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How to gain your first air rifle hunting permission

Struggling to secure some ground to shoot over? Mat Manning offers hopeful hunters some helpful hints to overcome the age-old obstacle of securing your first permission

One of the toughest hurdles faced by any aspiring air rifle hunter is securing a shooting permission – it’s the most challenging stalk most of us will ever be presented with.

It’s seldom an easy task, and you need to prepare yourself for a few knockbacks along the way. But, with a little forethought and diplomacy, it can be achieved – and the satisfaction of acquiring your first permission more than makes up for the time and effort invested.

When seeking a shooting permission, consider the mindset of the landowners you are approaching. If you owned a patch of land and depended on it to generate a livelihood for yourself and your family, would you let a complete stranger roam that space with a gun after a casual request? I think it’s unlikely.

You need to win their trust and prove to them that you’re a responsible shooter who takes his sport very seriously, and that you can offer something that will benefit your host.

One of the best ways to demonstrate a professional attitude towards your shooting is to invest in insurance against damage or injury to machinery, buildings, livestock and people.

It’s every hunter’s responsibility to ensure that an accident is never allowed to happen, but insurance provides peace of mind and will help you convince your host that you have a sensible attitude and are committed to your sport.

There are numerous different insurers around these days. I would advise against simply opting for the cheapest – you tend to get what you pay for in this arena.

I use BASC (British Association for Shooting and Conservation), and have done for many years. This organisation works hard to protect and promote the importance and benefits of shooting sports, and most landowners will be familiar with it.

Don’t overlook social media when it comes to tracking down contacts for permissions

Persistence pays off

One way to approach landowners is to send a letter, explaining that you’re a fully insured shooter wishing to offer a free pest control service. Suggest a meeting to discuss their requirements and remember to include your contact details.

Expect to be disappointed, and don’t go chasing up your letters with impatient phone calls – if you don’t get a reply, you can assume that your letter was ignored or overlooked by someone who no doubt already has enough paperwork to deal with. If you send out 20 letters and just one results in a shooting permission, you’ve succeeded.

Should your letters fail to secure you shooting rights, it may be worth following up with a visit a week or two after you sent them. Dress tidily – there’s no need for a suit and tie, but this is not the time to don your tree-print camo – and remember your manners.

When the door opens, refer to the letter you sent, reiterate your intentions and remind them about that all-important insurance again. Also remember to point out that you are offering a free service which should be of benefit to them and their business.

As ever, brace yourself for rejection, and be polite when it comes. The farming community is a close-knit one – offend one farmer, and word will get around soon enough.

When you’re considering who to approach for a shooting permission, look out for fields that are overrun with rabbits or being hammered by woodpigeons when you’re out and about on rounds like the school run, travelling to work or driving to the shops. A farmer who is swamped with vermin could be very grateful of your offer to help.

Work closely with whoever grants your shooting permission to ensure that the arrangement suits their needs

Don’t overlook your existing network of friends. It’s probably the best route to securing shooting rights, and if you’re already a well-known and trusted member of your local community, you’ve got a major head start.

A recommendation from someone who knows you counts for a lot in terms of trustworthiness, and will certainly put you on the fast track compared with a surprise request on the farmhouse doorstep.

Think about your friends and family and anyone they might know who owns some land and might appreciate some free pest control. Farmers are obvious potential hosts, but don’t forget about golf courses and equestrian holdings, where rabbits can cause serious problems if their numbers are left unchecked.

If you are lucky enough to get an introduction to the right person (be it in the pub, the school playground, the church, the office or wherever) don’t go straight in with the big question.

Hopefully the conversation will drift to their land interest and you might be able to ask if they ever have any trouble with vermin. If they do, offer your services.

Social media can also be a very useful tool for hunters pursuing shooting permission. Look for local farming and equestrian groups, and let them know about the service you are able to offer. Don’t go posting photos of guns and dead animals, just write a few lines to explain that you’re a responsible and insured local shooter.

Get it right and your patient, polite pursuit will result in some land to shoot over. When you do get permission to shoot, make sure you get it in writing. This is a prerequisite to validate most insurance policies, and is also useful if anyone questions your right to be there when you’re out hunting.

You are there to carry out a service, so let the landowner explain how he or she would like you to operate. Some parts of the farm might be out of bounds because of livestock, workers or walkers. Make sure you know exactly what your host wants you to shoot and doesn’t want you to shoot – they may not regard all legal quarry as vermin.

Make sure you can put in the hours to deliver the service you’re offering before committing to your first shooting permission

Your first permission is a great way to tap into the local rural network, so remember to act responsibly at all times. Your host will no doubt discuss your activities with friends and colleagues.

This is where the close-knit farming community can prove very useful – positive comments from your landowner could soon lead to more opportunities in the local area.

Nurture the relationship by offering to lend a hand with jobs on the farm or estate if you are ever able to; alerting the landowner to any fencing, hedging or gates that may need repair; and notifying them of suspicious activity on their ground. Apart keeping down the vermin, you also have an important role to play as an extra pair of eyes in the fields or woods.

Above all, enjoy and cherish your permission and do a good job with it. The agreement is more than likely based on the understanding that your visits will bring about a noticeable reduction in the pests that you’ve been allowed to target.

Make sure you put in sufficient time to justify the permission you have been granted, and think very carefully before accepting offers of more ground elsewhere. Spread yourself too thinly, and you may not be able to deliver the service you promised.