What’s the going rate for a pheasant in the bag? How much should you be paying for a partridge poult? How many days per year does a typical shoot run — and how long is a piece of string?

Quantifying the precise costs involved in running a shoot has always been a bit of a black art (there are just too many variables) but for anyone involved in gameshooting, whether as a buying Gun, a shoot captain or a keeper, last week a bit of light was cast on the nuts and bolts of the industry.

At The CLA Game Fair, the Internet-based shooting marketplace GunsOnPegs.com and the chartered surveyor Smiths Gore revealed the results of their first-ever shoot benchmarking survey, which elicited a whole raft of information from shoots up and down the country on subjects such as keepers’ remuneration packages, average returns, fixed costs of gamebird production and the prices charged per bird shot.

The survey database

The survey results were based on data returned from 78 shoots in England, Scotland and Wales. The shoots operate over 299,000 acres, put down more than 580,000 birds and employ 110 full or part-time staff. In preparing the results, the shoots have been analysed as a group and by whether they considered themselves to be commercial or noncommercial/private, for which a small proportion of let days help to cover their running costs.

Among the interesting data revealed in the survey is the amount shoots spend on variable costs. On average, birds account for 46 per cent of a shoot’s variable costs, while fuel, which many regard as a major cost, represents only three per cent of the variable costs, outstripped by feed costs (22 per cent), beaters and pickers-up pay (13 per cent) and seed and fertilizer for gamecrops (five per cent). Likewise, staff and vehicle costs account for 60 per cent of the average shoot’s fixed costs.

James Horne, managing director of GunsOnPegs, explained that he feels such information has real value for the shooting community: “I’d love to repeat this survey on an annual basis in order to get a snapshot of the industry. We certainly feel that the sample of 78 shoots in this first study is sufficiently big to give us a meaningful response. For me, one of the really revealing things the data shows is how much it costs to send a bird over you in the first instance — whether you shoot it or not. Analysing the figures for a shoot’s fixed and variable costs for the 2009/10 season, we worked out that it costs around £12 to put a pheasant over a waiting Gun. That makes the average cost of a shot bird around £30 plus VAT.”

Based in Smiths Gore’s sporting lettings department, David Steel is adamant that shooters will find this information will bring clarity to a typically opaque subject: “Everybody is looking at costs carefully at the moment, obviously, and this data is very useful as a comparison tool and management tool.

“For example, I’m involved in the shoot management side of things as well, and it came as a surprise to me to see the price paid for rents — they were lower than I would have at first thought. Shoots can look at this data to see where they can save money or indeed charge a bit more. The bigger this survey gets in future years, the more meaningful it will be.”

David added that future participants need not fear their confidentiality is at risk: “While we offer bespoke reports for estates, the data in this survey is presented anonymously — we’re providing a snapshot of the industry. In future benchmarking surveys, we would like to hone and refine the data. For example, in this season’s survey we have a lot information on fixed and variable production costs, but we haven’t focused much on casual labour costs, beaters and so on. That area is something we would like to incorporate as well.”

Analysing the data

When reading the data on these pages, bear in mind a few caveats. Evidently, the shoots that participated are self-selecting and if you look at the average number of birds put down you can see that the results are generally from the larger shoots. Results from smaller farm shoots and self-keepered local syndicates that put down 1,000 or so birds and don’t sell days are not represented in the results since the survey results come from shoots that are registered to sell days through GunsOnPegs.

Nevertheless, the amount and quality of information that is included in this benchmarking survey is astonishing, but too great to reproduce in full here.

For the full published survey results and to sign up for future surveys, visit www.gunsonpegs.com or www.smithsgore.co.uk.