Shooting insurance cover is a vital tool in protecting against everything from cancellation and theft to distruption and loss before, during and after shoot day.
Game shots have a unique relationship with the weather. While others cower inside, a line of guns will happily stand in the pouring rain, the familiar smell of damp tweed curling into their nostrils as they wait for the birds to fly over. Yet fortitude is not always enough, and there is a point at which shooting becomes impossible. This decade alone has already seen a few seasons affected by what the Met Office calls ‘weather events’, with record amounts of rain and severe snowfall causing several shoot days to be abandoned.
Not only is a cancelled day a great disappointment, it can also lead to financial losses for those who buy their days. Six per cent of guns in the 2014 Guns on Pegs Game Shooting & Fishing Census, for example, reported a financial loss through shooting. Given that Guns on Pegs value the average day at £619, and there are often ancillary costs such as hotels involved, it’s no wonder that shooters are increasingly turning to shoot cancellation insurance.
Yet the numbers who do are still low: 11 per cent according to the census, which is surprising given that premiums can start from around £50.
Making false assumptions
So what’s stopping game shooters from buying a premium? As with all insurance, the need is determined by the level of risk, and this is largely dictated by your choice of estate. A number of shoots, particularly those with which you have a long-standing relationship, will offer an alternative day, or in some cases return the deposit.
Yet George Greenock, account executive at insurance broker Lycetts, says: “What people often don’t realise is that it’s not the shoot’s responsibility if it gets cancelled due to bad weather. It doesn’t have to reimburse you; the loss is down to the guns.”
It’s therefore sensible to check the terms and conditions of the shoot in advance, to help you determine whether you need to insure. Similarly, you should consider your time constraints: would you be able to attend an alternative day?
Another factor stopping guns from purchasing shooting insurance cover is false assumptions, as Peter Blackmore, director of bespoke insurance broker Blackmore Borley explains: “Either they think they’re insured elsewhere, or it won’t happen. It’s the ‘it won’t happen to me’ that’s a concern, and we know, because we’ve seen some of the claims, that it does happen to people, and it’s horrendous.”
Not only should guns check current shooting insurance and membership policies then, but also consider all the risk factors. Particular things to focus on are overall cost, shoot location and planned dates – the latter two because they determine the risk of bad weather. Those testing a new estate may also want to insure for peace of mind. “There are shoots that fabricate themselves to be shoots and then disappear. Or they go insolvent,” says Peter.
Shooting insurance cover as protection against the weather
After consideration, guns should understand the consequences of any cancellations, as well as how averse they are to the risk. For those who decide to insure, it’s then a question of whether to obtain a policy as a single gun or a team. “When insuring on your own you can get more cover, including equipment and certain other aspects, but insuring as a group creates economies of scale and it’s easier for one point of contact to insure all the guns,” explains George Greenock. Whichever you choose, there are a small number of brokers providing a range of options.
Mellerup’s, for example, caters for situations where weather is the primary concern. Their premiums start from £77, and only cover days cancelled by bad weather at the shoot location. “We’re being asked for cover almost daily,” says chairman Nick Fulford. “I think people have become aware that weather patterns are changing significantly, and no-one knows what extremes we’re likely to come across.” His underwriter is so concerned by the variations becoming more extreme that it’s vetoed any expansion of the policy after a number of big recent losses.
Under Mellerup’s policy, a decision to cancel must be at the discretion of the shoot organiser, and taken after 11am to ensure the weather doesn’t change. Because of its simple offer, claims are processed quickly. “There can’t be any argument about it – if the Met Office confirms the weather conditions on the day, the insurers will write a cheque and that’s it, usually within a couple of days,” says Nick. Discounts are offered if more than one day is insured at a time, and, as with all policies, you need to acquire it in advance. Nick explains: “Underwriters will not grant cover within 14 days, because within 14 days long-range forecasts give people a good idea of what the weather might be like.”
Antis and broken guns
For those also concerned about the threat of disruption from shoot protesters, RKH Insurance covers both this and weather-related cancellation. It’s recommended by both the CA and CLA, and those who have had to make a claim report good experiences. RKH insures upwards of £4,000 worth of shooting, for which a premium can cost around £150.
While these can be seen as the traditional end of the market, others have evolved the concept. Take Triple Barrelled Cover, offered by Guns on Pegs. “We just borrowed the idea of a travel policy,” says Peter Blackmore. “A travel policy covers cancellation of flights and everything else, and with that template we just converted it.”
The policy extends cover to issues such as bereavement and transport problems, while also providing public liability and equipment insurance. “We’ve paid almost all claims,” says Peter, “including bereavement, fog, gun damage, and one person who was afflicted by a serious illness and didn’t feel able to shoot. We covered them for all their pre-committed costs. But we have rejected, or rather moderated, a claim where the gun was said to have been damaged in transit. On closer inspection we discovered oil in the stock, and discovered that it was a design fault of the stock. When we suggested this the claim was withdrawn.”
A sign that the policy is renowned for its fairness is that some guns have started to take advantage. “We had a lot of claims at the end of the season – people just don’t want to pay for a service. We now say ‘if you’ve damaged your gun we’ll send someone down’.”
Guns can obtain a premium by selecting their desired, not mandated, level of cover. “You choose the limit to which you would like to be insured and then this applies to all your shoots throughout the season. If your limit is £5,000, and you go on a grouse shoot that is costing £3,500 and it doesn’t get cancelled, you’ve still got the £5,000.”
Although it might be assumed this creates a temptation to under-insure, this is not the case. “The average quote is £300 or more. We’re delighted by that because the people who buy it really do appreciate the consequences – they’re buying what they need to buy rather than just the cheapest price [£129].”
Shooting insurance as a means of dealing with disruption
Another wide-ranging but more traditionally-calculated policy comes from Lycetts, which has this year added cover for disruption to its well-established cancellation offering, which also covers weather, bereavement, travel problems, jury duty and more. It issues an estimated 90 policies per year, mostly for multiple days, and calculates premiums based on the cost, location and date of days to be shot. “We find that most people only tend to insure when a day gets to a certain size,” explains George Greenock, confirming that this would include the ‘average’ day. “Our minimum premium starts at around £50. We can also offer cover to people from abroad, which is quite unique.”
As with some other policies, Lycetts also provides compensation if you can only shoot for part of the day. “It’s not just a full claim or no claim,” says George, “it covers you up to four drives, so if you shoot two drives and then it gets cancelled we’ll still pay 50 per cent of the money”. He also raises an important point about syndicate policies: if you can’t make a day and sell your peg to someone else, that person isn’t covered, as you’re insuring your own out-of-pocket expenses. This scenario does not, however, invalidate the other guns’ ability to claim on their own policy.
Although there is a competitive, evolving shooting insurance marketplace, which is great news for shooters, the devil is in the detail. If you do decide to insure – and with premiums so low and claims so readily paid there is an argument you should – then shop around and read the small print.