It has been almost 200 years since Lt. Col. Peter Hawker published his first edition of Instructions to Young Sportsmen. Initially written as a collection of notes to help friends into shooting, the book eventually proved a the definitive guide for many sportsmen in that era.
By the end of the 19th century, game shooting had changed dramatically. Hammerless, breech loading guns shooting smokeless cartridges were now the standard. The imported fashion for driving birds over guns had now become common place and perfected, requiring whole teams of beaters, flankers and pickers up. In this new world of shooting, there were new rules. In order to provide the sportsman with such information, Sir Ralph Payne Gallwey published his series of Letters to Young Shooters.
Over 100 years later, we find ourselves in a very different situation. Unless you are an engineer or metallurgist, the guns we use have not changed radically. The game we shoot still tends to be driven, but is certainly more accessible then it was back then. In the age of clay grounds and simulated game days, virtually anyone can start shooting at very little expense. But how many people are taking up these opportunities and coming into the sport? Most importantly, how many of these newcomers are young people?
Many column inches have been written on getting young people to shooting; it is an extremely important issue. The ideal is that every young person is trained by a family member in the old fashioned way. But for various reasons in today’s society, it appears there are not enough young people coming though this route. If we relied purely on the children of shooting people, every gun would have to bring a child into the sport just to keep the numbers static. Without young people, fewer inherit the sport and shooting will face a demographic time bomb.
Hawker and Payne Gallwey addressed their books to young people, so this is obviously not a new issue. They may have had a smaller, more rural population to appeal to, but today we have all sorts of distractions for the younger generation. Computer games, the internet and other, less regulated sports all compete for the attention of the youth of today. Nowadays, few and far between are the children who get the opportunity to become interested in nature and natural history. If they happen to become interested, many fall prey to the anti shooting attitude that conservation and shooting are diametrically opposed. This was recognised by ‘BB’ (the pen name of author Denys Watkins-Pitchford) many years ago. He himself encouraged the young into shooting, taking boys from Rugby school on shooting trips to Scotland. I doubt this happens much now.
So what is being done about this? Well, National Shooting Week is an initiative run by the Countryside Alliance that allows young people to try shooting for the first time. There are also many exemplary people around the country who help young guns try shooting for the first time. These routes provide entry points for some to the sport. But what is holding the others back? Does shooting have an image problem? Is it lack of available land? Is there too much regulation?
The Countryside Alliance wants to get to the root of this problem. As part of this, a ground breaking survey will investigate the number of young people that are coming into shooting, and how they are being introduced. As the recent census demonstrated, the only certain way to find answers is to ask questions. For us to assess the makeup of the shooting population, the Shooting Campaign is asking members to spend a few minutes of their time to fill in an online form.
The results of the questionnaire will allow us to identify areas which prevent young people entering the sport. These can then be specifically targeted to ensure that shooting is an option available to all young people. This also ensures that money and resources are spent in the most effective and efficient ways possible. We also want to identify those dedicated people who do help young people, and reward them for their hard work and dedication. So if you, your club, syndicate or shoot are involved with young people, please do take the time to fill in the survey. The future of our sport depends on it.
We are encouraging everyone to enter this unique survey. Entries can be taken online by visiting the Shooting Campaign website, or if you happen to find yourself at a game fair over the summer months, drop by the Countryside Alliance stand where there will be paper versions available to fill in.
The Countryside Alliance’s Shooting Campaign has also launched a new set of campaigning materials designed specifically for those who run or manage a shoot. In the past, the campaign has issued packs to shoots in time for the new shooting season. These packs are designed to ease the burden on the shoot day, as well as raise vital funds for the Shooting Campaign. The 2011/12 season shoot packs have been updated with new sweepstake cards, game cards, collection boxes and posters along with this season’s latest shooting badges.
In order to maintain good contact with the shooting community, the Shooting Campaign has also created a regular e-newsletter that may be of interest to gamekeepers across the country. The bespoke news sheet is created to keep all those involved is shoot organisation up to date on policy, legislation and the work of the Countryside Alliance. Topics covered in the latest edition include game reading, tax and the role of the RSPB in the uplands.