They have been nominated by those familiar with top-flight shoots and their participants. For inclusion, the guns had to average a cartridge-to-kill ratio that bettered three to one throughout the season on demanding quarry such as high pheasants and grouse. That is the strict definition. A slacker one is this: all of the chosen would immediately stand out as extraordinary performers in any line of guns, as Federer would at a village tennis tournament. But while we hand over the laurels, here is a thought for all us lesser mortals. If we shot 50 to 100 days a season, as many of ours stars do, would we join their ranks?
HRH The Prince of Wales and Prince William
Yes, they have one of the worlds great shooting estates and are probably never short of an invitation or two, but the fact remains that the Royal Family men are brilliant and keen shots. The best? The Prince of Wales, according to stern critics, is one of the most elegant and accurate shots of his time, especially on grouse with his 28-bore. And his sons? Both are highly rated but William has the edge over Harry at the moment.
Growing up at Bereleigh, the home of the famous Hampshire Lobster Shoot, hasnt done Tom T-D any harm. He is no disappointment to his father, Bill, who chaired the code of Good Shooting Practice, as T T-D receives plaudits for his accuracy as well as his behaviour (and his dogs).
Nominated as being a thoughtful shot who understands the process of shooting completely, Garfit routinely exceeds 2:1, is a noted landscape artist and personally seems to control much of Cambridgeshires pigeon population.
Based at Kings Lynn, Flux can shame his 12-bore-toting comrades with a deftly aimed .410 or 28-bore but still manages to appear generous with both birds and encouragement. No mean feat if you are quite capable of wiping so many eyes.
Using a pigeon magnet on a grouse moor may be eccentric but it seems Portz can knock grouse or pigeon down dead in the traditional manner with ease. An American investment banker who lives in London, Portz is happiest smothered in camo and shooting duck.
Dedicated, charming and generous, Lees season starts with the grouse and takes in the best of British gamebirds before chasing doves in Argentina and pheasants in Slovakia.
A well-known figure in the gun trade, Crane is in the enviable position that his nominator has never seen him miss, despite confining himself to challenging targets. We salute him.
When hes not hunting big game. Lee is a devastating shot on pigeon, grouse and high pheasants, especially at the Rushmore estate on Cranborne Chase. Reputed to shoot more than 100 days a year.
Schwerdt is another habitué of Rushmore. Deadly on high pheasants and partridges, hes no slouch on grouse either. Famous for his addiction to pigeon-shooting, he regularly shoots over 4,000 per year to his own gun.
The Earl of Home
No one could be keener to preserve our sport than the current president of BASC. Nonchalant, is how one nominator described this peers way of pulling off consistent head shots on high birds. Thats what we should all be aiming for.
Charming all-round sportsman Burtt receives plenty of awed plaudits from hardened grouse-loaders. One who saw him take five from a single covey described it as something I will never forget. Nor, presumably, will those grouse. Like many top grouse-shots he is a dedicated pigeon man.
Does he live outside a grouse butt during August and September? Possibly on Sundays. Describing him as a useful grouse-shot is akin to calling Jonny Wilkinson a handy kicker.
While killing the highest and fastest pheasants in the beak, Lord Farnham never breaks a sweat. Unhurried but deadly, this shot makes it look so easy.
Sir Edward Dashwood
We suspect theres not a single week when Sir Edward is not carrying gun, rod or rifle. Fanatical about wild-game shooting and dedicated to improving it, hes invested heavily in grouse moors and will happily improve snipe marshes with his personal JCB. One fan says Sir Edward brings off some stunning shots as he is not afraid to miss. Perhaps thats because he doesnt.
Bowsie is equally effective on pigeon with a Remington three-shot auto as killing pheasants with mind-numbing efficiency with his Perazzi. He is also liable to increase the bag (and cost) of a grouse day with frightening accuracy.
Sheikh Ahmed Al-Maktoum
Dubais princes shoot very straight at Bollinghope, the famous Durham moor, and none more so than Sheikh Ahmed Al-Maktoum. It comes as no surprise he took gold in the mens double trap at the 2004 Olympics.
Wearing her trademark Loden skirt, Hanbury swings her Purdey 12-bore to devastating effect. Chauvinists who dont like having their eyes wiped will find it uncomfortable having her on the next peg.
With cricket bat or gun Pearsons hand and eye co-ordinate with devastating effect. A winner in clay competitions, he is known in his native Northamptonshire as no RSPB representative.
One hundred and fifty-four pigeon without a miss gets the point across: there is no messing about here. Representing his native Gloucestershire at clays, Tortonese is just as effective with snipe and woodcock. An expert shot and coach.
A seasoned game-shooting instructor, Watson is expected to be a great shot but he still manages to impress in the field. With shooting being his line of work, he is his own best advertisement.
Foolish is the partridge that curls over Chadwick it will never make that mistake twice. At a ladies day last season, at one of Hampshires toughest shoots, she didnt miss a bird for two drives.
The Duke of Northumberland
To describe the Duke as an accurate shot is akin to saying Raquel Welch had quite a good figure. His commitment to shooting is amply demonstrated by his winning of the latest Purdey Awards. His top tip for being a top shot? The ability to put it all back together when youre shooting badly.
Lord James Percy
Now hes had the Linhope shoot for a while, Lord James has fashioned a formidable reputation on the tall birds. But its on grouse that hes outstanding. Like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, the force is always with him. Dozens of nominations.
The raw statistics of Fanes shooting ability tell the story: 200 Spanish partridges for 300 shots, 92 pheasants for 107 shots are perfectly normal. Even more amazing, he manages to remain modest and uninterested in the numbers. Someone else did the counting.
Described as lethal, especially when his danders up, Hervey-Bathurst is the gun to watch when a flurry of pheasants leaves him, but not the rest of the line, unflurried and unhurried.
His reputation as a great shot encompasses everything from British snipe to seriously annoyed Cape buffalo. A wild-bird fan, hes happiest shooting small bags with his favourite muzzle-loader. Well, why make it easy?
A top hedge-fund manager and brilliant fly-fisherman (he won the 1995 Individual World Fly-fishing Championship), Herrmann shoots very prettily on his grouse moors (note the plural). Rumours that hes scaling down to a 20-bore to give the grouse more of a chance are as yet unsubstantiated but there is little doubt the birds would be pleased.
The Duke of Norfolk
We all have the occasional red-letter day but few can match the Duke of Norfolk for sheer consistency. Like many of us, though, hes apparently not at his best with very early starts. Ablutions must come before explosions it seems.
Sir George Forbes Leith
With skills honed on his home shoot at Fyvie, Sir George is renowned for crumpling birds that are out of range for mere mortals. Attempting such birds is brave, succeeding with them is brilliant.
Sir James Chichester
From springing teal to curling partridges, nothing fazes Sir James. Indeed, it has been suggested that he should have his own line of shooting coats in the hope they would impart some of his skill. Now theres an idea
A real grouse supremo, Straker was witnessed performing with considerable zing in Yorkshire in October. When it come to grouse, the seasoned loaders definitely think he has the X Factor.
If there were a game-shooting category in the Olympics, Faulds would be odds on for gold. Westcountry high birds are his chosen subject though hes always been a quiet man; his gun does the talking.
Louise Baltesz and Rosie Whitaker
Sisters Baltesz and Whitaker have grouse-shooting in their genes their
father was the redoubtable Sir Joseph Nickerson. They emulate his virtuosity on the family moor at Reeth, where they happily and regularly demolish male egos.
Smithie Smiths reputation lies in his extraordinary ability with high birds and kind, quiet nature. Seen this season shooting the highest redlegs with a stoked-up 28-bore. We would like to say he missed sometimes. He didnt.
Plumptre has long dominated the ladies lists. A brilliant shot, and full of kind advice for novice ladies, she graces every shooting party.
A prolific author and writer of The Fields gun reviews, Yardley was not short of nominations. It seems he is quite capable of bringing down tall birds with a 28-bore, being as sharp in the field as when
winning clay championships.
Equally graceful with a gun or rod, this former Coldstream Guardsman is described by instructors as quite some shot and capable of mopping up at Linhope, Castle Hill or Allenheads. Working as a sporting agent, there are few places where Bax has not worried the wildlife.
Hugh van Cutsem Jnr
The entire van Cutsem clan enjoys a reputation as first-class shots. Loaders talk pointedly of how Hugh van Cutsem Snr had 50 grouse on this very drive, Sir when youve struggled to shoot six. His sons are outstanding, too, but the consensus is that Hugh Jnr is presently the best of the bunch.
Long-range pigeon or pheasants which try to bamboozle Beasley are rarely in luck as he seems to have extendable barrels. High or wide, it makes no difference to this excellent pigeon guide.
Hes like an effing machine gun, was one loaders awed assessment of this fast and accurate shot. Not that he looks fast: when the bird approaches he seems to have time not only to raise the gun but read a chapter or two of War and Peace. And then, inevitably, the bird collapses. Even among this company he stands out as a high-pheasant shot. Recipient of a sackful of nominations.
Bellingham, MP for North West Norfolk, is among the best, and noted for his irrepressible enthusiasm. Having shot some very pretty snipe in Ireland, he strode into a nationalist bar wearing vibrant tweeds, and set about trying persuade the locals of the joys of Conservatism. They didnt buy him a drink.
This Canadian made his fortune in gold mines and he is the gold standard with a 20-bore. One admirer describes him as cool, calm and selective.
This former owner of TVR is still a competitive racing driver in his sixties and his skill and co-ordination are legendary, leaving laughably high pheasants dead in the air with the first barrel.
Twenty years experience has left Kirk with an enviable 2:1 ratio and apparently he often improves on this, shooting a minimum of once a week during the season to keep his eye in.
This American and international sportsman is in the enviable position of having accounted for a covey of six grouse with five shots. Nor are high partridges and pheasants given more quarter.
Described as an unselfish and selective shot, Shrimpton can afford to be so more than most as he seems to need only one barrel on his 28-bore whether he is up against magpie, partridges or grouse in a gale.
Sir Archibald Edmonstone
Pheasants, partridges, duck and grouse are in equal jeopardy from Sir Purple when he is armed with his Purdey 12s. Described as a true gentleman, Sir Archibald is reputed to shoot six days a week.
Digweed shoots like a world champion and has held that title many times. His ability to shoot long and high birds transforms normal mortals views of the actual effective range of a shotgun when its in the right hands.