The immediate fallout from coronavirus is having an impact on all our daily lives, but the effect of COVID-19 on shooting could last for many years, says Liam Bell
We live in extraordinary times. COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it. Even those of us who are lucky enough to live and work in the countryside will have had to make changes to our daily routines, and rightly so.
True, we are shielded from many of the day-to-day problems affecting those without spreading room. Many of us can continue to work and, to a degree, carry on as normal, but the shooting community hasn’t escaped unscathed.
There has been lots of discussion, both locally and nationally, on how shoots are going to cope, function and ultimately survive the 2020-2021 season . No one has a clear answer as to how things are going to pan out and a lot of the forward planning is purely guesswork.
A month ago, the situation was changing almost by the day. Shoots that were mothballing were changing their minds and deciding to shoot, and others that had been going ahead as normal were deciding to scale back a bit.
With chicks going into incubators at the beginning of April, game farmers were understandably needing deposits and sporting agents and shoot captains wanting the same. Most shoots have at least made a decision on this coming season.
The bulk seem to have scaled back plans somewhat. Many have decided not to shoot at all and have refocused their keepers’ efforts on additional conservation work or woodland management, and some are carrying on as before. A few have sadly had to make some or all of their keepers redundant, unable or unwilling to invest in a season that may not happen. Sad all round; a situation with no winners.
The two big questions are: will we be able to shoot, and what effect will this trimming of budgets and tightening of purse strings have on game shooting in the future?
I can’t give a definitive answer to the first question any more than anyone else can, but I feel we will be shooting in one form or another, even if it involves social distancing and a change in how we operate.
What the longterm effect of COVID-19 on shooting will be is a difficult one. It may have no lasting effect and things could soon be back to normal, but I feel it will.
In 2008, in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, bookings from overseas customers and firms wanting to spoil their staff and clients on corporate days plummeted. Many cancelled days, despite having paid their deposits.
Private clients who, hitherto, had been willing to shoot ‘overages’ and in effect offer their hosts an blank cheque for their days, reined in their spending. It took three or four years for things to get back to where they were.
Fallout from COVID-19 on shooting
The difference this time is that the financial fallout from COVID-19 will affect us all in some way, not only the financiers and the City’s big boys.
It could take another four or five years for people to feel they have enough money to go out and spend on shooting again.
Keeping businesses afloat, families and mortgages will, quite rightly, be put first.
In turn, I wonder if the Guns who have had to reduce their days, or chosen to shoot a number of smaller ones this year, will want to go back to bigger days.
They might not. They could look at their bank balances and weigh the cost of the bigger days against the enjoyment they had on the smaller ones. They could find they enjoyed the smaller ones just as much and no longer see the need for bigger bags.
This, in turn, could see the closure of a number of shoots that are currently struggling to break even and lead to a rethinking of the way shooting is sold and let.
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Selling shooting by the day, by the experience, could replace selling by the bird. People will still shoot, but perhaps they will shoot less and appreciate their days, and the birds they shoot, more.
I don’t know, and I don’t want to seem overly pessimistic, but I do feel we are entering a time of change.