Finding somewhere to shoot may not be as easy as it used to be, but being smart, police and professional is a start, suggests Mark Ripley in Shooting Times
How to get a permission for foxing
- Dress to impress: wearing clothing that looks like you belong in the countryside will get you far more accepted than turning up at a farm in your best Nike gear.
- Be professional and polite: have insurance or, better still, BASC membership and business cards.
- Softly, softly: approach farmers or landowners by engaging in conversation or, even better, by doing them a good deed. Then tactfully approach the subject of shooting. If you can also name-drop a few people they are likely to know, that can help too.
- Start small: rather than asking permission to shoot the whole farm, point out a particular field with a lot of rabbits or a lambing field where you may have seen a fox or two. This will get your foot in the door.
- Timing is all: asking at the right time is key, such as approaching when you’re likely to be needed most — during lambing, for example. Aim to catch the farmer at a convenient time, not when he’s busy.
Finding somewhere to shoot
The biggest obstacle people face when getting into shooting is finding somewhere to shoot. I remember as a young lad struggling to find a farm on which to shoot. One weekend my friend and I went on a concentrated door-knocking excursion and spent the day asking at every farmhouse we could find, only to get the same rebuttal each time.
Disheartened, we returned to my friend’s house where his father asked how we had got on. We explained that we had asked at lots of farms with no luck. His father was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy and seemed amazed that none of the local farms would oblige our simple request. “Come on,” he said, “we’ll go see the guy over the road.”
We hadn’t thought to ask at the small cottage over the road, probably because, to a pair of naive 14-year-olds, it wasn’t an obvious farm. As we walked down the drive we met the farmer and my mate’s dad, smiling warmly. He introduced us, explained he lived over the road and that we were looking for somewhere to shoot.
“The boys here are looking for a bit of ground to shoot on with their air rifles, just a few rabbits. They’re good lads, would you mind if they pop over now and then? We only live over the road,” he asked.
His simple, friendly approach and warm smile did the trick and to our amazement the farmer kindly gave us his permission.
Looking at it from a farmer’s point of view, if a stranger knocked on your door asking to shoot on your ground, would you say yes?
If you do resort to cold calling, be sure to time your visits. Farmers are always busy, especially in the early mornings. He also won’t take kindly to being called away from his Sunday dinner or stopped at a gate in the peeing rain when he has a flock of sheep to get in off the hill.
You will be judged on first impressions, so how you dress will make a difference. If you turn up in trainers, jogging bottoms and a hoodie, you don’t look like you belong on a farm. A country shirt, jeans or country-style trousers and boots would be more fitting. But you should also avoid wearing camouflage and turning up with a rifle on your shoulder when you are cold calling.
Even if your visit clearly isn’t welcome, thank them for their time and leave them with a business card in case they need any vermin dealt with in the future. I’ve done this before and thought nothing more of it, only to receive a call a week later. You can get business cards printed cheaply online, so it’s worth having a few done.
It’s also worth investing in shooting insurance or, better still, full BASC membership. This will go a long way to helping you gain permission for foxing — and on some farms may be insisted upon.
Gaining ground from scratch is now more difficult than ever. I’ve gained several farms after a good word from a farmer at the local market, but my fellow foxer Mike Powell has been shooting for more than 70 years and argues that changing communities have made things more challenging.
“Fifty years ago finding ground was easy because there were a lot less people shooting,” he said. “Life in a small village helped, and it was often a case of who you knew instead of what you knew. I was fortunate enough at one time to be working for the NFU, which put me in a great position to meet farmers, and conversations would quickly turn to shooting. Before long I had more ground than I knew what to do with.”
Land is less freely available these days and shooters may have to be patient. Occasionally, ground will come up when someone drifts out of the sport, land changes hands or people die, opening the new doors for others.
Mike also advises older shooters to take youngsters under their wing, so when they eventually retire the ground is passed on for another generation to enjoy. Befriending a gamekeeper is a good opportunity, too. With many of them already overstretched, they may welcome a hand when it comes to pest control and keeping foxes and other pests away from the poults.
Think about when a farmer is likely to be suffering problems, such as the start of lambing, when foxes and crows can be most troublesome, or at harvest time when pests could interfere with machinery. If you see an issue — from a broken fence to an errant fox — take the opportunity to call at the farmhouse and strike up a conversation. Farmers will remember a good deed and should welcome you — as another set of eyes if nothing else. I will always try to help farmers out whenever possible, whether I know them or not. It makes it more likely that you’ll get a permission for foxing eventually.
There have been times where I’ve gone to the farm for foxes and ended up helping the farmer fix something or moving livestock instead. It’s a small price to pay for free shooting, though. I’ve also gained a couple of farms from my work in the building trade, exchanging labour in exchange for shooting rights. Every farmer likes to save money.
In the past I’ve also found shooting in not so obvious places too, such as a local zoo and a couple of golf courses. It’s surprising but schools, colleges, sports grounds, churches, factory and refuse sites can all have a need for pest control in some form or another and with the right approach can be very productive. It pays to think outside the box when you’re looking for a permission for foxing.
The best bit of advice I can give on finding a permission for foxing is perseverance. You will be knocked back time and again but eventually someone will give you the thumbs up. And if the farmer is obliging don’t forget to call back to the farmhouse to thank him. Offer a brace of rabbits or a bottle of something and, if he hasn’t already offered, ask if you can pop back in a few weeks.
Farmers can come across as rather hard-faced at times but if you’re accepted into their way of life you will find more friends and sporting opportunities than you could possibly shake a muddy stick at.