Sharing the ups and downs of starting a little DIY shoot can be great fun. Tony Jackson outlines what you need to bear in mind
Can you recall a time when the roughshoot, that splendid amalgam of sport, offering the odd walked-up pheasant or perhaps a partridge, a snipe, a mallard and a brace of rabbits, was a readily available alternative to the organised driven day?
If you can then you have reached a certain age and, like me, are now perhaps a fan of the do-it-yourself shoot, the direct descendant of the roughshoot.
Of course, roughshoots can still be found, usually based in the more outlying parts of the land, but it is the DIY shoot that, in recent decades, has brought a fresh new concept to the shooting scene.
Moderate driven shooting at a reasonable cost
The principle is simple; the execution can be rather more complicated. The basic idea behind the DIY shoot is to provide moderate driven shooting at a reasonable cost, for a group of Guns who are usually known to each other. The whole exercise demands a substantial degree of co-operation and, of course, a financial contribution from each Gun, which will vary according to the size of the shoot and the number of birds to be released. The team may consist of eight Guns, or double this number or more, with individual members allotted a set number of days for their subscription. Half the team on a day’s sport will beat and shoot on alternate drives.
The successful running of a DIY shoot hinges on co-operation and a willingness, on the part of each member, to contribute time and energy as well as a reasonable financial input. A team leader, one with organisational skills and the drive to put them into practice and to inspire fellow Guns, is essential, as is the presence of one or more members who are prepared to ensure that the released poults are fed, watered and generally looked after.
All the members of the shoot must accept that, in lieu of a full-time paid gamekeeper, the initial groundwork to create the shoot is their responsibility. Work parties must be organised to build release pens, rides cut and cleared, covercrops sown and maintained, feed points organised and pests such as rats, squirrels and corvids kept under control.
The size of the shoot will, of course, vary according to its location and what is available. It may be no more than 100 or 200 acres, or perhaps 1,000, but whatever the size the principles remain the same.
Pens, feeders and protection
Let us assume that you have been able to engage the sympathies of a friendly farmer and a financial arrangement has been agreed with, it is to be hoped, a substantial lease. then the real graft begins!
The modest DIY shoot in which I am involved incorporates two small adjacent farms with a total of around 400 acres. We have numerous substantial hedges and two woods, in one of which a release pen large enough to cope with 350 poults has been sited. Initially, we had to clear the ground, remove a number of small trees and ensure that the perimeter where the wire would be placed was clear of obstacles. Fortunately, a nearby stream offers a source of water for the birds in the pen but it is essential to ensure that water is readily available and that containers are kept clean and topped up.
Your release pen, or pens, will require tanalised (pressure treated) posts 2m high and set 3m to 4m apart, with wire netting for the base of the pen and plastic netting on the top section. two strands of taut wire, one at the top of the poles and the other halfway up, will act as supports for the netting. In addition, you will need a suitably sited gate with hinges and latches. on our shoot, we have installed six anti-fox grilles in the fence with wire wings to guide the birds.
Initially, we bought 20 metal cans to act as feeders. these had removable lids and, using a chisel, we punched two holes in the base of each one. Set under the shelters these feeders worked quite well, but we discovered that if they were placed in the open, the rain and damp quickly clogged the holes with balled-up pellets. We eventually invested in plastic feeders on wooden tripod legs with spirals and plastic trays. these have proved excellent.
If you have deer, you can stop them knocking over feeders by protecting them with wooden posts held together with wire and tied firmly to a tree if possible.
A two-strand electric wire from a 12-volt battery to deter foxes is essential and effective. however, the wire must be regularly checked to make sure that it has not been shorted by a falling branch and the battery will need to be replaced at intervals. as far as buzzards are concerned, we suffered some initial losses in the first year when the poults were released, but we have found that plastic bags hung from branches in and around the pen seem to deter them.
Try to get the assistance of a local gamekeeper
If you can — and our small DIY syndicate found this to be invaluable — try to obtain the assistance of an expert, such as a local gamekeeper, to assist with the erection of the release pen. he will know all the shortcuts, and where to obtain materials, and this will save you time and money in the long run. We had the assistance of such an expert and, four years later, the pen is still in excellent shape.
Covercrops will almost certainly be required and you will need to site them to create drives in themselves or to provide flushing points for birds. here, again, advice from an expert will be invaluable, as will thoughts on the type of crop. We have used a combination of maize and kale with reasonable success, and if you can include a mixture that will also assist small farmland birds through the winter months, so much the better.
As far as cultivating the ground and sowing, your farmer landlord will be able to offer assistance. he will, in any case, need to be consulted on suitable and available areas where the crop can be sown. If there is livestock, such as cattle or sheep, you will need to protect the crop with fencing and strong wire. We also install a metal farm gate so that our farmer can bring his tractor in at the end of the shooting season to clear the ground.
Virtually every DIY shoot will buy in poults. Bought from a reliable gamefarm, eight-week-old poults, costing between £3 or £4 each, will save time and trouble. Let a professional invest the time and the financial outlay required to rear from day-olds. Do not be tempted to purchase ex- layers. They might appear to be cheaper, but may also be carrying disease and will not be as healthy as well-reared poults.
Don’t forget, when costing the shoot outlay that you will require starter pellets formulated for pheasants when the poults first arrive, followed by wheat when the birds go to wood. We have found that by slowly introducing wheat to the pellets when the birds are about 12 weeks old, they quickly adapt to the corn in the outside world.
Costs and rewards of a DIY shoot
How much is a gun in a DIY shoot likely to cost? This naturally varies according to the size of the shoot, the outgoings and the sport on offer. It may range from £500 for the season to treble that amount, but you can be certain that it will be considerably cheaper than buying a Gun in a syndicate or a series of days on commercial shoots.
In addition, there will be an enormous sense of satisfaction in the knowledge that through hard work and companionship, there will be a steady acquisition of knowledge of the countryside, its wildlife and, not least, the hard work, job satisfaction and dedication that is the lot of the professional gamekeeper.