Roving Syndicates – Tips and Advice
by Rob Fenwick, Managing Director at E.J.Churchill
I have been part of many roving syndicates over the years, all of which have been great fun! There are many ways of doing it and of course it all depends on budget. The first one was when we were all students and each month we made a small direct debit into a “Shooting Account” (the tip here is to pick someone who is a good with numbers to look after the account!). Then we would book a day’s shooting with the pot that we built up; nothing big – maybe a 100 – 150 bird day and as we were happy travelling a bit we got some great deals. We would always insist on fixed price days aswell so no one had to worry about overages and wherever we were shooting would know this too. The key here is to pick shoots that fully understand what you are doing and why. Many shoots are delighted to see new people into the sport and love having people who just shoot a few days a year for whom numbers is not the main issue.
Obviously this idea above has no limit and depending on how much you put aside each month depends on how many and what quality of days you shoot. I am now involved with one which is a bit more grown up and we usually take one very special day (last year we went and shot grouse in North Yorkshire) and then we also take a couple of smaller days (150 – 200) on more local shoots we have got to know well. It can be hard trying to agree on which shoot to go to. Often the original core of the group can end up living miles away. Equally though it is a great way of seeing one another again. Personally I like to travel to Yorkshire, Northumberland or into the West Country where you can get good deals as they are far from London and you often end up shooting in stunning country at some cracking birds.
The other idea which seems to becoming quite popular is where 8 or 9 friends all buy a day each of a similar size. You then invite the same people and all you have to do is organise 1 day, but in return you get 8 other days. You get great variation this way, with minimal hassle and also you usually shoot at different shoots around the country. This has a nice feel about it as in theory at least you are simply a guest on most of the days you join, even if you then have to pick up a hefty bill when it’s your turn. This does of course rely on everyone playing the game.
Some shoots now offer “roving availability” which gives shooters chance to go and shoot there, but without having to take the whole day for a full team of guns. You can simply take a few guns or maybe just go on your own. When I revamped the current E.J. Churchill Sporting Agency we set up a roving list where clients could pick and choose from a long list of great shoots to suit all budgets. We identified that there were lots of shooters who, for instance, would love to try driven grouse but either didn’t know enough friends to fill a full line nor the money to even look at doing this! We were right and this has been a great success. It is probably now the largest of its kind today, with over 120 days on offer, which can range from 200 brace driven grouse days to wild driven woodcock and duck in Wales where the bag may only be 50 head. It can also enable guns to join our groups shooting partridges in Spain or ptarmigan in Iceland without any of the hassle or risk.
So what can you do with your money and what is on offer? The answer here is virtually anything. It all depends what you are looking for as a syndicate and when. It is key to make sure that before you go anywhere that you all agree on what you want and when. With work and family commitments most people need to book trips early and get it in the diary. Other considerations may be do you want a local shoot with minimal travel, do you want a commercial set up or a bit more of a family shoot, do you want to fire loads of cartridges, or would you prefer more emphasis on wild game? The wonderful thing here is everything is possible, but I suggest you all get together and make sure you know what you are all looking for as friends and fellow shooters. At E. J. Churchill we advise a number of such roving syndicates and help them plan, choose and book their programme each year.
I love shooting at Alnwick in Northumberland. The estate is fantastic, Garry Whitfield the head-keeper is in my opinion one of the very best and has the ability to cater for any team that he is given, from the Boss himself, to a new team of guns who want to experience a driven day, but who work to a budget. We do about thirty 100 – 120 bird days there every year and all of them are a great success. Many of our teams now go back year after year and treat it as an annual fixture. These days start at about £395 / gun / day, so they certainly tick the box of great value and the organisation is no different to any of the best shoots you could visit.
You also have to think about the accommodation. Is this important for you? Often everyone needs to get home immediately after the shoot so the night before needs to be good fun. If it is a syndicate that doesn’t get together that much, it is important to get the right hotel or pub. Do you want a lively place packed with locals and a merry bar? Do you all just want to crash out in front of a big open fire after a feast and drink good wine? If the latter then a private lodge may fit the bill. The wonderful thing about a shoot lodge is it gives you the chance to catch up with your friends without being interrupted by other people and you get the whole place to yourself, often with some superb sporting art on the walls to enjoy. You can arrive when you want, have dinner when you want and make as much noise as you like. In most cases you can also take your own wine, so for that special treat get someone to take a nice case of red wine and enjoy it over a good rib of beef (Unfortunately I get this job once a year for our syndicate!). If you are booking through an agent, and I guess this is why many chose to use us, we make sure that all these questions are asked and the main objects fulfilled.
With regards to travel, if you don’t have enough 4×4’s make sure you pick a shoot with a gun bus or that can help with this. Personally I love going in a gun bus on a shoot day as it is part of the day all being together before and after a drive, where the banter is usually flowing at the poor person who missed the “sitter”. Car sharing is also more popular now, especially as people want to save on fuel. We have arranged a grouse shooting trip this season north of Inverness and the team of guns are all flying up instead of driving. However we have arranged for everyone’s guns and kit to be dropped off with us beforehand and then are sending a 4×4 loaded up with everything in it. This means when they arrive at the lodge from the airport everything is ready for them. This may seem rather extravagant but actually it probably works out cheaper than driving and no airport gun hassle. The wonderful thing here is it is a new syndicate who haven’t shot grouse before so they are all going up to shoot there first driven grouse day; 50 brace a day, 2 days back to back and all staying in the shoot lodge on the moor! Price? £800 / day / gun! What an experience!