Simon Garnham offers some tips on what you should look for, and what you should avoid, when considering joining a new syndicate
If you are new to syndicate shooting, how can you give yourself the best chance of joining a great team?
One of your priorities is likely to be proximity to home. Word of mouth can be useful here. Can members of your local clay shoot or fowling club offer advice? It is unusual for an excellent syndicate to need to advertise. Good syndicates are selective, and it will take time to earn the right to be considered, but when an opening presents itself, you will want to be in a position to step in. Often, a good way of working your way into a syndicate is by beating or picking-up. Keep your ear to the ground and look for opportunities to create a positive reputation, perhaps through trapping corvids or on club working parties.
What about the costs of joining a shooting syndicate?
Many syndicates “rove” for good reason — it is much easier to allow somebody else to take on all the stresses of rearing, releasing and showing sporting game, together with providing hospitality, transport and the organisation of a driven day. However, you are likely to have to pay handsomely for this privilege. Few commercial shoots charge less than £30 per bird and many charge far more. Your syndicate is likely to take on some of the costs itself. Shooting is unusual in that variable costs — birds and their feed — are largely predictable. It costs about £4 to buy a poult and feed it for a season, which seems a reasonable working figure whether you are buying 50 or 500 birds.
Your fixed costs, on the other hand, can vary enormously. Some syndicates will be fortunate to have a peppercorn rent, perhaps exchanging their sporting rights for an organised day or two for the owner of their land. On the other hand, some syndicates will pay as much as £15 an acre, costing them perhaps £15,000 for 1,000 acres somewhere within range of London. Similarly, labour may vary from a few beers and a brace of birds for volunteer beaters all the way up to many thousands of pounds for the salary of a professional keeper or two plus accommodation, a vehicle and an allowance for dogs and ammunition. In general, the more you are willing to do yourself, the less you will have to pay.
And bag numbers?
Be careful to establish what bags are genuinely expected. It is common to see shoots advertising “up to 100-bird days”. I would recommend that you ask what has actually been shot in previous years. It may well be that these “up to 100-bird days” turn out to be bags of 30 to 40, which is perfectly respectable and often very good fun, but not perhaps the numbers you may have expected.
DIY commitments on a shooting syndicate
There is a further warning — if you sign up for a DIY syndicate, you will be expected to “put in a shift”. This could mean being involved with working parties, early-morning feeding, checking traps, guaranteeing to bring beaters on shoot days and organising refreshments.
While these responsibilities can be rewarding, they can also be time-consuming, and you will quickly become unpopular if your fellow members feel that they are carrying you. However, if you can commit to DIY, you can reduce your costs to as little as £10 per bird for a 50-bird day, shooting eight days per season.
You may be well placed to bring a lot to an established syndicate. A friend of mine has a wife who works three exquisitely trained spaniels; he has three children who like nothing better than beating; he is a safe and excellent Shot; and he works for a large grain company, which allows him to take tons of unwanted corn each year. Not surprisingly, he is in great demand. Is this you? Good Guns with a lot to offer don’t grow on trees. You are likely to be welcomed warmly into a DIY syndicate if you offer enthusiasm and a can-do attitude.
Hidden extras to consider
- Beaters transport arrangements
Will you fit in?
- Is this going to be the right syndicate for you? Does it put safety first?
- Does it have a BASC membership policy?
- Are you joining like-minded individuals who respect the land and their quarry?
- Is there a keeper?
- Will you all get on? (If you are in doubt, consider taking a half-gun and splitting your peg with a friend. While this obviously reduces your time shooting by half, it has the advantage of guaranteeing that you will be on speaking terms at the end of the season with at least one other member of the syndicate, and you will only pay half of the costs. It can be arranged in two ways: either you shoot alternate days or you walk one, stand one. This second option guarantees another beater on a shoot day — which can be difficult to find, especially on mid-week shoots.)
- Check what social arrangements are in place. A friend of mine loved the shooting in his syndicate but ended up leaving because none of his fellow Guns chose to stay at the end of the day. Or maybe you’re not interested in the social aspect.
Some syndicates offer only average driven shooting but blistering pond shooting or incredible decoying in the summer. Some have a great social scene out of season, arranging away-days at clay competitions and dog trials. Joining a syndicate is not just about the driven days.
Syndicate shooting can be incredibly rewarding. You will get out what you put in. Who knows? You may be shoot captain before you know it. Then you will truly find out about organising a syndicate.
Where you can join a syndicate
We took a quick look online and here is a small selection of what we found at the time of writing: It’s also worth checking Shooting Available on our marketplace section.
Eight days’ shooting up to 100 pheasants, partridges and snipe, with evening duck shooting available: £650
Dale House, Lancashire
Five days’ shooting 100-150 pheasants and partridges on the Lancashire moors, with shoot trailer available: £560
Golding, South Shropshire
Eight days’ shooting up to 100 pheasants, meeting and socialising in an attractive gun room: £1,250
Thetford Forest, Suffolk
Ten days of walk one, stand one shooting up to 100 pheasants and ducks, with summer clay shooting and pest control. Working parties expected. Price includes BASC membership: £700
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Some legal insight
Q: Are you responsible for your shooting syndicate’s bag? What if a member shoots a protected species by mistake?
A: Individuals are personally responsible for what they bag when game shooting and if something was illegally shot by mistake the shoot captain could not be prosecuted. However shooting protected species or quarry species will bring the sport into disrepute so don’t shoot unless you are certain your target is a legal quarry or pest species and is in season.
In addition, a landlord might withdraw permission to shoot if an identification error was made.