A new study into the economics of UK shooting has revealed a vast difference in financial performance between the top shoots and less efficient operations.

Research, commissioned by shooting broker Guns on Pegs and land management firm Smiths Gore, examined data from 78 shoots in England, Wales and Scotland, covering 220,000 acres and over 1300 shooting days.

“I’m often asked by our clients: What is the average charge per bird? And until today I’d have only been able to give a rough figure,” said Guns on Pegs’ James Horne.

On average, shoots charged £30/pheasant and £28/partridge (excluding VAT) with a difference of £3-4 between the most and least efficient operations, the study revealed.

Commercial shoots charged about 15% more than the few non-commercial shoots that sold let days

Some costs showed surprisingly little variation between shoots run commercially or for private entertainment. Pheasant poults, for example, averaged £3.40/head with non-commercial shoots paying slightly less, despite ordering smaller numbers. Many fewer shoots bought day-old chicks than poults.

“The total cost of putting a pheasant over your head, whether you shoot it or not, is about £13.33 per bird,” said Smiths Gore’s David Steel. “But the difference in variable costs between the top shoots and the bottom third was £5/bird.”

The top-performing shoots had got this cost down to under £10/bird, he said, with the bottom quartile in the survey recording £14.50/bird.

“Cost control is important. The costs of the top 25% of shoots are 20% lower than the average, and those of the bottom performers are 13% higher.””

Key variable costs for shoots to focus on included birds, feed, and pay for beaters and pickers-up, Mr Steel said. “Among these variable costs alone, there is almost a 60% difference between the costs of the top and bottom shoots.”

All shoots had to grapple with fixed costs. The average salary for full-time head keepers in the survey was just over £20,000 – although the data ranged from £11,000 a year to over £40,000 a year, excluding benefits like accommodation and transport.

Gamekeepers earned from £14,000-£18,000 a year, with the average at £16,158. Almost all keepers and head keepers were provided with a house and a vehicle, while half had their utility bill paid for them. Most received allowances for dogs, clothing, mobile phones and a keepers’ day in the season.

Staff and vehicle costs accounted for nearly two-thirds of fixed costs. “Many shoots do not put a value on the rent they would have received from letting gamekeepers’ houses – if they did, accommodation could amount to 20% of total fixed costs,” said Mr Steel.