By Linda Mellor

The game fair and country show season starts in March and offers country sports enthusiasts a variety of entertaining events over the spring and summer months. The first event on the Scottish calendar is the two-day Deer Stalking Fair in March, then the four-day Royal Highland Show in late June, followed by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s three day Scottish Game Fair at Scone in early July. Country sports fans then converge on Inverness, for the first Friday and Saturday in August for the Moy Field Sports Fair and can then finish off the events season, by heading south to the two-day Galloway Country Fair in mid-August, on the Drumlanrig Estate.

All of the fairs and shows have a countryside theme and often have country sports at the heart of their schedules. The shows are dotted about mainland Scotland, in reachable locations, and most of us have our favourites and make an effort to attend one or two, or indeed visit them all.

The events are great opportunities to get together with family and friends: wander through the rows of retailers and spend some money, perhaps grab a few show bargains or visit a well-known stockist for a beloved hat, a new pair of wellies or a local crafts stand for brooches made from deer antlers or buy the latest painting from your favourite sporting artist.

There are plenty activities to get involved with and even your dog can make the most of a game fair by taking part in the Scurry, where gundog training dummies are thrown and the fastest retrieve wins. The fun event is open to handlers of all ages, from the serious to the light hearted, and a non-stop array of pooch retrieving talent entertains the crowds.

Many country sports enthusiasts compete within their local gundog clubs to secure a place in the game fair gundog tests, (you will have to qualify via your gundog club to compete at the event) and they’re great entertainment to see the gundogs doing what they do best. Terrier racing is a fast-paced event usually held towards the end of the day in the main arena. The excited barking from the terriers, from the smallest Jack Russells to big black and tan Airedales, charging about the arena, chasing one another as a furry lure is pulled along the grass provides some of the funniest entertainment and chaos you’re ever likely to see at a game fair. It’s truly a crowd pleaser. There are a host of activities scheduled in the main arenas, including falconry displays, gundog demonstrations, sheepdog agility, horse and hounds, sheep shearing and music.

There are education elements conducted at the bigger fairs, where talks and demonstrations take place, with extensive programmes designed to capture the imagination of youngsters and encourage children to participate.

The Deer stalking Fair opened its doors in 2013, and was set up to serve a dedicated audience of deer stalkers and deer managers. The two day event is held at the Border Union Agricultural grounds, Kelso, and differs from the other fairs because it takes place indoors so the inclement weather does not impact on the event going ahead.

In addition to a range of deer-related retailers there are deer butchery demonstrations, industry specific talks and participation-lead events like mocked-up deer tracking with deer dogs in the woodland close to the ground.

The Royal Highland Show and Scottish Game Fair organise discussions, debates and informative talks and demonstrations from industry experts. There are also special guest appearances from well-known characters: a great way to highlight the popularity of the countryside events. You can meet the fox hounds in the main ring at Drumlanrig, or watch deerstalking ponies being shod at Moy.

Game fairs provide many ‘have a go’ activities. Maybe you have always fancied trying something but lacked the opportunity? You can take your pick from air rifle shooting, clay shooting including muzzle-loading black power guns, fly-tying and casting, off-road driving, archery or try out some new-to-market equipment.

Many show visitors give clay shooting a go, it takes place in a safe environment with a qualified and experienced instructor guiding you through firing a shotgun at a moving target. The ‘have a go’ stands are set up to give everyone a chance to try shooting for the first time. A big majority of clay shooters started their shooting careers after having a go at a game fair. You can progress your shooting by taking part in shooting competitions, there is a friendly and supportive shooting community at the game fairs, and some well-known faces take part.

If you are feeling peckish the food halls are stuffed full with local produce, interesting tipples (looking for some hipflask contents for the shooting season), cookery and butchery demonstrations.

Before game fairs throw their doors open there has been a masses of planning and organisation going on for months to make it possible. If you have worked at the game fairs, you will be fully aware of the hours required to make the weekend a success. To set up the stand on site, display your stock and be ready when the gates open is no mean feat. It is hard work, and requires stamina and super-human skills to keep energy levels up then you have to do it all again in reverse!

Over the years stand holders have had to deal with all sorts, from theft to inclement weather damaging stock and the stands – just imagine the impact strong wind has on the tents, banners, flags and signage. The weather can also prevent people reaching the show ground, and pose problems with access and parking.

Scottish game fairs are flag waving events for the country sports sector, and bring a chunk of the countryside to all who attend and are the social glue for us involved in the industry, and without them, the gap in between the shooting season would be rather dull!