Ian Grindy offers some advice
You could spend a small fortune for a formal 400-bird day on one of the great estates, and not enjoy it. On the other hand, an outside day with a few friends and a bag of 40 birds may leave you feeling elated. (Read knowing your bird on a driven pheasant day.)
There are many factors that determine what you might pay for a day’s driven shooting. Some people are prepared to pay more for what they believe to be better-quality shooting. This is where it starts to get a bit subjective, because people have different ideas about what constitutes quality.
The West Country, North Yorkshire, Welsh borders and other similar areas command a premium for their shooting. They have that all-important topography to meet the demand for challenging birds in a spectacular landscape. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t good-value driven shooting to be had. These regions vary, and there is still plenty of quality shooting on offer from the smaller, less well-known shoots.
Good-value driven shooting opportunities
The success of the rearing season, covercrops and other factors determine where the shoot owner’s comfort zone may be in deciding how many days he has available to let. Reputation is everything, and the last thing you want to do is risk it on there being plenty of birds to meet the demand, and then find that birds are so thin on the ground by the middle of December, that you end up apologising for it. It sometimes pays to be cautious, see how things are going, and then let a few more days part way through the season.
These “extra” days are usually last-minute affairs that require a team of Guns at short notice. Timing and a quick decision is what the shoots are looking for, and if you are able to take up the offer of a day like this, you are also in a good position to bargain some good-value driven shooting.
It’s also worth contacting a few shoots, keepers and estates yourself. You have nothing to lose by registering your interest, making contacts and putting your name about. A friend of mine did this and found some really good-value driven shooting bargains. By registering his interest early, he was first in line when opportunity knocked.
There is certainly a demand for smaller driven days, but the costs of putting on a small 100-bird day can be the same as those for a 150- or 200-bird day. Beaters, pickers-up and transport have to be paid for, no matter what the bag. This makes shoots reluctant to bargain on smaller days, but if you can be flexible about the bag, there’s nothing to be lost by asking.
There are occasions when shoots suddenly find themselves short of a couple of Guns to make up a party of eight in the line. If you are able and willing to make up the numbers on a day like this, you could save quite a bit of money, especially if the person you are replacing has already paid a deposit.
Some people don’t like shooting with strangers, but don’t assume that there is something dodgy about the people you are shooting with just because you don’t know them. You can have a word with the shoot owner or keeper first if safety is what you are worried about. My experience is that you are more likely to make new friends on a day like this than end up keeping your head down. Many sporting agencies will offer last-minute deals for both single Guns and full days.
And what about joining a sociable shooting syndicate or club where the cost of your shooting is based on a proportion of the overall costs, with no profit motive involved? It may be less flexible than buying by the day, and may restrict you to a single shoot, but there is a current trend for different syndicates to swap days and venues with one another, which makes for a bit of fun and variety.
Dos and don’ts of finding good-value driven shooting
- Look before you leap. Remember that there is no substitute for a personal recommendation when it comes to buying shooting.
- Be clear about any overage or extras that you may be expected to pay.
- Check whether lunch and refreshments are included in the price.
- Be clear about how and when the final payment is expected.
- If this is a new shoot you are booking, ask if it’s possible to have a look round the shoot first.
- And finally, don’t be afraid to ask if the shoot complies with the Code of Good Shooting Practice. If they reply “What’s that?” put the phone down!
- Don’t think that because it’s cheap it’s going to be a bargain. You usually get what you pay for.
- Don’t pay too much money up front without a written contract.
- Don’t believe everything you hear about a shoot (it’s a competitive market). Make sure that your source of information is reliable.
This article was originally written in 2014 and has been updated.