Pursuing good-value driven shooting doesn't mean you need to skip on quality, as Ian Grindy discovers

You could spend a small fortune for a formal 400-bird day on one of the great estates, and not enjoy it one bit. On the other hand, an outside day with a few friends and a bag of 40 birds may leave you feeling elated. I can’t explain this phenomenon, but it’s worth thinking about if you want to get the best value from your shooting.

According to the Game Shooting and Fishing Census 2013, produced by Strutt & Parker and GunsOnPegs last season, the average price per bird shot was: pheasants £30.17, partridge £29.09 and duck £26.23, excluding VAT. This is an “average” price per bird from a range of shoots across the country, both private, part commercial and commercial. Purely commercial prices will be higher than this.

There are many factors that determine what you might pay for a day’s driven shooting. As with any other commodity, some people are prepared to pay more for what they believe to be better-quality shooting. This is where it starts to get a bit subjective, because people have different ideas about what constitutes quality, and whether this perceived — and usually expensive — quality, adds additional enjoyment or value to the day.

According to the census, 85 per cent of Guns prefer to shoot high birds, and 70 per cent would prefer to shoot those birds over wooded valleys. This means that shoots with the topography to meet both of these preferences will be in high demand. You can’t be too sure about what this high-bird shooting may cost, but it’s likely to be at the top end of the scale.

The prices I have heard quoted range from £37 to £45, plus VAT, per bird for the premier high-birds shoots, but the hospitality offered and reputation of the shoot has a big influence on pricing. It can be higher or lower than that.

The West Country, North Yorkshire, Welsh borders and other similar areas command a premium for their shooting. They have that all-important topography to meet the demand for challenging birds in a spectacular landscape. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a bargain to be had. These regions vary, and there is still plenty of quality shooting on offer from the smaller, less well-known shoots.

The success of the rearing season, covercrops and other factors determine where the shoot owner’s comfort zone may be in deciding how many days he has available to let. Reputation is everything, and the last thing you want to do is risk it on there being plenty of birds to meet the demand, and then find that birds are so thin on the ground by the middle of December, that you end up apologising for it. It sometimes pays to be cautious, see how things are going, and then let a few more days part way through the season.

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Could you be a last-minute addition to a team of Guns?

These “extra” days are usually last-minute affairs that require a team of Guns at short notice. Timing and a quick decision is what the shoots are looking for, and if you are able to take up the offer of a day like this, you are also in a good position to bargain. I wouldn’t want to gamble on being able to book all my days like this, but if it’s opportunities you are after, these last-minute deals might be useful. And there may be one or two ways you can further secure good-value driven shooting.

A few extras
Steve Bloomfield, Director England at BASC, has a wealth of experience as a professional keeper, and managed a shoot of his own for many years. Steve told me how he would often put in a few extra days towards the end of a good season. The bag on these days would usually be around 75-100 head. This allowed him to utilise gamecrops that had gone past their sell-by date as far as the main days were concerned, but were still useful for an odd outside day or two.

To keep costs down, the Guns would bring their own transport, lunches and a few unpaid pickers-up or beaters. The cost per bird would work out at about £6 or £7 a head less than a main day shoot. “It was some of the best, and most affordable shooting you could ask for,” says Steve. “They may have shot a few more than they should have done, but everybody went home happy, and that’s what counts.”

It’s also worth contacting a few shoots, keepers and estates yourself. You have nothing to lose by registering your interest, making contacts and putting your name about. A friend of mine did this and found some real bargains. By registering his interest early, he was first in line when opportunity knocked.

There is certainly a demand for smaller driven days, but the costs of putting on a small 100-bird day can be the same as those for a 150- or 200-bird day. Beaters, pickers-up and transport have to be paid for, no matter what the bag. This makes shoots reluctant to bargain on smaller days, but if you can be flexible about the bag, there’s nothing to be lost by asking.

beaters

It’s not uncommon for Guns to bring along beaters as an additional way of securing good-value driven shooting

There are occasions when shoots suddenly find themselves short of a couple of Guns to make up a party of eight in the line. If you are able and willing to make up the numbers on a day like this, you could save quite a bit of money, especially if the person you are replacing has already paid a deposit.

Some people don’t like shooting with strangers, but don’t assume that there is something dodgy about the people you are shooting with just because you don’t know them. You can have a word with the shoot owner or keeper first if safety is what you are worried about. My experience is that you are more likely to make new friends on a day like this than end up keeping your head down. Many sporting agencies will offer last-minute deals for both single Guns and full days.

And what about joining a sociable shooting syndicate or club where the cost of your shooting is based on a proportion of the overall costs, with no profit motive involved? It may be less flexible than buying by the day, and may restrict you to a single shoot, but there is a current trend for different syndicates to swap days and venues with one another, which makes for a bit of fun and variety.

Also, make sure you take a look at the Shooting Times classified section throughout the season and the sporting agent section in the BASC trade directory, and view the discounts available for members

Dos and don’ts of finding good-value driven shooting

DO

  • Look before you leap. Remember that there is no substitute for a personal recommendation when it comes to buying shooting.
  • Be clear about any overage or extras that you may be expected to pay.
  • Check whether lunch and refreshments are included in the price.
  • Be clear about how and when the final payment is expected.
  • If this is a new shoot you are booking, ask if it’s possible to have a look round the shoot first.
  • And finally, don’t be afraid to ask if the shoot complies with the Code of Good Shooting Practice. If they reply “What’s that?” put the phone down!

DON’T

  • Don’t think that because it’s cheap it’s going to be a bargain. You usually get what you pay for.
  • Don’t pay too much money up front without a written contract.
  • Don’t believe everything you hear about a shoot (it’s a competitive market). Make sure that your source of information is reliable.
good-value high birds

85% of Guns prefer to shoot high birds, which means places offering this kind of driven shooting are in high demand

Something different but good value
Howard Day from Outside Days has something different to offer. From family-style walk-one, stand-one days with lunch in the farmhouse kitchen, to driven days with bags starting at the mini end (60 birds), days start at £34 per bird.

Howard works closely with shoots in Sussex, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. One shoot, ranging over 8,000 acres, is geared specifically for smaller days. The 100+ drives can be tackled by a handful of beaters, reducing the overheads that can make smaller days financially prohibitive. “Forgoing ‘flash’ catering in favour of soup and a sausage roll, catering for yourselves, or shooting through to finish the day with a late pub lunch are other ways to extract value from a day’s sport,” says Howard.

Contact Howard on 01794 390065 or email howard@outsidedays.com.

Something good value for everyone
Clare Smith, from the Altcar estate in Lancashire, tries to find something for everyone. A boundary day of about 70 birds or so will cost you £200 + VAT per Gun. This is no-frills shooting on the estate boundaries, where Guns bring their own transport and refreshments.

If you want to take one step up the ladder, then there are 150-bird driven days available at £460+ VAT per gun. Tea and coffee is provided on these days, but Guns bring their own lunch to keep the costs down. Transport between drives is provided by the gunbus.

Call Clare on 0151 327 2220 or email info@altcarestate.com.