Signing up to a new shoot can be a bit of a gamble. Not knowing how the pheasants will be presented on each drive or if the shoot lodge meets your expectations can be a little disconcerting. Tales of guns travelling the length of the country and parting with thousands of pounds only to go home feeling totally underwhelmed are thankfully rare, but it is still worth doing your homework before confirming your booking. One Hampshire-based gun revealed that he learnt the hard way last season.
“My expectations for the day were completely at odds with what was being offered,” he said.
“A bit of research beforehand would have prevented a lot of embarrassment on the day. I had promised my clients a grand day of shooting with luxury hospitality. You can imagine my face when the shoot captain asked if I had remembered our packed lunches.”
So how should you set about researching your chosen shoot? Nowadays, there are a plethora of ways to learn more about the estate and its management – from nifty social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to on-the-wall video podcasts – and all will help you to book sport with much more confidence.
1. Shoot reports
Throughout the year Shooting Gazette publishes detailed shoot reports after visiting different shooting estates throughout the season. They can give guns a valuable insight into the workings of a shoot, detailing the format of the day, the drives, the topography of the estate and how the shoot lunch fared. It is well worth sifting through your back issues to see if your chosen shoot has been featured in the past. Many of the shoot reports are also featured online as well, so log onto the website.
2. Contact the local shooting body representative
The regional representatives for BASC, the Countryside Alliance, and National Organisation of Beaters and Pickers-Up should be able to offer an honest account of your chosen estate.
David Taylor is the Countryside Alliance shoot campaign manager. He says: “Regional directors work closely with many of the shoots in their areas, and can act as first port of call for anyone interested in learning more about a shoot. In addition, the regional directors are backed up by a dedicated shooting team who can provide answers to many questions from firearms to moorlands.”
3. Ask for a tour of the shoot
If you live close enough to the shoot in question, spending a Saturday touring the ground is a good way of getting a feel for the place, and could save sleepless nights in the lead up to the season. Meeting the gamekeeper, walking the drives and inspecting the shoot lodge will allay any fears you may have before signing a cheque.
Award-winning website GunsOnPegs.com say they are often posed the question, “How do I know if this shoot is any good?”
Managing director James Horne explains: “We understand this will always be a concern of guns so we added a testimonial feature last season. This allows them to add their comments on a shoot that they went to, so a positive third party testimonial certainly helps decision making.”
GunsOnPegs has also launched an innovative new video podcast facility, which gives guns an unique insight into how a shoot is run as if you were there on a day.A selection of podcasts have already been released on GunsOnPegs TV, with many more to come. James adds that travelling to a new shoot is one of the best things about the sport.
“Knowing where the birds will come from on a familiar drive you have stood on many times before can slightly take the fun out of it – so booking sport on a brand new shoot can make for exciting sport.”
The quality of the birds is not the only thing you should look for when seeking a new shoot.
5. Social media
Does the shoot have a presence on Facebook or Twitter? Shoot owner Jono Garton regularly uses Facebook to promote Bodfuan shoot.
“I bought the shoot in Gwynedd a year ago and quickly created a Facebook group,” he reveals. Bodfuan’s group now has nearly 700 members and he regularly posts updates of the shoot’s activities.
“I can understand it can be daunting for guns to pay for a day’s driven pheasant shooting at vast expense if they have never even set foot on the estate before. As well as perusing the shoot’s website, it is also worth seeing if there is a Facebook group. The photos tend to be less staged and more informal meaning you can get a real feel for the place.”
Ensuring all the paperwork, from a contract to insurance, is in order will also make for stress-free sport.
David Ilsley, BASC’s head of marketing and membership services, says: “BASC’s advice to its members when taking a let day is to make sure there is a proper agreement in place between them and the shoot provider.”
7. Background information about the gamekeeper
Is he new to the job or does he have a lifetime’s experience flying birds off Exmoor hills? Has he always worked on a wild bird shoot or is this a brand new venture? No gun wants to feel like a guinea pig. Having absolute faith the gamekeeper can deliver you and your shooting comrades a cracking day’s sport will mean you will glean even more from the day.
A spokesman for the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation advises: “Most keepers I know are pretty good talkers. Some time spent on the telephone is more than likely to furnish you with a good picture of the shoot, its aims, its ethos and its competence. If you have the time, it may well also provide you with the headkeeper’s full life history, although that could be too much detail!”
Don’t be afraid to quiz fellow shooters about a shoot in one of the many dedicated online forums. Barnaby Dracup is the editor of ShootingUK, which is an affiliate of the Shooting Gazette website.
“Our forum is the perfect place to grill like-minded people about a particular new shoot,” he explains, adding that the forum now has more than 13,000 members. “The openness and friendly environment of an online forum means guns will receive honest answers to their questions. It is a simple and free way of canvassing lots of opinions. Plus, when someone posts a response you will receive an alert in your inbox straight away so you will never miss an update.”
9. Use a sporting agent
Using a sporting agent to book your day can take any uncertainty out of the equation.
Gloucestershire-based Ian Coley of Ian Coley Sporting explains: “Clients are able to tap into an agent’s experience and their contacts. I am able to match the exact needs of the client to the right estate, so the client can buy with confidence. I know the estates, I know the keeper and how he runs the estate. From that I build the day to the expectation of the client. A good agent will always be on hand with advice and will be present on the day to ensure the day runs smoothly, plus iron out any issues before the client even realises there was one.”
10. Have a list of questions ready
Roxburghshire-based Sporting agent Charles Brownlow advises checking off your own particular criteria before booking.
“Number one on my list is to confirm the number of birds booked. I hate the thought of guns shooting their bag before lunch, I have never had it happen but it is a crucial factor for a happy day. If a shoot sells a day with X number of birds it must last a full day,” he says, adding that it is also imperative to check the quarry on offer.
“Is the estate offering pheasant, partridges and duck? If you do not want to shoot duck for example, let the estate know in plenty of time.”
Also check the transport.
“More and more shoots are giving up the gun trailer as guests have their own 4x4s – check what the estate provides.”
Lastly, ask what the preferred cartridge is – bismuth, lead, fibre or plastic. Make sure you know what the estate allows.
“All you have to do is ask, if the shoot organiser is not helpful, it might be an idea to look elsewhere!”