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Shooting was a sport for the rich once. Will that happen again?

The way things are heading, shooting may once again become the preserve of the wealthy, says Robin Scott

Shooters meeting

Inflation and rising prices could dictate the amount of shooting people do this year

’There was a time when shooting was a sport for the rich, or landowners. Or both. Perish the thought, but is it possible – in the short-term, at least – that history might repeat itself?

Yes, shooting has undergone sea changes in the past 60 or so years thanks to greater prosperity, a meteoric rise in clay shooting’s popularity, changes in land use, easier access to the countryside, affordable syndicate membership and, of course, the proliferation of let game days. (Read our advice on how to start clay shooting.)

Shooting was a sport for the rich

Guided goose shooting and pay-by-day woodpigeon over decoys have played a part, too, as have cartridge makers and the gun trade. Yet it has never been a cheap-as-chips pastime. It will always be the case that the more bucks we have, the more bangs we can buy.

Good for you, then, if spiralling inflation – fuel and grocery costs soaring, wheat prices rising and National Insurance heading upwards – doesn’t bother you much. Yet, for many, the pressure on household and shoot finances can’t help but take a toll on the amount of shooting we will do this year and, maybe, for the foreseeable future.

Like many, I’m looking closely at my budget and trying to make sense of what I will spend, not only on shooting and travel, but more importantly, wheat for the hoppers. At £300 a tonne and rising, savings might have to be made. But where?

Thankfully, I don’t release that many poults on our knockabout farm shoot, so I am pretty much able to manage costs and keep things in check. However, birds from a busy neighbouring estate with let days do wander across for a bit of peace and quiet – increasingly so towards the end of the season – and need feeding.

I absolutely hate seeing birds go hungry through February and early spring, so even sky-high wheat prices aren’t going to stop me topping-up the feed bins. It goes against the grain, but I suppose the only practical thing I can do to keep costs down is to be totally ruthless and cull as many cock birds as possible through January, not only with the gun, but rifle, too.

Pheasant poults

Limiting the number of poults released is one way to control costs

Finding enough birds

What about cartridges? Because of supply chain problems and reported shortages of powder, shot and cases, we were recently advised to place orders with dealers in advance to ensure that we have enough to see us through the season. This is especially so where non-lead loads are concerned because, in spite of the voluntary ban not kicking in until 2025, some estates intend to go lead-free as of September. As such, it makes sense to get in some sort of stock, in case one or more of the shoots we might subscribe to add their names to the list.

Interestingly, one cartridge maker I talked to reckoned there might not be sufficient availability of steel cartridges to meet a claimed demand for lead-free game. However, thanks to bird flu and the scarcity of game poults for summer release, that one appears to have cancelled itself out. The problem now isn’t one of having too few cartridges to do the job, it’s going to be finding enough birds to put over the Guns for them to send to market in the first place.