do think it important to set out as much detail as possible when sending out shooting invitations. A card or letter addressed to you simply stating, “Would you like to shoot on 20 September at the Old Hall, Bognor?” may say it all but is in need of some clarification. I think a shooting invitation should contain the date, place, time of the shoot, the quarry and that lunch will be provided (if this is the case), whether one or two guns and the number of drives expected. If the invitation is for more than one or two days it is helpful to indicate whether the guests are invited to stay in house or to indicate where accommodation may be available near the shoot and the time to be on parade. Every season I find I have to write to a host, sometimes more than once, to find out just what the invitation involves.

SHOOTING INVITATIONS: A NEW VENUE

While it is always nice to receive a shooting invitation to a new venue, it is helpful if the host indicates where the shoot is to take place, rather than leave you to find out the location. A simple map accompanying the invitation is appreciated. Most important of all, guests should be aware they have a responsibility to respond by return, or as near to it as possible, to a shooting invitation. Those who have their own shoots, conscious of the need for an early reply, always do but others don’t. I put this down to ignorance rather than idleness as they are unaware of the problems a host has in filling a day. As any host will know, waiting for weeks for a guest to answer is unhelpful. Without causing offence, if, after four weeks I do not receive a reply I tend to drop the guest a card saying, “I enclose a copy of my invitation for you to shoot on (whatever the date was). Given the vagaries of the post my letter may have been mislaid and I enclose a copy for ease of reference and look forward to hearing from you.” If I do not then get a reply promptly, that is it. It does not happen often but nobody likes having to chase someone up. If no reply is received – a serious discourtesy – or, as happened recently with someone who had not shot with me before, replying promptly but saying, “Can I let you know nearer the time?” Sorry, you can’t.

Shooting invitations. Grouse

A shooting invitation should include the date, place, time, how many guns and the quarry.

Notwithstanding all the care and attention given to shooting invitations, I still recall the day a neighbour of mine invited me to shoot only to find on arrival there were 16 guns as opposed to the usual eight. He confessed to having had a lapse and had inadvertently sent out two lots of invitations for the same day. Fortunately, such an occurrence is a rarity.

SHOOTING INVITATIONS: A LAST-MINUTE CANCELLATION

Finally, having despatched shooting invitations for the coming season and filled the days, the host can be faced with the last-minute cancellation. As any shoot organiser knows, this can be tiresome. I have a neighbour who maintains there is no excuse available to man warranting cancelling once the invitation has been accepted, particularly at short notice, the week or day before. If this happens, he never invites them again. A bit harsh but I see the point. For my part, I tend to give the benefit of the doubt, particularly if the excuse is genuine enough. Sometimes it does happen for good reason and I still treasure a letter apologising for not being able to shoot, fortunately sent well ahead of the given day, which went to over four pages before getting to the point. It turned out he had jury service, which was fair enough, but I could have done without a discourse covering his holiday in Malta and a hospital visit.

All in all, I look forward each season to receiving shooting invitations and it would be a sad day if I received none at all. I did like the letter I received from an acquaintance who for the past three seasons, for some reason or another, has not been able to accept my invitation. His letter apologised profusely, saying “please do not take me off the list”. I won’t.