Despite the weather, which has been particularly wet from mid December onwards, this has been a good low ground shooting season.
Whilst there were a few outbreaks of disease on rearing fields (despite the generally dry spring and summer) most birds seemed to go to wood in good condition and generally thrived. Partridges particularly seem to have done well this year and demand for partridge shooting was slightly firmer than it was in 2012/13. The open weather in September, October and November produced some memorable days’ partridge shooting up and down the country although the lack of wind did cause problems. At the other end of the scale, the high winds towards the end of October produced some extreme shooting on the South Downs and elsewhere.
Generally speaking most pheasant poults went to wood in ideal conditions – with the sun on their beaks and little rain in sight. However once they came off the pellets and on to wheat and the keeper looked to start feeding them out into the drives, problems arose.
With such great conditions for Gamebirds (and gamecovers) alike, came an abundance of wild hedgerow and woodland food sources. In places, acorns and beechmast were several inches deep and the birds soon stared to stray from the feed rides and out of the keepers control. Despite some very hectic mornings dogging the birds back in during September and October, many shoots started the year with less birds than anticipated in some drives.
Although the absence of any sustained hard weather has not helped, the birds have generally returned during the season, culminating in some larger than normal bag being seen in January in some parts of the country. However the realisation that there might be additional birds and therefore shoot days to let, came too late to get many new teams lined up. There were good opportunities to negotiate revised overage rate though!
Pheasants almost from the point of release, were extremely difficult to get concentrated on feed rides or around hoppers. This was because of this years amazing abundance of natural food. In places, acorns and beech mast were feet deep and with so much natural food available, it was very difficult to get the birds to go where the keeper wanted them. The absence of sustained hard weather didn’t help. Despite this, most Shoots seem to have consistently delivered the expected bags.
The letting marketplace have been very mixed; good Shoots with excellent reputations are consistently sought after and availability has been very limited because of very early repeat bookings. Poorer Shoots tend to have much lower repeat bookings and hence greater availability. The economics of let shooting have not improved and with ever rising fixed costs, there is likely to be further pressure on poorly-performing Shoots or those unable to charge premium rates for a genuinely premium product. As ever, it pays to go to a Shoot that provides exactly what you want, and without plugging, William Powell Sporting is able to deliver impartial advice gained from many many years visiting Shoots literally from Land’s End to John O’Groats. James Chapel is out on shoots almost every day of the season and hence his experience of the outstanding, the good, the bad and even the ugly is fairly unbeatable!