The thrill of the hunt

Gun club membership is booming and game shooting is becoming a big business for the rural economy

It's akin to a religious obligation to shoot on November 1.
It's akin to a religious obligation to shoot on November 1.

Siobhán English

Game hunting is an addiction, of that there is little doubt. It was a well-known line used by the late Douglas Butler as he freely admitted his undying love for shooting in his many publications on one of the most popular field sports in Ireland.

Last Sunday thousands upon thousands of fellow shooting enthusiasts across Ireland satisfied their addiction too as they took to the fields, mountains and woodland for the opening day of the new pheasant shooting season.

"It's akin to a religious obligation to shoot on November 1. It really is a major day on the shooting and social calendar," commented Des Crofton, chairman of the National Association of Regional Game Councils.

Aside from its conservation work the NARGC oversees some 1,000 gun clubs in Ireland which, between them, have close to 30,000 members.

"And I can honestly say a large percentage of them were not at home in bed on Sunday morning, but rather enjoying a day in the country shooting," Crofton added.

Records show that field sports in Ireland have grown to such an extent over the years that it is estimated that there are now some 300,000 people directly involved year-round. A large percentage of those come from the farming community.

An independent study carried out by University College Dublin (UCD) some years ago found that the economic value of field sports in the Irish economy amounted to in excess of €100m a year.

And game shooting plays an important part in maintaining those figures, with on average 500 new members joining their local gun clubs each year.

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Rough shooting

Given the numbers of people involved, it is not surprisingly to learn that close to a million pheasants are released by both gun clubs and private estates ahead of the opening day each year.

While hens are released for breeding, in the case of rough shooting only cocks are permitted to be shot and ate during the season which runs until January 31st.

Some 30,000 to 40,000 birds alone are released annually by some of Ireland's best known driven shoots at Coolattin and Castle Howard, both in Co Wicklow, and Ballynatray in Co Cork.

As one of the most popular privately-run operations, the 850-acre Ballynatray Estate on the banks of the River Blackwater outside Youghal prides itself in some of the best driven shooting in Ireland.

Game is driven by beaters over the waiting guns. Confined to syndicates and private clients for much of the year, it also offers a limited number of commercial days towards the end of the season. However, private driven shoots come at a price and can cost anything up to €1,500 per day per person.

But, while the luxury of a driven shoot does not appeal to everyone, rough, walk-up shooting of birds is affordable to most.

It simply involves a licensed gun and good gundog to flush and pick-up, as well as compulsory membership of both your local gun club (approximately €30) and affiliation to the local Game Council (€60-€70) which covers personal and third party insurance.

Gun club membership is required in order to obtain a firearms' licence for game shooting.

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