The following piece featured in the Summer edition of Rural Life Magazine.
With major industries across the globe facing long periods of uncertainty due to the Coronavirus outbreak, we hear from Richard Leach – National Sales Manager at leading game feed manufacturer Keepers Choice – about how the pandemic could impact the coming shooting season...
Uncertainty perfectly describes the shooting world at the moment. Normally, this period is frantically busy with keen guns – from both the UK and overseas – booking up days across the country, chicks on the rearing field, poults ordered for release in July/August and gamekeepers finalising game cover plots. Whereas this is still happening, there is a noticeable drop off compared to where we are usually at for this stage in the year.
This has had a knock-on effect, contributing to a lack of essential deposits from guns. Deposits that are usually used to pay towards chicks, game cover seed, wages, rent, contractors, game feed and all manner of other rearing equipment.
Considering what has happened over the past few months, this is not surprising. Doubts, questions and anxieties are clouding decision processes, and for good reason. Overseas guns are worried about travelling, whilst guns from the UK who would travel the length of the country are wondering whether there will be anywhere open to stay. And a major concern for everybody: could there be a second wave in the autumn to force another nationwide lockdown?
However, the more likely hurdle that we will face is social distancing, with numerous reports suggesting this will remain in place for months to come.
Although one would assume a field sport, out in the open and surrounded by hectares of beautiful countryside, should be able to cope with social distancing, it will not be without some problems.
With pegs well spread anyway and guns able to move around shoots independently, social distancing should be adhered to without too many problems. Beaters, on the other hand, would struggle more. Beaters are used to travelling together in a beaters wagon on the day, and surely this would not be allowed – whilst a single vehicle for each individual beater would be too many vehicles.
Other traditions – elevenses comes to mind – would need to be significantly altered with social distancing still in place. A communal spread of food and drinks would likely be difficult – an alternative might be everybody bringing their own food and drink, consuming it 2m away from one another.
Then there are the post-shooting activities. A sit-down meal, drinks on the estate (or in a local pub) may all have to be abandoned or approached with high levels of caution. One would hope that B&Bs and hotels will be open again by now – as a long drive home after a shoot is the last thing people want (impossible if alcohol has been consumed).
Yet, we feel that a shooting season with social distancing is better than no shooting season at all – especially when financial, social and employment factors of so many are concerned.
How is it Looking?
Fortunately, there have been several sizeable surveys carried out by industry organisations that gives a good insight into how the sector will be impacted.
According to a survey of more than 600 shoots carried out by GunsOnPegs, it certainly is not all doom and gloom. Results showed that 66% of shoots surveyed plan to have a season of some kind, with 59% continuing with the normal number of shoot days.
The British Game Alliance (BGA) carried out a similar survey, collating over 350 responses from its members. This showed more upbeat results with 70% suggesting that shooting would definitely go ahead; 20% unsure and just 10% stopping altogether. However, data also shows that 75% of those who said they would run a reduced programme (25% running a full programme).
Commenting in the findings, the BGA said: “The consensus in most cases was that a reduction in number of days would mean the shoot could maintain its main employment and be in a position to come back to full strength for the 2021/22 season”.
What is of interest is a source from the GunsOnPegs survey which claimed some shoots were putting down extra birds in order to pick up new business from shoots who have cancelled: it suggests an estimated 10% of shoots are planning to shoot more days than last season.
It is also worth noting the impact on different shoots according to size. The GunsOnPegs survey shows that the largest shoots, averaging bags of over 250, are the hardest hit with the number of days reduced by 50%. Mid-range shoots, bags of 100-250, will shoot 41% fewer days. The smaller shoots are the least affected with just a 27% reduction.
Take stock –
As we can see, there is still much to be positive about and the determination and positive attitudes from people across the industry are encouraging.
This is nevertheless an opportunity for all shoots to take stock of how they run their operation. Asking guns for deposits and paying deposits for birds should remain standard practice – it represents good housekeeping. But some practices are being reviewed: not least that there should be less focus on chasing the number of birds shot and more on sustainability and biosecurity, thus reducing the likelihood of disease breakout. Achieving the right balance between good sport and environmental contribution is key to the future.