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Is shooting riding out the recession?

In October 2008, Shooting Times reported on how the financial downturn was causing grave concern throughout the shooting industry. Stories of forfeited deposits and cancelled corporate days were widespread, while sporting agents and concerned commercial shoot managers tried to put on a brave face in the shooting press.

Despite last year’s pessimistic predictions, however, a recent opinion poll conducted by the Internet-based company gunsonpegs ( claims to show that the majority of shooters are still planning to take up the
same amount or more sport as last year. Is this upbeat attitude reflected across the whole driven shooting industry?

The company posted two questions on its website: How frequently will you be shooting this year compared with last year? How frequently will you be shooting this year compared with last year? and What bag size do you anticipate to be shooting this year compared with last year? It received 384 responses from visitors to the website. A third of those polled said that they would be shooting more this season than they were last season and nearly half said they will be shooting the same number of days as last season.

Gunsonpegs director Chris Horne told Shooting Times: “This means that 78.4 per cent of all respondents say they will be buying the same amount or more shooting than last year.” A quarter of respondents also said they will be shooting larger bags this season compared with last season. “We were genuinely surprised by the results of the poll, as we had expected people to cut back on shooting this year. However, the proof will be in the pudding as to whether or not shoots will be left with remaining days later on in the season,” added Mr Horne.

Shooting agents’ views
Views among sporting agencies seem to be divided. It would seem some types of driven shooting are still feeling the effects of the recession. E. J. Churchill’s managing director Rob Fenwick launched the company’s new sporting agency in May, which offers shooting days to clients without them paying commission. He said: “The poll makes very interesting reading. Quite how much I believe is a different matter. I would not agree that people are booking more days. I think more people are hanging on until the last minute to book. Shooters want to see if the rumour of late deals comes true, as everyone is being far more cautious with their money and wants a deal if there is one to be had.”

Mr Fenwick added: “With regard to clients wanting bigger days, we have certainly not seen this. We have sold lots of smaller days (100 to 150 birds) and these have been taken up by people new to the sport and those who still want to go shooting but keep it within a budget.”

Robert Cuthbert of Serious Shooting said some estates have been forced to cut
their prices: “Though we have seen a rise in interest, we are not out of the woods yet. Things are far from great, but the signs are encouraging. The market has been shaken up considerably, which has seen some shoots fold, some scale back, and some have been able to increase their let days. The odd estate has had to cut prices at times when sales were weak, but they have then sold out, which is great.”

Nick Mason of Davis & Bowring, based in Cumbria, told Shooting Times that driven grouse shooting seems to have escaped the credit crunch relatively unscathed: “The poll results are very encouraging indeed and certainly up here in Kirkby Lonsdale we have experienced a very brisk letting season for driven grouse shooting. There also seems to have been more demand for larger bag days with clients not keen to book 40- to 50-brace days, which proves that those who can afford to shoot grouse can still afford it.”

Shooters’ opinions Some shooters, however, are unconvinced by the poll’s findings. It seems the falloutof the recession is still hitting the pockets of many shooters. City Gun Ben Smith, from Kent, believes the results do not tally with his own experiences. “I am surprised by the results of the poll. I cannot see how the corporate slice of the market has been fi lled with regular Guns. I am being called pretty much every day by sporting agents offering me unsold days and, more regularly, days that have arisen through cancellations.

“Last-minute cancellations may be happening as a result of a pick-up in the market and people being forced to work rather than take time off to shoot. I tried to organise a client day but could only muster four Guns who could get out of the office. I have cut my shooting by 50 per cent but kept the bag sizes the same. Devon or Wales are a long way to go for a small day,” added Mr Smith.

Shooter David Jones, from Essex, was made redundant from his City bank eight months ago. He said his sport has been turned on its head: “I used to organise client days and spend a large amount of my personal disposable income on shooting. Since losing my job that has all stopped. I have since created a small shoot from scratch with a group of friends. I believe the results of the poll are misleading. Yes, I am shooting more days this year — in fact I am shooting alternate Saturdays throughout the season — but I am spending far less. I have not bought a single day from a sporting agent or commercial shoot.”

Research by the University of Newcastle’s Centre for the Rural Economy shows that the economy’s downturn has had a varied impact on the countryside. Its director, Guy Garrod, pointed out that though some activities have been hit hard, others have performed relatively well. “There is evidence of increased participation in a number of niche activities and it may well be that shooting is one example of an activity the demand for which will be unaffected by recession. Indeed, participation by some individuals could be expected to increase if the marginal cost of a day’s shooting was perceived to be relatively low in relation to the investment in equipment or to the cost of substitute ‘luxury’ activities such as holidays abroad.”

It remains to be seen whether thestated intentions of individuals in the gunsonpegs survey will correspond to their actual behaviour and, for the sector as a whole, demand from corporate and international clients will also be a key driver of success.

BASC’s David Ilsley commented that shooters need to commit to buying shooting now: “There are still plenty of vacancies out there for last-minute opportunities to take a full or half-gun on single days, but do not leave it too late and do not be tempted to hold out for a better deal, as you could find yourself without a shoot. Make sure you don’t miss out on some really good sport and book it now.”