WHEN TO GO: During the third weekend in July (July 19–21), the smell of venison grilling, the sound of shotguns blasting, and the sight of gundogs sprinting all compete for the attention of field sport fanatics at Britain’s Country Land and Business Association (CLA) Game Fair at Ragley Hall, an eighteenth-century mansion on four hundred acres of parkland near Stratford-upon-Avon.
WHAT TO EXPECT: What started fifty-five years ago as a small social gathering has evolved into the mother of country-sports festivals and a wildly anticipated precursor to the game season, which opens August 12. Sure, it’s a lot of travel for one weekend, but you’ll be in good company: Nearly 150,000 enthusiasts flock to the fair annually to compete in shooting and fishing events, vie for Gundog of the Year, scout for bespoke rifles, sip Scotch whiskey, and savor wild game. More than a gun show, the Game Fair is a sophisticated rural showcase, attracting everyone from country squires and shaggy-haired sheep farmers to Wellie-clad Londoners and South African safari outfitters. Organizers expect a record turnout this year due to last year’s flood cancelation.
TYPICAL DAY: Gates open around 7:00 a.m., but peddling doesn’t begin until 9:30. Start the day with tails wagging at the field trials. Then bird-dog a new shotgun on Gunmakers Row. Break for lunch at Totally Food Show, where hundreds of merchants serve locally sourced fare such as venison burgers, blackberry compote, shepherd’s pie, and organic spirits. Be sure to hunt down Demijohn Liquid Deli for a rhubarb Bellini and to check out their Sporting Box, a handcrafted carryall for field drinks. Buy tweed. Shoot clays. Cast flies. And when things wind down around 6:00 p.m., join the locals for a pint at the Gunmakers Pub. Covering the grounds takes most of the day, so dress for comfort and erratic English weather. Tickets start at around $32 for one day.
GETTING THERE: A two-hour train ride from London, Stratford-upon-Avon is ten miles from Ragley Hall and offers the closest hub of hotels, transport, and culture. Avoid event traffic with a seven-minute helicopter shuttle that ferries attendees from Stratford-area helipads to the fairgrounds and back for about $175 per person. gamefair.co.uk