It is mid April and the better weather and longer days seem to bring an influx of recreational hunters looking for places to shoot. With the increasing popularity of shooting sports some take to social media in an effort to gain attention and secure permission. So is free ‘pest control’ an attractive offer to a landowner? Well, its not quite that simple. One thing is for sure, Land owners have got more choice than ever in who they grant permission so you had better stand out.
Landowners don’t generally grant shooting rights out of benevolence. There will be a symbiotic relationship between shooter and landowner. Both must benefit each other to be successful. This does not mean that money needs to change hands, however it should be no surprise that the biggest most lucrative estates are occupied by professionals under contract. Given the opportunity any landowner would select the most experienced individuals offering the best deal and under a contract where the conditions are clear and can be upheld. Does that mean the humble recreational shooter has less of a chance? Not at all, but times have changed and the modern sportsman needs to move and adapt with them.
As we live in an increasingly litigious age, health and safety is at the forefront and the countryside is no exception. Landowners are aware that without exercising due diligence they can be held liable for all kinds of accidents on their property. All responsible shooters should be insured with public liability cover. Personal accident cover and legal liability is also worth considering. Usually all three are offered as standard through membership to organisations such as the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), British Deer Society (BDS) or Scottish Association for Country Sports (SACS).
If offering a pest control service care should be taken that you are not crossing a line as you may not be covered on a recreational shooting policy but require a commercial policy. This could include offering your service for financial reward or gain, taking a paying guest shooting either for yourself or paid on behalf of another, or sub letting shooting. Its surprising how many with a shooting permission look to make some money this way.
Suitable qualifications and experience.
Its a hot potato amongst the shooting fraternity but when it comes to proving competence both go hand in hand and are just as important as the other.
An individual with a qualification has proved themselves under assessment against a set standard. Depending on the level of qualification and the assessment type this may be limited to theoretical knowledge or it could also prove level of practical skill.
If using specialist equipment such as Quad bikes, ATVs or chainsaws then certificates of competency may have to be held for insurance to be valid. Other qualifications may include the Deer Stalking Certificate, First Aid , Game Handling qualifications and not to mention further education courses on Deer or Wildlife Management.
Seminars, ‘best practice’ days and attendance courses also have their place for continued development of knowledge. BASC, BDS and SACS organise such events. Companies such as the Countryside Jobs Service have a directory of short training courses available in a wide range of subjects in wildlife surveying and countryside management.
All of us have to learn our skills and knowledge at some point but what about the shooter of many years of accumulated experience who claims that a qualification is both unnecessary and demeaning? Whilst there are exceptions there are many that claim years of experience and talk a good talk that have critical gaps in their knowledge or dangerous habits that they are unaware of. I am yet to hear of a candidate who has begrudgingly attended a Deer Stalking Certificate 1 course that has said that they did not benefit from it.
The internet is also a great resource when it comes to learning but it can also be dangerously misleading and sometimes quite frankly, incorrect. Internet forums have a lot to answer for!
The content of what is taught and the quality of the teaching is of equal importance of any course and qualification. A good instructor and structured teaching is irreplaceable for learning a set syllabus or skill correctly and effectively.
Although it is not compulsory yet, when it comes to firearm ownership for sporting purposes, many police forces will look more favourably on an application if safety/competency training has been received. Training as a probationary member is already a compulsory step before the grant of a firearm certificate as a member of a gun club.
Deer Stalking Certificate Level 1 proves an individual has gained a foundation level of knowledge in a range essential subjects for deer stalking and has proved they can meet an standard of rifle marksmanship. It does not prove experience but it does built a firm foundation of knowledge on which to build with practical experience.
With the previous point on liabilities to consider, safety will be foremost in any landowners mind. In the event of an accident, they may be held liable if they have not ensured the individual is suitably experienced.
Experience is often hard earned and we all have to start somewhere. Some may be fortunate enough to find a mentor to tag along with and build their practical experience. Some might take up on paid opportunities offered through organisations like BASC, BDS or sporting agents and guides. I would urge anyone to use opportunities like this to hone their skills before going it alone. It can not only save embarrassment but also ensure you are safe and competent. If putting carcasses into the food chain it is imperative that they are processed and checked correctly but it should also be a matter of pride in presenting a clean, dressed carcass. A landowner will be reassured to know that an individual is safe, competent and humane in the practice ofselecting, killing and if applicable, processing their quarry species for the food chain.
Other than perhaps a college course in Countryside and Wildlife management, the Deer Stalking Certificate Level 2 is currently the only qualification in the UK that proves a candidate has demonstrated practically a combined standard of safety, knowledge and skill in hunting a wild animal (in this case deer), checking for abnormalities and disease and entering it into the food chain. It is hardly surprising that holders of the Deer Stalking Certificate claim better success in securing shooting.
Knowledge and Tact
Farms are a business and the successful farmer knows their trade. In addition to their crops and/or livestock the study of the countryside, the seasons, the weather as well as the wild creatures that are resident are all of vital interest. The recreational shooter trying to bluff their knowledge will quickly be caught out. Having knowledge of farming and land management will go a long way in ones favour as well as knowledge of the seasonal habits of the wildlife present. Appreciating what a farmer, forester or landowner is trying to achieve and how the wildlife effects this means that you can present solutions to existing problems rather than being the potential problem to accommodate. It pays to be knowledgeable and observant.
Networking and personal recommendation.
There is no denying, sometimes it is ‘who you know’ however I would argue it still comes hand in hand with ‘what you know’. Nothing can beat personal interaction whether it is getting to know a gamekeeper or being recommended by trusted friend or acquaintance of a landowner. Many pick up vermin shooting having beaten on a game shoot through the season and then been seen shooting safely and competently on a peg on beaters day.
Negotiating the arrangement.
What is the value? By this I mean the value to the landowner as well as to the shooter. Will the landowner see a financial benefit? What is the financial or recreational value to the shooter. Demonstrating an understanding in how the landowner can benefit from your service will certainly help in a negotiation. What is it worth to you? What should the landowner be offered? These are questions that I cannot answer. On the one hand, a skilled worker does not often work for free and how good are you at what you do? On the other hand, if it is purely recreational what is the shooting worth on an open market? You will need to weigh up for yourself the time and expense you will need to invest, whether you will make any kind of return and how you show your appreciation and share your success with the landowner.
Delivering on a promise.
Under promise, over deliver. A phrase that has served me well over the years. Its not that I think that anyone should under sell themselves but I certainly think when it comes to making an offer to a landowner one needs to be honest in what they can achieve and ensure they have the means to achieve it. Good communication saves many misunderstandings. A written agreement is highly recommended in the first instance and there are good templates offered by shooting organisations. From there on it will be up to you to establish when a landowner or land manager wants to hear from you but making contact before and after outings will be a good plan in most situations.
So is ‘free pest control’ appealing?
It depends on whether it is perceived as being needed in the first place or whether there is value seen in it in terms of a return financial, in crop yield or both. It might also depend on whether the person offering the service can prove that they will deliver on what they promise. I’m very sceptical that a post on social media will get a second look. ‘Free’ pest control is high risk with unknown individuals and many will have experience of casual arrangements quickly turning into a burden. It is far easier for landowners to use ‘known’ entities from within their network or from face to face meetings where character can be better assessed.
I would hope that any young aspiring shot has the opportunity to find somewhere to hone their fieldcraft. I would also hope that the honest sportsman searching hard for shooting to call their own gets the break they deserve. More often than not this comes from being active amongst a network of contacts and finding those face to face opportunities. Its my opinion that in the future those who look to build their knowledge and skills through training courses, qualifications and practical experience will not only stand out but also have the confidence that they can deliver on what they promise and live up to expectations.
Deer Central provides Industry recognised Training and Courses as well as Deer and Wildlife Management services in the South East and South West of England. We are part of a wider network of qualified and experienced individuals that can offer a professional level of service nationwide. Please feel free to enquire through the ‘contact’ page.
Organisations referred to in this article can be found on the ‘links’ page.