These are uncertain times and many may be feeling the pinch but that doesn’t mean no shooting, says Jamie Tusting
Shooting for under £200 a day. Seriously? Driven shooting is not an inexpensive hobby. A quick look at shooting for sale suggests that the price paid per bird on a commercial shoot starts at £35 and only heads one way. So even a small day could be £350 plus VAT per Gun. If you want a bigger day out, or more challenging birds, start with £1,000 and you can’t go too far wrong. (You night also like to read about pheasant shooting on a budget.)
However, there are plenty of opportunities out there for those who don’t want to spend as much but still are keen for some shooting and if you put the work in, you can get shooting for under £200 a day. While I greatly enjoy a day out in the field, my budget doesn’t stretch very far, so I have worked hard to find shooting on a shoestring. (You might also like to read how to start shooting on a shoestring.)
My first suggestion is to try to get involved in a syndicate of some sort. Not all shoots around the country are big commercial ones; many are smaller DIY affairs without a professional gamekeeper. I am very fortunate to have access to a few hundred acres of land and run a small syndicate with my two brothers. We are exceptionally low input and even lower output, but we each manage a small day of 50 or so birds for our friends, which costs us in the region of £20 a bird. (How to start a shooting syndicate.)
Being part of a DIY syndicate is a year-round commitment, but the hard work — from pen repairs in the spring, helping with the arrival of poults in July and the feeding through the season — makes the reward of the day’s shooting at the other end far more satisfying than a paid-for day. There is a great sense of teamwork and, having worked hard with your fellow members through the year, the days out in the season are more enjoyable and fulfilling than when you’re standing next to a stranger in the line.
DIY syndicates will often offer up either a full gun or a half-gun. A full gun will be able to have a peg on all the days’ shooting undertaken, while the half-gun will be on half the number of days. Prices vary from syndicate to syndicate, of course, but your upfront cost might be in the region of £500 for a half-gun and £1,000 for a full gun. Either way, if you’re prepared to do some work in lieu of a cash payment, this is a great option.
If, however, you’re unable to commit the time, or perhaps only want one or two days’ shooting a year, keep an eye out for a last-minute deal. There are plenty of online outlets selling game days, and commercial shoots will often post last-minute sales online to fill any remaining pegs. If you’re prepared to travel and book at the last minute, this could work well.
Also, midweek days are often better value than weekends, as the popular Saturday shoots are far more likely to be booked up and may come at a premium.
Shooting for me is far more about a day out in the countryside with good friends than it is about pulling the trigger. So I have often enjoyed sharing a peg on a driven day with one of my mates, alternating drives so that each of you get to shoot evenly through the day. By sharing a peg, you may be able to stretch the combined budget to enable a day out on a bigger shoot, so you can have the full experience of a driven day in full cry, but without the mortgage-inducing price tag that often goes with it.
While it can be a great adventure to travel the length and breadth of the country in search of sport, this too will add to the overall cost of a day out. If you’re looking for shooting on a budget, try to stay within striking distance of home. You might not be able to enjoy the full hospitality a driven day offers, or have a drink in the pub afterwards, but driving home at the end of the day certainly makes it less painful on the wallet.
However, if you can find good sport at a value price, it might pay to travel further afield. A couple of years ago, some friends and I arranged a three-day adventure to the Isle of Lewis, with two days of walked-up grouse shooting, all for less money than we’d have spent on a peg on a 200-bird pheasant day.
Shooting for under £200 a day
Smaller days, or boundary days, are a great way to pick up good-value shooting. I went on an early-season boundary day on the Wirral a couple of years ago, and shot all the covers around the edge of a 3,000-acre block. We didn’t shoot any of the main drives, but we had a handsome bag of 60 by the end of the day and it worked out at just over £15 a bird. The gamekeeper saw it as an opportunity to push birds back in from the outer edges of the shoot and make some money. We took our own lunch, which we had in the field, but the day out was a cracker — and I didn’t have to use my overdraft to finance it.
With price tags often in the £100 to £200 per Gun range, this can be a more palatable alternative for a day out in the field. Shooting can often be facilitated in exchange for your time. Helping out on a shoot as a beater or picker- up — or perhaps offering some of your time to a gamekeeper to help in the season — can often ensure you get an invitation to the beaters’ day at the end of the season.
If you’re not particularly fussed about going out on a driven pheasant shoot, perhaps a better route to go down is a walked-up day. Without the costs of beaters and pickers-up, some shoots can offer smaller walked-up days with an expected bag of a couple of dozen at a much better rate than the driven birds. Generally, though, walked-up days are for fewer Guns, perhaps three or four of you, so while the bag is smaller, you can still have plenty of sport.
These days are for a gamekeeper to thank the hard work of his team throughout the shooting season and if you haven’t got the spare cash to spend on a day shooting, getting involved as a beater is a good way to be a part of a shoot. It’s also a great day out in the fresh air and you’ll have £30 in your pocket at the end of the day.
Shooting doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. With the right application of time and effort, shopping around for a decent deal, or being prepared to shoot birds that haven’t been driven to a peg, you can enjoy some brilliant days out in the field at a cost that makes them far more affordable.
And if you find that the time is still too intensive, and the costs are too high, there are some great alternatives. Duck flightponds can be available for wild sport for a few hundred pounds a year, or perhaps try to find some pigeon shooting. There are plenty of farmers out there who will happily let you protect their crops and won’t charge you a penny.