Shooting is a sport that requires insight before you begin. There are several different types of shoot you can enjoy, from a traditional game shoot to simulated game shooting. Here we cover the most popular types.
Driven shooting is where birds are ‘flushed’ out by beaters in the direction of a line of guns (the shooters). Each gun stands on a ‘peg’ and shoots from that spot on a driven shoot.
Walked-up shooting, also known as rough shooting, is the original method of shooting and is more authentic. Guns walk in a line with dogs ahead that flush out the birds, making them fly up ready to shoot. No beaters are needed on a walked-up shoot. It is more physically demanding, harder work and you will shoot fewer birds. Equally, because you work harder it can be more satisfying and give you a ‘shooting for your lunch’ feeling.
Driven shooting is more expensive than walked-up shooting as there are more people needed on the day including beaters, picker ups, hospitality staff etc. Driven shoots also involve more preparation costs, such as rearing the birds and the salaries of the gamekeepers. Walked-up shooting is less ‘laid on’ and with a smaller number of birds to shoot, the price to take part is lower.
Shooting is no longer just for the country elite or rich. A self-keepered shoot is a much lower cost option, where a group of friends rent land from an estate or farmer and manage their own small shoot. As the name suggests, it is likely that the group will not have a separate gamekeeper. This is also sometimes referred to as syndicate shooting, as syndicates often get their members involved in the work that a shoot requires. A self-keepered syndicate means you are likely to have a number of different roles on the day, including beating and picking-up as well as being a gun. Each member of the syndicate will take it in turns per station to perform each role. This form of shooting keeps costs down and gives everyone shared responsibility.
If your syndicate shoots outside its own rented land, you will be known as a roving syndicate and can enjoy shooting in different areas across a wide choice of scenery. Sometimes roving syndicates will benefit from a landowner’s gamekeeper attending the shoot.
Known as the ‘king’ of game birds, red grouse are regarded as the most prized of all game birds. Flying at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour, often at a low height and sometimes changing direction at the last minute, they offer a shooting challenge for even the best shots.
The red grouse is Scotland’s national game bird and the symbol of The Famous Grouse whisky. It is also a tasty bird with a gamey-flavour and roast grouse has a third less fat and twice the protein of roast chicken.
The history of grouse shooting
It was a Victorian sport that gained popularity from about 1853 onwards, when the railways made it easier to get to the moors and shotguns became more technically advanced and breech-loading. Queen Victoria gave patronage to country pursuits and the fashion for hunting and shooting took off. During this period, the total number of birds shot per day, known as ‘bags’, was huge and often could reach 2,000 in one day.
Conservation of the moors
Red grouse are wild birds and cannot be artificially reared, unlike grey partridge. This makes them highly sought after and these agile birds are indigenous to Britain.
Grouse can be found in the hills of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the North of England. They rely on heather moorland for their habitat and primary food source, eating up to 50g of heather a day. The conservation of heather moorland is vital to protect these birds, especially as heather moorland is now rarer than rainforest.
Gamekeepers manage the moors to maximise the numbers of birds available each year, although this is dependent on the weather. The heather is carefully set on fire and burnt in rotation to encourage regeneration and is only done when the birds are not nesting. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust supports grouse moor management because it helps to conserve several rare upland bird species.
Boosting the economy
Grouse shooting is big business, generating millions of pounds and supporting about 2,500 full-time jobs per year. People come from all over the world and pay large sums of money to shoot them. In recent years, it has been estimated that grouse shooting contributes approximately £150 million to the British economy each year.
It has become a popular sport for foreign tycoons and wealthy businessmen. When the ‘guns’ come to shoot the birds, they also spend money in the neighbouring rural towns and villages, leading to a positive boost to tourism and the local rural economy.
When does the grouse shooting season start?
The ‘Glorious 12th’ is the official start of the 121-day-long grouse shooting season in Britain. The sport starts on the 12th of August each year and runs until 10th December in England, Wales and Scotland. The red grouse season finishes slightly earlier in Northern Ireland on 30th November.
Where to go grouse shooting in the UK?
Here is our selection of some of the best places to shoot grouse in the UK:
North of England
Gunnerside, North Yorkshire
Knarsdale Estate, Northumberland
Ruabon Moor, Wrexham and Denbighshire
Glenwherry, Co. Antrim
No shooting on Sundays or Christmas Day
It is illegal to shoot red grouse, pheasant, partridge and black grouse on Sundays or Christmas Day in England and Wales (Game Act 1831). The custom is also adhered to in Scotland.
Unlike red grouse, pheasants and partridges can be specially bred for shooting. They are not just wild birds. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust estimates that 35 million pheasants are reared and released each year.
The history of pheasant shooting
Pheasant shooting in the UK started in the 16th century on a small scale. It became a popular sport after the introduction of the breech-loading shotgun in the 1850s, allowing a large number of pheasants to be shot within a relatively short space of time. Prince Albert also popularised the sport at this time as well as driven game shooting. He had been used to large-scale shoots in Germany and turned the Royal Windsor Estate into a game preserve, planting woods, rearing pheasants and acquiring sporting rights over Bagshot Park. Wealthy sportsmen looked to emulate the Prince and began to establish their own driven shoots.
The popularisation of game bird shooting facilitated the recruitment of large numbers of gamekeepers to rear pheasants and partridges. Also, foresters were employed to manage woodland and farm workers as beaters. Beaters work to flush out the pheasants in a line ready for the guns to shoot. By 1875, driven pheasant shooting had become established as a leading field sport. It continued on a large scale until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Later, with the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, shooting for sport was almost entirely discontinued for the duration of the war.
In the 1960s there was a revival in pheasant shooting, with interest continuing to this day. Now most large driven pheasant shoots and smaller walked-up pheasant shoots in the UK are run commercially, for example letting days out to private clients to offset running costs.
When is pheasant shooting season?
The pheasant shooting season runs from 1st October to 1st February each year in England, Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, it runs from 1st October to 31st January.
Where to go pheasant shooting in the UK?
Our pick of some of the best places to go pheasant shooting in the UK:
Drumlanrig Castle – Queensberry Estate, Dumfriesshire
Lake Vyrnwy, Powys
Cleggan Lodge, Co. Antrim
Clay pigeon shooting is the sport of shooting a firearm at flying targets, typically made from clay, which are shot from traps to replicate a flying pigeon. The clay targets are designed to meet international standards in terms of weight and dimensions in an inverted saucer shape. Clays are typically a fluorescent orange colour for visibility, or black for a challenging shot.
Much of the terminology used in the sport today relates to past times when live pigeon competitions were held, before they were made illegal in the UK in 1921. So a target may be referred to as a ‘bird’, a hit may be a ‘kill’, and a missed target as a ‘bird away’.
The history of clay pigeon shooting
The first artificial target was made in the 1860s when glass balls were filled with feathers and a throwing mechanism was invented that worked similarly to an animal trap. The machine that fires the targets today is still called a trap.
Artificial targets opened up shooting to people who could not afford to participate in traditional pheasant or partridge shoots. By the end of the nineteenth century, the true ‘clay’ target with a dome-shaped saucer was developed and used by the Victorians for practise before shooting live birds. The first clay terracotta targets were difficult to break with shots though, so in 1888 Cogswell & Harrison made targets from lime and pitch, materials which are still used in clay targets today.
In 1893, the Inanimate Bird Shooting Association held the first British tournament for trap shooting and in 1900 trap shooting became an Olympic event. Then shooting schools began to use sporting clays which were designed to simulate the unpredictability of live quarry. In 1925, clay pigeon shooting using sporting clays had gained enough popularity to hold a British Open Championship.
Types of clay pigeon shooting
The two main types of traditional clay pigeon shooting are trap shooting and skeet shooting.
In trap shooting, shooters stand in a crescent-shaped formation from five adjacent points, about 15 metres behind the trap. Each person fires at an individual target and shooting is done in rotation, so only one person fires at once. Usually, a trap team consists of five people or less. Once you have fired five shots from a particular position, you will move one station to the right until everyone has shot from all five positions, totalling 25 shots. Trap targets are unpredictable to shoot as they can be thrown from any angle and in any direction. So the path the target follows can change each time.
Skeet shooting is another common type of clay pigeon shooting. It differs from trap shooting because the clay targets are thrown at set heights, trajectories and speeds, allowing more preparation to hit the target. There is still variety because you move to different shooting stations. Clay targets are released from two separate trap houses about 40 metres apart on either side of a semicircle. There are eight shooting stations, with seven positions around a semicircle and an eighth, halfway between stations one and seven.
In both trap and skeet clay pigeon shooting, sometimes doubles as well as singles are fired. Doubles are when targets come from both trap houses simultaneously.
Another modern form of clay pigeon shooting is simulated game shooting – it is one of the most challenging types and the closest you can get to a real shoot while using a clay target.
Where and when?
Find your nearest clay shooting ground on the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association (CPSA) website. Clay pigeon shooting can be enjoyed all year round.
Simulated game shooting
Simulated game shooting, also known as sporting clays, mimics a day on a live field shoot as closely as possible with the difference of shooting clay targets instead of live game. It takes place outside in superb scenery and in great company just like on a traditional shoot, but without being able to eat what you shoot!
Lower cost, same exhilaration
Simulated days offer the exhilaration of a driven game shoot at a much lower cost. A range of different drives may be offered – representing partridge across steep banks, pheasants over woods, or grouse, pigeons or ducks in flight.
Alternatively, instead of a range of drives, specific practices can be set up for different types of bird, so you can perfect your form depending on the shoots you have planned for the following season. The difficulty of the target can also be altered to match shooting skill level.
The more expensive simulated game shoots employ manual trappers which give greater variance than automated traps. No beaters are required as there is no live game to flush out, but instead, a team of people set up and operate the traps.
More guns on a simulated shoot
There are likely to be more guns participating in a simulated game day, compared with a traditional shoot. This is because the clay targets come thick and fast and there tends to be more stands. Often two guns are allowed per stand on a simulated game shoot, taking turns to shoot.
Where and when?
Many large shooting estates now offer simulated game days as well as traditional shooting, such as Rule Valley or Glamis Castle. Some providers will also travel to you, allowing you to put on a simulated shoot on your own land before the traditional game shooting season gets under way.
Simulated game days usually take place in the spring and summer, when the weather is better and outside of the traditional shooting season. It is ideal for guns of any skill level to practise before the shooting season begins.
The cost of a simulated shoot day will depend on the format of the day and whether full catering is provided. For a basic package expect to pay £150 minimum, or on a prestigious estate, a full day can cost up to about £350.
Air rifles, otherwise known as air guns, can be used to shoot target boards and small live quarry, such as pigeons, rats, rabbits and grey squirrels. They are not suitable for shooting large game birds or wildfowl as you are unlikely to get a clean kill. If you are shooting towards a target board, ensure you have a safe backstop behind, such as mounting the board onto a tree trunk. Air rifles are classed as firearms and there are different laws surrounding the use of air rifles for England and Wales, and Scotland.
Air rifles are most often used for target shooting with ammunition known as pellets. Target shooting with an air rifle requires precision and skill and many shooting schools offer lessons in the sport.
Types of air rifle target shooting
There are both outdoor and indoor target shooting disciplines. If you practise the sport outdoors, it is known as field target shooting. In field target shooting, the aim is to shoot a small circular ‘kill’ or hit zone on a large metal faceplate, generally under time constraints. You will shoot in designated lanes from either a standing up, kneeling or seated position.
Indoor target shooting has been in existence for many years. The UK’s oldest form of indoor target shooting, Bell Target shooting, was founded at the start of the 19th century. In Bell Target you use 6ft.lb air rifles and stand to take the shots from at least five and a half metres away. The first air gun shooting competition was held in 1906.
Air rifle shooting is also an Olympic sport where competitors shoot at minuscule paper bullseye targets from 10, 25 or 50 metres away. The aim is to hit the target board as close to the centre as possible, like archery. Points are scored according to a shot’s proximity to the centre. It is a technical sport that requires a calm focus, stability and excellent coordination.