Thinking of joining a shooting syndicate? Here’s what you need to know
Simon Garnham offers some tips on what you should look for and what you should avoid
How can you find the best shooting syndicate for you? (You might like to read, “Just what is a shooting syndicate?”)
Proximity to home is likely to be a priority. Word of mouth can be helpful here. Ask around at your local clay shoot or wildfowling club. Remember that a good syndicate won’t have to advertise for members. A good way of working your way into a sought-after 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.
How much does a shooting syndicate cost?
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.
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.
What about bags?
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.
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
- Tips (read what to tip on a shoot)
- 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.
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.
- Keep shooting syndicates simple. A three-way arrangement works for some – you, your friend and the owner. Two of you do the keepering and the owner provides the ground, some bits of cover crop and the wheat for the birds. You then share the sport three ways.
- With more members the scope for argument increases. This is worse when you move into having half or even quarter guns, with the inevitable complaint from some that they were not involved in any of the bigger days.
- It is much better to accept that you will shoot more on a November day than you are likely to achieve after Christmas. For those reliant on released birds, take note of GWCT research that has shown that you need to release twice as many to shoot a January bird as a November one.
- Everyone should abide by the Code of Good Shooting Practice. Becoming a GWCT-accredited game Shot helps too.
- Read out the shoot’s rules at the start of each day to remind participants. For example, I remember once being consulted by someone who had been drummed out for shooting a fox. The Gun concerned knew that there was a ‘no ground game’ rule, but said that a fox is not game. Well, no it is not. The Ground Game Act (1880) is specifically about rabbits and hares, so best make the rule clear by saying “nothing on the ground” if that is what you mean.
- Think about variety. A place with some woods for pheasants and woodcock, a bit of wetland to attract snipe and duck and a bit of contour to show the odd high bird is ideal.
- Try to avoid the situation where you are renting the shooting from someone who is not the person who farms the land. Three-way squabbles between shoot, landowner and tenant farmer are common. When the shooting rights and the land are separately owned, this tends to get even worse. Wherever you are, good, friendly communication is key.
- The syndicate captain needs to be in charge and respected. He or she should hear opinions and weigh them up fairly, but too much democracy is a bad idea.
This article was originally published in 2019 and has been updated.