Selling shooting days can either be a good or bad thing. If you run a commercial shoot, then obviously you want every day taken. But for small estates, who want to let a couple of days each season to finance shooting for family and friends .... well let's say it can be tricky
The main thing to remember is that with so many estates offering shooting, you want your client to have an enjoyable day … and come back next year. Here’s how to ensure that happens.
1. Get full agreement from all the regular Guns
It’s only worth considering letting a day or two if all the regular Guns agree. Some might not like the idea of strangers coming along and shooting their birds.
If the Guns are invited guests then you don’t have a problem. But if it’s a syndicate then there could be. Shooting tenants should also check that the landlord allows sub-letting.
2. Look at your shoot critically
You may think it’s marvellous – but take a step back and look at it from the point of view of the customer. See what you have to offer rather than casting a golden glow on everything.
To put it more into shooting terms, in my days as a keeper my employer was in the habit of showing his friends around the rearing field on a Sunday morning, and so I always made every effort to make sure all of the previous week’s rubbish was tidied away and empty feed bags burned.
3. Friends and strangers
Try and include paying guests whose company you are happy to spend a day with, rather than complete strangers who land on you. This can often happen if you let a day to a syndicate or a single gun.
It might be an idea to use an agent specialising in letting sporting shooting who has an existing client base.
4. Honesty is the best policy
Be open about the quality of the shooting the Guns will experience. Make it clear if there are any extras – like meals or loaders.
You will need to indicate what the expected bag is likely to be. On an established shoot this can be shown by the game books and estate records but on a new shoot or one that has been developed it could be more difficult.
Look at your shoot with the client’s eyes.
5. Don’t scrimp on getting help
The Guns will have a better time of it if there is someone to hand, in addition to the host, who has experience and a knowledge of the ground. They can point out peg numbers, answer queries and accompany walking guns.
You can use the game cart driver or chief picker-up, but a regular, informed assistant is best and will give your shoot a good reputation amongst the Guns.
Ask for a deposit when accepting a booking and ensure that the balance is paid up front six weeks before the shooting date.
A week or so before, call the client with a follow-up telephone call, imparting any news. Give the client as much information as possible on how the season has progressed so far and a realistic estimate of how many birds are likely to be shot. (Which will be useful in judging the number of cartridges needed.) State whether the bag will be pheasants only or whether duck or partridge drives are included.
State what is happening about eating arrangements. It’s embarassing for a guest to expect lunch and then go hungry because he should have brought sandwiches – and equally embarassing if he brings sandwiches without knowing a lunch is being hosted.
Later in the season many shoots will want to shoot through, to make the most of the remaining daylight hours. Again, communicate this, so that clients can have a little something in their pocket to keep them going until the proper meal post shooting.
7. Explain and inform
At the pre-shoot safety talk explain what is likely to happen and keep the Guns informed throughout the day. Many Guns dislike standing at their pegs for a long time before the birds begin flying over.
So, if a drive is likely to be a long one due to the fact several game crops and hedgerows are being blanked into the main drive, it may be better to keep the Guns near to the vehicles so that they can enjoy each other’s company rather than be isolated on their pegs becoming bored. Furthermore, you don’t want them to think that the lack of birds at the beginning means a poor drive.
It is important to tell Guns of the plans. Otherwise they may think that you are deliberately stalling them in an effort to save showing them too many birds.
8. Provide good transport
Ask the Guns beforehand whether they will have four-wheel drive vehicles and whether they mind taking them over rough and muddy ground. I know, but still ….
Ensure that everyone attending is aware of the transport arrangements.
If you are supplying a trailer for the Guns, ensure that it keeps to legal restrictions, is easily accessible and has somewhere safe to store weapons, cartridges and game gear.
9. Be open to negotiation
You need to show the right amount of game so an average team of Guns can achieve their target. Changing a drive for a poorer one looks mean. On the other hand, nobody minds when a poor drive is exchanged for a better one.
If a smaller bag than expected is brought back then you may need to negotiate. You could consider returning some of the payment or offering another day’s shooting.
On the other hand if numbers are only slightly down, most Guns will accept the shortfall, particularly if they’ve seen some good high flying birds. Remember that they have also come along for the quality of sport, friendship and a day out. Nevertheless, it pays to have someone on hand with a clicker in order to count the number of cartridges fired as, if necessary, this can be compared against the number of birds shot.
10. Take your duties seriously
You need to be efficient and consider your reputation. A let day is not all about you shooting birds or taking the best stands.
Make proper introductions at the beginning, offer coffee at the day’s start, reviving elevenses and a good lunch. All this will bring you satisfied clients who are keen to return.
Think about everything beforehand and you’ll be well on the way to having a highly reputable and efficient shoot that attracts regular, loyal customer – rather than lurching from one season to another.