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How to find affordable rough shooting

Some advice from Robin Scott

Dogs hunting rabbits

A dog's body language can be a useful indicator of whether it is a bird or a bunny being pointed

It can be a competitive business finding those places where game may be lurking. Do your research and follow the tips below and you may be fortunate in your search for affordable rough shooting.

How to find affordable rough shooting:

You might think that it’s virtually impossible to still find affordable rough shooting. Isn’t most land keepered or leased out to a syndicate? Or shooting permissions given to who work on the farmland, trusted neighbours, relatives, family friends?

As for the affordable part, farmers know that land worth shooting over is sought after and has value.

But if you live in the right part of the countryside, you might be able to barter some walked-up shooting in return for services rendered.

Shooting Times contributor Graham Downing advises: “A district of large shoots, however, has its own opportunities as there will be a well-established network of gamekeepers who will often be on the lookout for regular, reliable beaters.

“The owner of a small patch of 50 or 100 acres, perhaps with small fields and thick, unkempt hedges, is more likely to be willing to respond to a thoughtfully considered approach than the larger, more organised farmer who may well be running his own shoot already. So in small farm country like the Welsh borders, the West Country and south-west Scotland, especially if you know your locality or have strong family connections, there are useful opportunities for those who are prepared to seek them out.”

Be prepared to pay for walked-up shooting

It’s hard not to feel a little resentful if walked-up shooting has been lost to someone, or a syndicate, prepared to pay for something you might have previously enjoyed gratis.

I remember my father, in the 1960s, calling on two farmers every February with a bottle for both. In return he got to shoot wild English grey partridges on one steading, and flighted duck on the other. Adjoining farms were shot by other locals on similar “leasing” arrangements. We moved years ago, and much has clearly happened in the neighbourhood since. When I last checked, both farms had been lumped together and now shot by a single syndicate; everything’s driven and nobody tramps the fields and hedgerows as we once did. The flightponds have been drained. (If you’re thinking of creating a flightpond, follow our tips here. )

Organised gameshooting has mushroomed at walked-up’s expense. However, it would now seem that, given time, what goes around also comes around. Ironically, it’s driven shooting and the cost of it that mean demand for walked-up outings on a pay-by-day basis is growing. Shooters are discovering again that doing it yourself is more of a sporting challenge, greatly enjoyable and capable of delivering value for money.

Deerstalking aside, it’s hunting with a gun at its best where fieldcraft, not a beating line, is needed to put a bird in the bag.

rough shooting kit

Walked up game tends to present a closer target

What does it cost?

Neil McIntosh, Scottish vet and fieldsports writer, says. “One of the Guns I shoot with regularly is an obsessive ‘counter’ and he reliably informs me, season after season, that our walked-up birds cost about half a driven bird,” says Neil. “For me, that makes them great value, especially as I can remember every one in detail. Of course, you have to take the rough with the smooth. Some days exceed expectations, while others disappoint. For me, that’s part of the pleasure of walked-up shooting: a single spectacular bird can save a poor day.

“Some keepers see walked-up days as a bit of a nuisance, taking up a lot of their time for not much gain. others, though, seem to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.

When I ask if he has any pet hates, Neil responds: “being charged for every bird over the bag with the agent conveniently forgetting that the bag hadn’t been achieved in the preceding three years!”

Any advice to shooters on walked-up days? “Take every opportunity to talk to the keeper, because you then know if you can strike a rapport, and this is more important than anything else,” says Neil.

“Asking if days can be booked in subsequent years is worthwhile if, like us, you want to build up a bank of reliable days, and doing so gives the keeper an incentive to provide a decent day.

“Lastly, we like to walk! Some folk obviously don’t, so it is vital to indicate the level of fitness of the guns. One man’s casual walked-up day can be another’s exhausting marathon.”

Who rough shoots? Pretty much everyone from the baker, the candlestick maker… right through to multi-millionaire bankers.

affordable rough shooting

When walked-up shooting, your retriever should be at heel on your left-hand side

Steve Nuttall of Border Fieldsports specialises in small rough days and said: “The cost of a walked-up bird is the same as one driven, because the money to rear, release and feed it is the same as for all the others on that shoot,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if the shoot is run privately with a few walked-up days to offset costs, or a purely commercial venture — both have to cover costly overheads due to the rising price of poults, medication, diesel, motor vehicles and the rest. ”

Despite the cost, demand for walked-up is strong and growing. “A lot of Guns love the small days because they are affordable and they offer a lot more variety than you get at a peg,” he says. “Do the sums: a 100-bird driven day for six Guns at £30 a bird works out at £500 each plus tips. On the other hand, the same number of birds walked-up means you can have three days for the price of one.”

What advice can Steve give to anyone thinking of booking a day? “Nail down exactly what you are going to get for your money, and the type of shoot you will be on, right down to who takes the bag. The shoots and people I deal with charge only for gamebirds and duck, but some outfits have the nerve to put the same levy on every crow or woodpigeon that ends up shot. It’s wrong, but it does happen.

“I tell all clients what to expect from a day’s shooting. On boundary days at large shoots, where there will probably be birds under every bush, they’re told to show restraint otherwise they will reach their bag in no time at all. If that happens, they are given the option to carry on with a fixed-price-per-bird shot. “On smaller shoots, the fun is having to work for your bag and then, for a few extra bob, maybe enjoy a flight of ducks on fed ponds where the shooting can be superb, and you keep the birds.”

This article was originally published in 2014 and is kept updated.