Shooting Stick.

My wife and I are continuing to read Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time (we’re approaching the end of the third book, The Acceptance World), and the second time the expression “shooting stick” came up (“There were the same golf clubs and shooting-sticks and tennis racquets…”), she asked me “What is a shooting stick, anyway?” I didn’t know, so I had to reach for a dictionary, where I learned that it is (in the words of the AHD) “A stick resembling a cane, pointed at one end with a folding seat at the other, typically used by spectators at outdoor sporting events.” The OED explains the origin (as well as giving a couple of obsolete senses):

shooting-stick n. (a) Printing a piece of hard wood or metal which is struck by a mallet to loosen or tighten the quoins in a chase; (b) slang = shooting-iron n [“a firearm, esp. a revolver”]. (obs.); (c) a walking-stick with a handle that may be opened to form an impromptu seat, first used by shooters.

The two citations for the last sense are:

1926 E. P. Oppenheim Golden Beast i. xvii. 163 Judith had already disappeared, swinging her shooting stick in her hand.
1967 Guardian 23 May 2/6 The shooting sticks will prod the roots of every stately garden.

Are you familiar with this odd-sounding but useful term?


  1. Having grown up in rural East Anglia I find it very familiar.

  2. Lucy Kemnitzer says

    I did not know the term, but I have the item! It was my grandfather’s, and I have had no specific word for it, always resorting to a long description when I want to talk about it. I’m keeping it for when I may need a cane someday. Even though my grandfather was a foot taller than I am, it seems to be about the right height for me as a cane, though a little tall as a seat — more of a thing to lean on than a thing to squat on.

    Now I can puzzle my friends when I tell them about it using this term instead of the long description. “I have my grandfather’s shooting stick, I could bring it aling just in case,” I can say. And they will not know how to respond.

  3. Yes, they perhaps have a slightly old-fashioned air, but no footnote required in a British context. Personally I associate them mainly with race meetings (by which I mean horse races, not KKK rallys…)

  4. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one in real life, but they are common enough in the imported British television shows I’ve seen that depict rural English life. I learned the word for them many years ago from my father-in-law, who pointed out that Number Two in The Prisoner carries an umbrella/cane/shooting stick combination.

  5. I remember looking up “shooting-stick” back in high school while reading classic British mysteries. There was invariably an outing on the moors, or something similar, where an older person used a one.

  6. Very common term for my generation, perhaps less so now. Strongly associated in my mind with gentlemen in tweed hunting jacket, collar and tie, and plus-fours, correct kit it for hunting, stalking …

    Which made me look up plus-fours. The Wiki entry is both informed and delightful:

    Plus-fours are breeches or trousers that extend 4 inches (10 cm) below the knee (and thus four inches longer than traditional knickerbockers, hence the name). As they allow more freedom of movement than knickerbockers, they have been traditionally associated with sporting attire from the 1860s and onward, and are also particularly associated with golf.[1]

    Less known are plus-twos, plus-sixes, and plus-eights, of similar definitions.[2]

    An “extravagant, careless style that fit right in with the looser fashions and lifestyles of the 1920s,” plus-fours were introduced to America by Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII of the United Kingdom),[1] [ NB: better known as the Duke of Windsor] – during a diplomatic trip in 1924. They are often seen on golf courses, and frequently worn with argyle socks, silk neckties, and dress shirts/sweaters. Some plus fours even came as complete suits.

    They were later brought back to prominence by the professional golfer Payne Stewart who wore them on the PGA Tour.[3]

    Tintin, the fictional comic book character from The Adventures of Tintin, famously wears them.

    Plus-fours are featured in André Benjamin’s Benjamin Bixby clothing line, which is based on clothing worn by Ivy League athletes in the 1930s.[4]

  7. Didn’t know the term, but certainly knew the device — possibly from the movies, certainly from life. I recall them at sports car races way back, and have seen modern versions made of plastic and aluminum that people take on outings.

    The term shooting-stick took me to another British term that I thought was long moribund: Shooting-brake. But it gets 2.1 million Google hits and its cousin shooting-break of identical meaning gets 350K. Seems that of late it’s much more applied to products on the other side of the Channel.

    Wiki, incidentally, gives a different definition for shooting-stick, which it spells without a hyphen.

  8. Only the OED spells it with a hyphen, and the entry was done in 1914. As for the definition, Wikipedia, as regrettably often, is not a very useful source here.

  9. I threw two of these away last year in a clearout. They were standing in an umbrella stand, and the seat parts had rotted.

  10. I was familiar with the term in the sense that I had come across it in a British novel years ago and looked it up, but not in the sense that I remembered what it meant.

  11. Ethan Osten says

    How are you liking Powell? (I assume well, since you’ve gotten past the first two volumes). I recently picked up the four-volume Chicago set on the cheap, and I can’t decide whether to put them next or not.

  12. Jeffry House says

    You asked, so….

    In my area (Wisconsin USA) there was a catch phrase we teenagers thought hilarious. We would repeat this while affecting a tony British accent.

    “Silence, sir, or I shall beat you about the head and shoulders with my lead-filled shooting stick!” We didn’t really know what the stick was, or why it was lead-filled.

    It is possible that it came from a James Thurber cartoon, or similar.

  13. Not only am I familiar with the term but I own one.

    I carry it when I’m wearing my Barbour and my Hunter wellies.

  14. My father had one which he used for a rest now and then while playing golf. I still have it, and the seat part hasn’t rotted so far. It’s very grand. By some astonishing coincidence with this posting, I am at the moment in the process of converting my DVDs of the TV series so as to stream it to my TV. I haven’t watched it yet, but the series of novels was marvellous. I was recommended it four or so years ago by a colleague who assured me that the lives described in it corresponded very closely to real life in ‘society’ in those years and that one particular character, Widmerpool (who else?), reminded him very strongly of an infamous person in academic life at the University of London.

  15. J. W. Brewer says

    Here’s a (non-spoilerish, at least in my judgment) reference to something amusing from some later volumes by Powell:

  16. How are you liking Powell?

    Quite a bit; he’s no Patrick O’Brian or Olivia Manning (Fortunes of War, which had a superb BBC adaptation), but he’s very readable, has memorable characters, and gives a good sense of the period.

  17. marie-lucie says

    Paul: Thank you for the origin of “plus-fours”, which I knew in French as une culotte de golf. When I was in school (in the 50’s), they were very popular for boys who were too old for short pants (une culotte courte) but not old enough for adult trousers (un pantalon) as daily wear. This is why Tintin, the fictional comic book character from The Adventures of Tintin, famously wears them.

    Hergé, the author of Tintin (both text and drawings), said that the age he aimed at for his hero was approximately seventeen years old (which he thought would be old enough for living on his own and engage in adult activities but still too young for the reader to expect him to pay much attention to girls). As I remember, that would have been an upper age limit for boys of my generation to wear those golf pants. Those wearing them were more like eleven to fifteen years old.

  18. We always carry one in the boot of the car. Anyhoo, a year ago we were in a friend’s house; they had a rack full of gamps, shooting sticks, and walking sticks by the front door. I grinned and said “What I’ve always wanted is a swordstick. My chum lifted out one of his walking sticks, and lo, with a twist pulled out the sword within.

    Anyhoo again: my father, who sometimes sported “plus-fours” for golf, told me that when he was a boy they were referred to my naughty youngsters as “shit keppers”.

  19. John Burgess says

    An American, I’m very familiar with them as they’re widely advertised in sporting goods catalogues. The term is taking on a second meaning, though, and now also means a monopod with a forked top upon which one can rest the gun while aiming.

  20. This thread got me curious, so I did a Google image search for shooting stick. What a nifty device! And many of those pictures look like new shooting sticks, so I guess there’s still a market for them. It would seem, however, that there’s another kind of shooting stick used for balancing a hunting rifle.

    Marie-Lucie: I never understood the idea that boys had to reach a certain age to wear long trousers. Unfortunately in New Zealand the idea persisted into my youth, though fortunately limited to school uniforms. My hometown is not especially cold, but it is infamous for crazy-strong and constant wind, and my high school had a couple of sand dunes, a road, some playing fields, and a couple of low, light industrial buildings between us and the south coast, and, not being allowed indoors at lunchtime unless it was raining (and rain doesn’t fall there, it flies horizontally at very high velocity), we were in the library, or we were members of a club or society that was meeting at that particular lunchtime, we spent an awful lot of our school days huddled in doorways.

  21. I think the Wikipedia article was accurate, but confusing in its organization; you had to read it a bit carefully to see that it was about two completely different things with the same name.

  22. I have a shooting stick, but I took it from my parents’ house. I’ve always liked the look of it, but so far I haven’t quite figured out what to do with it. They still have another one.

  23. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    When I were a lad I used to see them often at school sporting events. I don’t know when I last saw one, but I regard it as an everyday term.

  24. There is a picture of Nanny sitting on one at the races in Eloise in Paris, but the device was not named. (Nanny of course is English and so comes by the thing honestly. As a child, I vaguely wondered what it might be called.)

    I read all of A Dance to the Music of Time years and years ago. Looking back, the only thing I can remember is Widmerpool, and he only in his ghastly 1960’s iteration. No Patrick O’Brien, indeed.

  25. Yes, sort of thing you know if you also know what point to point, Pimm’s and lurchers are – wasn’t my world but bumped into it sometimes

  26. D==========—- Closed shooting stick

    I==========—- Open shooting stick, ready to sit on.

    I own a sword stick (it’s in London) and (somewhere) a shooting stick. I inherited them, and I’ve never used either of them.

  27. marie-lucie says

    Chris: I never understood the idea that boys had to reach a certain age to wear long trousers.

    That was just the custom: long pants were for real men! I remember that one of my classmates (when we were about 11-14 years old) had a brother who not only was somewhat mentally disabled but must have suffered from gigantism. He was considerably taller than boys of a similar age, and even than many men, but he still wore the short pants considered appropriate to his age.

    I had never thought of this before, but those short pants were called une culotte courte, not un pantalon court La culotte was the typical just-below-the-knee pants of eighteen-century male costume, worn with usually white stockings, while le pantalon was a working-class garment covering the body from the waist to the ankle (that’s why French proletarians at the time of the Revolution were called “sans-culottes”). has a very good article on culotte courte and the history of short pants especially for boys. Apparently the fashion started in Victorian times, at the British court, when garments for both boys and girls became shorter, partly for “hygienic” reasons (perhaps because they allowed greater mobility and exercies). The culotte courte then became adopted by all classes of society in Brirain and other countries. It turned out be very convenient and economical for mothers who did not have to keep darning or patching the knees of their young sons’ pants. For a century boys had to wear short pants regardless of weather or of the rest of their clothing. According to the article, boys switched to long pants when they entered the workforce, for instance when they became apprentices around the age of 12 to 14. Those who continued their studies had to stay in short pants longer. The golf pants as worn by Tintin and other older adolescents were not a personal “fashion” choice but a compromise between short and long pants.

    The word culotte is still used for shorter-than-usual pants such la culotte de golf and la culotte de cheval, the latter worn for horseriding, with a wide top but closely fitted around the legs in order to be tucked into boots.. But by itself the word currently means ‘women’s underpants’ (almost the only meaning given by under culotte)..

  28. I’m vaguely familiar with the object and name, but I can’t remember where from, I assume old books. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one in life or in picture.

  29. badgersdaughter says

    I’m an American, and I have bought one to help me after having had surgery that left me somewhat weak for a while. I bought it from a photography catalog where it was being sold to nature photographers, which gives you a whole different slant on “shooting”.

  30. Yes. Can’t remember when I didn’t know what one was. But I haven’t got one.
    Interestingly, despite his being English, my husband said he didn’t know. Wven though we had a conversation about them on a picnic in France a couple of years ago. I wonder what he thought we were talking about? (We were sitting on some silly little folding chairs for our picnic.)
    Aren’t sword sticks illegal, now (at least in England? watch out!).

  31. John Cowan says

    You cannot sell or buy one in England and Wales unless it is at least 100 years old (which makes it an antique). As it is a concealed weapon, you may not carry it outside your home without a police permit (which is very hard to get).

  32. My wife and I were watching the final episode of The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries last night, and to my unspeakable delight a shooting stick played a crucial role in the plot. (There was also a subtitle “dog barking in distance,” which was very pleasing as well.)

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