I'm trying to understand what the appeal of shooting is so I suppose the only logical thing to do is to give it ago. I've never shot before. Never even held a gun before, apart from the toy ones I played with as a child, so this is an entirely new experience. I have no idea what this is going to feel like.

The gun I'll be using is a 12-bore shotgun owned by Robin Todd, who's going to show me the basics of what to do. Todd, who's 40, grew up on a Wimpey estate in Glasgow and is a joiner for most of the time so shooting and the country life, he says, were most definitely not in his blood. But when he did try shooting for the first time he loved it straight away and now owns several guns which he uses to kill game and deer. Shooting, he says, is what he does; it's what he loves.

He talks me through the first few steps and what surprises me most is that I go from never having shot before to firing live ammunition in a couple of minutes. I'm shown how to stand, how to hold the gun and how to aim and then I'm off, shooting at the clay pigeons Todd fires out over the field in front of us. I hit three out of the first five. Not bad. And I have to admit: it feels pretty good.

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Todd says this is how it starts for most people: they come along to the Scottish Game Fair in Scone or other events like it, try clay pigeon shooting and get addicted. They then go home and join a shooting club and spread the message that shooting is not what people think it is. Todd thinks there's a lot of prejudice about country activities, especially hunting, and it's something I hear again and again during the day I spend at the fair: we are misunderstood. One of the aims of the Scottish Game Fair is to try to change that.

The fair has been running for 29 years and is a kind of jamboree for country sports enthusiasts combined with a giant shopping spree and a family day out. It is organised by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, a charity which promotes the management of wildlife, including hunting, and this year it was held in the grounds of Scone Palace over the first weekend of July. Around 30,000 people were there: some to do the serious business of buying guns, machinery or country clothes, others to have a day out and see the demonstrations and events including the popular gundog competition.

I'm attending the first of the three days and pretty much everyone I talk to tells me there is a huge mix in the people who come here, although it's obvious straight away that there is a higher proportion of posh people than normal. I haven't been on the site for more than a few seconds when I hear a woman declare very loudly that it is "frightfully" muddy. There are also many men wearing tweed jackets and red trousers, some more self-consciously than others. It's a look that is the posh equivalent of a hoodie and tracksuit bottoms. They may not realise it, but these posh – and aspiring posh – men are just like neds: part of a tribe with a uniform to go with it.

I realise, of course, that I need to try to keep on top of my own prejudices here, my inverted snobbery, and get the opinions of the visitors and participants. Todd tells me the cross-section of people involved in country sports is real. "I've met people who are multi-millionaires and guys who haven't got two pennies to rub together," he says. I also speak to Charlie Thorburn, a charming 37-year-old man who runs a training school for gundogs in Perthshire, and he says the same thing. There was one year, he says, when he trained a dog for a Russian oligarch and a postie from Dundee.

Thorburn does, however, admit the jamboree we're seeing today would not be possible without wealthy people. "There's a chunk of people at the top who are funding things," he says, "The dukes, the princes and hedge fund managers are the ones who write the big cheques." And he admits there is a certain type on show at the game fair. "There will always be people who come across the wrong way," he says. "There are a few guys here who are lah-di-dah-ing it around and are a bit arrogant and a bit loud. But go to a pub and you'll see that."

What Thorburn would like to do is challenge the stereotypes a bit, even though there are many people at the fair happily living up to them. "I went to a posh school and have a posh accent and had a pretty nice upbringing, " says Thorburn, but he also insists that the kind of people who come to the game fair do not just hang out with other people like themselves – one of his best friends, he says, is vegan. "He knows exactly what I do – he just says: 'I don't want to do that, but I'm not going to hold what you do against you. '" In other words: I won't judge you if you don't judge me.

Thorburn also says that what he does – train gun dogs – has changed profoundly over the years and is much less brutal than it used to be. "The old-school perception of gun dog training is 'give it a f****** kick and it'll behave'. Our grandpas' generation thought 'give them a whack with a stick'. But just because they're gundogs doesn't mean they have to be trained the way they were 70 years ago." The training now is much softer, he says, and most gun dogs are also family pets – even serious shooters only shoot 50 or 60 days a year, which leaves 300 days when their dogs are just pets.

Thorburn – and he's not the first or last person to say this to me – believes the media is partly to blame for constantly resorting to the old stereotypes of hunters, shooters and fishers, and he is particularly frustrated that fishing is seen as socially acceptable whereas shooting often has a social stigma attached to it. "Fishing doesn't have the same negativity and yet you're skewering a fish that's perfectly happy in the water – you're still dragging the bloody thing out by its gullet. But people hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see. Some people want to understand but others are like: you're posh and you do this."

John Paterson, a farrier from Ayrshire, takes a similar line, although he is very different from Thorburn. He's pretty ebullient and is clearly doing what he loves, but his background is not posh. He grew up in Croftfoot where his dad was a roofer; he was a major townie he says and his brothers still are ("they drive white cars and work in offices"), but at 14 Paterson knew he wanted to work with horses and now that's what he does; he also has six gundogs, although shooting is not really his thing any more, he says.

Paterson, who's 28, agrees with Thorburn that country sports get a bad press, particularly grouse shooting. "I've been at grouse shoots and it's not what they make out," he says. "It's not a mass cull – it's a sport that's putting money into the community and bringing a lot of people together. Everyone is so happy, everyone's a team."

He also detects a change in the air. Quite a few of the people I speak to say politicians and journalists tend to be townies which means, in their view, that country sports issues are sidelined or misunderstood, but Paterson thinks the recent vote at the Scottish Parliament to overturn the outright ban on tail docking for dogs is a sign things might be changing. He says one of his own dogs had to have his tail docked after he was injured while out stalking and the Holyrood vote may be an indication that those townie politicians are listening. It was a massive change, says Paterson. "I think we're being noticed now," he says.

Up on the hill where the shooting takes place, Pat Pennington also has the public image of country sports on her mind. Pennington is originally from Kent but now lives in Perthshire and has organised the clay shooting for the game fair. She's bouncy and excitable and clearly pretty into what she does for a living, partly because she enjoys it but partly because she believes it's good PR for country sports.

With the sound of clay pigeons being blown to pieces over our heads, I ask Pennington a few questions. Does she think shooters are unfairly represented? "People have preconceived ideas of people who own guns." Posh? "Or the other way," she says, looking downwards. But it's dangerous, isn't it? She shakes her head. "If you get a nine-year-old who's just had a shot and has come out with big beaming smile – how dangerous is that?"

To be honest, I find some of these arguments hard to take. "Giving a gun to a seven-year-old is not dangerous." But surely giving a gun to anyone is potentially dangerous? "Grouse shooting is not a mass cull." But surely that's exactly what it is? However, Pennington, Paterson and the others do talk sense about how they and what they do are perceived. Paterson tells me he once visited a school in Girvan with his dogs and was shocked by how little the children knew about where their food came from, even though there was a shooting estate just over the hill. His view is that at least country sports enthusiasts are being honest about killing animals – townies on the other hand will happily tuck into burgers and fish and chips and yet judge people for shooting birds or deer and it's hard not to side with the country sports enthusiasts on that. At least when they shoot and fish and hunt, they are being consistent.

Pennington's approach on the issue is pretty robust too: if people don't like what's happening at the game fair and other events like it, she says, then they should go read a book. "They say things like: 'How could you shoot a lovely pheasant?'" she says, "but I explain that if we didn't breed pheasants for shooting and bring in revenue into the country, you wouldn't even see one. I say: why do we have sheep and pigs? To eat."

There is logic to Pennington's argument, but speaking to people at the fair I do detect a certain over-confidence, a feeling that only country sports people understand the countryside and townies don't, so they should butt out. Hugo Straker, the chairman of the fair, is a charming ambassador for the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust but he tells me that opposition to country sports is often led by emotion rather than the facts.

"Many of the people coming to the game fair do not necessarily have a rural background or understanding of what's going on," he says, "There can sometimes be a bit of misunderstanding – the control of foxes or crows, for example. So there are certain things we do in the countryside which need a little understanding.

"Sometimes people say 'to take something's life is not right' but you stop and explain all the birds that they enjoy seeing in their gardens are all subject to various predators. Relief from predators at certain times of the year allows them to flourish. People have a chance to be better informed and go away and make their own decisions rather than being led by public opinion or emotion or, dare I say it, the press. Some people say 'murdering gamekeepers' and all that but very often it's driven through public opinion and emotion."

Straker, like so many others here, is also insistent that there is a wide mix of people at the fair, but my impression by the end of the day is that, although there is a mix, it is largely a mix of two distinct groups: the aristocrats, the wannabe aristocrats and the well-off at one end and, at the other end, the people who work for them: men, and it's mostly men, who might work as keepers or beaters or have some gundogs at home. There may well be a wider mix than that, but this is certainly not a cross-section of modern Scotland.

Many people think that's changing. Pennington, the shooting lady, says she increasingly does stag and hen dos; she also points to the success of Britain's Olympic shooting teams. Thorburn, the gun dog man, also thinks attitudes are changing and makes a perhaps far-fetched comparison to gay rights – being gay used to be widely unacceptable, he says, but that has changed and attitudes to shooting and hunting will change too, he believes. It's perhaps the first time the right to be gay and the right to shoot have been compared to each other.

Thorburn may well be right – perhaps attitudes will change. But I can't avoid feeling a little uncomfortable at the Scottish Game Fair because of the gap between my own personal opposition to the killing of animals and the casual acceptance of the killing I see here. But what I also recognise is that the country sports enthusiasts are right that most of the critics who view them as "killers" are hypocritical – why is it OK to hook and kill a fish but not shoot and kill a pheasant? I also understand what the people who come to the Scottish Game Fair are doing, perhaps unconsciously: they are hanging out with people like themselves and that is what most of us do, at football games, or clubs, or political parties, or Facebook groups or, indeed, game fairs. Not everyone can understand an event like a game fair or the people who go there, but in gathering together like this, they are only being human.