Applying for a sporting opportunity can be almost as daunting a task as running the shoot itself. Here are Ian Grindy’s tips on making a successful application

You pick up a sporting magazine and an advertisement catches your eye. It’s offering shooting rights. You’ve always dreamed of managing a little grouse moor or pheasant shoot, and inviting a few friends to join you in starting up a syndicate. These opportunities don’t come along too often, so this time you are going to go for it.

However, before you get too enthusiastic, take a good, long look at the advertisement again. Is it really what you’re looking for? Running a shoot takes time, money and commitment. You need to be sure that the scale of the shoot on offer is within your capabilities.

It’s common sense to undertake a few simple checks before applying formally. Do the same shooting rights come up for let too often? If so, there could be problems with the landlord, the tenant farmers, or both. On the other hand, it could be that this is a good landlord who has had a series of bad shooting tenants. The shooting world is a small one — so get contacting.

Where shooting rights are concerned, size is definitely not everything. If the 500 acres on offer are well wooded, with lots of hedges and plenty of shrub cover, then they’re going to be more desirable than 1,500 acres of prairie, where there is hardly a blade of grass for a mouse to hide under. Do your homework — and think location every time.

Consider the terms of the lease — are they overly restrictive? Is there a limit to the number of days’ shooting you can have, or the number of birds you may put down? Is there a break clause? Would you be taking on any onerous liabilities — for the maintenance of roads, fencing, or other infrastructure? The lease needs to be balanced in such a way that it protects both parties, and doesn’t inhibit the tenant from investing in the shoot for the longer term. Having said that, it takes time to build up trust and mutual respect with the landlord, and when you do, the lease becomes less of an issue.

Big players

Shooting rights are usually the property of the landowner, but not always. It pays to find out if this is the case — being the tenant of the actual landowner is often less complicated. Landowners come in all shapes and sizes — it could be the landed gentry, a small owner/occupier or a large corporate organisation with shooting to let. As far as the “large corporate organisation” category is concerned, this could be a water company, the Forestry Commission, the National Trust, Church Commissioners, the Crown Estate or the Ministry of Defence, to name but a few.

These organisations have a huge amount of shooting land available and it doesn’t come up to let that often, so when it does, there are a few things to think about before you start submitting your application. I spent 16 years as a manager of large corporate estates before retiring. I had 11 different shooting tenancies on my patch of about 46,000 acres, plus another 20 or so in other regions owned by the company. That’s a lot of shooting tenants, and a lot of land.

The single most important thing to me when considering someone’s suitability as a prospective shooting tenant, was their ability to fit in with the company’s overall objectives for the land. The ability to pay a decent rent is important, but when you have a corporate reputation to consider, it isn’t everything. I would want to be absolutely convinced that any prospective shooting tenant was a safe pair of hands. And it would be up to the applicant to convince me.

I would want to be sure that he or she would work strictly within the law, at a sustainable level, and take in to account every other activity taking place on the estate. This may mean a good working relationship with the estate farming tenants, foresters, rangers, statutory and non-statutory organisations, and last but certainly not least, members of the public and company employees. It’s a tall order I know, but if you can hack it then you might end up shooting in some of the most beautiful landscapes this country has to offer.

Research

If you want to be successful in applying for shooting rights then you need to do your homework, but in the case of a large corporate landowner that homework will require a much higher degree of due diligence. It would be wise to find out if the company or organisation that you are applying
to has a biodiversity action plan? If it does, how does shooting fit in with this — and how might you make a contribution? If it’s a grouse moor then it is likely to be water-gathering ground, and there will be restrictions on what you can and can’t do for water quality reasons, so check this out.

Shooting doesn’t always bring in a huge amount of money compared with the turnover of a large corporate organisation. Corporate reputation is usually worth more than anything that the rent from a shoot can bring in. So let me give you one piece of good advice: think about how you can generate added value. This might be a plan for helping to deal with wildfires, tailoring your predator control to help with the company’s Biodiversity Action Plan, working with estate staff to enhance security — I am sure you get the picture.

As head of sporting services at rural property advisers Smiths Gore, David Steel knows a thing or two about dealing with applications for sporting rights, corporate or otherwise. David suggests that as well as tailoring your application to the landlord’s aims and objectives, you should supply written references that are decent and relevant. You also need to prove that you can abide by the terms and conditions of the lease, and operate professionally at all times.

In the tender submission, David suggests that you demonstrate a previous track record of running a successful and sustainable shoot. If this is your first shoot application, then your references will be more important than ever, and they will need to convince the landlord that your enthusiasm and knowledge make up for any lack of previous practical experience — everybody has
to start somewhere.

The quality of your application and presentation is also important. A typed and bound submission will attract more attention than a handwritten note, and this makes it easier for the reader to navigate and digest. The most important thing is to secure an interview.

“This is your chance to shine, and to speak passionately about your aims and ambitions, as well as to expand on the key issues in your written submission”, said David. I agree, even the most hard-nosed land agent is likely to be impressed by genuine enthusiasm. Interviews are stressful at the best of times, but it is important to be yourself and let the authentic nature of your personality shine through. It isn’t always what you can pay or contribute that counts, it’s if they believe they can trust you!