Getting land to shoot over is a mighty challenge for the air rifle hunter and it rarely just drops into your lap. Usually you have to look for it, then go and ask politely for it. Once you gain permission, it is not wise to neglect it, or underestimate it. Hunting land is gold dust which can slip between your fingers by accident or design.
If you find yourself needing more permission, there are a host of tools at the modern shooter’s fingertips to help organise a campaign. Getting yourself a set of professional-looking postcards and business cards that describe your services is a useful first step. I use a fast, professional online service at www.moo.com. Many landowners resent a ‘cold call’ – by that I mean an out-of-the-blue phone call or a knock on the door – as you are asking them to make an instant decision. The request to shoot a gun over their land when they don’t know you from Adam is, when you think about it, a complete affront to common sense! It’s like someone knocking on your front door and offering to mow your lawn for free – you’d be highly suspicious, wouldn’t you?
But if you post a card through the letterbox and drive away, the landowner at least has the chance to consider your request and invite you back on their own terms. Just as importantly, if they find your card interesting, they’ll keep it – and if there’s a time in the near future when they suddenly need your help, you’re in. Or maybe one of their friends needs help; the farming community is quite close-knit and word travels fast. This has happened to me a number of times – even a short term project like a bit of rat clearance or trimming out a troublesome garden squirrel can lead to wider permission and referral to other people in need of pest control.
So, you’ve got your cards. Now you need to decide where best to distribute them. The internet service yell.com is a good start. Type in ‘farmers’ and your postcode data – like ‘NR21’ – and watch what pops up. There’s even a map to show you where they are. Do the same for equestrian centres, garden nurseries, golf courses: all the businesses that may find your services useful. Write them all down and (where possible) research the owner’s names using the internet. A personalised approach – Dear Mr. Smith, for example – is best.
Whether you post or personally deliver them is up to you – but a word of warning. If you choose to hand-deliver them, be conscious that you may be seen, and judged, by the property owner. Dress conservatively: country smart… and leave the DPM, bowie knife and terrier pack at home!
I use a mixture of both methods; hand-delivery is usually reserved for pockets of land that have really caught my eye. Which raises another useful tip: once you have the farm’s postcode, you now have the means to activate our ‘spy in the sky’ technology to see exactly how the land lies. I use a handy little app on my iPad called MapMeasure. This not only allows me an aerial view, but even lets me measure the land.
Never under-estimate satellite imagery when searching for land on which to shoot, as images captured during the growing seasons often show the extent of vermin damage, such as rabbit pressure. Where you see evidence of this, then it’s clear that particular farmer needs your help! Aerial imagery also gives the shooter an opportunity to ‘risk assess’ the land as it can show tracks, roads, nearby houses
If I do happen to get the chance to talk to the landowner while delivering my cards, all I will politely say is that I’ve left something for them to read, and bid them good day. No hard sell. If I’m invited back, I’ll again dress conservatively – no camo clothing, and I’ll leave the lurcher at home. I always take a BASC document folder. Many landowners will be BASC members, so you have something in common straight away. The folder contains permission letters, my BASC membership card (proof of insurance which, remember, also covers the farmer), a copy of my Firearm Certificate and maps.
I will take a simple, pre-prepared permission letter for them to sign if we agree I can shoot there. Also included on the back of this is a map of their land so that they can agree to the extent of the permission and indicate it on the map. If possible, I’ll also get the landowner to walk the borders with me.
To that first meeting, I always take a legal limit air rifle, suitably slipped, which I invite the owner to inspect if they wish. Some decline, others want to see it and hear it shot. Actually, many are fascinated when you show them a modern air rifle. Make conversation, but be cautious, too. Don’t talk politics or religion, but do ask about livestock, crops and crop rotation.
I like to check other details, such as access times, quarry species allowed (some farmers prefer to leave certain species), bringing a dog along, where to park, and who else is likely to be on the land. These things may seem trivial, but to a landowner they’re actually quite important. I don’t want my dog chasing their farm mouser – or to upset the farmer’s wife by parking in her spot!
This is also a good time to exchange mobile phone numbers and check if the farmer wants to know if you’re about. Often the easiest way to do this is to send them a text message or simply agree a visible spot to park your motor.
Now, back to that permission letter. All it need say is that the landowner gives you permission to access their land to control vermin, night or day. Simple. Two lines. Your prospective landowner won’t appreciate a complex legal document being stuck in front of their nose. Just as importantly, though, never shoot over any land without getting written permission. If I can’t get a permission note, I’ll actually decline the land; it’s my insurance against the possible accusation of armed trespass – a crime which can get you jailed or lose you your guns. Another good reason to be clear about land borders.
Earlier, I mentioned my iPad tablet, and I have a suite of apps saved in a folder called ‘Shooting’ on both that and my mobile smartphone. These include a compass, moon phase predictor, a sunrise/sunset app and the Hawke ChairGun ballistic calculator. Coupled with weather apps and others, such as wildlife identification, I’ve then got everything I need in the field to make decisions about how to structure my hunting day (or night). This technology helps me enjoy my time in-country all the more.
Over most weekends, my Nissan X-Trail will be organised for hunting, too. It will carry nets, decoys, flapper poles, spinner targets, bait (such as old eggs or vegetable peelings), and a 3-litre diver’s bottle. My gamebag carries the smaller necessities, such as calls, clothing, camera(s), pellets, knife, secateurs, range-finder, and food and drink. I like to be in a position to change to any mode of hunting at a whim, so always having everything to hand facilitates this.
Shooting organisation and discipline also means keeping in regular touch with your landowners and letting them know how often you visit, and what you’ve accomplished (or possibly haven’t). If you notice anything unusual on or around the land, such as suspicious looking vehicles, a quick call to the landowner can save them possible grief. In these austere times, many rural crimes are on the rise – diesel or heating-oil thefts, venison or game bird poaching and fly-tipping. An extra pair of eyes scrutinising the land is often welcome and, more importantly, a visible deterrent that will confirm to the farmer just why it’s important to have you shooting over their land.
– Ian Barnett