Find out how you can shoot for under £400 a day, with details of days in Hampshire, Dorset, Suffolk, Norfolk, Northumberland, North Yorkshire, and Perthshire
The economic climate may be tough but who wants to spend the season indoors? If numbers aren’t important and location not lionised, then it is possible to find mini driven days, walked-up and rough-shooting, stalking, lodge holidays and syndicate places offering good sport at reasonable cost – some providing more
genuine sport than that to be found at much-lauded bigger days.
In Hampshire, Charles Green of Shavesgreen Shooting Services presents a flush of days within the £400 limit. A 90-bird driven-pheasant and -partridge day at the lovely Norman Court estate tops the bill. Green is adamant that his novel approach is the best tailoring of resources now, showing smaller bags but with that big day ambience for people who are feeling the pinch or who want to shoot more than the usual eight to 10
days a season. “You either bend with the wind or break,” he admits refreshingly, “and people’s hobbies are the first thing to go in a downturn.” While Shaves-green does sell 250-bird days, Green finds the smaller days more fun, “without the tension that can spoil a more regimented day, for both guns and keepers”.
Green knows he must move with the times, and shooting 40 smaller days is a less risky option than putting on 16 days of 400 birds. But margins are much tighter and he admits that he would make a loss if he didn’t operate strategically.
SHOOT IN MINIATURE
Also Hampshire-based, Chris Joy is a professional pigeon-shooter and full-time guide who runs mini driven-pheasant days (through Mark Merison at Strutt & Parker). “The days are very relaxed,” he says, “and we normally shoot 30 to 60 pheasants a day with six to eight guns.”
At £150 to £200 per gun, this shoot in miniature, not 100% commercial, is a great example of a good fun but hard work small day. “A fair amount of the people who come to have a day with me shoot lots of bigger days, too,” says Joy, “so they obviously like the price and the day, especially as many are repeat visitors.”
Guns are keen for sport at this level. Robert Cuthbert of Serious Shooting, based in Dorset, says: “It’s not beyond the realms for us to arrange something [for £400 per gun], generally smaller driven days within easy reach from town at either end of the season. A late pheasant day [within budget] isn’t tricky to sort and earlier on we could offer a few smaller partridge days – you know, to stir ’em up a little, and pick the ones that are really match fit.” He also offers wild-bird days within budget in East Anglia. “The old saying has never been more true,” he concludes. “Quality always sells.”
Nick Elsdon of Anglia Sporting has been offering £400 days for three years and sees no difference in uptake this season. He believes that some estates that aren’t interested in the smaller days could miss out. The driven-partridge days he sources in Suffolk and Norfolk for £400 per gun include full hospitality and are based on a bag of 150 birds that “in the main range from good to spectacular, especially once they have been shot over a couple of times after the opening days of the season”. Like Green, he is adamant that people want shooting in this price range but is aware that smaller margins require a great deal of planning. “All the estates where these driven days are offered breed and rear their own birds and are very much family-owned and run affairs,” he says. They are “long-term businesses run by people who love their work and put their hearts and souls into making it happen”.
Rob Fenwick of EJ Churchill has watched his 70- to 100-bird mixed days in Northumberland fly off the shelves at £375 plus vat. “People are looking for value for money,” he says, “and our smaller days are selling faster than anything else on our books this season.” However, “people have to be prepared to travel. On days further south you might get the price of a bird down to £28 but numbers will be insisted upon.” This can have the effect of making the price per bird higher on the smaller days.
Larger shoots can also provide cost-conscious sport. James Raynar, who runs the Swinton Park shoot in North Yorkshire, can occasionally furnish a smaller day or two in January with a 100-bird mixed bag.
They won’t replace the larger days but, whether it’s a 300-bird or 100-bird day, “the recession is making people look closely at the quality of what they are getting for their money,” he says.
A great way of grabbing the experience at a lesser cost is to go to one of the larger estates offering sport at the beginning and end of the season, as well as boundary days when available. As Nick Mason at Davis & Bowring says: “shoots need cash flow”, and the smaller days help both estate and client.
If you’re determined to shoot driven grouse on a small budget, for £3,500 (take nine guns and you are well within the £400 per gun range) you can bag 25 brace on Bowland Fells through Mason. “To enjoy the smaller day is the mark of a true sportsman, and we will always do a percentage of smaller days,” he says. It’s a day that not everyone would want as few cartridges will be fired but “we can do all sorts of things and accommodate all sorts of days. It’s great to help out the estate owners and our clients who take the bigger days and may want smaller family and friends’ days.”
Through gunsonpegs.com Alex Seldon offers a “traditional” grouse day but with driven grey partridges instead, on his Glenturret estate in Perthshire. Not normally advertised and as challenging as grouse while sensibly priced, a few days are available this season and for £372 you can stake a claim on 100 greys and be entertained in style; the Famous Grouse distillery is next door. These greys are not wild but are put down as the grouse wax and wane. Seldon’s enthusiasm for the day is delightful. “The grey partridges are the next best thing to grouse. They hug the contours and offer a more ‘dangerous’ style of shooting,” he says. “They are definitely not for the purely pheasant-shot.”
“What could be better than walking on Scottish hills with the chance to hit a couple of grouse,” Robert Rattray of CKD Galbraith asks. Walked-up grouse days can be had for £400 and are popular. He believes value for money comes into its own north of the Border but concedes, “Scotland has never really been based on corporate shooting like the South.”
Put this theory to the test on a lodge holiday. Locations may be far flung but the wealth of sporting opportunities means great sport within budget. One package at a cracking little shoot near Aberdeen – offered by former Scotland rugby captain David Sole, through Ian Maclean at Orvis – costs £395 per gun for a team of seven for an 80-bird day, with dinner, bed and breakfast. Bighouse in Sutherland (through Roxtons) offers hind-stalking at £220 plus VAT, driven woodcock at £250 per gun and walked-up days from £100, with a fully stocked lodge that sleeps up to 22.
Another great way to find a £400 day is to join a syndicate.
As well as noticing that people are taking smaller days, Jeremy Shaw of Carters Country Wear in Helmsley has spotted another cost-reducing trend: a nine- rather than eight-gun line. Many shoots prefer to cut the number of days shot or add an extra gun rather than deliver unsupportable price cuts. Shaw can offer tailored driven-duck days and rough- or walked-up shooting within budget, but believes the only way to find typical
driven shooting for £400 in North Yorkshire is through a syndicate that lets the odd day. Most people will be able to source pigeon days from under £100 per gun.
The financial viability of the £400 day remains debatable as maintaining it requires supreme organisation and long-term commitment. However, while coveted big days and high-flying pheasants will always have their market, when it comes to paying for your own birds there are myriad opportunities for great sport without having to raid the school fees account. This type of shooting is now, as it was 10 years ago, an ongoing and viable concern. In truth, it may even be ex-periencing a renaissance.
Anglia Sporting Nick Elsdon, tel 01728 605892;
Carters Country Wear Jeremy Shaw, tel 01439 770688;
CKD Galbraith Robert Rattray, tel 01738 451600;
Davis & Bowring Nick Mason, tel 01524 271151;
EJ Churchill Rob Fenwick, tel 01494 883227;
Orvis Ian Maclean, tel 01264 349515;
Roxtons James Dent, tel 01488 683222;
Serious Shooting Robert Cuthbert, tel 01747 851128;
Shavesgreen Shooting Services Charles Green, tel 023 8028 2941;
Stanton Mortimer (for Swinton Park) James Raynar, tel 01765 689224;