A Condensed History of Shooting in Britain

King Edward VII was a keen shooter in Scotland and on UK estates


A Gun with Loader and Gamekeeper on a double gun driven shoot circa 1910 – 1920.

In Britain, hunting deer and wild boar for food and to kill predators such as foxes and bears with Agassaei hounds was popular in Celtic Britain before the Romans arrived for permanent settlement in around AD43.

As well as introducing their Castorian and Fulpine hound breeds to Britain, the Romans also brought with them the brown hare (the mountain hare is a native of the UK) and fallow deer as quarry.

The earliest recorded attempt to specifically hunt foxes with hounds was in Norfolk, in the East of England, in 1534, where farmers began chasing down foxes with their dogs as a form of predator and vermin control.

Packs of hounds were first trained specifically to hunt foxes in the late 17th Century; with the oldest Fox Hunt likely to be the Bilsdale in Yorkshire. By the end of the 17th century, many organised hound packs were hunting both hare and fox for sport.

Game Laws were relaxed in 1831 which meant anyone could now obtain a permit to take rabbits, hares and game birds.

Up until around 1840 shotguns were usually sold only as single guns as most game was being taken during walked up shooting. However during this decade, coinciding with the refinement and increased reliability of the percussion cap firing system, an increased number of matching pairs of shotguns were made, giving rise to the increased popularity of driven shooting. As time moved on, shotgun design and manufacturing improved and so did the attractiveness of game shooting especially amongst UK and European royalty and rich landowners.

To protect the pheasants for the shooters, gamekeepers were employed to care for the game birds and to cull vermin such as foxes, magpies and birds of prey. This they did almost to extermination in popular areas. Concurrently, landowners improved their coverts and other habitats for game.

While shooting was available throughout most counties of England, the Victorians and the generations that followed made it very popular to shoot on the large estates of Scotland. This trend is generally attributed to Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert being inspired by the romantic imagery of the Scottish Highlands and their subsequent purchase and development of the Balmoral Estate.

Down through the centuries many Kings and Queens of England have been involved in hunting and shooting, including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, King Edward VII, King George V (who on 18 December 1913 shot over a thousand pheasants out of a total bag of 3937), King George VI and Princes’ Philip, Charles, William and Harry.

While shooting in the UK continues to grow in popularity, it is also facing many new challenges from a variety of sources.

The economic downturn of 2008 through to 2012 hit the shooting industry quite hard though the larger commercial shoots that were able to adapt their business model to mitigate the situation, survived and in some cases thrived. The grand old private estates and small family run shoots generally carried on regardless. Many shooting syndicates and gundog fanciers banded together to form DIY style driven and rough shoots to overcome the situation.

The continuous urban sprawl that is occurring in the UK is unremittingly infringing onto tradition shooting areas occasionally causing friction between shooting and non-shooting groups. Well meaning but sometimes partisan and occasionally ill-informed environmental and conservation groups have been quite vocal in the UK media denouncing activities associated with shooting such as the raising of game birds for release on shoots and the legal predator control and land care methods used on shoots and the various moors.

Organisations such as the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) work tirelessly throughout all regions of the UK to work with law enforcement agencies, various environmental and conservation groups and the media to present the positive aspects that shooting provide to the UK economy and society.

A survey to assess the economic, environmental and social benefits of shooting sports completed between August 2012 and July 2013 by the Cambridge-based Public and Corporate Economic Consultants (PACEC).  A total of 16,234 questionnaires were completed, making this the most comprehensive research into the value of shooting ever undertaken in the United Kingdom.

The survey ascertained the following facts:

In the UK today:

  • Shooters spend £2.5 billion each year on goods and services
  • Shooting supports the equivalent of 74,000 full time jobs
  • Shooting is involved in the management of two-thirds of the rural land area
  • 600,000 people in the UK shoot live quarry, clay pigeons or targets
  • Shoot providers spend nearly £250 million a year on conservation
  • Shooters spend 3.9 million work days on conservation – that’s the equivalent of 16,000 full-time jobs
  • Two million hectares are actively managed for conservation as a result of shooting

Despite the aforementioned challenges, shooting in Britain in the 21st Century remains a strong and active sport growing in interest and membership each year. Its significant contribution to the national and local economies cannot be denied or ignored. At present shooting retains support at various levels of government and in UK society generally. The expanding PR programs being run now by the various shooting related agencies, NGOs and businesses are essential in helping maintain that status quo.

One thought on “A Condensed History of Shooting in Britain

  1. Pingback: Photographic History of Edwardian Shooting | British Country Sports

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