You have to want to come to Caerhays – it’s a long way from the end of the motorway and, as the owner, Charles Williams, modestly asserts, it doesn’t boast stratospheric pheasants but it does have a reputation as a superb shooting venue – and of providing one of the best shoot lunches, writes Paul Millard.
Days at Caerhays are highly sought after, they attract shooting parties from the UK and overseas, largely from America, Belgium and Ireland – but they don’t do any marketing. They don’t need to. It’s largely as case of waiting to step into dead men’s shoes.
Caerhays Castle Gardens is one of Britain’s hidden gems. The estate is 4,500 acres they shoot 80 days a year including 12 family syndicate days. There are three full-time keepers, they rear all their own birds and will shoot some partridge only days in September before going to mixed-bag days in October. There are some 40 separate drives which allows them to shoot several times a week without going over the same ground.
Cornwall is a long way from anywhere and the vast majority of the shooting parties stay at The Vean – a beautifully restored Georgian country house within the Castle grounds with a manager and chef and eight luxury en-suite double bedrooms, plus a stunning dining room which can seat up to 18 people.
The shooting regime is not focused on presenting out-of-range pheasants but Charles and his wife Lizzie are very much part of the day, they are the hosts and contribute to the overall atmosphere and hospitality, they see their role as enabling people to entertain their guests in a beautiful location with the most convivial atmosphere.
He sees threats, particularly from Bird Flu – which he thinks has been largely ignored in this country – and he sees a potential threat to those shoots that import their poults from France.
“I don’t know many shoot operators who will want to pay an insurance premium against bird flu – so it’s the owners who are going to have to take the risk, and people who take risks want to be recompensed. In the real world it will mean the cost of corporate shooting will go up and I think there are people operating in this business who have not given sufficient thought to what that sort of price squeeze might mean to them.”
Under Charles’s stewardship, Caerhays was one of the first shoots to sign up to the Assured Shoot scheme – and he is passionate about the need for the commercial shooting world to take this seriously – particularly the work being done by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust on releasing lowland pheasants.
“The Code of Good Shooting Practice is our ultimate defence and, as an industry, we need to take it far more seriously than we have in the past. We need to ensure we continue feed regimes through the spring and into the summer – for game and song birds – and we need to listen to the work being done on birds per acre both in historic woodlands and on different terrain.”
Charles advice to anybody thinking of going into commercial shooting is to take it slowly; build up a proper client base and build a team that will support you and understand your objectives – neither of which can happen overnight. It is also essential to have a proper accountancy system in place and vital to provide top quality hospitality: “A shoot where the guns just turn up, pull the trigger and go home is not going to build the sort of loyalty in the client base that you need to be successful,” he says.
Tips from Charles Williams
- Time: Take time to build up a strong client base and a strong supporting team
- Understand the numbers: Support the business with a proper accountancy system
- Provide top quality hospitality: A shoot where the guns just turn up, pull the trigger and go home is not going to build the loyalty in the client base that you need to be successful
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