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For some reason, in airgunning there’s an enduring idea that permission is hard to find. It’s not, if you go about it in the right way. Charlie Portlock shares eight tips on getting the permission to shoot
Permission; the perennial problem. Many readers will be familiar with the challenge of finding ground to shoot on. For some, there’s always the option of joining a syndicate, but for others it will be long hours of driving around the countryside, cold calling on farmers and landowners who will more than likely be annoyed to have their day interrupted by a couple of strangers telling him that they can ‘do him a favour’ and take care of his rabbit problem. Let’s be frank. Firstly, nobody wants to share their shooting permission with other people and there’s no need to. Secondly, knocking on doors is a waste of time; it’s antiquated, inconvenient for all involved and largely ineffective. But permission is not too hard to find if you go about it in the right way.
Many people don’t realise that countryside communities are small, very well networked and generally suspicious of outsiders. Many rural communities feel that their way of life is under threat in a general sense and they often feel misunderstood by city folk. Add to this the increasing rates of rural crime, and you can begin to understand why farmers and landowners are suspicious of anybody poking around. Who are these people? Are they scoping my farm out for a robbery? This may sound a little paranoid, but the threat of theft is very real. In the past year, I’ve had boots and shooting trousers stolen from my porch, the house down the road has had its tack room ransacked, a local farm mechanic had over £10,000 worth of tools stolen, a sheep farmer had a two tonne generator lifted from a remote barn – it was bolted into concrete – and poaching is on the increase.
Perhaps the most pertinent anecdote for airgunners comes from a farm two miles from me. In September last year, my neighbour encountered a red Vauxhall Astra driving down his track, nearly a mile long with clear ‘No Through Road - Private Property’ signage. With typical Shropshire courtesy, my neighbour asked them if they were ‘lost?’ and whether he could help them – local slang for ‘Who the hell are you and what are you doing on my land?’ The two men and their lurcher said they were looking for some fishing pools (no rods visible) even though this particular spot is one of the highest in the county, with no rivers or public pools of any kind for five miles. They turned around and left and my neighbour reported the number plate to the police who told him that the car had been reported stolen from a nearby town less than 45 minutes earlier. These kinds of stories are common across the country, and any innocent airgunner looking to find some land to shoot on is facing an uphill struggle from the get go if they think that cold calling a farmer, or driving around private property uninvited is going to earn them any brownie points.
So, given that permission seekers will already find themselves in negative equity when it comes to making a good impression, how exactly should we to go about it? Everything comes down to trust, and trust takes time. I’ll say this now; forget about knocking on doors. It’s true that one permission can often lead to another, but this kind of opportunity is based on a solid foundation. It’s a relationship built over many years, one that’s founded upon trust and mutual benefit. If you’re serious about finding that perfect permission with mixed woodland and pasture where you won’t be disturbed for hours, then you need to play the long game. My permissions started with beating, playing cricket and joining in post-match drinking sessions in the local pub. By far the best way to build a portfolio of permissions is to forget about shooting altogether, at least initially, and to attempt to build a relationship with the members of the community. Talking about shooting on a first meeting is a bit like asking to borrow money on a first date.
Beating is an informal and sociable way to meet local people, landowners, farmers and gamekeepers, and will give you the chance to get to know the gatekeepers in your local or regional network. All of our cities are bordered by countryside and even if you live in a city centre, you’re still not much more than a 40-minute drive away from the countryside and a working shoot.
Contact the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (www.nationalgamekeepers.org) to find out the location of your local shoots. A shoot is always short of beaters and once you’ve got a season of shooting under your belt (Nov-Feb) you’ll probably find that you have some new permission to boast about. It pays to be patient, not pushy, so let people get to know you as a person before they know you as an airgunner. You may get asked if you do any shooting and if so, that’s you’re chance to say that you’d like to do more. Let this moment come naturally.
If you play any kind of team sport, a quick search of local clubs in your nearest rural area can yield lots of opportunities for some exercise as well as some airgun networking. Rural teams are often fairly small and will welcome new additions who can make up the numbers. Again, conversations about shooting are best left to occur organically because if you bring your rifle with you to the first training session you may not be invited back.
However you get that initial boot in the door, be sure to over-deliver. Think about the other small things that you can do to make your landowner’s life easier. Pick up litter. No need to make a song and dance about it, but carry a bin bag in your pack and collect a little bit each time that you’re out. They’ll notice that the place is tidier with you around, and if they catch you in the act they’ll thank you for it. Also, let them know if you notice anything suspicious and keep them informed about any new damage to fences and gates that could lead to sheep or cattle escaping.
Don’t get cocky
There’s an enduring myth that without our help the countryside would fall apart and crop production would plummet. This is complete nonsense, of course, but it has led to some shooters thinking that they’re doing the farmer a favour by ‘protecting his crops’. The farmer doesn’t actually need us to protect his crops and likely has his own employees, family or friends to do these jobs for him. The airgunner can be part of that solution, but we’re not the silver bullet that the farming community has been waiting for. It pays to be humble no matter how much you paid for that lovely Air Arms rifle.
Buy them a bottle at Christmas and always offer to help if you see them having trouble with an engine/cow/roll of wire etc. Remind them repeatedly that if they need a hand at any point with any labouring etc., that they can give you a call. If you have a trade, be sure to let them know. Anything from plastering to fixing meandering laptops can be useful, so have a think about what your skills are and be ready to offer them. That way, when you ask about bringing a friend along or exploring that swathe of woodland over the hill, they’ll be much more likely to help you out. One good turn deserves another and the circle of generosity will keep growing.
Bridges can be crossed in both directions.
If we take the time to develop our relationships on a human level before we start talking about shooting, then we’ll find our lives that much richer and our shooting permissions that much more abundant. At best, the cold caller will only ever be seen as an occasionally useful tool for pest control, at worst he’ll be an annoyance on a busy day. By building connections and integrating with rural communities we’ll be starting our shooting journey from a position of trust. It might begin with a simple bit of ratting around the barn, but it could end with some summer deerstalking and an invitation to the Keeper’s wedding. Play the long game and reap the rewards. You’re so much more than just a person with a rifle; be sure to let people see that.
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