Tony Bracci looks at what to do for those who can’t get enough shooting but for whom the opportunities are thin on the ground
What is the next step when the local clay shoot or beaters’ day shoot just isn’t enough to satisfy your desire to shoot? If money is no object, you buy a country estate, employ a gamekeeper and throw a load of money at it until you get the shoot you want. This, alas, is not an option for most of us. Another option is to rent the sporting rights over a piece of land. If this is too much, then being in favour with the landowner or sporting rights holder is your best alternative.
A few years ago it was hard for a single Gun to find game shooting, especially without shooting friends. Now you can go on the internet and book a peg on a shoot. This is welcome progress in game shooting and has helped many get out shooting for the first time. Then you find out how hard it is to find good shooting – within your budget, with the right people and in the right area.
Some of the same hurdles also apply with permissions from farmers. If you do manage to gain a permission from a farmer don’t just think that you can shoot big bag pigeon days. (Read more here on getting a pigeon shooting permission.)
If the pigeon numbers have become that bad then the farmer may already be looking for someone else to shoot them. You may also find favour with farmers by asking to shoot crows and jackdaws that are eating animal feed or by sitting out for an opportunity or lamping for foxes and rabbits. Communication is the key, offering to help out on the farm at busy times of the year, finding out what vermin is a problem and where.
When shooting over anyone’s land, try to leave no trace you were there. Shut gates behind you, pick up your empty cartridge shells, don’t, if possible, leave tyre marks across fields and dispose of what you have shot responsibly. You have to do everything in your power to show it is an advantage to have you shooting on their ground.
This could mean that the shooting may come second to helping out and keeping the shooting permission. Every day not shooting should, time permitting, be a day on reconnaissance. Farmers work seven days a week, so turning up on a Saturday afternoon may not be enough.
The availability of this kind of shooting will vary around the country and the easiest way to meet like-minded people is to find the nearest game shoot to you and try to join the beating team. Here you will meet local farmers and keepers who will know what is going on in your area. Once you get to know the team opportunities may arise, but if not you will hopefully still get a good beaters’ day shoot at the end of the season.
Sporting rights can be obtained by asking at the estate offices of large landowners. This may not be as expensive as you think and will depend on what part of the country you are in and the quality of the land. Premium land will be fields and deciduous wood with nice hills, which will demand a higher price; non-deciduous woods with fewer fields may be cheaper, but they should still provide some good sport. Such rights are usually charged by the acre, so the bigger the piece of land the more rent you will be charged.
The right approach
When I left my last keepering job I approached the local landowner and asked if there were any sporting rights for rent. There was a block of land close to where I live – 569 acres of mainly fir and chestnut woodland. There was some deciduous woodland, a small pond and a steep hill along one boundary. It wasn’t perfect but by getting six friends together and forming a small syndicate it was affordable with the rent paid in advance every six months.
Everyone pulls their weight in different ways. Release pens were built and pheasants put down in small numbers. Some members of our syndicate are available to feed and water most days, others just help out on the bigger job days.
Some years there is good pigeon shooting, depending on what crops are planted by the local farmers; some years the pond can attract wild duck, which gives us a couple of great evening flights.
Vermin must be controlled as part of the lease. Forestry is a big part of our shoot and it is important to keep on top of the squirrel and rabbit population. The lease does not permit us to shoot deer. The shoot is mainly forestry and it changes over the years.
Young plantation is nice to walk-up through but as the wood grows it becomes less good for walk-up but a good location for a pen.
As the wood is thinned it opens up, again giving ground cover and light, and with a few feeders worth pushing through on a shoot day.
The best thing about having your own shoot is that you are not beholden to anyone. You don’t have to ask permission before you go out and you can invite your friends. It may not be the best shoot in the world, but if it is yours it will be special to you.
Gaining your first shooting permission will likely come from someone who knows and trusts you; knocking on a farmer’s door will most likely not work out. When you do get a permission, respect the land and the owner’s property.
Endeavour to make yourself an asset to the estate or farm. Also, ensure that you have shooting insurance and remember the permission can be taken away just as easily as it was gained, then trying to find another permission will be even harder.
If you gain some shooting rights, sit down with your syndicate members and try to have a realistic expectation of what you can achieve with the land that you have got permission for. Over the years I think this aspect has become harder and more and more people are getting into shooting and less land is available to shoot over. Prices have gone up and in all aspects of having a small shoot – food, fuel, rent, not forgetting the birds themselves.
If you can rent or get a permission for some shooting, it is down to you what it is worth to you and how much effort and work you have to put in to get what you want out of it.
Tips for getting a shooting permission
- Go alone
- Don’t take a dog to your initial meeting about a shooting permission; you can negotiate for that later.
- Listen carefully to the farmer’s reply.
- While it may seem a little flashy to leave a business card, it also speaks of a professional attitude. Equally importantly, it means the farmer has your contact details.
- You can include any other pest control service you offer, such as rifle shooting or ferreting.
- Other paperwork that should be ready to hand will be your BASC membership and your shotgun certificate, which some farmers may expect to be able to check before they give you a shooting permission.
- Getting into the shooting community — be it through driven days or in clubs — can be an excellent foot in the door.
- Many wildfowling clubs, as well as offering access to the marsh, also have rough shooting opportunities
- Always leave the land at least as good as you found it. Tyre ruts, spent cartridge cases and butchered bushes you’ve cut into for a hide are sure-fire ways to ensure you won’t get permission again.
Pete Thompson, who owns and manages a significant acreage of mixed greens, says: “The only people I let get anywhere near our land have to be completely trustworthy. I need to know they’re not going to antagonise our neighbours by leaving injured pigeon unpicked or by shooting too near to footpaths or gardens. Get to know people. Be friendly.
This article was first published in 2020 and has been updated.