Extortion. Making a killing. Overpriced. Money for old rope. Taking the piss. Anyone can do it.
When the subject of client stalking, syndicates or any deer related service arises it is guaranteed to prompt fierce, opinionated responses. If social media was to be believed there are real issues that need addressing within the shooting industry.
But what are the issues? Is it right that people should charge for guided stalking or delivering training for example? Are there really people capitalising on an oversubscribed interest in shooting?
I don’t normally blog on such subjects but whenever the subject crops up there never seems to be a constructive solution based outcome. With 10 years in the service industry behind me and much longer guiding and training new deer stalkers I thought I would put pen to paper and share my thoughts. Perhaps you have been shooting a while and have an aspiration to create an income from something you love doing and you feel you have something to offer?
If this is you, first you will have to make peace with the fact you will be swimming against the tide of negativity from armchair critics.
Take on a positive ‘can do’ attitude and ignore the haters!
Have you ever heard the farming community in uproar because a neighbour has set up an open farm and is making a profit from visitors? Do they ridicule families for paying the £50 entrance fee for the day to experience something they have grown up doing or even get paid to do? Perhaps they do but not to the extent that social media forums are in melt down every time it is mentioned. Rather, it is seen as commendable to turn your hand to create a viable enterprise. Why do those fortunate enough to have access to shooting for free feel the need to verbally sabotage others who want to make what they have profitable?
When someone recognises they have something of value, a skill to offer, or knowledge and experience to pass on, there is always the option of trade and it’s absurd to suggest its wrong to consider it.
As far back as you want to look in history there has always been conflict over who should shoot deer and how many should be shot. The Normans ensured through their forest laws that deer populations were cultivated and preserved for the nobility with severe consequences for anyone found to have poached any. Over time the laws were changed and amended and modernised to focus on deer welfare in addition to theft and poaching. The groups who have access to deer stalking may have changed but the politics and conflict of opinion are still alive and thriving.
When something is in short supply and oversubscribed the value has the potential to increase to an over inflated price. Is this the case with deer stalking? Many would say it is but in my opinion, this is where the debate gets lost. The debate on cost is a red herring.
But what about price? Surely everyone has a right to access low cost deer stalking? How much should you charge?
The value of service
When was the last time you heard someone refuse to go to a restaurant to eat for the reason that everyone should have access to cheaper eating as it is a ‘right’. Or perhaps for the reason they can cook their own food at home for a fraction of the price? Trust me, I have learned that there is no acceptable excuse under the sun when it comes to keeping one’s partner happy with an occasional meal at a restaurant! We accept paying upward of 4 times the price of something we can do ourselves for the experience and to create memories with friends. We expect a minimum level of service. We expect those cooking for us to be suitably trained, qualified and experienced, we expect safety with regards to food hygiene and we also like good service.
Who sits on their computer in the evening raging about the extortionate price of London’s restaurants? You would not expect the same standard of service from a back street takeaway/diner than you would from a Michelin star restaurant. The difference being level of quality and customer service. With the increase of deer stalking providers, the customer always has a choice.
In my opinion this is where we get closer to the current issues. But how does this translate to the deer industry? If you are looking to offer a service, then you need to meet expectations and pitch your service to the right market and at an appropriate price.
First and foremost, ensure you are legal and covered for all eventualities.
The following check list is essential for this,
- You will have obtained the stalking rights from the landowner. This will enable you the legal authority and freedom to take guests, lend an ‘estate rifle’, and authorise others to help. Permission is not the same, under this type of agreement you would need record of the details your exact agreement with the landowner for all your activity but the landowner remains the holder of the rights and only they have the authority to authorise additional guests and helpers. Only the occupier or his employees have the authority to lend an estate rifle. The ‘occupier’ is generally considered to be the holder of the rights but this is open to interpretation so my advice would be to ensure you have record of what is agreed with the landowner.
- Insure yourself under a commercial insurance policy. If you are taking payment for a service a recreational policy is very unlikely to cover you in the event of a claim. Taking ‘donations’ or making your money through the selling of the carcass to the guest would both still be seen as a transaction for a service however you try to disguise it and could invalidate a recreational policy.
- Create clear terms and conditions on the parameters of your service. This will usually include, terms of payment, additional charges, cancellation policy, legal arrangements and requirements to name a few. T&Cs might seem over officious to some however most disputes arise because of the the absence of them. They help form a contract between you and your client so you both know what to expect of each other.
- How will you ensure your guests are safe and legal? How will you establish their level of competence and whether their rifle is serviceable and zeroed? Think through the health and safety hazards of all your activities, write a risk assessment and make sure you stick to the measures in place.
- Keep records of your accounts and declare your income for tax purposes, register for self assessment tax return.
In addition you should consider,
- Do you have a deer management plan and historical data that supports a sustainable cull figure on an annual basis? Any business venture hinges on profit but be mindful that your success is intrinsically linked to the sustainability of your cull plan.
- Are you able to find and select the class of deer you have agreed with your client consistently whilst keeping control of someone else behind the rifle?
- Do you have the skill, experience, equipment and measures in place to deal with wounded deer?
- Do you have the flexibility to provide alternative back up plans if an initial plan fails for a multitude of reasons?
- Will your plans collaborate or conflict with the overall land management objectives of the landowner or agent?
Establish what you have to offer
- Are you offering trophy deer or cull stalking?
- Are you offering trophy preparation and measuring?
- Are you offering training? If so, to what standard? Do you have the knowledge and experience and who are you accredited by?
- What type of venue are you offering in terms of the geography, scenery and views?
- Are you providing a single guided stalk or a package with travel arrangements, accommodation, food and entertainment?
- What level of quality and service can you deliver in all of the above?
Guided Deer Stalking is not purely about putting someone in front of a Deer to pull the trigger. It is about creating an experience. It doesn’t matter if your client is there for a cull stalk or a Gold medal trophy, how you look after and make a memorable occasion for your client is what makes your service a success.
Honesty and integrity is the backbone to your reputation. Manage expectations. Be honest with your clients. Under promise. Over deliver.
Expect to be challenged on your customer service skills and your problem solving. You will earn your wage behind the scenes taking questions, finding answers and solutions to queries and problems and facilitating strange requests. It is part and parcel of offering a service.
Know your clientele and market your service accordingly
Just as there is a spectrum of services in other industries such as restaurants the same applies to guided stalking and sporting breaks. You will need to consider where your service fits in this spectrum and this will dictate how and where you market yourself and at what price.
There is no way to make a ‘quick buck’ in the deer industry if you want to remain above board and there are not many professional stalkers that earn their entire income from Deer Stalking. Offering a legitimate service to deer stalkers is not a quick and easy process. Far from it, the time spent administrating an enterprise and the cost of operation will mean that what you earn will be unlikely to equate to a generous hourly rate. But on the plus side it is extremely rewarding putting together an event for others to enjoy and seeing your hard work come to fruition with happy clients. Life is too short to put aspirations to one side. If you think you have what it takes you should go for it.
Rights and wrongs?
Does this mean that the trade of casual deer stalking opportunities on social media is wrong? I am all in favour of offering and trading deer stalking among friends in the form of swapping a days shooting or offering the chance to a newcomer to experience stalking for free. Everyone has to start somewhere, and you don’t build a business overnight. What we have to accept is that offering a service for financial reward comes with legal and moral obligations as well as customer expectations. When these are not met and money is changing hands we should not be surprised when the wheels start to fall off.
Putting the question out there
As a community should we not be encouraging new enterprise when done properly rather than trying to pull them down? Should we not be acknowledging the providers that offer a good service across the spectrum not just a cheap service? Are we happy to allow newcomers to be inducted into deer stalking by those more interested in making a ‘quick buck’ rather than delivering a good service or operating within the law? Perhaps this is where we should be applying pressure and self-regulating for change instead of feeding the beast? If you agree, how do we progress?