If your shoot has a problem with excess game, David Tomlinson thinks an enterprising Scottish outfit may have found the solution
My recent article on the problem of disposing of surplus shot game prompted a lively response, so thank you to everyone who contacted me. Such feedback confirmed to me that it is the biggest challenge facing the shooting industry, and if no satisfactory solution is found it is bound to be deeply damaging to our sport.
The excess game problem
My correspondents all agreed that the root of the problem is over-supply, with too many shoots producing far too much excess game for game dealers to cope with. There have long been moral and ethical discussions in the shooting press about big bags, but the view of many people, including me, is that if the end product — the shot game — has no value, these days cannot be justified.
It is easy to see why 500-bird days have become popular with commercial shoots, because you only need the same number of beaters for 500 birds as you do for 200, so the basic overheads for the day are the same. However, there is more potential profit with 500 birds at £35 each than 200 birds at the same price.
One of my correspondents wrote: “There may be some scope for increasing demand for game but… the main need is to reduce supply. I fell out with one local shoot a few years ago when they shot 450 pheasants on the first drive and went on to 900 after three drives. There are two foreign-owned shoots not far from me that regularly do 1,000-bird days. Shoots that kill such numbers will not get my support in picking-up. Perhaps all of us — Guns, beaters and pickers-up — should be more selective in the shoots we support.
Indefensible for a Gun
“Nor is it just the big boys. A shoot I’ve been out on once a year for more than a decade used to shoot 90 or so, now it gets 150. Not all the Guns take a brace and that is indefensible for a Gun, irrespective of how many days a week you shoot. The game dealer will take the birds, without payment, if they are delivered. The day was every bit as much fun with 90 birds as it is with 150.”
I’ve only picked-up once on a 500-bird day and I hated the experience. This wasn’t a commercial shoot, but a private family day when the owner thought that he would go for a record. There were insufficient pickers-up to cope with so many birds and the game cart was simply overwhelmed. At least in those days there was still a demand for shot game. I’ve no doubt that shoots that consistently shoot big bags are able to manage, but I still fail to see why anyone would want to shoot so many birds in a day. If you can’t remember what you’ve shot, you have shot too many, haven’t you?
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Another correspondent told me that he “picks-up two or three days most weeks from early September and if I took a brace every day we’d be growing feathers. Long gone are the days when beaters were rationed to a brace of birds. Most shoots have for several years been saying ‘help yourself’. Not everyone does but there are some who take half a dozen or so.”
Last season I spent a day on a farm shoot where the bag was 100 birds; mainly pheasants, but a few partridges and mallard. This shoot has never marketed its game but has always told everyone involved in the day to help themselves, which they do. Within minutes every bird had disappeared.
The most cheering response came from Mike Holliday from Perthshire, chairman of BASC Scotland’s gamekeeping and wildlife management working group. Mike is a single-handed stalker, shooting at least 150 red deer a year, and he releases about 3,000 pheasants on his shoot. He wrote to say “breasting pheasants and vacuum-packing allows some of the birds to be used by those who like to cook. However, our biggest success has been persuading our local butcher to produce sausages: a pheasant and herb mix and pheasant with apple and cranberry. This started off by using the not-so-perfectly shot birds but we are now considering using most of them.
“Giving away a few freebies has helped people acquire the taste; those who would not normally eat pheasant are asking for them. Even after paying for the production, and selling them on at £5 per kilo, we are making more per bird than we have for the past few years. It is also satisfying that we are succeeding in getting one or two more folk to try the real thing.”
“I really like the idea of pheasant sausages. It certainly seems an enterprising way of dealing with an excess of game. Who knows, perhaps in future Guns will be presented with pheasant sausages and a pack of smoked partridge breasts, rather than the traditional brace of birds in the feather.
“Which brings me to Christmas dinner. My wife and I will be staying with non-shooting friends, but will be taking them a supply of oven-ready game that I know they will enjoy.”