WE NEED TO UP OUR GAME

Game shoot­ing has never been more pop­u­lar. More and more peo­ple are par­tic­i­pat­ing at ev­ery level. And that’s a good thing. But that means more and more game has to be col­lected at the end of the day, pro­cessed and sold af­ter the guns have been cleaned and

Shooting Gazette - - October 2017 - Why we all need to con­sume more of our sport’s har­vest - and why we need to do it now. By Rod­er­ick Emery.

Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence from chats with lo­cal butch­ers sug­gests that sales of game meat are grow­ing steadily. The en­thu­si­asm of TV chefs and no­table restau­ra­teurs has en­cour­aged many of those un­fa­mil­iar with it to try game and to en­joy it. Many of these new con­sumers, how­ever, pre­fer to buy their birds pro­cessed into breast fil­lets or even diced for casseroles and would re­coil from any­thing which was recog­nis­ably once feath­ered and fly­ing.

The Coun­try­side Al­liance sug­gests that sales of game are in­creas­ing by some seven per cent year-on-year; but game shoot­ing is grow­ing by 10 per cent; and that dif­fer­ence is ba­si­cally where the sur­plus of game meat is coming from.

A con­sid­er­able por­tion of this has been rou­tinely sold into Con­ti­nen­tal mar­kets by Bri­tish game deal­ers. How­ever, the most en­ter­pris­ing of our com­mer­cial shoots now ex­port their birds in the feather to Euro­pean pro­ces­sors which com­petes di­rectly with the game deal­ers who used to ser­vice this mar­ket, thus par­ing al­ready thin mar­gins still fur­ther. Con­sump­tion abroad has been ad­versely af­fected by a va­ri­ety of fac­tors, not the least of which has been the re­cent ter­ror­ist at­tacks which have de­terred some din­ers from eat­ing out as of­ten as they once did.

Mean­while, the vol­umes of birds raised and shot con­tinue to grow. That means a lot more birds are ex­pected in larders dur­ing the forth­com­ing sea­son. And that’s a prob­lem. For if, as a com­mu­nity, game shoot­ers can­not as­sert with com­plete con­fi­dence that the game in the bag at the end of the day will be eaten and en­joyed then we are all lost.

It is not an in­su­per­a­ble prob­lem by any means. The numbers may seem daunt­ing but as a na­tion we con­sume be­tween two and three mil­lion chick­ens ev­ery day. If we could snag a tiny frac­tion of the Sun­day lunch mar­ket we would be half­way home. So let’s not panic.

In­no­va­tive so­lu­tions to the issue

What then can we do to make sure that the game we shoot is eth­i­cally dis­posed of? Well, we can al­ways eat more. We can take two brace home in­stead of one. There has been a deal of debate – not least in these pages – as to whether shoots should of­fer dressed birds rather than a brace in the feather at the end of the day. Well, for my part I will take dressed birds ev­ery time. A pro­fes­sional with a pluck­ing ma­chine can do a bet­ter job in a minute than I can in an hour and a smart bird looks bet­ter on the table than my slightly squiffy ver­sion ever will.

And an oven-ready bird is a wel­come gift while feath­ered birds are a trial. I know a hand­ful of house­holds who will en­joy a brace of dressed birds reg­u­larly through­out

“If we could snag a tiny frac­tion of the Sun­day lunch mar­ket we would be half­way home.”

the sea­son. So if I can take sev­eral brace a day home with me – on Sty­ro­foam trays and in a car­rier bag – I will. And so could you. If you thought about it. And you should. And that’s an­other cou­ple of mil­lion or so taken care of.

Some­one who has been giv­ing a great deal of thought to the po­ten­tial of game meat is Tim Wood­ward. As chief ex­ec­u­tive of The Coun­try Food Trust he is com­mit­ted to us­ing game meat as a means of al­le­vi­at­ing food poverty across the coun­try by sup­ply­ing up to 1m meals to those who, for many and var­ied rea­sons, are un­able rou­tinely to ac­cess proper nour­ish­ment. He has iden­ti­fied game meat as a ready source of the nec­es­sary pro­tein. Donors to the trust can con­trib­ute birds to­gether with a do­na­tion to cover pro­cess­ing them into the Coun­try Casse­role and the soon to be launched Coun­try Curry. He has been vig­or­ously drum­ming up sup­port these past sev­eral months and has re­cruited a num­ber of high pro­file pa­trons and donors as well as a lot of me­dia cov­er­age – mostly pos­i­tive.

Which is all good; but even a mil­lion meals – in due course

– will only con­sume half that num­ber of birds. What is im­por­tant about The Coun­try Food Trust’s ini­tia­tive is that it demon­strates what can be done by tak­ing the util­i­sa­tion of game meat in an en­tirely new di­rec­tion. Not only that but what Tim Wood­ward has done is to over­turn widely held mis­con­cep­tions about the product; re­but many of the ar­gu­ments against its use and to over­come the man­i­fold hur­dles con­cern­ing its preparation by achieving Food Stan­dards Agency lev­els of qual­ity as­sur­ance for all but the most sus­cep­ti­ble con­sumer groups. En­ter­prise, in­no­va­tion and en­ergy. Not a bad recipe, I think you’ll agree.

Some­one else who has been think­ing a good deal re­cently about this is Wayne Tuf­fin who man­ages a wish­list of fa­mous shoots across Shrop­shire, North Wales and be­yond through Wayne Tuf­fin Game Ser­vices.

When he learned, scarcely a month be­fore the start of the shoot­ing sea­son, that Mid Shires Foods Ltd., the dealer which had taken his birds for many sea­sons past, was clos­ing down, he quickly re­alised that he was fac­ing a ma­jor prob­lem. As would most of the slew of other shoots - large and small - across the West Mid­lands and North West who had been ser­viced by Mid Shires Foods.

Be­ing an­other dy­namic en­tre­pre­neur Wayne quickly put to­gether a busi­ness plan and re­cruited most of the other shoots as stake­hold­ers in a new co-op­er­a­tive ven­ture which will keep the doors open and which will con­tinue to pro­cess and to sell their game. The busi­ness model has changed, how­ever. Shoots will con­trib­ute to the cost of pro­cess­ing their birds in or­der to en­sure that the pre­pared product will be com­pet­i­tive in the re­tail mar­ket. There may or may not be fu­ture div­i­dends for in­vestors but the im­me­di­ate and im­por­tant ben­e­fit is that the par­tic­i­pat­ing shoots – and not a few in­di­vid­ual shoot­ers who have ral­lied round as well – can state with con­fi­dence that their birds are be­ing prop­erly and pro­fes­sion­ally pro­cessed and com­mer­cially dis­trib­uted. And that is worth a great deal more than a hand­ful of pounds.

I would not be sur­prised to see this re­vised busi­ness model emerge else­where. Shoots – and guns – will, I sus­pect, be strongly re­sis­tant to the idea of pay­ing to have their birds col­lected and pro­cessed, de­spite

“Game shoot­ing is now a £2bn a year in­dus­try and ev­ery penny of that starts off in the guns’ wal­lets. We buy the right to shoot.”

the fact that the sums they have been get­ting for their birds have been de­risory for years.

The ques­tion, it seems to me, is whether we choose to char­ac­terise this ad­di­tional out­lay as a nec­es­sary pro­cess­ing cost – dull, bor­ing, more ex­pense even though it is, at per­haps £1 a bird, no great shakes when you con­sider what you are al­ready pay­ing to shoot – or whether we pre­fer to treat it as a con­tri­bu­tion to a wider cam­paign to pro­mote the con­sump­tion of game gen­er­ally so that we can all con­tinue to un­der­take the sport we en­joy with­out com­pro­mis­ing its in­tegrity as an eth­i­cal food source. Which brings us, per­haps, to the role that should be un­der­taken by the or­gan­i­sa­tions sup­port­ing our sport, these be­ing BASC and the Coun­try­side Al­liance. I am leav­ing out the GWCT at this point be­cause they are a re­search group, though if they want to rally round, so much the bet­ter.

Both BASC and the Coun­try­side Al­liance have game pro­mo­tional pro­grammes be­ing Taste of Game and Game to Eat, and both work tire­lessly to pro­mote game as a free range, high-pro­tein, low-fat, de­li­cious, nat­u­ral and na­tional re­source; and the fact that game con­sump­tion is grow­ing at the rate it is tes­ti­fies to their suc­cess. Credit where credit’s due.

Both or­gan­i­sa­tions would wel­come the estab­lish­ment of some form of game mar­ket­ing body but nei­ther, I think it is fair to say, sees it as sit­ting eas­ily within their re­mit.

Liam Stokes, the Coun­try­side Al­liance’s head of shoot­ing sug­gests that to raise the nec­es­sary fund­ing for such a func­tion would just be an­other levy im­posed on shoot­ers from an ex­ter­nal or­gan­i­sa­tion, with all the as­so­ci­ated is­sues of col­lec­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion.

The im­pe­tus, there­fore, to re­solve the issue of un­sold game needs to come from within the game shoot­ing com­mu­nity. It is a game shoot­ing issue and game shoot­ing can – and should – re­solve it.

But game shoot­ers will ar­gue about this re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Lit­tle shoots take all their game home and blame the big­ger shoots. The big­ger shoots blame the big­ger still shoots for un­der­min­ing the game deal­ers’ mar­kets by deal­ing di­rectly with pro­ces­sors, and the big­gest shoots blame the smaller es­tates for not be­ing bet­ter or­gan­ised and more com­mer­cially minded.

Well, here’s the kicker, girls and boys, it’s ev­ery­body’s prob­lem: top to bot­tom and side to side. We stand or fall on this one to­gether. Who­ever drops the first crisp packet in a pris­tine wilder­ness ru­ins it for ev­ery­one, for ever.

So here’s the deal. The first thing we, as guns, can do is some mar­ket­ing our­selves. What the game busi­ness needs is a cou­ple of new, heavy­weight cus­tomers with fresh ideas for a gourmet product to take 1m brace to de­velop a new mar­ket and that does the trick. The game shoot­ing com­mu­nity is stuffed with cre­ative, dy­namic, en­ter­pris­ing and com­mer­cially minded in­di­vid­u­als. Some­one knows some­one some­where who needs a low-fat, high-pro­tein, free-range in­gre­di­ent for their new line of high end ready meals. Surely? In the mean­time we need to find some money.

Game shoot­ing is now a £2bn a year in­dus­try and ev­ery penny of that starts off in the guns’ wal­lets. We buy the right to shoot and we do the shoot­ing. So, when you cut to the chase, it is the guns who ac­tu­ally cre­ate the prob­lem of sur­plus game. One soli­tary, sin­gle per cent of that to­tal out­lay is £20m and that buys a buck­et­load of mar­ket­ing. How this cash is col­lected is an in­dus­try issue: 50p per bird re­leased, £1 per bird bagged, £20 per gun day en­joyed, one per cent of a day let. It mat­ters not a jot how we do it, it mat­ters only that it must be done. And it starts and ends with us, the guns.

We must in­ter­ro­gate our hosts and our agents as to what will hap­pen to the game we shoot. We must in­sist that ev­ery es­tate we visit is demon­stra­bly un­der­tak­ing and pro­mot­ing the eth­i­cal dis­posal of game. We must of­fer up an­other one – cru­cial – per cent of our an­nual sport­ing al­lowance to pro­tect the fu­ture of our sport. The Trea­sury takes out 20 times that as VAT, re­mem­ber. If we es­tab­lish a game mar­ket­ing body along the lines of the Agri­cul­tural & Hor­ti­cul­tural De­vel­op­ment Boards which sup­port the lamb and beef pro­duc­ers, and ce­real grow­ers, for ex­am­ple, or the Bri­tish Poul­try Coun­cil, per­haps, then we might even claw some of that back via DEFRA grants for the pro­mo­tion of ex­ports. Or some­thing. But it has to start now. This sea­son. Im­me­di­ately.

Shoots that of­fer a brace of oven-ready birds might find these are more wel­come than a brace in the feather.

Shoot­ing must con­tinue to be so much more than just pulling the trig­ger.

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