A few things you need to get clear before you start
Do we have to pay extra?
Q: We bought a fixed-price driven day’s shooting, shot over the expected bag by quite a margin but weren’t told until after the last drive. The owner then billed us for the extra birds. What are the allowances (over or under the bag) on a fixed-price day and could we have refused to pay?
A: On fixed price days, there is usually a 10 per cent allowance either way. The owner/host should have told you when you were close to your target bag, and asked if you wanted to go over. Not telling you is poor practice, and I expect you and anyone else that has been caught out by them will vote with your feet next season and go elsewhere. Regarding your last point – should you have paid them — it was entirely up to you. I doubt there would have been anything they could have done about it, but as with all these things, the devil would have been in the detail of the original agreement — assuming you had one.
The questions you should ask when booking a driven day’s shooting
- How long has the ground been shot over without a break? This will tell you if the ground has been laid or evolved for shooting over a century, or just bulldozed together very recently.
- How long has the current keeper been in post? You’ll learn whether your day will be run correctly by someone who knows the ground and knows the form. Ground that has been shot with longevity and continuity will engender more confidence.
There should be enough drives to accommodate differing wind directions and enough land to ensure the estate is not pillaged weekly by every team that pitches up. If there aren’t enough acres, it could have been shot out over Christmas and the month of January could be dire.
How many days in the season?
Discover whether your day will be one of 85 similar days, all but three let to roving teams, or one of only three in a season of 10 days, of which the remainder are shot by the owner’s family or home syndicate. Average bag size is important, for it immediately sets the tone of the owner’s confidence and helps to manage your expectations. If the new shoot regularly turns in 300-plus bags, from early partridge to late pheasant, then it will probably show you a nice 200-bird day.
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How much will you be charged?
Start the discussion by knowing what bag your team would like but be a little flexible. Never lose sight of the fact that it costs the owner as much to run a 150-bird day as a 400-bird day, and listen attentively. Try to negotiate if you feel you must but once a figure has been arrived at, strike the deal. Included in this negotiation will be how you are billed by the new shoot and when, so that you can arrange your cash-flow to accommodate or make a counter offer if your team members pay in differing instalments and times.
How do they handle the bag coming up short or going overboard?
Never go into a day on an open-ended basis. Find out who pays whom for going over the bag or coming up short. Shoots will set parameters for both eventualities but the norm is around plus or minus 10 per cent of the target bag, allied to a typical shot-to-bird ratio.
How do you get to the shoot?
A good shoot may have a smart gun bus. Or the owner may suggest that 4x4s are de rigeur. Find out either way, you don’t want to turn up in a Porsche or similar for a day on 45 degree banks to discover that there is no gun bus.
Get a feel for how much walking is involved throughout the day, especially if your team contains representatives of the frail, elderly, infirm, or unfit.
When and how is the catering provided?
Smart estates have shoot rooms with a roaring fire and a professionally trained cook serving breakfast and a shot lunch later. Less smart shoots may favour converted cow byres, pig pens, Victorian stables, Dutch barns or even the keeper’s cottage, and somebody local will produce a tea urn and a midday casserole. Both can be good, but it helps to know in advance and prepare the team. Dietary peculiarities from your side should be explained and, if the keeper suggests shooting through, he probably has a good reason, so go with him.
Who will host the day?
Ask who is to be your host, ask to meet them on your essential reconnaissance and find out if they have been doing this for years or have recently been parachuted in as a friend of the owner. A day can be broken by a host who is more hail fellow well met and less well-informed guide, but you have to take some things on trust.
Ask about beaters and pickers-up
Enquire how many beaters are likely to be abroad in the land and how many pickers-up will be present. Some shoots populate their beating line with 10-15 individuals who are rarely seen or heard, whereas others have 20-30 on parade.
If you have asked the preceding questions and received reasonable answers then you’ll probably have a good day. If, on the other hand, you are in any doubt, then make your excuses and leave, because if it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t right.