Game Shooting State of Play

The State of Play regarding shooting in the UK 2023/24 Season 

Hopefully we’ll see you sometime during the coming season but I don’t know how much you’re aware of the state of play regarding shooting in the UK at the moment. After the two years of the ‘pandemic’ we had thought that during the 2022/23 season things would get back to a more normal situation especially on the game front. That was not the case and last season looks like being among the most difficult in living memory. As we go into the next season we’re currently facing similar problems.

There is a perfect storm within the shooting community. Apart from all the anti-activity, the debacle over lead shot, restrictions from Natural England and a host of other problems the whole ‘live quarry’ shooting industry faces the biggest problem, AI or bird flu. Many shoots were unable to source their partridges/pheasants for the 2022/23 season. It’s to some extent the game industry’s own fault relying on the French and Spanish game farms to supply the majority of the birds we shoot albeit with the best of intentions for early season events. There’s a ban on the import of eggs/poults which doesn’t stop with game but also affects our pigeon and other game meat exports. Our local game dealer has not taken any birds since the spring of 2022 and has no plans to do so this year as they cannot currently export them. That combined with the huge rise in prices across the board has resulted in many shoots shutting down, some permanently some hopefully just for a season. Those that were still shooting ran much reduced programmes and with huge cost increases.

Our predicament is pretty much the same, landlords still want their rents but with the lack of available birds and the overall escalating running costs it’s pretty nigh impossible to invest with any certainty that we can shoot and see a return.

The UK as a whole is under standard AI restrictions which thankfully last year came in too late to stop the release of game birds. This next 2023/24 season might be different though! There’s currently AI restrictions over several areas of the UK. Basically, game birds are classed as poultry/livestock until released into the wild. A limited supply of eggs/poults may be available from abroad this year but many shoots will be reliant on home reared game.

However just this spring DEFRA have seen fit to ban the release of red-legged partridges & pheasants within 500m of some special conservation areas (SPA) which impacts on many UK shoots especially in the east. A complete mess and uncertainties prevail.

Although current reports from the game farmers are that there should be plenty of stock available we may not be able to release them in traditional areas.

In addition there’s the distinct possibility of more devastation from bird flu, it’s not declined quiet as expected and current forecasts (you can check the website for info here) are for it to stay with us through the year. That’s the more virulent strain H5N1. Even if it doesn’t affect the game bird’s advice is it’s probably now endemic in the wild bird populations and it could potentially lead to a ban on shooting from government as a bio security measure. More uncertainty!  Additionally the game dealers cannot/will not collect birds from restricted zones as a precautionary measure. Most of the UK fieldsports organisations have on-line advice options which can be read here for BASC and here for NGO

Whilst the virus doesn’t generally appear to affect the mammalian world (although recent findings suggest it may well do so and in Asia it has now jumped into the human population) it still has its consequences in such activities as our end of season hare shoots. Understandably Landowners do not wish large numbers of Guns wandering their land and maybe spreading the virus across a region. Our duck/goose shooting was almost non-existent last season as migrating wildfowl are considered to be among the worst hit by AI. We are uncertain what may be the situation for 2023/24.

All in all, a very worrying scenario for our business and the UK shooting industry as a whole. We will continue to run our deer stalking events along with our pigeon and corvid days throughout this year whilst trying to remain upbeat about what the game season might bring. At present we’re only taking tentative bookings for game shooting next season (although we sincerely hope and are working to confirm them) and are reviewing that on a month-by-month basis. We live in hope!

Please keep an eye on our periodic e-newsletters for updates and hopefully we’ll be able to fully confirm things during the summer for the 2023/24 season but we’re not about to do so until we’re sure we can give you some sport.