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Gaining Permissions

Gaining Permissions

The emotional subject of acquiring permission to shoot on private land is a subject that crops up in air-gunning circles, time and time again.

Just think about it. If a total stranger knocked your door and asked if they could play in your back garden from time to time ('cos they haven't got a back garden of their own), how would you react? That's exactly what you're doing when you approach a farmer or landowner for permission.

Add to that the fact that you want to creep around their land with a weapon capable of wounding farmhands or livestock, and you have to understand why permission is sometimes hard to come by.

I've only been living in my area for six years. When I went in search of the Golden Fleece of Permission I expected it to be difficult, particularly as my native work colleagues warned me that the local farmers were feisty, insular and very wary of "outsiders". What a lot of nonsense that proved to be. I now enjoy around 3,000 acres of excellent arable and wooded land and the landowners are amiable, approachable and co-operative.

The very first farm I gained followed an enjoyable "interview" and guided tour of the permission by the young farmer. There was an embarrassing moment when my lurcher pup followed his older collie-x bitch through a barbed wire fence. The pup punctured it's flank and by the time we got back to my car it had opened up into two inch gash. I think Olly, the farmer, felt sorry for us... and sent me away with a signed permission note, which more than compensated for the vet's bill I was given an hour later! But the call for an "interview" was not an accident. It was the fruit harvested from an intensive cultivation months earlier.

So how did I do it? I used a sales campaign.

But before I start, something important. Don't even think about using your airgun without first buying public liability insurance. BASA or BASC membership will give you cover for just a few pence a day. The price of a few pellets. Not only does it show that you're serious about your shooting and protecting the landowner's property, it also covers you against unforeseen incidents and accidents.

Then, I started with the OS map. I checked out the local farm names, drove around looking at the type of agriculture there, and noted all those I wanted to contact. I then used a Royal Mail Postal Address Book to get the postcodes, which can also be done online using one of the many directories available. Where possible, I found out the farmers' names. Next, I put together a postcard (using MS Publisher) to advertise free vermin control services.

The card was important. It had to have visual impact and enough information to show a responsible approach. It had to show I was insured, and how to contact me.

I sent a polite approach letter and a copy of the card to all the farms. Then sat back and waited... and waited... and waited. A month later, I sent it again. I also started to place the card around local nurseries, garden centres and pet-food suppliers. Places where "country" people go.

Just when I thought I may have to change my approach, I got three phone calls in a week. The first was not from a farmer, but from his daughter, who lived on different land. She wanted her horse paddocks cleared. The horses were turning fetlocks in rabbit holes. The second was from Oliver. The third was from an elderly gent who wanted pigeons cleared from his huge garden. I was off and away.

Further land came from referrals and through simply tapping the knowledge of each landowner. Farmers network well, they have to... and there isn't anything happening locally that escapes their attention.

So when you get the call, what happens next?

First, arrange to visit. Dress country-casual (not full camo yet... save that for later!) but make sure you're equipped for a tour, so take your boots, etc. Don't take a dog unless agreed with the landowner in advance. If you do, take a lead and a bag to clear up in case it fouls the farmyard. Most farmers won't care, but they will appreciate your respect for their "garden".

Take and show proof of liability insurance. By all means take a gun, suitably covered, in case the farmer wants to see it. They might, as happened to me once, ask you to demonstrate your accuracy… so make sure it's zeroed. I had to shoot a small potato off a fence post 40 yards away. If you can't do something like that confidently, you shouldn't be there! Others have just been fascinated to see the gun I use now and, hearing it blank-fired, surprised at how quiet it is.

Ask lots of questions. Not just about your interests -- find out what quarry should be be taken and what should be left alone. Where are the land boundaries, and any public footpaths or access? Ask about family and the household -- are there children around? Neighbours? Stock, farm dogs, chickens, ducks?

Talk about crops and crop rotation -- When is planting time? Harvest time? Agree the best access times. Do you need to phone before visiting? Can you lamp or use night vision? Make sure you are clear what can be culled, and if there are any specific problems that should be tackled first. One of my farmers, thankfully, told me he enjoys watching the jackdaws around his yard! Don't take anything for granted.

The visit is a two-way exchange. As a responsible shooter, this is also your "risk-assessment". Don't be afraid to decline land if you think it unsuitable. The elderly gent I mentioned above? His large garden was urban and surrounded on two sides by houses and at the end was a school. Shooting his pigeons would prove too risky, but I did recommend he place a Deben falcon decoy at one end of the garden, which quite tickled him. Now he gets mobbed by rooks instead!

If all goes well and permission is agreed, discuss your need for a written permission note. This is very important nowadays and protects both parties. Keep this simple. I've seen some very complicated permission notes drawn up but, in my experience, farmers dislike them. You want a few lines that the landowner can read and understand immediately and sign on the spot. If you give him something that looks like a double-glazing contract he will treat it like one. He'll want to take it away, read it and call you back. You'll never hear from him again.

So now you've got some permission, how do you make sure you keep it?

Visit regularly. Show the landowner that your getting results. Remember to offer the odd rabbit or pigeon for the table (my favourite permission is a beef farm, so Oliver & Hannah decline the rabbits... often sending me home with a huge joint of beef!). Always stop and spare time for a chat. Many farmers will work all day without seeing another soul, so they will appreciate a yarn. Keep up to date with what's going on around the farm. Get to know the family.

If you plan any unusual hunting (lamping, hide decoying), let the owner know beforehand. I always park where my car is visible so it's known that I'm on the land. If you a run a dog with you, ensure it's under close control and stock-steady. Never bring guests onto the land without permission. I'm lucky in that all my permissions allow both my dog and my son on the land. Report anything unusual (fly-tipping, trespassers, a broken gate or fence). An extra pair of eyes on a large acreage is always welcome. And don't forget that the odd bottle, as a thank-you, is normally welcome.

Above all… remember that permission is a tremendous privilege. Treat it as such.

With thanks to Ian Barnet
Ray Stewart
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Great. Simple and to the point. Answered all my questions.