Dealing with the dilemmas of permission performance
PUBLISHED: 12:48 13 February 2019 | UPDATED: 15:17 13 February 2019
“If you approach landowners as a pot hunter rather than as a pest controller you’ll be in for an easier time.”
Once your boot is in the door the majority of permissions begin in a workman-like fashion: ‘These pigeons/rats/squirrels are a real problem in the barns. See how many you can knock over.’ Your job is simple; there’s no need for extended bouts of small talk and lengthy reflections on the hunting habits of the tawny owl. You’re an airgunner not David Attenborough. The landowner needs a job done and you’re just the person to do it. You’ll need to be safe, trustworthy and productive, proving your worth with big bags. If all goes to plan you’ll be a welcome addition to the ‘pest’ control problem and a dependable part of the farmer or forester’s tool kit. The majority of landowners have a great deal of work to do and they want to know that you’ll get the job done efficiently and without fuss.
I suspect that a great many of our permissions begin this way and it’s a working relationship that can readily evolve over time, with more opportunities opening up should you do your job well. Regular updates on your activity combined with a bottle of something decent at Christmas and you’re set for life. Great, we can all relax now.
However, what if you’re not having the success that you’d hoped for? What if your life has changed somehow and you’re not able to get down to that ground as often as you’d like? What if, like me, your shooting interests lie more within knocking the odd rabbit over in the name of food as opposed to complete eradication?
If your permission is based on numbers, then you’ll find it hard to justify why you’re not doing your job when other commitments keep you from it. The landowner will want to feel like they’re your priority, and if you can’t make time then perhaps they’ll find someone who can? As we all know, the majority of ground is already shot and there are hopefuls everywhere who’d be keen to take your place. I’m not trying to suggest that it’s quite as mercenary as that, but people do approach landowners regularly for permission to shoot and it’s quite possible that your contact has the details of another person who talks a good game. This is the danger of a purely transactional relationship. If you’ve sold yourself as a numbers man, but you’re not making those numbers, then you’ll be seen as a poor investment.
It’s unlikely that most farmers will have time for a shooter they don’t previously know, who promises the earth and under-delivers. If you base your permission solely on big bags, then you’re setting yourself up for a fall and a consistently high-pressure experience. Is that really the point of recreational shooting? If you want a commission-based tele-sales job on your day off I can find you the number. Commercial foresters and farmers are business men and they need to maximise profits. More rats, squirrels and pigeons mean less money. An efficient air rifle around the place is a strategy to reduce commercial loss. If it doesn’t work, they’ll change tack. In this context, who could blame them?
The food route
So what if we bypass that route altogether, completely absolving us of the responsibility to shoot every pigeon in the barn or every squirrel in that young plantation? Is it possible to frame our shooting in terms of an occasional foray for food rather than the dedication to reduce numbers? I firmly believe that it is, but it means a different kind of approach. Whether you’re cold calling (don’t do it unannounced or without an inside line) or playing the long game (see below), if you approach landowners as a pot hunter rather than as a pest controller you’ll be in for an easier time. If you’re candid and say that you’re only looking to shoot the odd animal because you’re interested in the countryside and free-range food you’ll hardly be met with derision. Who can argue with that? Instead of offering to solve their pest problem completely with your air-powered prowess, offer landowners pictures of the deer or songbirds on their ground; bring them homemade pies and pasties sourced from their hedgerows; pick up the litter that people leave on the footpaths, and help them to fix that sagging fence. You don’t need to be a crack-shot exterminator to be a positive addition.
There’s only one real catch to this approach and it’s that you’re not promising to solve the landowner’s problem with an air rifle, but merely to be a small part of the solution. They might want to stick to working with one person who they trust with the task. Managing text messages from several interested parties will just be another headache that they don’t need. As somebody who’s after sustenance as well as sport, you might find that some people just aren’t interested in, ‘Hello, do you mind if I roam around your land whenever it’s convenient and shoot the odd rabbit for a stew?’ This is perfectly understandable given that, if unknown, you’re just as likely to be asking if you can scope the place out in order to rob a generator. Rural crime is rife and landowners are understandably reluctant to grant roaming rights to any old pot hunter who happens to jump over the gate.
However, I’ve spoken before about the need to build genuine relationships over time through activities like beating and membership of rural sports clubs, and if your interactions are based upon these non-commercial foundations then you stand a strong chance of success when looking for low-pressure permissions. Being honest, do you really want bag dependant permissions anyway? If you’ve built these relationships over a few shoot lunches or the odd pint or two after a game, then you’re no longer seen as a tool but as a social acquaintance. These are very different things; a tool is trusted to do a job, an acquaintance is trusted as part of a wider social network. Even if your relationship never moves past a pub chat about engines and the weather, you’ll still be seen as a better option than a stranger, even if you do only shoot a few squirrels every now and then.
Grace and favour
You’ll find that most farmers will be pleased to have a character around who’s safe, trustworthy and enjoys nature and good food as much as they do. Not all farmers like shooting, especially the older ones, and it’s far better to be seen as a three dimensional human being who happens to potter about with an air rifle than it is to be the two-dimensional airgun fanatic who wants to kill 10 rabbits a night, no matter how efficient they might be. All things considered, who would you rather have roaming around your garden?
None of my permissions are dependent upon results – they’re built slowly upon trust with a ‘Hi, I’m Charlie, I know Joe Bloggs from the cricket club …’ After that, I always take the wild-food line when relevant. ‘I’m really interested in wild food, especially squirrel pies. I’m working on a woodland pasty … really, yes I’ve seen it from the road … yes, they’ve been doing a fair bit of damage up at so and so’s place … yes, I’d be happy to have a crack at them sometime …’ and so on.
For younger shooters you’re blessed by your age. Most older people like to be able to do younger folk a favour, especially if they’re just starting out or if they have a young family. With the average age of the UK farmer at 55 and rising, there are plenty of older landowners about who’d be willing to offer their patronage to a younger person looking to begin their journey into shooting, or just into learning to appreciate the countryside, ‘Yes, my son/daughter is just getting into shooting. He/she’s insured and goes to a local target club. What would be your advice be for approaching farmers around here?’ Asking for advice rarely fails to elicit a positive reaction from people. People love to give it and this means that you quickly become the suppliant rather than the salesman of the conversation. It’s easy to say ‘no’ to a service, but few people will ever refuse to give their advice. It’s free to both parties. If you’re looking for some ground to shoot on, have a think about how you’re approaching the problem of permission. The solution might not lie in the promise of results, but in something more personal. It’s easier than you think. Best of luck, Charlie.
Read more from Charlie Portlock...