There's some great sport on offer if you plan ahead. Ian Grindy talks to keepers to get a taste of what's out there

You’ve just broken out the barbecue and settled down for a beer in a shady corner of the garden. The sun is shining, birds are singing — the last thing you are thinking about now is booking next season’s shooting programme. But booking early not only gives shoot owners time to plan their breeding programme and covercrops to match the demand, but it also gives them confidence in the market and allows them to invest.

It’s also worth remembering that if you are one of those people who book their shooting at the end of one season, with a small deposit to cement the deal, you are a desirable customer — the type of customer shoot owners normally go out of their way to cultivate. The economy and employment are picking up. The housing market is buoyant. After the austerity of recent times, there is also a higher degree of confidence in the markets. I wouldn’t go so far as to say people are flush with money, but there is definitely a feel-good factor that is starting to see the demand for shooting rise this year.

Booking early to avoid disappointment may seem like an overworked cliché to some, but I don’t think it will be this year. Demand for live game — eggs, chicks and poults — is also an indicator of the level of confidence in the shooting industry. According to Graham Holden, from Hy-Fly Game Hatcheries: “The market is buoyant.” But he said the cold, wet spring had affected game production this year and any subsequent shortage of birds could influence the availability of let days — one more reason to book now.

side by side

You need to start thinking about booking now, before the places are taken

Here’s a round-up of shooting days on offer around the country.

West Midlands

Valerie Yewbrey, a lady keeper on the Wood estate near Codsall on the Staffordshire/Shropshire borders, emphasised the need to book early. She has worked on the estate since 1990. An average bag on the estate is about 120 head and the cost for a let day is £34 per bird, inclusive of VAT. They usually shoot nine Guns but could squeeze in 10 at a push. Most of their days are already booked, but there may be an odd Gun spare or a possible cancellation so it’s worth getting in touch.

To make your interest known or to find out more, contact Valerie, tel 07887 563444.

Scottish borders

Doug Virtue, from Lammermuir game Services in the Scottish borders, shoots over 12,000 acres in the Lammermuir hills. This is a species-rich location so a day out with Doug might include snipe, pheasants, partridges, hares, rabbits, grouse, duck and virtually every other legal quarry species you can think of.

This is an ideal part of the UK for walking-up game with a few friends, working the dog and enjoying some challenging shooting in beautiful countryside. Doug still has some let days available, but was keen to emphasise that the sooner you book, the better.

He adopts a flexible approach, trying to tailor each day to the needs of individual Guns. “It’s about trying to match what people want, with what they can afford,” he said. The bag on his smaller mixed days is usually 60 to 80 head, for a party of six to eight Guns. the cost ranges from £250 to £350 per Gun, per day, all-inclusive. These early days often include snipe, teal, mallard and even the possibility of geese. The challenge is to shoot as many different species as you can, depending on the season.

Doug can cater for larger days, where Guns have the opportunity to shoot both driven grouse and partridge in the same day. the expected bag is approximately 150 head. The cost is £750 per Gun (including VAT) per day, with the number of Guns in each team varying from eight to 10.

There are recommended hotels in the area for visiting Guns, but you will need to do the actual booking yourself. What Doug can do is arrange for the contents of the bag to be prepared and cooked by the hotel for dinner the following evening. Shoot it, prepare it, cook it and eat it, sometimes all in one day — how’s that for a challenge?

To contact Doug, tel 01578 740258.

Lancashire

I contacted David Lloyd and Andy Greenwood from the Halsall Shoot in Lancashire, where the headkeeper is Nick Cooper. The shoot releases Japanese green cross pheasants and these birds fly exceptionally well on this flat coastal plain. the estate extends to about 6,000 acres and caters for a variety of days.

gamekeeper

Nick Cooper, headkeeper at the Halsall Shoot in Lancashire

There are days still available at Halsall but, according to David, the shoot is booking up fast.

“We still have a few early season duck days available,” he said, “and we normally charge about £300 per Gun all-inclusive for these days. This will include breakfast, lunch or possibly even a barbecue, weather permitting.” The bag varies between 100 to 150 birds per day for teams of eight to 10 Guns. David said it was possible to book some small walk-round days with Nick (depending on availability), which he feels are a good starting point for people new to shooting.

They normally shoot a mixed bag of 30 birds and the cost is £600 per day, for a team of up to six Guns (bring your own lunch). These days are ideal for people who enjoy working their own dog and are extremely affordable, but they do get booked up very quickly. The shoot also caters for larger mixed days with a minimum of 100 birds per day, lunch and breakfast included. Numbers are flexible but the smaller days work out at about £3,200 for a team of eight to 10 Guns, all-inclusive.

If you are interested contact David Lloyd, tel 07968 007214. For the availability of walk-round days it’s best to contact gamekeeper Nick Cooper directly, tel 07870 693106 or email: nc.halsall@hotmail.com.

North Wales

In North Wales, Robert Glynn told me about his passion for shooting woodcock, grouse, snipe and wild game in wild places. Robert specialises in walked-up, roughshooting days. “These days tend to be good for people who have never shot grouse before or roving syndicates,” said Robert. You don’t need to be a millionaire to shoot with Robert — £1,500 will buy you a day’s walked-up grouse for a party of eight Guns, all-inclusive, with an expected bag of about six to eight brace.

Back-to-back days are also available in September and these include one day at grouse for up to eight Guns, followed by a second day at snipe and duck. Day one costs £1,350. Day two, if you are interested in taking both back-to-back, is a further £1,150, all-inclusive.

Robert has a couple of similar days available in October, with even more variety. The first day includes walked-up grouse for eight Guns, with an expected bag of about six brace, but if you have any stamina left at the end of the day, there is also a duck flight in the evening. “We would hope to shoot approximately 20 duck on a flight,” said Robert.

The second day is a mixed day at snipe, woodcock, pheasant and duck. The bag on these days is variable but, at £1,600 for day one and £1,500 for day two, the price is within the means of most people, particularly so when this is shared between six to eight Guns.

Robert operates mainly out of North Wales, but his shooting exploits stretch far and wide, so if you want to find out exactly what he has to offer please contact him, tel 07795 214934 or email info@woodcock-hunting.com.

South Cumbria

Mike Gray is keeper on the 17,000-acre Holker Hall estate in South Cumbria. Much of the shooting in his part of the country is already sold, but the estate may have vacancies for single Guns to make up parties of eight. There is also the possibility of some partridge shooting available on the moor, but anybody interested needs to move quickly.

Contact the Holker estate office, tel 01539 558313 or email estateoffice@holker.co.uk.

For clarification about any of the prices or shooting on offer please contact the estates directly for up-to-date information.