Glynn Evans looks at the ways you can evaluate the success of a shoot’s season, and all the factors that contribute to it being a success.
I came to BASC to take on a role promoting shooting and gamekeeping, but having been a keeper ever since I left school, I still wanted to keep my hand in, so to speak. So, as well as managing to get a few days picking up, helping friends with their deer control, and foxing on local farms, I am in a couple of small shoots.
This has given me the opportunity to see things from a gun’s perspective as well as a keeper’s, and it’s been an interesting experience. In many ways these shoots are smaller versions of our larger full-time keepered counterparts and, while on our DIY shoot we’re not risking job security if things go badly, we do want to see a return on the considerable effort we put in, doing the daily work ourselves, and also on our financial outlay.
On the one hand, then, we can’t compare with a full-time keepered shoot in the number of birds put down – except perhaps where birds are released in a small number to help develop a wild bird shoot. But on the other hand we have much in common with a keepered shoot in that the boss needs to be kept happy, and collectively we are the boss (as well as the staff). So this is perhaps even more difficult, especially since everyone has their own view of how to run things, and we all need to be kept happy.
There is a whole host of factors that needs to be considered beyond returns and costs. Sometimes, as a keeper it is important to remember the old saying that he who pays the piper calls the tune. A good example of this is a friend who in recent years has taken a job on an estate where they have a modest shooting programme of 12 days of no more than 150 birds per day. The estate could easily manage more days and bigger numbers, and it takes considerable skill on my friend’s part to ensure that, despite the modest bag, there is an even spread of sport across all the guns throughout the day. But this is what his boss wants and, by delivering this, his job can be as secure as any other.
On shoots small or large it’s useful to have a few figures to help assess the past season and to start planning the next one. While they are not the only method of measuring the year’s success – or otherwise – they do give some valuable information. Using one of my shoots as an example, this year our figures look good, and the percentage returns would please many. We had already shot 150 more than the previous year with three days to go, and at that point averaged 55 head per day (50-ish per day is our goal). We will hopefully be on course for between a 40 to 50 per cent return, and our cost per bird should be around £20. These figures look good, but we are not naïve and realise the need to drill down into the figures a little more and consider other factors to assess how the season has really gone.
With regards to cost, we haven’t factored in our time, which collectively is considerable, and neither have we added the individual cost of transport on the shoot. Further, while our daily average is indeed near our ideal, we have fluctuated between 30 on our lowest day, when the weather forced an early finish, to our largest of nearly 80. Since we shoot together regularly this variation isn’t as much of an issue as it would be for a keeper on a commercial shoot with paying guns or guests attending. This is also true in relation to the other big problem we encounter, in that a couple of our drives shoot significantly better than the rest. We plan to develop a more even spread but, like many other shoots, we have a limited budget so this has to be part of a long term strategy.
But no matter how limited – or generous – your funding may be, it is not the only factor in a shoot’s development and performance. For those who rely on wild game production the weather can play a massive part in success or failure; the last couple of years have not been good. Spring 2012 must rank as one of the worst years for wild game production, and while 2013 might have been drier, it was the coldest spring in the UK since 1962. Yet again these wild bird shoots will have been restricted to a modest shooting programme to ensure that they have sufficient breeding stock for next spring. A curtailed shooting programme is a disappointment to all, but for those involved with a wild game shoot, from the boss to the keeper, it is something they realise is necessary in these poor years. All need to have the right attitude for the long haul. Then, with good keepering, habitat management and better weather next year, they will hopefully be rewarded for their efforts. Yet, as we’ve seen, the 2014 season has been heralded as one of the most successful seasons in living memory.