Repeat bookings and word of mouth from satisfied customers remain the chief way to sell shoot days, according to a survey of 110 shoots by Smiths Gore and online brokers Guns on Pegs, who announced the results at the CLA Game Fair last Friday. Despite nervousness about the effects of the recession on the shooting industry, advance bookings were only down by 5% year on year before last season; repeat bookings accounted for 70% of business, and 100% in the case of the top 25% of shoots who had sold out within three months of the previous season.

As Shooting Times editor Alastair Balmain suggested last week (‘The state of country sports’, Country Life, July 20), atmosphere and sociability are, for many shots, more important than large bags and fine dining. Some 40% of the profit-making shoots had put down less than 10,000 birds.

Rising feed and fuel costs and higher beater and picker-up expenses have taken their toll, however; some 40% of shoots surveyed made a loss (about the same as 2009-10) and those that made a profit saw the margins fall from £7.92 to £5.93 per bird.

The difference in net income per let day ranged from £1,084 to £1,792 in the red. Last season was also more difficult for converting birds put down into birds shot, possibly due to the harsh weather, and it was the private or non-commercial shoots that had the higher returns, by 3%-5%. The latter category has also increased the charge per bird by £2-£3. Commercial shoots have tended to keep the price of birds the same, but are more likely to charge their clients for dressed birds than giving them birds in feather.

The survey makes less happy reading for keepers, because commercial shoots have also cut costs else-where, including on vehicles and benefits to keepers, such as clothing, mobile-phone and dog allowances. Although the most profitable shoots paid their head keepers more-by more than £4,000 in some cases they look after more birds. The message seemed to be the more birds to a keeper, the better. Smiths Gore (David Steel, 01904 756316) and Guns on Pegs (James Horne, 020-7491 1363) are offering seminars on shoot profitability.