From high birds to hot sausage rolls and modest bags to a friendly host, George Brown discovers what paying guests really want

I have been shooting since I was 11, but it is only since August 2019, when I began working as editor of Guns on Pegs, that I’ve really started to get a feel for how the shooting community actually thinks. I’ve had some of my assumptions challenged and I’m often surprised at the diversity and strength of opinion, even on seemingly innocuous topics. I confess that before it was my job to think about these things, I never considered what it is that makes people want to go out shooting, or what they might want from a day. I am, however, learning quickly. Here are some of my discoveries of what guests really want on a shoot – and some will surprise you.

What guests really want on a shoot day

  1. Bag sizes are a perennial talking point. For what it is worth, our data reveals that sub-200- bird days represent three-quarters of all searches made by Guns on Pegs members. When we include a shoot offering bags below 150 in our weekly newsletter, the interest is huge, and walked-up days are also popular. Guns on Pegs has repeatedly asked members what they love about shooting, and it seems they think the same way as me; having fun with like-minded people trumps the size of the day every time. So big bags aren’t necessarily what guests really want on a shoot.
  2. Our research shows that Guns do value ‘good birds’, but what that means is hard to pin down. My own view is I want birds that are just challenging enough that bringing one down with a clean kill gives me a sense of accomplishment, without them being way beyond my skills. No one wants to blaze away in futility all day, but birds that are too easy get dull quite quickly.
  3. It all comes down to atmosphere and hospitality. The reviews that our members leave reveal that hosting is all-important. A shoot with a grumpy captain is unlikely to see repeat visits, no matter how good his birds, but Guns will forgive a dodgy drive or two if the hosting is done right. No matter the shoot, the shoot captain sets the tone that allows the fun atmosphere to flourish.
  4. Elevenses. We usually shoot through, which makes it all the more welcome to have one of my dad’s ever-popular game and chorizo sausage rolls. It therefore came as something of a surprise to me that only 67% of Guns expect to be served mid-morning refreshments when on a commercial shoot.
  5. A majority of Guns prefer to get around shoots in 4x4s. The consensus in our office is that we’re happy to forgo luxury in favour of the ribaldry and bonhomie of the wagon. Are we all becoming too comfortable in our leather-upholstered, air-conditioned Chelsea tractors?
  6. When it comes to the main meal of the day, our research shows that Guns are fairly evenly split on when the shoot lunch takes place, but I find that shooting through allows one really to enjoy the festivities. According to our data, 16% of Guns’ appetites are sated with sandwiches and 23% like a pub lunch, while 47% are looking for a three-course meal. Around two-thirds of Guns believe that shoots should always serve game, either at elevenses or at lunch.
  7. Feathered or dressed? According to the 2020 Game Shooting Census equal proportions of Guns would prefer birds in the feather and ready-dressed birds, but a larger proportion would like to be given the choice as to what they take home. A significant cohort would like shoots to be more proactive in encouraging the consumption of game, either by providing pre-prepared game to take home, or by offering demonstrations for those who don’t know how to dress a bird. Whenever we have a novice Gun shooting with us at home, I make a point of showing them how to breast out a pheasant as a bit of post-prandial entertainment, before sending them home with a few brace to practise on and some pheasant recipe ideas.
  8. When it comes to choosing where to spend their shooting budget, conservation and a shoot’s management practices matter to Guns. In last year’s Game Shooting Census, 70% of respondents said that they would be more likely to buy a day’s shooting from an estate that had been audited for best practice. Interestingly, when we asked shoot owners the same question, only 37% felt that being audited for best practice was important to their customers.
  9. Lead transition. If you spend much time on social media, you could have the idea that the shooting community is furious over the move away from lead, but our data suggests otherwise. More than half of respondents to the 2020 Game Shooting Census said that they were keen or had plans to trial non-lead alternatives last season. Only 6% said that a move away from lead would see them shoot less or stop altogether.