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An update on Low Ground Shooting

Sometimes being a Sporting Agent who manages Shoots and lets days shooting is a delight. Sometimes it is a real challenge, and this year has definitely been one of those!

We have now had three very “interesting” Game Seasons, due to Covid and Avian Flu and unsurprisingly we were rather hoping for something a little easier this season. Instead, we had the continuance, albeit at a much lower level of the Avian Flu problems in certain areas, the extraordinary imposition of GL43 and the absolute chaos that brought due to the complete incompetence on the part of Natural England (more of that anon!), and then a very significant downturn in demand for let Pheasant and Partridge shooting as prices rose alarmingly and people became much worse off. So much for an easier season! 

We have always maintained that Game Shoots are marginal businesses and it has never been truer than this year. Although some of the enormous hike in input costs which we experienced last year – particularly feed and hence the massive increase in the price of poults, have fallen back, this has more than been offset by the very significant reduction in people wanting to take shooting. This reduction in demand has covered pretty well the whole of the UK and very surprisingly has also included absolute top-notch Shoots. Yes, Game Shooting has become even more expensive, and as a result in many parts of the Country, Shoots including very good Shoots (in terms of the quality of birds, the hospitality and how they are run) have really struggled to let some of their days. Interestingly, a portend of this was the fact that the first time since the 1970’s, some Grouse days were still unlet in July. Perhaps the most difficult days to let have been early season Partridges, but even mid and later season Pheasants have often been slow to find takers. This is not true of all Shoots , but it is definitely something we have not seen for some time in the marketplace. It is as a result causing some upset and almost certainly this is going to have a massive effect on Shoot economics, with many Shoots this year going to make a trading loss. Given that few will have had good surpluses gained over the last three seasons, this is going to take some living with. As a result, we expect some Shoots will close at the end of this season. These will probably be a combination of fully Commercial ones, where the Operator can no longer afford to run the business, to Shoots on Farms and Estates, where in previous years let days have made a contribution to either reducing the cost for the Owner/Operator or have actually been a profit centre in their own right. These Owners/Operators may well now decide it is not worth continuing running the Shoot. We think perhaps rather bizarrely that this will overall be a good correction in the marketplace. Clearly, there are too many shooting days currently available given the reduced demand. We do not see that demand massively increasing for next season, due to both the cost of most forms of Game Shooting and the state of the economy/people’s finances; on this we sadly are pretty pessimistic. Buying let shooting is very much a discretionary spend and given that the majority of let Game Shooting is bought by the middle-class (whatever they may be), when they feel poorer, this has an adverse effect on the demand for let shooting. As a result, we have seen this year people either buying smaller days (maybe 250 down to 200 birds) or buying fewer days. This is a very definite trend, which we think is here to stay for at least a while. Some Shoots  will be immune to this, but many will not and therefore they are going to have to adopt their business model; accordingly, some may well be able to. Some will not, probably mostly on economic grounds but also perhaps an inability to increase the number of shoot days (with all the on costs), to make up for having to host smaller days.

Whilst some of the Shoots that close will have been very well run, we suspect that the majority will have always been marginal, in terms of quality, hospitality and perhaps even their financing. If the land they were shooting on is no longer going to be used for the purpose of driven shooting, it might well become available for rough shooting or smaller scale driven Shoots, on perhaps a self-help basis. Whilst this is not very good for us Agents wanting to let days, it could be very good for Game Shooting itself by widening participation in the sport. We also think that a reduction in demand and the corresponding reduction in availability, will be a sensible correction in the marketplace, which will mean that those Shoots still operating, might very well be in a much better place to let days, come next season. 

Let’s hope so!


Keep up to date with the latest news and availability as they become available.