The Game’s afoot

Timothy Barber
Follow Timothy
BLAZING at fast-flying game amid remote, beautiful landscapes can be a pretty thrilling way to start the day. The game season, which gets underway today with the start of the grouse season lasts until February as quarry like partridge, duck and pheasant come into season.

There’s a multitude of different styles of shoot to experience – but for the novice, just getting started isn’t the easiest thing. If shooting seems like an exclusive pursuit for the rich, it doesn’t have to be.

These days, as parcels of land from old estates are being broken up, small syndicates of like-minded people are buying up the shooting rights, advertising their vacancies for places on shoots, and making it a much more accessible sport. in particular, shooting is a growing pastime for women, and there are even some specialist women-only shooting syndicates.

Here are some tips for the debut game shooter.

It’s the start of the grouse season today, but if you’re a novice, the grouse moors are not the places to start. Grouse is the hardest bird to shoot, as they scream towards you pretty much at eye-level, and for experienced shots only. For beginners, Simon Clarke of the British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC) recommends putting in the hours at a clay pigeon shooting school first.

“People should be satisfied they’re a competent shot and can put in a clean kill before they move to live quarry. It shows no respect for the quarry otherwise, and that respect is a very important part of the sport.”

There are plenty of shooting schools around London, offering a mixture of individual tuition and corporate shooting days. It’s not a cheap pursuit – a course of six lessons at the West London Shooting School in Northolt costs £542 plus the cartridges and clays that you use (£58.50 per hundred). But of course the more you do, the more preferential the rates.

In clay pigeon shooting, the trajectory of the different clays are designed to replicate the movement of various types of game – by the time you hit the open country, you’ll be used to it. “In one-to-one tuition, we’ll start with the basics and fundamentals and build it up into a real drive scenario,” says the school’s Roddy Watson.

Once you’ve proved yourself as a shot at the shooting school, it’s time to get yourself on a shoot. Often the shooting schools maintain good contacts with the agencies who arrange shoots and will be able to recommend you. Alternatively, the BASC website has a facility for matching up guns with available shoots. If you can, of course, get yourself invited on a shoot and you won’t have to shoulder the cost.

When it’s your first time on a shoot, Simon Clarke recommends letting the host know you’re a newcomer. “Don’t be scared to mention it. Someone who knows the shoot well, such as the shoot captain or one of his assistants, will be put with a novice gun keep an eye on them.” Safety is everything, of course.

When you first get practicing on clays, you’ll be provided with a gun by the shooting school, and it’s possible to borrow guns on a shoot too. But if you’re planning to get shooting regularly, it’s worth investing in a gun. For this, you’ll need to go through police checks to get a license, and you must have a secure gun cabinet installed in your house. A new basic shotgun will cost from around £1,000 upwards, while second hand models can cost half that – don’t expect them to be as reliable though.