More women are taking up shooting as Yorkshire gamekeepers look to build on the region’s country sports market which is estimated to be worth £480m to the local economy every year.
The pheasant and partridge shooting season draws a close today when half a million people are expected to take part in around 25,000 shoots taking place across the country.
The last day of the season is the beaters’ day on many shoots, when those people who have worked throughout the season take their turn with a gun.
Countryside Alliance executive chairman, Barney White-Spunner said: “Having so many people going out shooting on the final day of the season is a true success story, showing that support for shooting is stronger than ever.”
Frank Boddy, shoot captain of the Ripley Castle Shoot in North Yorkshire, hailed the season as a success and said he had been buoyed by a growing appeal of the sport across the genders.
“It’s been an exceptional season. I think the dry weather when we released the birds helped and we had a nice summer which really brought them on. We feed our birds well and it shows in the way that they fly.
“It’s a very popular sport these days. People tend to take up clay pigeon shooting first and then they want to try the real thing.
“It’s a very sociable sport and we are getting quite a few who are taking it up for the first time. Quite a few ladies are taking it up now.”
The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, which represents the interests of around 6,000 gamekeepers in the UK, said it had been a good shooting season on the whole for most gamekeepers despite challenging conditions as a result of last year’s long, warm summer and the relatively gentle weather conditions in the North of England over the winter months.
Sarah Read, the organisation’s northern development officer, said: “The combination of a bumper crop of wild food such as berries and nuts in the autumn and the generally mildish weather over the winter months conspired to stack the deck against the efforts of many gamekeepers.
“Pheasants, given lots of wild food and warm weather, are prone to wander away from home which can make the keepering job even trickier than normal because the birds simply aren’t where you’d want them to be.”
A gamekeeper’s job goes beyond simply sustaining shooting activities, she said, and their efforts go some way towards supporting local bird populations.
“What people don’t realise is that even when the shooting season is over most gamekeepers continue to feed wheat to their birds. And it’s not only game that benefits from this.
“These handouts can be a godsend to many other wildlife species, including songbirds, in the bleak months of the new year.
“As a result, for many farmland bird species, gamekeepered ground becomes almost like one giant bird table with rich pickings that helps sustain them until growth starts again in the springtime.
“Don’t forget, we often get a lot of snow about now. When this happens, the food provided by gamekeepers really comes into its own. It throws a lifeline to a huge number of songbird species, especially as a lot of them will survive for only a few days without food in the cold.”
According to the Countryside Alliance, shooting is worth more than £1.6bn to the UK economy as a whole and supports 70,000 full-time jobs.
To promote the sport’s contribution to the regional economy, as well as that of a whole raft of other rural activities, a new tourism body, Country Sports Yorkshire, was set up by Andy Brook last summer.
It brings together activities ranging from fly-fishing to shooting under the same banner for the first time.
Mr Brook, the organisation’s sales and marketing manager, said he wants to build on the success of the shooting season in the coming months by targeting game fairs.
He said: “What we have done so far is raise awareness of country sports available in the Yorkshire area and it’s worth to the economy and we hope to expand further in 2014 because Yorkshire is ideal in what it offers.”
Game sales on the rise
At the end of a successful shooting season, the Countryside Alliance says it is delighted to report that there appears to be a growing appetite among British consumers for wild game.
Record sales of wild game are being reported by supermarkets, the Alliance says.
According to reports, sales of rabbit are up a fifth in a year at Marks & Spencer, while total pheasant sales at UK supermarkets have increased by 30 per cent.
Sales of partridge show huge improvement, the Alliance said, with an overall increase of 234 per cent over the last year.
Meanwhile, Waitrose has reported that its sales of venison meat were up by 92 per cent year-on-year.