George Browne of Guns on Pegs examines the results of this year’s Game Shooting Census, carried out by Guns on Pegs and Lycetts, with the support of BASC, the GWCT and the Countryside Alliance.
There’s a phrase that I’ve come across on social media that has always given me pause for thought: “the ordinary shooting person”. It is usually used in the context of bemoaning either the cost of shooting, or some perceived failure of the shooting organisations; shooting is becoming too expensive for the ordinary shooting person, or the organisations have forgotten about the ordinary shooting person.
I suspect that when people use the phrase, they have a clear picture in their head of what this person is like—the kind of places that they shoot, how much money they have, how often they shoot and how much they spend on it.
I’ve always wondered what that picture in people’s heads is—what is meant by the phrase, and does this “ordinary shooting person” actually exist? Shooting is a far more diverse community than its detractors would have you believe, or than the stereotypes would suggest, so is it possible to paint a picture of the “ordinary shooting person” (OSP), and would you or I qualify for the title?
Would that even be desirable? I recall vividly that when I was about eight years old, my form mistress had a motto permanently inscribed at the top of her blackboard: “Don’t be ordinary, be extraordinary.” It is a phrase that has stuck with me as a great piece of advice.
This year’s Game Shooting Census, carried out by Guns on Pegs and Lycetts, with the support of BASC, the GWCT and the Countryside Alliance, is as good a place as any to try to get a handle on the topic. The census, taken annually since 2013, is completed by thousands of people, and offers a yearly snapshot of the shooting community’s habits and opinions.
So I’ve been examining this year’s results to see if we can draw out a picture of this elusive OSP. Given the context in which I see the phrase used, I feel that basing our pen portrait of the OSP on expenditure is justifiable.
How often and how much?
The first thing to say is that I’m immediately disqualified from the ranks of Ordinary Shooting People because I don’t pay for my shooting. I’m in the fortunate position of doing most of my shooting on our little private family shoot, supplemented by the occasional kind invitation.
Also, with a mortgage and 18-month-old twins, I’m not really in a financial position to even spend money in the pub, let alone on something as self-indulgent as shooting. According to the data, around 80% of Guns part with some of their hard-earned cash for at least some of their shooting, either through a syndicate membership or buying let days or pegs. The average number of days a Gun plans to buy this year is nine, and the average that people plan to spend is £6,000, but this is where we run into a bit of a statistical anomaly.
These figures are perhaps a little less than representative of the OSP, since they refer to the ‘mean’ and are skewed by those people who spend huge amounts and shoot a great deal. Harking back to my vaguely remembered GCSE maths, the ‘mode’, or most common figures, is more helpful in this instance. Looking at this, we learn that the most common number of days bought is just two, and that the most common amount to spend is £2,000.
The OSP belongs to a syndicate—70% of Guns report that they will be part of one next season, while just shy of 40% of them say that this represents the majority of their shooting. Most likely, this syndicate will cost them less than £3,000 for their full Gun, which is in keeping with the £2,000 quoted earlier. With these parameters set, what else can we learn about the OSP?
Our OSP is most likely to be male, and aged between 55 and 65, and to live the rural lifestyle in a village. There’s a pretty good chance that he has already retired, the lucky blighter, but if he is still working he is most likely in a ‘managerial occupation’.
There’s also a good chance that one of his female family members is involved in shooting, perhaps as a beater, picker-up or as a Gun. He enjoys driven shooting, and shoots on days with an average bag of 85 birds. (Such are the benefits of paying for shooting; we can only dream of an 85-bird day on our shoot.) He shoots nine game days a season, probably including some walked-up shooting or wildfowling. In addition to this, he might also do
a spot of pest control or deerstalking. He doesn’t shoot grouse, though would do if he could.
Guns and ammo
The chances are that our man uses a Beretta or a Browning over-and-under, though if he’s a traditionalist he might be using an AYA side-by-side. Either way, he dreams of owning a gun made by one of the ‘heritage’ London gunmakers, Purdey or Holland & Holland.
When it comes to cartridges, he’s probably not all that fussed about which brand he uses, though he’s most likely to use Gamebore’s Black Gold. Speaking of which, though the OSP hasn’t yet tried a non-lead eco-wad cartridge, he’s pretty relaxed about the move over to steel, and would still buy a day at a shoot that said he couldn’t use lead. This being said, he’s dead against the use of plastic wads for game shooting.
Gear and game
On shoot days he wears breeks paired with a good set of wellies, though he toys with the idea of trousers. He favours a Gun bus as a way to get around a shoot, and prefers pheasant shooting to partridges. He is not especially bothered about when the meal is taken—whether shooting through or stopping in the middle of the day—though he is partial to a drop of sloe gin or port to warm the cockles after a day in the field. At the end of the day he prefers to take home a brace of birds in the feather, though dressed birds would also be acceptable.
His shooting is important to him, and if there was any doubt in his mind as to just how important it is to his mental health, last season’s Covid-related interruptions drove the point home. Despite the psychological cost of the last year and a half, he feels pretty good about life, reporting his ‘overall feeling of personal well-being’ as an eight out of 10.
Given the importance of shooting in his life, it is hardly surprising that the OSP is concerned for its future. He supports self-regulation to avoid restrictions against shooting in the long term, as well as being willing, if not exactly thrilled, to pay a 50p levy to help promote the consumption of game. He would like it to be easier to know whether a shoot follows best practice, and that a shoot has a net-positive environmental impact, and would be more likely to buy a day at a shoot where he knew that best practice was adhered to.
In addition to being disqualified from being an OSP because I don’t pay for my shooting, I also don’t belong to a syndicate, I’m 20 years too young, and until recently I was that most-loathed of all Guns, the London-dwelling Gun. Nevertheless I find that much of the above rings true for me, especially when it comes to shoot standards and self-regulation.
And I suppose that this rather illustrates my point, in that even in a pen portrait composed of the most commonly held views, the fact is that there’s no way that it can be representative of everyone. What’s more, I suspect that when people use the phrase, they’re trying to divide more than they’re trying to unite.
My contention, in contrast, is that you can be an OSP whether you belong to a grand roving syndicate that shoots bigger bags or if you belong to a walk one, stand one shoot that would be happy with a bag a 10th of the size. When the boots are drying and we’re relaxing by the fire after another fun-filled day in the field, we are all ‘shooting people’, but hopefully we are all ‘extraordinary’ in some way; shooting would be a dull world if we were not.