Shoot Contracts

Shooting law expert David Barrington Barnes advises keepers involved in letting shoots of certain contractual considerations that must be borne in mind.

No gamekeeper will need reminding that the new shooting season is just the flicker of an eyelid ahead. With an awesome preparatory workload to process between now and then, some gamekeepers will be tempted to focus without blinking on the operational aspects of their job – their vermin control, rearing fields, poults, release pens and so on – to the exclusion of all else.

Those gamekeepers whose shoot days are arranged or sold by their employers, their employers’ agents or others are perhaps the lucky ones. They can concentrate on putting on great shooting days and leave the marketing and sales to others, who are often better qualified and experienced in those departments. A browse of any retail shooting magazine reveals that the selling of many days is managed and organised by the land owner, shoot operator or either a traditional land agent or sporting agent.

With the most expensive days on offer in the shooting industry being seriously expensive now, it may pay for everyone involved in supplying days – be they land owner, shoot operator or agent – to refocus on the sheer amount of money involved. Based on the figures reported in Modern Gamekeeping last month, a 300-brace grouse day at £200 a brace could cost £60,000. At £42 a bird for top-class pheasant shooting, a 500-bird pheasant day could cost £21,000. While these sums may be small change to investment bankers and hedge fund operators, these people have not got where they are by accepting poor service and products. On the contrary, they recognise and expect value for money in spades. This applies, on a smaller scale of course, to more modest shooters buying days. The suppliers of game shooting need to recognise this and owners, operators and agents should avoid dumping this side of the business on their gamekeepers.

Ideally then, the boss or his agent (whoever they may be in a particular case) should market and then negotiate the sale of the shoot days. Where this does not happen, it is likely that the shoot’s gamekeeper will be lumbered with the assignment. It can be a very troublesome one, particularly when it has to be replicated several or many times in connection with all or most of the days being sold during a shooting season. In order to help gamekeepers who have to handle the dirty end of this particular stick I have set out below some of the potential issues that should be at least considered for inclusion in the ideal shoot day contract.

If at this point you are scratching your head and asking why you would ever need a contract for the sale of a day’s shooting, I suggest you wake up to the harsh realities of the present age. In a nutshell, you need the contract to avoid getting sued or, if you are sued, so as to be able to defend the claim. I am going to come out here and say I do not consider the provision of a contract in any way unreasonable. In fact, in many cases involving the arms-length sale of shooting, I would say it is highly desirable. If you doubt this, you might ask yourself whether you would pay £20,000 or £60,000 for, say, a luxury holiday without any written contract setting out all the main terms and conditions.

You need to start by ascertaining the parties. The shoot owner or operator for whom you work will likely be ‘the Owner’ or ‘the Seller’ but you must take care to identify ‘the Buyer’. Perhaps this will be the Shoot Captain of a roving syndicate. If in doubt run credit and bankruptcy searches on him or better still, insist on cleared funds before the shoot day.

The cost of the day needs to be specified. This may be a fixed price or on a per-bird or even per-cartridge basis. If a fixed price, it’s suggested an indication of the likely bag should be provided but great care is needed if the birds are high and/or the guns can’t shoot straight. There is scope for the wording of the shoot contract to be tweaked here to avoid unjustified complaints and claims about the bag not being achieved.

Arrangements for payment (ideally well in advance) should be made. Early payments assist shoots in paying their pre-shoot costs and so are important for this reason as well as for avoiding bad debts. If the shoot concerned is a desirable one, guns will pay in advance to secure their day – but only if they are asked to do so.

The contract needs to specify what is included and excluded. Typically, such items as the provision of cartridges and loaders are excluded. Arrangements for lunch and refreshments need to be agreed.

The rules of engagement need to be set out and, in particular, the supplier should have the right to exclude any gun who shoots in a dangerous fashion without refund. There should be a clause or clauses requiring each gun to have a shotgun certificate and that they are able to provide evidence he carries adequate insurance against third party claims.

A term needs to be included to make it clear what happens financially if a day is cancelled or shortened because of bad weather. This is even more critical in grouse shooting contracts than low ground shooting, but the important thing is for everyone to know where they stand. This way legal disputes (which incidentally are bad for the image of the shooting industry) are more likely to be avoided than if the position is uncertain or not stated.

Provision should also be made for cancellation of the day after certain dates and for refunds, if you offer any.

Apart from a courtesy brace of birds the owner may want to make it clear that the bag remains his or its property. This may seem obvious to you as a gamekeeper, but these days not all guns are familiar with what are traditional arrangements.

There are many more items which may be required to produce a full, foolproof and comprehensive shoot day contract. My list above is not intended to be exclusive.

All I would say to the gamekeeper who takes on board the need for a contract is that he needs to have a template – a document that lawyers call a precedent – and to become familiar with this so that he can readily adapt the details in it to the particular day that he is tasked with selling.  ν

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Posted in Countryside Law

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